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Should you ask one person for a freelance and a full-time job at the same time?


Sounds efficient, right?

Let’s say that your goal is simply to work in your chosen field. And to earn an income doing it. As soon as possible.

And let’s add that you are pursuing this work by telephoning the people most likely to help you—executives and managers at sizable companies.

If you have gotten through by phone to someone who has the standing to hire you for a freelance assignment and they are engaging you in conversation and they seem friendly and interested, you are probably itching to ask if they have full-time openings. After all, they may be a day away from posting the perfect job for you, and since you are talking directly with a decision maker, you have the inside track. Right?

Uh, sorry, but probably wrong.

Here’s another story. This morning you looked at the checkbook and it’s in a really sorry state. You maintain your professionalism while asking on the phone about assignments. They are receptive but don’t immediately give you work. So you confide that you are in desperate straits and will take anything they can scrape up for you to do, regardless of how little the pay.

I know you are thinking this sounds absurdly unprofessional, but many of us have been on the brink of doing this very thing. (I know that I have.) And I’ll bet some of you have actually broken down and pleaded. (Thankfully, I have not.)

I’m not saying that these “strategies” never work. Everything works sometimes. But both are more likely to backfire than succeed.

In the first story you warn the prospect that you may walk away from freelancing as soon as you get a “real” job. In the second story, you appear too frantic to do the work in a professional manner. In other words, there’s TMI (too much information!) here.

To succeed as a freelancer, you must consistently present yourself as a prestige professional. Requesting freelance assignments and full-time employment on the same phone call positions you poorly for both.

The pairing demonstrates to prospects that you are not successful . . . and clients are attracted to success, not failure.

There’s nothing wrong with doing freelance while you continue to look for a full-time job, just as there’s nothing wrong with pursuing big-fish freelance clients while performing the little-minnow assignments currently on hand. Your plans are no business of the client; they are private and speculative at this point. So long as you commit to honoring any contracts for specific assignments, that’s all anyone has a right to expect.

Here’s another quandary: A corporate client has an opening in your specialty and phones to ask if you are interested.

This is not a good omen for you as a freelancer. If they are filling a staff position, they may no longer need your freelance services. So if you are firmly committed to freelancing, resolve to beef up your marketing immediately.

But what if you are truly interested in the position? You appear to have a good chance at it, but proceed with caution. If you say “No, thanks,” more than likely your freelance assignments will continue, at least until the position is filled.

Express interest and you may get no further assignments. This may, of course, be because the position is soon filled and there is no need for you.

But I think it goes beyond that. Becoming an applicant puts you at a disadvantage for freelance. They may want to cool their freelance relationship with you, believing when they see your name on caller ID that you are following up on your application. Indeed, you are reduced to being simply another job seeker. And if they ultimately give the position to someone else—perhaps an internal applicant with powerful mentors—they will feel uncomfortable working with you. You will be diminished in their eyes from an impressive “consultant” to a sorry reject.

To succeed as a freelancer, you must consistently present yourself as a prestige professional who is their equal (or better). Present yourself as a sad-sack supplicant and opportunities will dry up.

Originally posted 6-1-09

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