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A lot of freelancers seem to be getting excited about international clients these days. But you can create a niche for yourself as someone local — a freelancer just down the street who is happy to meet in person with clients. For those prospective clients who want to make sure that they get a chance to get to know who they’re working with, working with a local freelancer can be worth a premium over working with someone who is only accessible online.

But if you’re going to promote yourself as the local solution, there are some facts that you need to know about.

The Always On Call Problem

Some clients are bad about considering you’re always on call — but when you’re in a different time zone, you at least get a reprieve when they have to go to bed. When you’re just around the corner, it can be easier for a client to be constantly asking for more. Of course, this isn’t just a problem for local freelancers, though it is certainly worse.

After all, if a client halfway around the planet has your address, it’s unlikely that he’ll just show up one day. I’ve had local clients who have wanted to see where I work, had a question and were ‘in the area’, and otherwise wind up on my front stoop.

For local freelancers, it’s even more important than usual to lay down boundaries with clients. That can include:

  • Setting office hours when you’re available to your clients.
  • Making it clear that you only meet in person at locations other than your home.
  • Using a P.O. box as your mailing address.

It’s okay to act a little paranoid in terms of keeping your personal life and professional life separate. Even if your clients are all located within a few miles, you may not know all that much about them.

Word of Mouth and Gossip

If you’re looking for local clients, word of mouth is your most valuable marketing method. Sure, you’ve got more opportunities for networking, but the type of client that actively seeks out local freelancers often does it because he wants to know more about the reputation of the people he’s working with.

People will talk about how you approach specific issues, making at least some of them into opportunities to shine.

Your reputation is incredibly important and you have to take care of it. You need to make sure to deal with any problem that comes up — you can’t afford to just ignore issues. Even if the situation isn’t your fault, it’s your problem. People will talk about how you approach specific issues, making at least some of them into opportunities to shine.

You also need to pay attention to what you say about other companies in the area. I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with gossip: I try to only say nice things about the people in the freelancing community in my area, but I’ve been known to warn other freelancers off of prospective clients known for problems in the past. That sort of thing often gets back to such clients and you have to decide if a small firestorm is worth whatever you want to say. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s better to just keep your mouth shut.

Local Can Trump International

There are benefits to being local, but you have to sell them. With freelance marketplaces driving rates lower than a local freelancer can usually offer them, you have to step up your marketing. You need to make it clear to clients that paying $150 an hour, rather than $1.50 an hour, is actually a good deal. Here are a few of the points you can make with prospective clients:

  • You can minimize communication issues, because you share both a language and a culture.
  • You can actually come into the office, which can be useful in anything from getting to know product lines better for writing sales copy to checking the print quality for graphic design projects.
  • You can offer references from companies and individuals that prospective clients recognize, if not actually know.

Dig deeper, though: find the unique qualities that make your local work stand out. With the right marketing, clients will understand the value of working with someone who is just down the street.

A Word About Setting Your Fees

Whether you bill your work by the project or on an hourly basis, you should be aware of a couple of basic principles:

  • Your hourly rate should be set at 4 to 5 times what you hope to end up with. This is because you need to cover overhead, insurance, software, hardware, and other non-billables.
  • Set an intention to bill a minimum of 4 to 6 hours each working day.
  • If you are hiring vendors and are responsible for paying them, be sure to include a 25% markup to cover your risk.
  • Invest 20 to 25% of your time marketing your services to new prospects.

If you do these simple things, you’re bound to succeed.

Written by Thursday Bram and Will Sherwood.

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