Think back to the last time you were looking for a contract. How many applications did you make? Can you remember the name of every agent you rang (or who rang you)? And can you remember the name of every organisation that received your CV during that time? No, me neither.
Let’s try an easier question. Can you list all of the companies within a 1-hour commute of your home that might need your freelance skills within the next 6-12 months?
Okay, I’m just teasing now. The answer to all of these questions for most people is a resounding “no”, but this is exactly why many contractors – particularly those just starting out – tend to be overly dependent on recruitment consultants for finding contracts.
The good news is that – with an investment of just a few minutes each day, or each week – you can build up a personalised overview of the job market and target clients that will give you at your finger-tips the same information or better than a recruitment consultant next time you are looking for a contract.
Use a CRM to develop an elephant-like memory
Most contractors will have heard of Customer Relationship Management or CRM, but it is probably something you associate with sales teams – in fact, the most popular name in CRM is called SalesForce. What you might not realise is that you inadvertently landed a part-time job in sales the same day that you became a contractor, and you were handed exclusive responsibility for selling a single product: Yourself.
Enter the CRM, a piece of work-horse software that will help you to gather and collate information about clients past, present, and future. There are plenty of CRM systems around, but I personally use Insightly because it is simple, powerful, and cloud-based. It is also, crucially, free up to 2,500 records which should be more than enough for most freelancers.
Start from where you stand
The chances are that you are already receiving – but probably immediately deleting – an amount of useful information each week. That might be solicited or unsolicited phone calls or e-mails from recruitment consultants either trying to fill a role for their client or checking your availability. So the first thing to record in the CRM is who contacted you, from where, and about what. That simple action will allow you build up a picture over time of which agencies and which recruitment consultants specialise in your particular domain; and with that information, you can also start to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.
The second thing you can do – if you are prepared to pick up the phone or respond to an e-mail – is to probe for information about which companies are hiring for those roles. You might be committed to your current client for another 6 months but it might not hurt to know for future reference that Company X has already recruited your exact skill set twice this year, for example.
Harvest information online
Successful companies – big and small – tend to be companies that are growing, and therefore hiring; and those types of companies have a habit of distributing press releases every time they hit a particular milestone, whether that is a profit announcement, or relocating to larger premises, etc. If you are interested in working in a particular geographical area, then subscribe to the local online business news; if you are passionate about a particular field, then subscribe to the leading online journals. The movers and shakers will start to crop up in articles over a couple of months, and all you need to do is scan the headlines once a day or once a week, and make a quick note in your CRM including web site address, geographical location, and the names of any employees mentioned in the article. If you find yourself interviewing with the very same company 7 months later, there is also something enormously impressive about being able to talk to the interviewer about the development of the company, and the articles that you have read previously.
When you have the name of a company, there is a lot more that you can do, as well, for example:
- Subscribe to their job alerts. Consider making a speculative application, too; in a low pressure situation where you are already “spoken for”, it can be a great time to test your CV and see what sort of responses you get from the market.
- Advanced tip: Set up “change detection” for companies that don’t have a job alert. Some job pages – particularly many SMEs – do list their contract positions but annoyingly do not offer job alerts by e-mail. There is a simple, elegant solution: ChangeDetection.com is a free web site that allows you to enter a web page address, and then choose to receive a notification by e-mail or RSS every time the content changes (e.g. if a new job is added to a page).
- Set up company-specific Google alerts. If you find a company that is of particular interest, then you can crank your corporate stalking up to the next level by setting up a Google alert (http://www.google.co.uk/alerts) Google alerts are immensely powerful because they can harness the search power of Google across all Internet news feeds, leaving you free to put your feet up and wait for any interesting developments to be delivered straight to your inbox.
- Get social. Most companies have a presence on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook as a minimum nowadays. Although the level of engagement with social media varies greatly, it is a quick task to Follow and Like online, and it gives you another point of access and a further source of information.
- Check your LinkedIn network for inside contacts. If you come across a company that you have never heard of before, then do a quick check on LinkedIn. Do you have any 1st or 2nd degree contacts with links to that company? If so, drop them a quick e-mail for a bit more information.
If you are prepared to make this simple investment of a few minutes each day or each week – effectively not much more than scanning a few e-mails, and making a few notes in your CRM – then you should find that within as little 2-3 months you will have a surprisingly long list of successful companies who just might need your skillset the next time you are looking for a contract.
This article was written by Peter Roy.