Big-City Business

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A colleague recently asked for advice about how to maintain clients in the DC area if you don’t live in the DC area. My situation isn’t exactly like hers because I didn’t start my biz in DC and then move out of town. I lived in DC for about a decade and made many contacts there. In 2000, I moved about two hours southwest of the DC area, but I maintained a full-time satellite office here for my DC-area employer. 
 
In 2008, I started my own communications business, and I find that my DC connections are still strong.
 
All of my clients are in the DC area, but all the work is virtual, so they don’t care where I live. Most of my clients are associations, and they work with contractors and freelancers from all over the country, and even some who live out of the country. (Personally, I did a lot of work when I spent a week in St. Lucia last February. My clients didn’t even have to know I was out of the country.)
 
I think my ability to keep DC clients can be attributed to a few things:
 
* Networking. I have both a personal and a business Facebook page. I also have Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Most of my clients are connected with me through one or more of these accounts. I use Facebook to stay on people’s radar, so when they have a project, they think of me. I do regular posts on my business Facebook page about what projects I’m working on so people can see my various work. Maybe they’ll learn about a service that I offer that they didn’t know about. I follow my freelance/small business friends on their social networking pages, and I promote them every chance I get by reposting their accomplishments and congratulating them, etc. I also still travel to DC regularly to meet with clients and friends who are in the biz. This might not be easy for everyone, but I specifically make time to do this as an investment.
 
* Experience at virtual work. Since my clients know I’m able to manage their work virtually, they’re more likely to recommend me for other projects. For at least two of my clients, I am the managing editor of their publications, so I’m doing more than just editing one book or article at a time. They know I can manage the production workload and the incoming content, etc.
 
* My website. I put up a very basic website (www.traeturner.com), actually a simple Yahoo template, so people can get a clear picture of who I am without actually meeting me in person. This has had an amazing impact. I made sure to include a client list so the DC prospects can see that other organizations trust me to do their work virtually.
 
* The right tools. One of my clients is a consultant for associations that want to go completely virtual. I maintain her blog, and it’s a resource of useful articles about how to make virtual work a success (http://virtualassociation.wordpress.com). I am not super high-tech, but I do use basic virtual tools like my Droid, Google docs, Skype and RecordMyCalls.com, which are great solutions to have in my toolbox when I’m talking to clients about their projects.
 
More and more employers and clients are comfortable about working with someone long distance, but you do have to make an effort, and be prepared to deliver.
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