Astronomer Jill Tarter on the Ongoing Search for Extraterrestrial Life and How She Inspired Carl Sagan’s Novel-Turned-Film Contact

The importance of playing the long game in life, be it extraterrestrial or earthly. Astronomer Jill Tarter grew up taking apart and reassembling her father’s radios. She is the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research — California’s institute of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — and the inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the iconic...

Want to Build Community With Business Contacts? Cook for Them.

Cooking for your clients, fellow board members, employees, and business partners is an act of love that facilitates community bonding One of the early challenges for me as Chairman of a Board was forging the board into a community. We started doing this at restaurants, but the best place to eat? My house. Moving from the for-profit world to the...

Ask FreelanceSwitch: First Contact and Income Streams

In this issue of Ask FreelanceSwitch, we look at first contact with clients and building stronger streams of income. Ask FreelanceSwitch is a regular column here that allows us to help beginners get a grip on freelancing. If you have a question about freelancing that you want answered, send an email to

Question 1

I’ve been freelancing for about a year now and I have become pretty good at most tasks (pricing, billing, working with the client, etc.) but I still stumble with one thing right out the gate. I was wondering if you could write a piece on how I should handle the very beginning of meeting a client that seeks out my work. The very specific moments of those first emails where a client is a bit lost, maybe not sure what they are looking for and need some guidance. What is the best way to to turn this uneasy, potential client into a client that is so glad they found you?


The first contact you have with any client is very important. It is your opportunity to knock their socks off and show that you really know what you’re doing. You also need to provide a little reassurance that it’s normal that your client needs a little guidance. There are numerous ways to approach this sort of situation, like offering a free initial consulting session.

Personally, my approach is to offer a standardized questionnaire, along with an accompanying email explaining that I want to make sure I know exactly what the client has in mind. I ask for the general purpose of the project, as well as a description of what the client wants. Having a standardized form isn’t just about getting information, though. It conveys to the client that I’ve done this enough times before that I was able to create a form to streamline the process. My explanatory email also builds on this idea — it explains why I use the questionnaire and how we’ll proceed.

I have found a few prospective clients who were scared off by this approach, but based on their responses, they would have been scared off by anything short of me holding their hands at each step of the process. Since I avoid clients who need that close of guidance, it’s actually better for me that my form weeded them out for me.

Question 2

I have been freelancing now for about two years. While I have had a somewhat steady stream of work I haven’t been able to morph the income into a more comfortable level.

What can I do to get more clients or create a stronger, more steady, income stream?


Your options for creating steady streams of income are probably fairly similar, no matter what sort of freelancing work you take on.

  • Target high-paying clients. Make a list of who the high-paying clients are in your field and reposition yourself so that your marketing is focused on those prospects.
  • Look for clients with lots of work. Quantity can be useful to build a steadier stream of income. That can include agency work, as well as searching out clients who have a lot of work available. If, for instance, a real estate agent wants a new brochure for every house he’s trying to sell, you can pick up a lot of design work in one spot.
  • Create stock work. Whether you’re a designer, a writer or some other type of freelancer, there’s a good chance that you can create stock work and sell it through one of the many sites online that act as market places.
  • Develop a product based on your services. By offering a product and putting some time into marketing it, you can build up an income stream that doesn’t depend on your clients. For instance, a web designer might create a site template for a very specific purpose and offer it for sale.

The key is really picking one or two of these paths and really pushing hard on it. No matter what, you need to be spending time marketing yourself and your work — and you have to be marketing to the right audience.

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I still remember it well—my first networking gathering. I was a budding freelance writer, working from home long before the days of community workspaces. I’d heard about a networking opportunity for writers and editors at a local Hilton, so I stuffed some business cards in my pocket, gathered my courage, and vowed to escape with...

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Hater-Proof Your Ideas before Pitching

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