How I Work with Top Clients and Gained Freedom by Building My Own ‘Village’

Becoming self-reliant needs to be one of – if not the biggest priority for everyone.

Whether you are employed by someone else, run your own business, invest in other businesses, or work freelance, knowing what to do when you are on your own is vital.

Self-reliance is freedom, and there are many things that contribute to your understanding of what is required of you to be totally free.

Self-reliance does not mean living the life of a hermit, or roaming the mountains on your own with nothing but a sheep’s coat and a sharp knife – necessarily.

It means taking responsibility. It means being able to make your way in the world without having to depend on any one entity, be that the State, or your parents, or your employer, in order to sustain yourself, and have a good life.

Sure, work for someone else’s paycheck, but know that if shit doesn’t turn out, you know what you will do when you’re out on your own.

I’m on the journey towards self-reliance. I’m by no means close, and it is not something I feel you can attain in it’s absolute sense, but I’m moving there.

I will share an important piece of your toolbox that can be one of the most powerful, yet one of the most overlooked contributions, to your self-reliance.

My Self-Employed Story

I’ve worked for myself for the past five years, and part time for more than that. I’ve worked as a freelance illustrator and am now a consultant helping others make the most of their skills.

I’ve been able to travel while working, living in places like Tokyo and Saigon for long periods at a stretch.

Winning client projects successfully forms a large part of my business and I’ve been lucky to work with a range of great clients, from the BBC, Google, and Wired Magazine to Mars and Sony.

A crop of work I did for Wired Magazine a while ago.

Though I have made the business work, it has not always been easy. Especially when I first started out as a freelancer, finding clients, outside help, mentors and opportunities in general was important, but hard to do.

I didn’t really know anyone and my income was sporadic, with often long periods of spending days working on my own projects without pay because no one was hiring me.

My confidence would be at a high when clients were knocking, but I’d get really low when opportunities fizzled out.

There were far too many times when income would not be able to keep pace with my outgoings, and I’d feel like shit for days, and have no motivation to do what I needed to do, making the problem worse.

There are few things that will put you in more of a light depression than being low on funds.

I knew that my biggest problem was obscurity. Nobody knew who I was.

People often say that it’s who you know that is important. True. It’s one thing to know people, but it’s another thing entirely that people actually know you. And not just any kind of person. You want to be known by people who can support you, bring you work and money, recommend you and give you good advice.

What My Experiences Taught Me

I have spent over five years doing this, as well as now helping others run their businesses and market themselves. I’ve done a lot to work out how to avoid disappearing into obscurity, so that these low moments disappear themselves, and the results and seeming luck I have in my life have increased. I have learned a lot.

It is clear that there are many, many ways to land new clients, attract followers and customers, make connections and gain exposure for yourself, your work and your brand.

What’s more, there is a large swathe of stuff you could be doing to expand your network that can and will distract you from what is most vital.

From blogging, to social media discussions, to going to events, to using a newsletter and simply tightening up your skills, mastering your craft and giving people access to it, these are all ways to bring people into your sphere who stand to benefit from you and vice versa.

Secondly, no matter what your business and the methods you use, it is the individual who is ultimately going to hire you, buy from you, or help you.

Not a crowd, not a vague idea of a market segment, but a real person. Whenever I’ve created any truly valuable or interesting opportunities in my life, it’s happened because I made a connection with someone on an emotional level.

Another big thing I’ve learned is that when generating clients or opportunities of any kind, rarely will someone need you at the moment you approach them, or see some kind of promotion from you.

This was especially the case in generating clients for my illustration work. The industry is very cyclical, and the way to land jobs was to keep checking in regularly with the same person over time until I made a hit, I.e. That target client found work for me at the right time when I pitched myself.

Keeping in touch consistently is vital for staying front of mind and staying relevant to all these important people. The benefits that this brings in turn can be huge.

How can knowing all this help you move towards self-reliance?

If you run a business that relies on attracting clients regularly, you need people to know you, and to keep aware of you over time.

Not only that, but if you want to be self-reliant in any way, you need a network of individuals who know you, who can support you not only as clients and customers, but also as mentors, influencers, collaborators and even close, supportive friends.

Think of how important it is to know and be on good terms with someone who understands how to make money from flipping houses and has done it themselves successfully, if you want to make money from real estate?

Or how about if you had just created a new hand crafted wooden bowl that you wanted to generate sales for? Would it be more effective to knock on doors randomly or to contact someone who had already built a large online audience of wooden craft who were hungry for new products?

It is not just about the number of people who know you, but the quality of the connections you have with the people that matter to you.

The higher the overall value of the individuals in your network, the higher will be the value of your own career, your own power, and the bigger and better the opportunities in life will be to you.

You cannot be alone in self-reliance. I know this sounds contradictory, but it is the network who know you that will make all the difference in whether you will survive alone, or not.

My illustration and consulting career has shown me one crucial truth: building, nurturing and growing relationships with valuable people is the most important thing you can do as a self-reliant man in the modern age.

I lied. Mastering a craft is the most important thing. But when you have a skill, a product, or a service to give, that’s when you need that network (unless you do decide to be that mountain-roaming warrior).

Additionally, even if you haven’t mastered a craft, you want in place a strong network of people who know you for when the time comes and you can make the most of that craft. You don’t want to share your craft to an empty room when the time comes.

How do we actually apply this idea to our lives in such a way that we get results and keep up with it?

You can do this by incorporating the following three things into what you do:

1. Your Village

It’s important that you have a record of the people who are important to you in your life and career in the form of a contact list.

A simple spreadsheet is great for this.

You need to see who they are so that you can take action to connect with them over time, and get a sense of the condition of your team.

The trouble is, our contacts are everywhere, and there are a ton of them. You’ve got contacts on LinkedIn, Facebook, your email address book, your phone, everywhere. That’s not good enough for a focused list of key people.

We need to reduce the overwhelm and go minimal with our network, so that the people that are important to us are really fine-tuned.

Science has shown that around 150 is the maximum number of social relationships humans are able to manage in their brains at any given point (See anthropologist Robert Dunbar). It harks back to the size of the tribes or ‘villages’ we were part of millennia ago.

And so I like to apply this number as a cap to the size of our contact list to reduce overwhelm and allow us to focus on who matters. We can think of our network as our village, containing everyone we need in our lives.


You want to add people to that list who you stand to benefit from. A lot of these people you will already know but you want to be ruthless with who is truly important to you.

This list will also include potential ideal clients, mentors, advisers, key customers and influencers.

Everyone in this list stands to benefit you greatly in the form of earnings, knowledge and influence, but don’t forget that they should all stand to benefit from you greatly too. You’re setting up your network for win-win relationships only.

I make sure everyone in my list of 150 already knows me in some way, which is why I have a separate small list of people I’m currently working on getting to know so that they can be added to my village. Do the research and find those people. Make sure you are well aligned to them.

For example, right now I’d really like to do a graphics job for NASA because it would be damn cool and I know they would love my work when the time came.

I don’t know any of the designers there yet. But in my additional list, capped at 20 so I don’t get overwhelmed, I have about ten NASA employees that I’m working on communicating with of which I have already added two of them to my full network. From here I can check in with them regularly over time so that I potentially land a job or get a referral from one of them.

You do not need to fill the list all the way up to 150. It’s about quality, but I find it needs to be full in order to make the most of the opportunities that exist out there.

Your village will always be evolving. It is not a static thing. Depending on the phase you are at in life, the people in your corner may change, upgrade, be swapped out, be dumped, etc.

Your task is to build, grow, nurture, and constantly upgrade that village.

The higher the inherent value and influence of the people in your village, the stronger will be your career and the more power you will have.

Who’s going to be in your village?

My course on building a ‘Value Network’ and one-to-one coaching goes into more detail on setting up and taking action with your 150 list.

2. Connect and Follow Up

With your contact list in place, you need to take regular action to engage with the list. Even if people do occasionally reach out to you, never rely on anyone but yourself to keep relationships going with people.

This goes beyond simply sending a regular newsletter to a list. It’s a good thing to have a newsletter, but this list is different. It requires individual interaction.

Why? As we discussed before, to make the most of the people in your network, you need to check in with them consistently over time so that you stay on their radar over the long-run. This list needs to be buzzing. Keep people in the loop as well as you can by sharing value and keeping the conversation going.

You want to avoid having to start fresh every time you need something from someone, like a client job. It will often require a few points of contact with someone to develop rapport, lead to a result, and make a sale.

The ’National Sales Executive Association’ says that: “48% of sales people never follow up with a prospect, though 80% of sales are made on the fifth to twelfth contact.”

Believe in the power of following up. If you want something from someone, it can take multiple check ins before results are fruitful.


When I was hired as a remote illustrator with Google+ a couple of years ago while living in Tokyo, it was not a one-off event.

I had been communicating with someone via the Internet intermittently for months before anything actually happened.

That person was a UX designer at Microsoft Bing who had been reading my blog. Knowing that he worked for a company that was in my ideal clients list, I kept in touch with him. I was also a fan of his work and so we had plenty to talk about.

Eventually he got transferred to Google. Because we had been talking, I was front of mind when they had a requirement for an illustrator. He recommended me to the head of design at Google+ and I landed the job after a Skype call.

You need to be connecting and following up with everyone in your network, even if you don’t feel like it.

3. Set up Time Blocks

The hardest thing about maintaining a solid, limited network of people is not setting up the list, but getting into the habit of doing those things that keep it spinning.

It’s all good and well telling you this stuff, and it does hold a lot of potential in and of itself, but the most crucial part is actually implementing this with consistency over the longer term.

A lot of my clients get excited about the idea of setting up and building their village and how simple it sounds as a way to create opportunities.

Then I ask them a few weeks down the line how things are going with maintaining their network, and it’s usually something that they’ve just stopped altogether or it is something they work on very sporadically. Things got ‘real super busy’, and they were not able to follow through with the habit.

You need to be able to set aside regular time to commit to building and nurturing your village.

The people in there need to be cared for and connected with regularly, at least once every two months. Not so hard right? It shouldn’t be.

Every day, I make sure that I spend at least twenty minutes on something marketing-related.

Some of this time might be spent engaging on social media, or writing a newsletter, and some of that time will be devoted to checking my limited 150 list and seeing that people in there have heard from me in some way recently.

I set aside a time block of 20 mins every single day for this. This time could be spent networking on social media, sending emails, calling people up.

I put the block visibly straight into my planner. I don’t allow myself any other distractions during this time. I also track the habit of doing this in a book, which incentivises me to not break the chain.

This same thing applies to the development of my craft every day. I make sure progressing my craft is my number one priority, and so I have a distraction free time block every morning of an hour spent writing.

But the marketing is priority number two, and it has a time block of its own. And you should do this also. Don’t allow ‘feeling in the mood’ to be the deciding factor in spending time with your village. You must commit to doing it, do it, and get into the habit of doing it.

Work on it a little at a time every day. Results will not be overnight, but I guarantee with persistence, you will see them.

When you are regularly on the radar of at least 30 key people who could potentially work with you, mentor you, hire you, give you good advice, give you a loan, open your product up to their own audiences, the closer to freedom you will be.

For an in-depth guide on using these ideas to win ideal clients for your service-based business, follow this link. Also, contact me if you are interested in one-to-one coaching on marketing, and landing clients in your small business. I have limited availability for this, but let me know if you are interested.



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