If, as Ben Franklin once wrote, the early bird gets the worm, then quick preparation might well get you a job. In the freelance world, employers always try to have multiple sources to go to, and will often schedule several people to come in on short notice to talk about a job. When and if that happens to you, you must be prepared to drop everything and make the pitch. If there is a scheduling conflict between you and them and you cannot take the meeting, you might never get a chance to pitch your skills.
So, like a fireman, you have to be prepared to jump immediately whenever the alarm sounds on an opportunity. How do you do that? Don’t slip into lax habits. Dress as if you are going to work every day, even if you go nowhere. Take a shower, brush your teeth, comb or brush your hair, keep your clothes clean and neat, and look as if you are about to walk out the door every morning. That way, when someone calls, especially if they are local, you can ask them how soon you can get together -- if possible, within hours -- and then be ready to show up. There are some people who would recommend that you play coy, but in a tight market, playing hard to get is playing to get passed over. Also, always remember: It is often the first person seen, or the last, who gets the job -- so, if you’re first, your odds go way up.
Tell potential clients that you will rearrange your schedule, even if your calendar is blank. You want people to know that you are available, and they want to know that you care enough about their work to push other things aside to get it. Keep your creative package -- resume, reel, samples, and business cards -- by the door or in the car. You never know when you’re going to be on the move to a business meeting.
Always keep extras of your work available with you. I know of several instances when I’ve bumped into people who asked me what I was up to, then pulled out business cards and asked me to get in touch with them. Several years ago, I was a guest at the first Clinton Global Initiative conference, and landed a nice consulting contract over lunch with a complete stranger. I had my card, resume, and some samples of work, which he gave to his boss, and I suddenly had a job I hadn’t ever expected. Another time, I was on a flight overseas and landed a great consulting gig from a seatmate. He was in jeans, but I was in a coat and tie -- even though I was flying coach. He took me seriously, and I wound up with a new client.
Always, always be prepared to go at a moment’s notice.