Successful freelancing is a matter of finding the right clients in the right places for the right reasons. Every client you take on affects your business either positively or negatively, so it’s important to manage your prospect pool in order to avoid those clients who aren’t going to be help your success.
While we need to position ourselves as problem-solvers for our clients, we’ll be better off if we work with clients who help us level-up our business. Freelancers tend to pursue projects mostly for the purpose of earning revenue and making a profit. That’s necessary, of course. But what if we considered projects and clients on the basis of how our business will benefit down the road, leading to greater profitability and influence in the long run?
Successful freelancing is a matter of finding the right clients in the right places for the right reasons.
You can consider your work from a different point of view and in a more meaningful way by asking how this project or that client will help you move your business forward. What may come of this if you accept this website design project or that branding project?
It does you no good to work with clients you can’t serve well, or who make unreasonable demands, or who create all sorts of extra work and don’t want to pay for it. But how do you identify those clients to steer clear before you get involved with them?
How do you identify and attract those companies and individuals who bring the kinds of projects that build your reputation? The answer is in research and outreach.
Research, then reach out
Good clients are not just going to show up on your doorstep. Wouldn’t it be great if they did? They’re out there, and you need to do the work of finding them if you want the kind of work that challenges you to grow. The way to acquire them is to identify them, search them out, then attract them to you.
Begin with what you offer in terms of creative services, what industries use what you offer, and what prospects in those industries will pay for what you offer. The concept of the ideal client avatar is in popular use these days, and for good reason. You need to narrow your efforts to a specific type of prospect. Everyone is not your client.
Whether you’re freelancing full time or as a side gig, these outreach efforts are things you can do while working on current projects:
Identify your best type of client
To form your ideal client type, answer these questions:
- What do you offer?
- What industries do you want to serve?
- Who in those industries uses what you offer and will pay for it?
- What are their specific problems or needs that you can solve in unique ways?
Find out where they hang out
Armed with your ideal client profile, research specific businesses and organizations that fit.
- Learn what trade associations they belong to.
- Identify business directories where they are listed.
- Visit their web sites to learn what social media they use.
- What do they post on their social media? What hashtags do they use?
- Sleuth on social media to find their interest groups, and connect in the groups.
- Find their company pages that list VPs and directors you can connect with.
Do some phone research: call the prospect and find out who is the person you need to connect with, and if email or direct mail is preferred.
A word of caution: There’s a fine line between prospecting and stalking. Don’t stalk. You’re not going to win a client if they consider you a nuisance.[social_warfare]
Streamline your messaging
Review your service offerings and brand promise.
Go back to your web site and tweak your home and about pages to address the needs of your ideal client type.
Scrutinize your portfolio section(s), adding work that relates to the problems you want to solve and deleting work that does not serve that purpose.
The language you use on your site and promotional pieces, and the type of work you show, communicate to your prospects. Be sure to target your ideal client through both what you way and what you show.
Who do you most want to work with? Select no more than half a dozen prospects to reach out to at first. Keep the number low so that it’s a manageable group and you can customize your message and easily track responses. You can add or replace prospects down the road.
Begin connecting with your selected prospects on social media, email, and networking events. Post your work, blog articles and quotes using hashtags they follow. Reply to their social posts. Add useful comments on their blogs and videos.
Develop an outreach campaign
Promote your work through direct mail and email.
Reach out directly. Send a customized email to each ideal prospect on your shortlist. Address their pain points, and share how you’ve solved similar problems for other clients.
A campaign is not a one-hit effort; it’s a series of related messages. Plan a campaign of emails, direct mailers and social media posts that you’ll send out over the next 6-12 months. For email, you’ll need to test the waters to figure out the best frequency.
With agencies and art buyers, sending promos is a normal and expected course of business. It’s common for freelancers to send a promo every 3 months. You may never hear anything unless they have a project to discuss with you. Keep sending your promos on a regular basis however, because you never know when they’ll have just the project for you. If they don’t have your promo on hand, they can’t match you to a project.
It’s different when reaching out to businesses and organizations. You can send more frequently in a shorter period of time. For example, you can send an email once a week for 3 months. The emails will serve you better if they are not exactly the same each time, but sequentially present a different aspect of your message or reason they should work with you. Plan a campaign carefully in advance.
Keeping a small list allows you the ability to customize your outreach to each one.
Respond respectfully to any feedback you receive. If someone does not want to hear from you, remove them from your list, and replace them with another prospect.
By identifying your ideal type of client, you can be strategic in who you work with. You can avoid many of the typical problem clients types — high-demand, discount-demanding, never satisfied and very fond of scope creep — that freelancers so often encounter. When you’re strategic, you are in control and can take better care of your business.