First of all, let’s define who your ideal clients are. An ideal client is one for whom you do the kind of work you want to do, and who pays you to do it for them. You cannot market your work effectively to everyone. Not everyone needs what you do. That means you will need to identify specific prospects within the larger business population that have problems you can solve. To be ideal, those prospects need creative services like yours and will also make the investment.
Once you have identified your ideal client type, the next step is to attract them to you. I use the idea of attraction rather than pursuit, because it’s better to be attractive than to run after people. Being attractive takes a bit of work up front, but it pays off in the long run as clients seek you out because they know that you can solve their problems and meet their needs.
What follow are not specific how-tos or tips. I’m suggesting a point of view or mindset in thinking about your work and how you serve others through it. As a freelancer you are less likely than an employee to be selected for your capabilities than for the benefits you provide. You will not build your reputation because your vectorizing skills are incomparable, or because you can draw a photorealistic rendering of a celebrity. Client will work with you because they trust you. Here are some things to consider if you want to attract ideal clients to you:
Decide what you do.
Whether you specialize or generalize, you’re creating a niche for yourself — your ideal role or position in your own marketplace. Are you a photographer? What do you shoot? Eileen Escarda is an architectural photographer with a specific niche within that category: hotel resorts. Are you an illustrator? James Gurney paints animals and dinosaurs in landscapes. A designer? Danny Yount creates motion graphic titles for film and television. And if you provide a diverse set of skills (for example, you are a photographer and graphic designer), make diversity your niche.
Whatever your niche is, you will become known for it. So make a choice and stick with it for awhile. You can add on or change focus down the road, but establish your reputation in one or two areas first.
Do good work.
This means that you continually develop your craft. You will never truly arrive and stay put in developing your artistry, skill, and creative thinking. If you are not growing and developing, you are not maturing in your work. Study, reading, research and practice are the 4 pillars of becoming a master designer, illustrator or photographer. You should never stop learning.
And, you should never send anything out the door that is not of the highest quality in creative problem-solving and craftsmanship. By creating excellent work you will attract excellent clients. Do mediocre work, and you will attract clients of that quality.
Solve real problems.
Be the solution-provider your client want to work with. The clients you want to work with have issues that you should be able to address. This means that, once you’ve identified your client base, you then find out through research, networking and asking questions what their problems are that you can solve. For example, I met someone at a conference who, upon learning that I am a graphic designer, mentioned that her firm had worked with a number of designers who were difficult in one way or another. Some promised more than they could deliver. Another could not stay on budget. A couple of others seemed to be distracted. These are real problems that cause clients to throw up their hands. How would you be able to solve these kinds of problems? How would you position your freelance business in a way that meets these needs?
In your outreach planning (in other words, you marketing plan), what methods will you use to connect with your ideal prospects? Will you attend networking events and conferences? Will you pursue speaking engagements? Will you utilize email and direct mail to promote your work? Devise a plan, add everything to your calendar with due dates, and set alerts as reminders. Then, follow through on what you’ve scheduled. You will not gain a client by sending 1 promotion piece, or by tweeting them a few times. Remind them consistently of your interest in working with them, but without stalking or overwhelming them with an abundance of emails or phone calls . Send samples of your highest quality work. Do some research to figure out what schedule will work best.
At the same time, don’t over-commit. When you spread your marketing efforts too broadly, you will have trouble keeping up. Narrow your focus and the number of clients you want to attract. A small, targeted list will yield more results than a larger, unfocused list. One of my colleagues — a surface designer — invested many hours into creating a one-of-a-kind self-promotion box targeted to one well-known celebrity designer. In creating that piece, she did some research on the designer’s work and customers, created a collection of original, appropriate designs, wrote a hand-written cover letter, and sent everything off to the designer. She is now working with the designer on an on-going freelance basis.
Focus on benefits.
Let’s be realistic. You’re not the only one out there who does what you do. In addition to all of the above, focus on how clients benefit from working with you instead of your capabilities and how wonderful you are. It’s easy to talk about your skills and accomplishments, training, service offerings, and creative process. But you will become more attractive when you highlight how you serve your clients. How will they benefit by working with you? Change the descriptions on your web site and promotional pieces to talk about what clients get when working with you. How do you solve their marketing, branding and visual communications problems? What are the results of those solutions?
Making the shift from prospecting for clients to attracting them will bring the clients you want to work with to you. This shifts the direction of movement from you going after them to them coming to you. Understand that making this kind of shift requires you to think differently about your work and why you do it (for example, shifting to a design-as-service mentality), and also rethink your marketing messages.
What benefits do you provide your clients? What is your most successful self-promotion campaign? What kinds of clients do you want to work with? Share your thoughts in the comments.