I’ve had to fire clients a few times in my career. It’s an awkward, un-fun task that could (likely) be avoided if I’d done a better job qualifying them at the start.
Finding the right clients to work with is a bit like dating. You get to know each other up front, asking questions, doing a little Google stalking, checking with friends to see what they know.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out: You have different goals, one party needs more than the other can give, or you’re just plain awkward together. Other times the chemistry is spot-on: you have a good rapport, a common ground via a shared network, and you’re passionate about the same things.
Not every customer is right for me and I’m not right for every customer, and that’s okay.
One time my Aunt Kali was in town visiting. She’s allergic to seafood – not just shellfish – but all seafood. So guess what? No matter how amazing the new seafood restaurant Waters is, it’s not for Kali. We ate pizza instead.
Is Waters a bad restaurant? No, it’s actually rather delicious! It just wasn’t right for Kali.
Just because two people aren’t right for each other isn’t a poor reflection on either party. Sometimes it’s just not a fit. If you can figure out whether you and a potential client are a fit before you start doing business together, you’ll be a happier freelancer, you’ll create enthusiastic (and long-term) customers, and be more likely to enjoy the work you do daily.
4 Ways to Help You Find the Right Clients
Figuring out the best way to find the right clients will look a bit differently for each of you, but here are some general rules I’ve found helpful.
1. Define Your Ideal Customer
Narrow down the field of potential clients, by defining your ideal customer. I bet you already have some ideas of the type of customer you want to serve. Maybe one of the following appeals most to you?
- Small owner/operator-run businesses
- Agencies looking for subcontractors
- Large corporations
- Local (or not!)
Jennifer Bourn at Bourn Creative has written some great articles on profiling your ideal client. Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid is also a great read for how to identify your ideal client. If you don’t know who your ideal client is, spend some time working through it – it’ll be time very well spent.
2. Define Your Ideal Project
Think back to the projects you’ve had the most fun working on. Maybe it was the subject, or the technology, the length of time, or the other people you worked with. Now think about the projects you’ve dreaded, where you couldn’t send that last invoice fast enough.
What were the differences between those types of projects?
Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. – Malcolm Gladwell
Find projects and work you enjoy and use it as a basis to go after clients offering those sorts of projects.
3. Help Clients Qualify Themselves
Think back to my Aunt Kali. If she pulls up to a restaurant with a banner outside that says “Best Lobster Bisque EVAH! You’ll love our seafood!” she doesn’t need to bother getting out of the car. She’s qualified herself.
Serve your potential customers by offering education and information. You can help potential clients qualify themselves by:
- tailoring your marketing message (i.e. attracting the right customer to your site),
- asking the right questions on your inquiry form (I like the Bourn’s),
- and providing education about what it’s like to work with you (Curtis McHale does a good job of this)
Save both yourself and others time by letting people weed themselves out.
4. Ask the Right Questions
My potential clients aren’t web developers – that’s why they’re coming to me. Their framework, or mental model, is likely very different than mine. Part of my job is to step into their shoes, figure out their style, and ask the questions that help me figure out whether this is a client I’d like to work with and a project I’d like to work on (and, for that matter, whether I’m someone they’d like to work with).
Finding New Clients
It’s rare that the right clients simply fall into your lap. It takes work to build up your referral network, earn trust in your business arena, and hone your message to attract the right clients. To help you along, I’ve put together some ideas for finding clients. Enjoy!