As a freelancer starting your businesses, you probably feel excited about the prospect of working for yourself. The idea of leaving — or even avoiding — the typical 9-5 grind that so many of your peers face is almost enough to make you feel giddy.
Freelancing is no panacea, but it’s pretty darn awesome most of the time. I wrote a short post last year that was supposed to help you assess whether you were cut out for the life of a freelancer. Because truth be told, there are a few consistent challenges that most of us face at one time or another, myself included.
One of the biggest challenges we face is attracting the right kinds of clients. It’s a topic that deserves frequent revisiting, because even experienced freelancers often find themselves refining the client selection process over the years. The key word here is “process”, because it’s definitely not a destination.
As much as clients like to think they are hiring us, it’s actually a two-way street. As professionals, the responsibility is partly on us to make sure we take on clients who are a good fit.
Deciding what qualifies as a good fit and what doesn’t is a skill that can take years of experience to master. As you learn more about yourself, your business, and your clients, you’ll naturally become more skilled at identifying the relationships that are most likely to result in a win-win scenario.
To help make this process of client selection just a little easier for you, I want to present some new ideas and revisit a few others. Finding and working with great clients does not have to be a brutal process. Quite the opposite, actually. With a little thought and a sprinkle of effort, you can make life easier for you and your prospective clients.
Just remember, attracting great clients is not something that happens overnight. Ten years after you start your freelance career, you’ll still be making changes here and there.
Good Fit, Bad Fit
The first thing that you need to let go of is the idea that you’re going to get along with every client that comes your way. Let’s be real here — you’re not going to, and you don’t have to.
Finding good clients is like finding good friends. You either get a positive vibe right from the beginning or you’ll see a bunch of red flags.
The longer you’re a freelancer, the more efficient you become at this intuitive selection process. And yes, just like in the real world, sometimes you misjudge and are caught off guard, and sometimes people manage to pull the wool over your eyes. That’s life, and we just need to deal with it.
Know Thy Worth
There are lots of great clients out there to be found (trust me on this one). But, as a new(ish) freelancer, we often don’t do a great job of attracting them.
I approached the issue of imposter syndrome in episode #86 of my podcast. It’s something we all have to deal with, even after many years in business. Just attend an event like CaboPress where you’re surrounded by super-smart WordPress business owners, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
The problem is, as soon as you start to have doubts about your skills, your expertise, or the value you’re providing clients, it’ll have a negative effect on everything you do — including attracting the right kinds of clients.
That’s why the very first step towards attracting your ideal clients starts with you. You need to have confidence in yourself and your abilities.
My point here is that confidence will trickle down through every part of your business.
- You’ll attract more like-minded clients.
- You’ll place more value on your time.
- It will become ok to turn away projects that represent a poor fit.
- You’ll approach your business from a place of abundance instead of scarcity.
Knowing what you are worth and believing in the value you provide is the first step toward working with great clients.
Define Your Ideal Freelance Client
You would never hop in your car and just start driving around (ok, maybe you would). But, at the very least, you’d realize that doing so is unlikely to result in arriving at a specific destination.
Your freelance business is no different. If you have no vision for your business or no idea what types of clients you want to work with, how can you possibly attract them? It’s hard to do, right?
One of the first things you should do when you launch your freelance business is to create an ideal client profile. What types of clients do you really want to work with? Once you spend some time creating a persona, you’ll have a much greater chance of finding them.
Let Prospects Know Who You Typically Work With
If you create an ideal client persona and keep it to yourself, it’s only going to be 50% effective. Instead, create a page on your website that profiles your ideal client. Don’t be too stringent, because you don’t want to scare away everyone. But at the same time, if you have a few deal breakers that typically come up during an initial interview, throw them out there. Crowd Favorite (image below) makes great use of case studies on their website — it’s a smart way to attract similar clients.
If your minimum project size is $5,000, there’s nothing wrong with letting people know. If their budget is $1,500, you’ll be saving everyone a whole lot of time and effort. Why spend 30 minutes on the phone only to discover that you’re not right for one another?
Showcasing your portfolio, case studies, and even your workflow can also be a great way to attract the right clients. Allow potential clients to see not only what kind of work you do, but also how you do it and the results you’re capable of achieving. Let people know what to expect before you even get started.
Ask Existing Clients for Referrals
Great clients often spend time with potential great clients. It kind of like that unwritten rule that you’ll be the average of the five friends you spend the most time with.
If you’ve identified and landed a few awesome clients, one of the best places to look for new ones is within their circle of influence. Quite often, you’ll end up with prospects that are in a similar industry, have a similar mindset, and even similar budgets.
As long as you doing a great job and delivering value, most people will be happy to refer you to their peers.
Practice Makes Perfect
Assuming you’ve put yourself in the best possible position to attract the ideal clients, you’ll still have to make the final decision about who you work with and who you don’t.
Most freelancers refer to this as the discovery process. It’s an opportunity for both parties to ask more specific questions to figure out whether there is potential for a mutually beneficial business relationship.
Can you solve their problem and will you enjoy working together? If both of those elements are not in place, it might be best for both of you to move on.
The longer you’re a freelancer, the better you’ll become at this process of finding and working with great clients. It’s something that takes time and a whole lot of effort.
But, every new client you work with provides an opportunity to learn a little more about what you like and what you don’t like. The red flags will reveal themselves a little faster with each new client and your intuition will become more reliable.
Of course, your objective in this whole process is to find the clients you really click with and who provide you with an opportunity to grow as a freelancer and business owner.