Do you ever have those days where you look at other freelancers and think to yourself, “How do they have it all together?”
Some freelancers are never scraping for work. They’re booked out months in advance and seem to have their pick of the best projects available. They eat in fancy restaurants or drink hand-crafted, artisanal coffee.
If you look on and wonder how it is they manage a steady income while you’re either in a “boom” or “bust” situation from month to month, then you may need a few strategies in play to draw yourself a steady clientele.
How can you be the next freelancer who is booked up for months at a time? Here are a few ideas:
Make Reaching Out A Routine
We know how it is. Sometimes you’re buried so deep in the work you’re doing that other things get put on the back-burner, things like reaching out to possible new leads for clients.
Unfortunately, this is exactly how you end up in “boom or bust”. By the time you come up for air, your schedule has cleared and then you start looking for new projects. If it takes you a little while to find something new, you go into that lull where you start cracking into the raman and gazing longingly at those takeaway coffees.
The straightforward solution is to include reaching out to new clients in your weekly routine so that you form the habit. Give yourself a specific timeline and instructions, for example, “I will send out eight prospecting emails before 11AM on Monday mornings.”
That’s all very good, you might say, but where do I find these prospects and how do I reach out to them? Glad you asked…
Know Who You’re Looking For
Every business out there has a preferred type (or types) of clients. Whether that is based on your own background expertise or simply having a very good knowledge for how to serve that type of client, you as a freelancer should, too.
Many freelancers and business owners worry about “leaving people out” when they look for a target market, but you could also put it this way: how many times have you been approached as a freelancer with “cheeky offers” from people who you don’t really want as clients?
If you leave yourself open to anyone and everyone, you will invariably spend a lot of time wading through time wasters, looky-lous and those who “can pay a very good price of $50” for whatever the work is that they want done.
Being targeted allows you to clearly specify who your services are for and give yourself a clear picture of where you should be looking for customers. Hopefully, it also means customers who are not the right fit for you will self-select that they are not (but of course that depends on how well you communicate the message).
Use a spreadsheet to create a list of prospective clients to follow up with. You will use this to list these prospects, when they were contacted, the response you got and whether or not you should follow up later. You may be uncomfortable with cold-calling, but most freelancers need to get over this at some point if they want to be able to pay their bills!
Here is the information you should define in order to search for prospects to add to your sheet:
- What industry or industries are you targeting?
- What is the likely job role of the person hiring freelancers? (Emails are always more effective if you can attach a real name to them).
- How big is the business?
- What is the annual revenue of the business? (Or of the individual if applicable).
- At which stage of maturity is the business?
- Where is it located? (e.g. locally, nationally or internationally)
This information will help you create your shortlist of candidates so that you don’t waste your time trying to get clients who either aren’t suitable, or simply can’t afford you.
If you’re wondering why all of these details are so important, Make A Living Writing founder and coach, Carol Tice makes a good point. Her recommendation is that freelance writers or marketers look for smaller businesses or startups that have either VC funding or at least $1 million in revenue. This is because they’re big enough to have a marketing budget (bonus, they can pay you!), yet small enough that they probably don’t have a dedicated marketing team.
Where To Find Leads
Here are a few suggestions of place to find potential candidates who match your “ideal” description:
- Any online directories for the industry/ies you’re interested in
- Via Google Alerts for news of developments and movements in your chosen industry. As Carol Tice points out, this is a great way to be on top of information, such as who recently received funding.
- Lists of trade association members
- Chamber of Commerce
- Participants or exhibitors at trade shows
- Industry magazines
- On lower ranking pages for their industry in Google. They may need your help if they don’t rank well!
Whether you approach them by email or over the phone, try to get a name to reach out to as it can get you a quicker response than say an “info@” email address. Tom Ewer suggests that you also keep track of the average number of leads it takes before you turn a prospect into a client. This helps to keep you on track with building up your client base because you know how many you should be aiming to contact if you are to reach your income goals.
Make Sure You Are Easy To Find
Have you got a clear web presence that tells people exactly what you do? Do you show up for keywords in your area? Often freelancers are so busy just getting the work done that they neglect things like websites or social media presence.
Your hunt for clients becomes much easier if they’re actually coming to you!
Everyone needs a website these days, preferably one that gets to the point of what you do, for who and how to get hold of you. You should include keywords to help you get found, for example, I was contacted not long ago by a company who found me by searching “freelance writer in South Lake Tahoe.” If you can possibly cater to local needs, make sure you’re found for it!
Tips for Getting Found
- Optimize your website with keyword-rich content and descriptions. Include good examples of your work so people can easily see whether your work is a good fit for them.
- Make sure your website is mobile-friendly. This is because not only does it help your rankings, but use of mobile for search is growing hugely.
- Claim local listings such as Google My Business.
- Get found on social media by joining and participating in relevant groups. Make sure your social profiles are complete, including what you do, for who and where to get hold of you.
- Create profiles on sites where people look for freelancers, such as Contently, about.me, Freelancer’s Union or Behance.
Avoiding “boom or bust” is achievable for any freelancer who is prepared to be proactive about building a pipeline of clients.
It’s about being disciplined with your work schedule and making time to reach out to prospects, no matter how heavy your workload is currently. Always be thinking, “when this is finished, what next?”
Be very clear on who your ideal client is and where you might find them and keep a database so you can follow them up. Keep an eye on your own online real estate too – have you optimized it to get found?
Here’s to more fancy dinners and artisan coffees!