If you ask people what they are afraid of when they’re thinking about going freelance, pretty much everyone answers with “finding new clients”. It’s understandable, too: When you’re relying upon yourself 100%, it’s up to you and you only to bring new business through the door. It’s even worse if you’re a solopreneur who mainly works online, because how ON EARTH will people find out about you if you’re just one of billions of websites on the Internet? Here’s the great thing, though: Today, and especially on the Internet, there are tons of options to sell your business/products/services. You don’t necessarily have to hand out flyers, book an ad in a local paper or book a slot on the radio (you probably also can’t afford it, either). Let me walk you through a few pointers when it comes to finding new clients – there’s probably going to be something useful in there for everyone, whether you’re new to this or not.
Fake it ‘til you make it.
I don’t remember whether it was Eva Chen or Aliza Licht who said it first, but it’s the best piece of advice I’ve received in the past 10 years, easily: Fake it ‘til you make it. Which simply means that being new to something shouldn’t stop you from acting confident and self-assured (“acting” being the important word, here). I’ve been in countless situations where I felt I was way in over my head, but by calmly and decisively stating “Sure, I can do that” I booked a few gigs that otherwise would have gone to someone else. Now, you’re obviously not going to say yes to doing a brain surgery if you’re a copywriter, but anything else that’s remotely related and that you believe you can pull off – GO FOR IT. There’s still time to figure out details afterwards. This might seem like a superficial step to land new clients, but believe me, it makes all the difference. The less on-paper experience you have, the more you have to highlight your personal assets (if this sounds dirty to you, that’s SO not what I mean). I know from personal experience that people will often choose the person they feel best about instead of the person most qualified for a project – while this isn’t ideal, we’re all human after all, and you can at least make sure it works to your advantage when it happens.
Content marketing. Cold calling. Crazy guerilla marketing stunts. It seems like there’s at least a million ways of reaching out to your audience. So it’s probably best to do a little bit of everything, right? NO. The worst thing you can actually do is simply copy everyone around you and half-heartedly throw out a few things, then wonder why nothing happens. First things first: Figure out what you are comfortable with when it comes to selling. Online or offline? Via email or on the phone? On social media or at a networking event? Secondly, think of what you are selling. If you’re a graphic designer, Instagram or Pinterest Thirdly, it helps to think about where your clients are. Are they mostly on the Internet, at coffee shops, fairs, markets or co-working spaces? These things help you decide what to focus on.
Think of a few boring rules.
I knooooow, I know. Being free and happy and sitting around in your pajamas all day is what you signed up for – nevertheless, in order for this freelancing thing to work out you have to figure out a few rules, especially when it comes to finding new clients. When you have decided on your preferred of mode of getting in touch with people, write down the following: How often do you want to contact potential clients? What are you going to charge for your services? How many clients do you need to book every month/quarter/year? How much business do you actually need to survive, at least? A good way of figuring this out is to put together your fixed costs and think of how many projects/clients you can take on at the same time. Don’t hesitate to reach out to fellow freelancers (like me!) and ask them how they do it – we can all learn something from each other, even if it’s just how NOT do to it (I, personally, can write a book on that). Then set a goal, for example: Every week, you’ll aim to send out 20 emails to potential new clients and schedule least one face to face meeting every week. Which new clients, you ask? Well, that’s entirely up to you! When I started out as a social media consultant, I looked through local papers for shops or restaurants that had just opened or I contacted companies that I really admired and wanted to work with. Or, you can decide on going to at least one somewhat work-related event each week, whether that’s a business breakfast, a podium discussion or an open day. Co-working spaces are a great resource for these kind of things! Just make up a few rules and stick to them – this will help you get the hang of it.
A great pitch goes a long way.
It should go without saying but for the sake of completeness: Your pitch has to be #flawless (yes, the Beyoncé kind of flawless). I don’t care if you’re a photographer, graphic designer, developer, or masseuse – you HAVE to know what you’re talking about. Doesn’t matter if you are going to sing and dance to present yourself or bring an iPad with a super awesome presentation – you need to nail this. Personalizing a pitch is essential! Make sure you research your potential client as much as you can and don’t hesitate to give out a little bit of free advice. Like Maya always says: If you don’t know enough about a topic to give away information for free you’re not much of an expert. Here’s who I would like to hire: Someone who’s enthusiastic but professional, infectious but trustworthy. It bears repeating: If you can’t offer 5+ years of experience in your role, show them exactly how you will go above and beyond in catering to your client’s needs. This doesn’t mean telling them you’re available 24/7, 365 days per year – but it does mean highlighting the fact that you’re incredibly motivated to start working with them and that you have already thought of 3-4 things that could be implemented right away.
Now tell me: What else are you afraid of? Let's address these things step by step.
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