17 Mar Starting a Freelance Business – Part 6 Find your first clients
Starting a Freelance Business – Part 6 Your First Clients
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Welcome to post six of ten of the post series ‘How to Start a Freelance business”.
The purpose of this post series is to give freelancers thinking about starting their careers the tools they need to take the first steps towards their goals and break away from the traditional work environment.
This post series will take you through the first steps to develop your service, identify your market and get your first clients.
Your First Clients
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After you have defined the right market and identified your ideal clients (Read about discovering your market and ideal clients here), it’s time to find some actual clients or case studies to further validate your business idea. Finding your first clients can be a hurdle that derails some of the most promising freelancers from ever actually starting their businesses.
Your first 1-5 client engagements are so important for your business and can shape how your business moves from a freelance concept to a professional service offering. This stage of your business is all about having a ‘soft’ launch which means offering services to specific people you identified as ideal clients to ensure you have a long-term viable business with a service offering that connects with your audience.
My Mistake Launching my Business
One of my biggest mistakes I made when I started my business was providing a service initial research told me my clients wanted. Although I had spoken to a number of potential clients and people in my industry about my service when it came time to sign clients up to the service it didn’t align with what they were willing to pay for.
My idea was:
To provide a more modernised process and solution for document management with more premium service than was currently offered in the market.
Although prospects in my market were excited by the concept during initial discussions it turned out that they weren’t willing to pay for these additional services and were looking for more of a ‘bare bones’ and traditional approach. This was primarily because my clients were small businesses not wanting to change ‘the way things were done’.
My Solution After my First Set Back
After my first client it was clear my original service concept was close but didn’t align exactly with what my clients actually wanted and were willing to pay for. Fortunately I listened to the feedback my initial clients provided.
I refined my service to provide an offering that aligned exactly to what people were asking for (although in some ways it went against my tech and modern focus – the market wasn’t willing to pay for or value the service at the time).
Why do you need more than one client to validate your concept?
I was fortunate that I saw the issues with my service offering with my first client. However, a lot of freelancers wont get this feedback from their first client. Any business can find at least one person willing to support your concept but having feedback from a number actual clients will give you the confidence that you need to launch a professional freelance business.
Having several clients will also allow you to verify there is more than one person willing to pay for a service and the market is active.
So what do you need to do to find your first clients?
Finding your first client is all about connecting with the right people who you can help the most. One strategy is to make a list of 10-50 possible clients that would benefit from your service and contact them directly. This will save on a market budget and will often mean you can get faster traction before you officially start your business.
Tips For Finding Your First Clients
- Contact people in your network – Have you worked in the industry before or do you know something that could add value to a potential client?
- Attend networking events – meetup.com can be a great place to start looking for clients. Be sure to properly qualify that the right people will be at these events otherwise you will find yourself wasting a lot of time networking with people that wont add any value to your business.
- Directly contact potential clients. Pick up the phone and call people that may be interested in your service.
- Online Profiles. Is your LinkedIn profile up to date?
- Local Advertising. Do you have a local service offering that allows you to reach out to friends or family in the area?
Why will you stand out as a freelancer?
Understanding the value you add to your market and why clients will come to you can help you refine your sales pitch to allow clients to understand what they will gain from your service.
A great way to illustrate your value as a freelance is to this is by providing specific examples or testimonials. Even if you haven’t had any clients you can get some information from your prospect and do a quick analysis of their situation and what you would do to solve their problem. This should always conclude with a closing question to encourage prospects to engage your services.
To simplify the process of finding your unique value your checklist should include:
Title/ Service: Your service title should clearly explain what you do and where possible mention your target market. E.g. Corporate Personal Trainer, Small Block Landscaper, Consultant Book keeper, etc.
Service Tagline: Describe the problem you solve or the solution you have. The purpose of this ‘tagline’ is to sell the value associated with your service. E.g. the small block landscaper may provide innovative solutions for small spaces.
After you have your title and tagline, it’s a good idea to drill down into the concepts of your service.
Main Problem or Trigger for clients: What is the problem you are solving and what causes people to take action to address the problem.
Cause: Not having a useable outdoor space.
Your Solution: Give clients an outdoor living/entertaining area by utilising small spaced
This information should always relate to the main problem you intend to solve as part of your business.
Freelance Business Platform
73% of freelancers agree that technology has made it easier to find freelance work, compared to 69% in 2014.
There is no doubt that technology and online market places have made it easier for freelancers to find work. However, there may be more lucrative opportunities offline. As a freelancer you should understand the limitations and benefits of different platforms for your freelance business model. Competing for work in different market places can be challenging especially if your market is very price sensitive and you live in a country with a higher cost of living but that doesn’t mean you cannot build a profitable freelance business using either online or offline market places.
Online market places by nature are highly competitive (the most recent stat I read was 8% of moderately experienced freelance proposals are picked up) meaning you have to spend a lot of time refining your pitch and completing proposals to gain any traction. Employers will almost always have a preference for freelancers who have completed a number of jobs with good reviews. This can often make it difficult to compete until you start building a reputation on these sites.
Here are some steps to help you start building your brand and getting jobs before you have a lot of completed projects:
1 – Complete your profile. – Nothing says unprofessional on these sites like an incomplete profile. Be sure to specialise on one platform website because each market place will take time to learn and build a reputation.
2 – Bid on the right jobs. It’s ok to not bid on a job! Actually read the requirements of the project before submitting your bid. When I post a job on a freelance site and get proposals within the first minute of posting the job ad, I know the freelancer hasn’t read my requirements.
3 – Submit a quality proposal. The proposal you provide for a project may follow a template but do not copy and paste your proposals.
Ask questions before you accept a job.
Asking the right questions before you accept a job can save you a lot of time to confirm what the client wants. Sometimes what the client describes the project as is different to what they actually need. Briefly outline the scope of the work to create that expectation for the client and describe what you think they are asking for.
Freelancers online rely on feedback for their business growth and sustainability. Always repay the favour to clients by completing their feedback. Be honest but fair without sounding disgruntled after a poor experience because it can backfire on the freelancer.
After you have completed a project it always recommend sending the client a quick private message to thank them for the project and confirm they were happy with the service. Don’t forget to also ask if they have another project that you could complete.
For my freelance business I prefer marketing and running an offline business because it allows me to take on less larger projects over the course of the year. Although the suitability from offline to online markets often depends on the niche you are trying to service, I personally prefer the offline model because there is:
- Less competition on price. Although the offline model relies on a lot of face-to-face networking it does often mean that you don’t find yourself in a bidding war amongst other freelancers meaning you don’t need to negotiate on your rate.
- Easier communication. By marketing my business offline I have found the communication to be easier between myself as the freelancer and my clients.
- The ability to leverage your skills to become a market leader.
The principles for getting clients is the same offline as with online market places but the process may be slightly different when establishing yourself in the market.
I have found it easier to get clients offline due to the ability to directly connect with clients. After you have found your market and identified ideal clients (Chapter 6) you should have listed a number of clients you can speak to about your service. This process involves you reaching out and asking questions to address their concerns and start selling your service. This is also a great time to learn about where your clients will be. Do you attend a regular networking event, do they subscribe to trade newsletters etc?
I would always recommend that freelancers focus on one core market place. Taking the time to properly network with client’s offline or creating solid proposals all take time and refining your sales pitch and proposal skills as you start your job is vital to secure ongoing work.
As I have said before success comes down to focus so it is often better to focus on one main way of generating business. Although the environment of online marketplaces and traditional environments are slightly different the fundamentals of winning a contract as a freelancer follow the same principles. The key as a freelancer is to understand what the client wants and the expectations they have for the project.
Do you have a Freelance Business Question?
Don’t forget to include your Freelancing FAQ by commenting on this post at the bottom of the page or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about freelancing and to stay updated on the How to Start a Freelance Business Series please sign up to get access to the free manifesto that will act as your mantra as you grow your freelance business. If you missed part 1 be sure to give it a read.
Read the Next Part in the Series Get your first freelance networking.