The Freelancer's New Client Primer

by Brandon Sinclair

How can you get new clients for your freelance business?

This is a fairly common question, and it does seem very difficult to do when you start out in business. Try not to get discouraged. It all gets easier as you go along, and experience what it's all about.

Here are some general ideas, along with a few things that have worked for me (we survey our clients, and clients of other businesses, on a very regular basis).

The key methods to building your initial business might include:

1. ads and releases in the target market's media,

2. direct mail campaign with follow up phone calls,

3. asking for referrals,

4. networking, and personal visits to your target market asking them for business.

But first, let's take a look at the art of selling.

The Art of Selling

This is my golden rule of selling:

Getting clients is simple in theory. Figure out who wants (not needs) your product (for instance, Web design services) and tell them that you have the service that they might need. Then ask them to buy.

Now some people do this a lot better than others.

A Case Study

I purchased a boardroom table yesterday. It was from a young guy just starting out in business who's about to open his retail outlet. He asked me a heap of questions before I bought the table. How long have I been in business, where are my offices, what sort of business, etc., etc.

He sold me the table. Then he proceeded to ask me if I needed chairs with my new table? Was I okay for stationery -- because he sells stationery and could get me a great deal on letterhead, envelopes and business cards? He told me that his average customer saves hundreds of dollars a year.

What about fax machines, printers, scanners, and computers? Did I have all of those? "It's so hard to get good fax machines," he said. He sells all of those and would make sure I got a great deal. He could sell me a $300 fax machine for $280.

Okay then. I'll need print cartridges, fax paper, copy paper, etc. He sells all of that and his price is better than anywhere else. Can he help me with that? It's all delivered for free!

The Lessons Learned

This salesman did it all perfectly. He identified his target market (that's me -- with a business and an office). He told the target market how he could help them, and he quantified the benefit ("I'll save you hundreds of dollars").

1. Access the Market

He accessed his target market initially by advertising his second hand office furniture in the 'Office Furniture' section of the local paper.

So that's the first example of figuring out who wants your product and then telling them you have what they need. Simple!

2. Build Rapport

The second important point is that people deal with people they already know (and generally like). What that means is that you need to meet as many people as you can (called networking). Now this is an art form. Go to the opening of everything (except envelopes. You can get some nasty paper cuts)!

Your market as a Web designer is almost certainly businesspeople. Go where businesspeople go. It's a no-brainer. They go to industry functions. They go to charity lunches. They go to golf days. Go to those things and get talking!

We get a huge amount of our new business from networking things. And it's because it's an opportunity for personal contact.

For example, let's say I've just met you at a party and you tell me that you're a Web designer. I have a small business selling widgets. You know I'm in your target market, but you don't want to be pushy. Let's look at that golden rule again:

Getting clients is simple in theory. Figure out who wants (not needs) your product (Web design services) and tell them that you have the service that they might need. Now some people do this a lot better than others.

Here's crunch time for you as a business person! Get your communication skills working and you'll have your first sale. Stand out from the crowd. Get people to remember you.

3. Make The Sale

Start off by asking questions about my business. Find out about my industry and my work. I'm like everyone else -- I love talking about myself, so I'll keep going for hours!

Be sure to empathize. Tell me what a difficult industry it is. Tell me that you agree that it is very competitive. Then tell me this:

Explain that you do Web design and that you have a few ideas that can help me make more money. Tell me that you'll give me a call next week to have a chat. And make sure you get my details (don't give me your details and expect me to call. In 99% of cases I won't).

Of course, when you meet me you follow through with a proposal that demonstrates to me how a Website will help me sell more widgets. And you will even take a guess at how much more money I will make. This all goes without saying!

Now that's called a lead. And because you've established a personal contact, the lead has a far greater chance of becoming a paying client that other "cold" leads might.

The Secret to Selling Professional Services

That's a little secret right there: professional services clients (including Web design customers) are more likely to commence business with a supplier after a personal contact, than almost any other way.

A landscape gardener client of ours gets the vast majority of work from people he has met. Knowing this, he goes out and meets as many of his target market as he possibly can. He holds an annual Christmas party for his clients -- and this is his best marketing tactic by far.

Make Your Clients Work For You

Once you have an existing client base, they can act as a valuable source of information that will help you approach, attract, and engage new clients.

1. Ask For Referrals

The other proven great way to get clients is by referrals. Imagine you have a friend who meets lots of businesspeople. If that friend refers you a lead, then that lead has a great chance of turning into a paying client.

The important point here is this: what gets rewarded gets repeated. Take a kid in a supermarket throwing a tantrum, and screaming "Mummy, I want chocolate, I want chocolate, I WANT CHOCOLATE, I WANT CHOCOLATE!" Of course mum buys a chocolate to make the kid quiet.

What gets rewarded gets repeated.

Now, the next time he's in the supermarket, the kid wants a chocolate. Does he ask nicely? Nope. That doesn't work. He thinks back and then starts his little tantrum again, because that works. That was rewarded.

What gets rewarded gets repeated.

In business terms, this has the following implications: if someone refers you a client (or even a prospect), make sure they are rewarded. A thank you card, a dinner, a bottle of wine, movie tickets, chocolates, etc. Reward every person you deal with. I make a point of sending out 3 thank you letters each working day. That's 15 per week. That's 750 per year.

Do that, and the referrals will keep coming in. Our 2 biggest sources of business are referrals and repeat business. Basically we ask every client to refer a friend. And we ask every client for more business -- which is, of course, a bit tricky if you don't have any clients yet.

2. Surveys = Sales

Survey potential clients on what influences them when they're choosing the product you provide. What factors do they consider? Which other suppliers did they research before they chose to go with you? And what made them choose you over your competitors?

3. Benchmark Your Competitors

Next, benchmark the best in the business. If someone in the industry is very successful, act the client and see exactly how they treat you. Look at everything from how they answer the phone, and what they wear to a client meeting, to how they advertise. Benchmarking is actually another way of saying "look at what the good guys do and steal all of their ideas" Of course I would never advocate that, so I call it benchmarking!

4. Develop a Relationship Strategy

Develop a strategy to develop the relationships that you want. For example, send your clients the survey or phone them to ask them to participate in your survey. Once you have their responses, send them a letter to thank them for doing the survey. Then send me a brochure. Then send me an announcement that you have won an award. Then send me an announcement that your Web page is up and running (after you surveyed me about what I want in a Website). Then send me your quarterly newsletter. Then a Christmas Card. Then an invite to Christmas drinks. You get the idea -- keep in touch at least every 3 months. Intersperse the contacts with a direct approach, asking "Can we do anything for you?"

Show off those awards and letters of praise from previous clients. People are much happier to believe "I used DonTino. The work he/she does is great. I recommend him/her highly", rather than "We do a great job. Try us!"

Other Ways to Sell

The Sales Letter

Sometimes, you might decide to approach certain potential clients via direct mail, to generate new business leads. A successful mailing of only a hundred letters can often yield five to 10 highly qualified new prospects, so it can be worth your while. The secret is in hitting the mark with your letter, so when you're drafting it, be sure to include:

1. Sell Benefits and Past Successes

Remember to sell the benefits of your service, not the features. Mention, too, the huge response client ABC got once you completed their new Website was completed.

"We can show you the secret of increasing business 150% as we did for client ABC!"

"Finding the time to manage a business effectively is one of the biggest problems facing business people today. If you're like most people, you don't have enough hours in the day to get all your work done. That can lead to jobs half done, frustrated customers and even lost sales.

Using a consultative approach, DonTino identifies your specific needs and provides quality Web design services that meet your business goals, giving you one less thing to do and more time to do it. Increasing your business success..."

2. Include a Guarantee

Any kind of guarantee can help decrease the perceived risk your target customer might feel as they read through your letter. Guarantees help set their mind at ease:

"No risk, no-hassle!"

"100% money back if you are not completely satisfied."

3. Letter Essentials

Finally, make sure your letter demonstrates that you understand the client. How? Well, there are 3 things all clients have in common:

1. Clients want something for free
2. they want to save money and
3. they feel pressed for time

Incorporate all that into your letter and you're on a winner!

4. The Follow-Up

Follow up each sales letter you mail with a phone call. Don't wait for the client to contact you -- the likelihood of that happening is slim! Instead, show them that you really are interested in their business. Call them up, ask to speak to the person you sent the letter to, and get talking!

The Media Strategy

Plan a media strategy. It may sounds tricky, but you can start by sending off regular media releases to newspapers, radio and TV. They're often desperate for stories and run most things that have a human interest element to them. Always include:

1. a great photo (one that includes people),

2. a great quote ("We won the award because we are the best damn designers in the world!"), and/or

3. some great vision (i.e. TV footage).

Media coverage can provide an enormous amount of credibility and can work very well to spark the interest of potential clients. People will beat your door down if you are mentioned in the local newspaper! Give it a try!

Paid advertisements, used judiciously, can also have a great impact. Advertise in whatever media -- magazines, papers, tv stations, radio stations and more -- your target market frequent (information you should have obtained through your client survey).

Try also to track the success of your media strategy. One obvious way is to ask potential clients who contact you how they heard about your business. This will help you identify which communications tools are generating the best ROI, and, over time, help you optimize the overall effectiveness of your campaign.

Top 10 Sales Hints

10. Don't Tell them You're Not Busy!

Never tell anyone that you aren't busy, or that you're looking for work. Clients want to hire those who are successful, not those who are hungry. They don't care that you "badly need money." You have to show them why and how (and by how much) they will benefit by using you.

9. Include Your Details

Always put your name, address, and phone number on every piece of promotional material you produce. This makes it easy for potential new business to reach you.

8. Use Sales Literature

Create a package of literature describing your services, background, fees, methods, and so forth. Mail the package to people who request more information in response to your ads and mailings.

7. Produce a Newsletter

Newsletters help build recognition and establish credibility with a select audience (those who receive the newsletter) over an extended period of time. I started doing mine on Microsoft Publisher -- and it worked a treat.

6. Make Yourself Known

Offer to speak and give seminars before trade associations and professional groups. Make sure potential clients will be among those in attendance.

5. Present an Expert Persona

Write an article called "Does your business really need a Website?" This will establish you as an "instant expert" in the field.

4. Promote Your Successes

Let people know about your recent wins. If your latest Website was a rousing success, make copies and send them to prospects and clients in similar fields. Include a cover note that says, "Here's what I've done recently -- let me do the same for you!"

3. The Seven-Times Rule

People generally need to have had contact with you seven times before they trust you enough to deal with you.

2. Countering the Knock-Back

All of us have, at some point, been knocked back for a job. What do you do when this happens? Someone taught me ages ago to just ask why not every time you get knocked back for business.

Client: No we don't want you.
Designer: Why not?
Client: You're too expensive.
Designer: Okay, if my prices were the same as the competitions, would you use me then?
Client: No.
Designer: Why not?
Client: We don't think you can do the job.
Designer: If I show that we can do the job (via testimonials and demonstrations) would you use us then?
Client: No.
Designer: Why not?

Always remember to demonstrate your product. Show the client how much money they will make or save by going with you. Then demonstrate by third party referrals (for added credibility) how happy the client will be with the project¡?s results.

1. Be Smart About New Business

I was chatting to someone the other day via email who mentioned that many businesses already had Websites, so he counted those companies out of his potential client market.

This is a pretty common approach, but it's no way to get ahead. Look at it a bit differently from all the other businesses you're competing against. Look at it like this:

Your absolutely perfect target market is businesses that already have Websites.

Why? Because they already know they want one (after all, they have one). They know the benefits of having a Website. They have a budget for a Website. And they've already been sold on the reasons for having, maintaining, and optimizing an online presence!

Good luck. I know this isn't by any means a comprehensive list, but I hope it provides some ideas!