Every freelancer…every last one of us…goes through periods where we sit back and wonder where our next client (a.k.a. income) is going to come from. So if you’re working through this challenge right now, know that you’re completely normal, it’s a good sign you’re serious about your freelance career, AND you can turn it into something great!
Getting in the habit of asking yourself questions around generating new clients means you’re learning how to stay tuned in to the best clients in your niche — and that’s the foundation of a truly successful and profitable freelance career.
Whenever I notice my client pipeline going quiet, I sit back and look at a few areas and inevitably I find that I’ve let something slide or gotten a little slow on some habit I used to do regularly. To help you do the same, I’ve put together these questions to run through whenever things start to go silent in your client pipeline.
Is my skill needed?
This is the most important question to answer, especially for new freelancers, since freelancing is all about meeting the needs of businesses. As much as your happiness and doing what you enjoy matters, passion won’t create demand.
Every freelancer has to ask themselves honestly whether their skill is needed, and who exactly is doing the needing.
Thankfully, this isn’t some unsolvable mystery — businesses are out there every day telling the world the kinds of business problems they’re having. Their needs range between everything from podcast help, to virtual assisting to customer service and coding, so anybody can find a spot for themselves with a little digging.
Businesses put this information out in a few places including their own job boards, LinkedIn, and yes, on bidding sites such as Upwork. Don’t knock Upwork (or any other site like it) — freelancers have built very profitable careers using these sites for research. They simple pay attention to the kinds of jobs that get, and shaping their career around that.
You might want to be a bit more specific than those freelancers, but always, always start your questions around getting clients with what businesses need.
Action step: Either visit Upwork (or Guru, or another bidding site) or try doing a search for skills that interest you and the word “freelance” and see what you find. Job postings, articles, and even other freelancers’ sites and profiles are clues that you’re looking at a skill that works well in freelance form.
Does my niche pay?
This is another fundamental question, because not every niche (something you should definitely have) is created equal.
Some, like tech, healthcare, government, finance, and retail almost always have a strong string of cash flowing around them. The same can’t be said of every niche, so know that your earnings as a freelancer are likely directly tied to the money your niche already generates.
Action step: Check the niche(s) that interest you and use a search engine to find some of the bigger companies. Use a site like Hoovers to search and see the kind of money they bring in. If you’re not seeing big players in the billions, don’t be discouraged…this just means you might have to be more creative or selective when it comes to finding out how to make a good income in your chosen specialization…it could also mean though, that you might want to consider branching out just a bit.
Am I taking time to connect with the big players?
Once you’re looking at a skill with some demand behind it and have found a niche that looks viable, it’s time to practice that essential freelancer skill: listening.
I’m gonna let you in on something…businesses follow trends just like fashion or food. They’re more subtle about it, but they work similarly. That means, if you can identify who the innovators and “trend-setters” are, you’ll have a leg up in attracting (and closing on) new clients.
Action step: I’m not saying you necessarily want to approach the biggest players in your niche as clients (you might!), but stay on top of what they’re doing — follow them on social and watch the news they share and events they attend. Sign up for their newsletters. Follow their execs on LinkedIn. It’s easy and it will give you a lot of info on your world as a freelancer (with minimal effort on your part.)
We live in an amazing era where social media and email allow us to listen in on some of the deepest needs businesses have, and usually for free, so take advantage of that!
Am I starting conversations?
For a while I was going through a really nice period where leads were just coming to me (thanks to some work on my website and social presences.) Well…I got kinda lazy and slowed down on my blogging and social interactions. And guess what…I’m feeling it now.
That’s ok though, since I know how to get back into the groove of posting and connecting on social. It’s actually very simple if you stay in touch with what’s going on in your niche as well as with who’s having the conversations. (This is also how you build freelance relationships slowly over time…they’re the best kind.)
Have I taken time to create my value statement?
Clients pay you because you bring them value. Dassit. Nothing more complicated than that.
If you pay attention to the brands you spend your money on, you’ll notice they tell you pretty bluntly exactly how their product will improve your life. You should do the same.
Action Step: Read this post and get started on messaging that reflects the value you bring to your clients. Seriously…do it with a pen and paper and everything. It’s one of the most important things you’ll ever do as a freelancer. Our Academy members will be working on that this month, so if you want to join in and get some feedback, come claim your free trial month.
Am I telling the world what I do?
Freelancing…and I say this as an introvert myself…is not the place to be shy.
…or timid, or modest, or vague.
Confidence informs clients and confidence wins clients, so now’s the time to let everybody know what you do as a freelancer. Don’t feel like a great freelancer yet? No problem…that’ll come with time. In the meantime, though, things as simple as boldly advertising your freelancer status on your LinkedIn page or creating a Twitter account just for your freelancing are great ways to get your confidence growing.
Action Step: Choose one social profile and dedicate it as your freelance profile. Speak through it professionally and connect with business people there. You’ll start to feel more official (and you’ll be more well-known) before you know it.
Do I have a marketing habit?
If being a freelancer has taught me anything, it’s that success is the product of small habits. The same goes for getting clients.
Marketing can seem completely overwhelming at first, but if you start small, you’ll build a system that’s sustainable, low-stress, and that gets you the results you want.
Action Step: Build a marketing calendar. Here’s an example to start.
Do I have a list of leads?
So I’ve talked a bit about connecting with people, investigating companies, and following folks on social…while you were doing all of that, you probably noticed that you ran across quite a few companies — the kinds of companies that hire freelancers like you.
Keeping a list of the companies that are launching new products, hiring new employees, and innovating in new areas is a great way to start a list of potential leads. Get in the habit and you’ll always have somewhere to go when you need to dig up new business.
Action Step: Start a spreadsheet where you keep the names of companies, what they do, how to contact them and notes on why you originally found them interesting. Keep it updated and periodically go back to it to hit them up and find out if they need help with any business problems they’re having. Also, check out this post on prospecting.
Am I cold contacting?
…and this is where we come to cold contacting. I used to LOATHE doing this, but it works and it gets easier.
Work won’t always come to you and sometimes, bidding sites aren’t enough. Getting in some practice just stepping out there, introducing yourself, and offering your services will completely change the way you view yourself as a freelancer, and even how you engage with clients.
Action Step: Make a point of making at least one cold contact (from that list of leads) a week. Build from there until you’re pushing past 10. You may need more or less to hit the number of clients you want to have, but the point is to get started.
Do I have a simple contact formula?
OK, so cold contacting can be awful if you feel like you have to come up with some game-changing, revolutionary new email or message every time you want to hit up a new company. Thankfully, you don’t — All you need is a simple formula and I’m going to tell you mine.
Since I’m a business writer, it’s pretty easy for me to tell when a company is lacking in pretty words for their business. That’s why I usually make sure my cold contacts are founded on that…I start most of my cold contacts pointing out something a company is missing.
That might be a little bold, but it works…and that’s because after I point out what they’re missing, I offer myself as a solution to the problem. It was hard at first (I felt SO rude) but the more I did it, the easier it got, and eventually, I created templates (another resource our Academy members have access to) to help me work even more efficiently.
Action Step: Come up with a list of three things every one of your cold contacts will include. Create a form (possibly on that lead spreadsheet) where you track them for each potential client. Something as simple as…
- Business problem
- How I can help solve it
- Benefits of solving the problem
…is a great place to start.
Those 10 questions might seem like a lot, but remember that you’re not working through them all at one time. They can work either as a guide to building a presence that gets you clients, or as a periodic “check up” list to make sure all your freelance work is on point.
If you’re having challenges getting clients, let us all know in the comments! You never know who might have a solution for you.