Five years ago in an article titled “How to Build an Awesome Freelance Funnel” I said the following:
“There’s one thing that all freelancers need, and it’s not a fancy website, Dribbble profile, Twitter account, or addiction to coffee: it’s clients. Without clients, you’re without money and have to consider returning to full-time employment. I’m guessing you left for that freedom, and no one wants to give up their freedom.”
Five years later, it’s still just as valid. However, some of the methods I ran through may not be as relevant in today’s era, and I’ve learned a lot since then, so it’s time for an update.
The time of Dribbble providing a steady supply of clients or marketplaces like Crew and Juiiicy paying the bills has long since passed. There’s now no magic bullet for finding a steady source of income for your freelance business and despite the seeming prevalence of platforms like Toptal and Upwork; these marketplaces do not provide what you’re looking for to fulfil your dreams of success.
Putting your future in the hands of luck isn’t good enough, you need to take the initiative; so you don’t find yourself waiting around in the famine period so often associated with being a freelancer.
To end this famine, you’ve got to be proactive and always be taking action to grow your personal brand and trying to spark new connections with potential customers.
To be able to have a pool of reliable potential leads consistently to welcome into your ecosystem or client roster, you need to know who you’re going to be talking to. By being aware of the human you’re talking to, you can tap into that person’s dreams, values and ultimately the things that make them tick.
Take the time to research the kind of people that your clients are, and use that information to build a persona that informs everything from how you speak to them, to the kinds of experiences that feel familiar or inspire the trust you need to succeed in your pursuit of paying customers.
After identifying the people you can help and who cares about what you offer, you need to find ways to get in touch with them and show how you can provide value that helps them reach their goals.
We’re not going to talk about warm leads (people who get in touch with you), as closing these is either a slam dunk or they are spam, and there’s not much I can do to help you there. Instead, we are going to look at cold leads, prospecting and finding referrals.
Let’s get started.
Sending emails to people you don’t personally know has developed a poor reputation, primarily because of spammy infidels sending you unwarranted or irrelevant spam demanding your money instantly. The direction we are going to focus on instead is one that gently pitches a request in a polite and to the point manner, all the while aiming to provide value and build trust with the person on the other side of the screen.
Once you know the kind of people you’re speaking to (we worked it out in the last chapter), you should have a solid idea of the kind of things you can reach out to offer that piques their interest. Have you written a book on the topic? Give them a free copy. Have you worked on something that they would enjoy? Show them.
Always provide as much value as possible when you reach out to ask a question, but don’t waffle or go on an endless monologue telling your entire life story; keep it simple and to the point.
So how do you find the people to reach out to with your value centred offering? Just like a cowboy would have back in the Wild West, it’s time to go prospecting.
To find the people who could potentially pay the bills of your freelance company, first take the persona and hypotheses you created and find the traits you can use to filter the big chunk of everyone into a small slice you can tailor everything towards. Then leverage platforms like Crunchbase, AngelList and LinkedIn to find those who fit your demographic, so you can get their details and reach out.
Once you’ve identified the people you can provide your service to, and how to show just how awesome you are by showing value, you need a manner in which to reach out to them. Let’s talk through my personal method. Hopefully, it provides some assistance when building your own process:
After identifying a company, incubator or investor that could have a project that would be suitable for my skills (and then researching them), I use a tool like Hunter or VoilaNorbert to get their email address. After finishing my research to make sure how I reach out resonates perfectly, I spark up my template and get to customising it so that it will strike the chord needed to build a connection.
You’ve got all the elements to start taking action every single day towards your freelance success, so what are you waiting for?
Oh, you need to know what to say as well?
While I’m here, I might as well cover that too.
In my article five years ago, I shared a template I put together that has become relatively commonplace in today’s outreach trends; because of that, it’s about time we switched things up — starting with our subject line.
Previously, I would have suggested a highly customised and extensive subject line for outreach; but as time has gone on, it’s clear that shorter and more to the point headlines are all the more likely to ensnare people into opening your email.
I personally have moved away from:
“Hey %NAME, I’d love to help with %XYZ.”
“Freelance UI/UX Design, clients include X, Y, Z.”
Flipping back towards this clear and to the point communication style of what the subject of a request shows you give a damn about the time of the person you’re contacting. Build from this simple and to the point opener and continue the same thread as you move into your email.
Open your email by getting any and all pleasantries or trust building in place, then move right into your ask; sticking to the point and keeping things easy to respond to and simple, here are some examples:
I read your article about “X” recently and really enjoyed it; I loved the part about Y.
Wanted to quickly reach out to ask if you ever needed any freelance design assistance; do reach out and I’d love to discuss how I can make the project a success.
I’ve attached my portfolio,
I look forward to hearing from you.”
This kind of email puts in place a foundation to build from, looking for something more immediate? How about this:
I’ve had some space come available and would love to discuss if there’s an opportunity to help make %Company make even more money.
Do you have some time to discuss your design goals on a call in the next few days?
I’ve attached my portfolio for you to take a look through at your leisure.
This email focuses on expediency and gets to the point as quickly as possible, all while offering a simple yes or no question opening up the opportunity for you to get your potential customer on the phone to sell them the dream more effectively.
If you’re building a more network-driven approach based on your own brand and content, your email may look something like:
I saw recently you were %doing activity to you relate to your offering, and thought that a copy of my recent book would help you, I’ve attached a copy for free.
If there’s anything else I can do, let me know (reach out and ask any questions you may have); and if you want to get updates on my future content, you can sign up at %url.”
The previous three templates are to give you an idea of how to present your offering, always make sure to tailor and craft what you send to get across your offering in a frame that the recipient cares about and think: “holy shit, how didn’t I find this sooner?”
By presenting your most valuable offerings up front and showing you’re a person worthy of trust; you strike the perfect chord to stand out from the noise and increase the likelihood of a reply and a new relationship blossoming.
To tailor the templates above, and the emails you write in future to feel familiar, so you can better build a story that someone can buy into as their own.
When you show you relate and are familiar with the communication style and understand how things work with those you reach out to, it’s all the more easy to gain their trust.
To discover the kind of vocabulary used by those in your audience, there are a few methods you can leverage:
Find the people who fit the persona you’re targeting in your pursuit of clients and customers, and discover ways that you can get their attention and time to ask them a few questions on a call or by email. Just as above, value their time highly and only ask the most critical questions that they can answer quickly. The answers unlock whole new perspectives to use when you’re perfecting and refining your offering to be the perfect fit.
Find the places that your audience consumes content, and you’ll gain an actionable window into what the people you’re helping care most about and further insight into the communication methods that work best.
Look at the articles, videos and content that your customers take in, and the places they do it; finding these hubs lets you get a glimpse into the research others have taken to serve those who fit your demographic perfectly.
Get yourself on social media and find the influencers that have impact and clout in the space you’re hoping to inhabit yourself; once you know these influencers, you can see what things your customers find appealing. Use this information to identify searches and common trends you can monitor to get even more knowledge of the movements your ecosystem make.
Once you’ve got the outreach in place and have started sending emails, don’t forget those you’ve reached out to. By regularly following up and checking in to see how you can help, you always remind of your value and that you’re available to assist. Make sure never to be annoying though, and if you’re told to stop, don’t continue pressing; otherwise, you run the risk of being labelled as a spammer. That’s the last thing we want.
To keep track of all of the work you’re doing, I would recommend finding a CRM that you enjoy using and can regularly check in on. I used to suggest a spreadsheet for keeping track of your outreach and lead network, but I’ve discovered with time that spreadsheets don’t encourage action as effectively as CRM tools such as HubSpot.
Once you’ve selected your CRM of choice, make sure to always use those tools you’ve got at your disposal not only to keep track of whom you contact; but also to add in your older clients and contacts to start checking in with them more often to potentially rekindle old work relationships or get new referrals.
Freelance success is built on always being equipped to fight the famine that is all too common in the industry. To combat those dry spells, you should continually be reaching out to new potential customers day after day.
The process outlined in this document gives you the blueprint to find and contact as many prospective clients as you’re able to get the drive to send emails to. Take advantage of it and use your unfair leverage to close some new business.
What are you waiting for?