Freelancers: how to land more clients (for people who hate the word "sales")
No way around it
As a freelancer, if you want to grow your business, there’s no getting around doing some selling. Lucky for you, sales isn’t quite what you think it is.
Real sales doesn’t have anything to do with browbeating people into a deal. Banish any ideas you have about being a used car salesman or Jehovah's Witness: sales is not about bothering people. It’s about being a matchmaker. It's about finding clients who appreciate your unique value-add, and who can afford to pay you.
When you find the right client, they’re going to feel like they owe you, not the other way around, as you'll come bearing the answers to their problems.
Yes, when you do it right, people will thank you for selling. They’ll greet you at the door and usher you in.
How can you find these right-fit clients? If they're not coming to you, you have to go knock on doors.
First, dress the part
If you were interviewing for a new job you’d get dressed up and get a haircut. In finding new clients, it’s the same. First impressions are everything and you don’t want to waste your time reaching out if your appearance is going to scare them away.
The single biggest thing you can do is to update your website. It’s your digital business card, and if yours is buggy, out of date, or looks generally uncared for, that reflects upon you. I highly recommend switching to Squarespace (no affiliation) as the templates are beautiful and spartan, and there’s a genius in its simplicity: because you can’t customize much, you also can’t break much. You can create it once and leave it alone.
Next, write your sales pitch down. Start by listing all the reasons why your current clients buy from you. Remember the WIIFM principle: only focus on benefits. Customers don’t care who you are until they know how you can help.
Ask yourself what your unique value-add is. How will you help them? How will they feel once they’ve purchased? Get it all down on paper, and then try to get your sales pitch down to just one or two sentences.
Here’s an example:
Customers are thrilled with the content I create because I’m an expert in their subject matter and because my writing drives readers to action.
With a website and a sales pitch, you’re ready for outreach.
Use LinkedIn to go knocking on doors, politely
If you choose only one channel to look for clients online, make it LinkedIn. You can use its search feature to look up companies as if you’re looking to be hired, and then message and sell to them.
You can also search for job postings that are relevant. For example, I create weekly search reminders that look for anyone hiring a content writer in the greater New York City area. These are ideal leads because these companies are publicly telling you that they need exactly what you offer, and as a freelancer (read: 1099 contractor), you’re at an advantage: you cost a lot less than a full-time employee and there's a lower barrier to them testing out your services.
Shoot them a LinkedIn message that uses elements of your sales pitch, but in a human-sounding way.
Here’s a common message I use:
While most responses are neutral, some start productive conversations:
If you're serious, pay for premium
Now, you will find that standard LinkedIn searches are pretty limited, and you may want to upgrade to LinkedIn Premium ($30/month, no affiliation) and, if you’re truly serious about selling, LinkedIn Sales Navigator ($80/month, also, no affiliation). Premium lets you search by wider criteria and Sales Navigator allows you to save leads, make comments, and send a greater number of messages. If you use either to land even one more client, they’ve more than paid for themselves.
To be successful at landing new clients, you have to be consistent, and you have to work at it. It's not unreasonable to assume that for every new client you want, you'll have to message as many as 50 people. That's because not everyone checks their LinkedIn inbox, and timing isn't always right. If this sounds intimidating, break it up into a once-per-week activity and put it on the calendar.
If you have the courage to do this, it's all the advice you'll need to start stepping into the doorways where you're enthusiastically welcomed in.