How can I find freelance clients? Drink more coffee, make more sales.
If you are someone who says “I hate selling. Sales is not my thing”, let me first say, I feel you. I was introduced to sales by the first job I had out of college, working for a company with a product I didn’t really want to sell (B2B university software).
Now, let’s think about what do sales and prospecting mean for you. When you have a company, a service, or an offer you are proud of, and interested in growing, you will see sales as an opportunity to create new business for yourself, rather than an awful, stress-inducing activity. When you are passionate about what you are working to market, the chase will become exciting or at the very least, worth it.
This blog post is for freelancers who pursue remote and local opportunities, but my two cents are that it’s a little easier to create opportunities for yourself with local businesses and individuals. I prefer local opportunities because from experience, people online often search for the most valuable deal, even if the quality is not the best. I prefer to sit down with a prospect, learn about them, and use my personality (and of course skills) as a way to get the contract. Online, many interactions seem much more brief - “What’s your rate? Hm, too high. I need someone $10-$15 per hour. Thanks, no thanks.”
Much of these tips then pertain better to local, in-person meetings but you can still use them for digital meetings.
1. Decide on a niche
Before you call/email /go out of your way to connect with a prospect, answer these 2 questions:
What industry do you have an interest in or develop knowledge about?
What industry is not over-saturated with freelancers who can offer your skills?
For example: I live live live for skincare & beauty, but you know who else does? A lot of fantastic, experienced, social media savvy strategists who might have a lot more skills to offer (including creative direction, photography editing, connections in the industry) OR strategists who are willing to be paid a lot less.
Make your life easier by finding a niche that is not only up your alley, but also doesn’t get as many freelancers pitching their services. Scan your mind to see what other industries & professions you like that might be interested in your skills? Think about app companies, real estate agents, restaurant businesses, dentists, plastic surgeons, banks / credit unions, small schools / trade schools, wellness centers, holistic leaders, small venues, alcoholic / non-alcoholic beverages, boutiques off the beaten path, B2B companies, etc.
Find a company/ industry that are not “trendy”, “sexy”, “cool”, or “popular” yet, and make it so!
2. Reach out to the decision maker
When you find a business of interest to you, utilize Google, Linkedin, your local blogs & magazine articles to find the person who has the wallet to hire you. How many conversations do you need to have with sales representatives, managers, and other employees in order to get a “yes” or “no” to you? Go to the very top (whether to the owner of the business or the highest manager) and reach out to the person who has the power to give the green light to begin work.
3. Make the intro message short and sweet. Try to sit down for coffee.
I love to use my Instagram in particular, because it takes 2 seconds for the person whom I’m reaching out to, to check out my account, see who I am, what I am about, and my work.
A quick message can sound something like this :
or an email like this:
I typically (but not always) try to connect with slightly warmer leads by creating touch-points between myself and the business, before I message / email the company.
A touchpoint can include:
Stopping by the boutique / shop to experience it for yourself
Attending an event hosted by the business / entrepreneur
Being introduced through a colleague or friend of theirs
Taking a class or workshop with the business
Following the business on social media and sharing their events, updates, and information with my followers.
Subscribing to their newsletter, and commenting on it
Reach out to the individual via email or Instagram, sending a quick message to introduce yourself, and ask to grab coffee.
4. Make it as easy as possible for the prospect to say ‘yes’.
When reaching out to a prospect, make them the center of your focus. Reach out to them instead of providing your email (don’t say ‘my email is such and such, reach out if interested!).
When reaching out, make it easy for them to meet you in person by filling out as many blanks as possible. So instead of saying “Would you have time for coffee sometime?”, ask point blank “Let’s grab coffee! How does Wednesday, August 12, 2:00 PM at Starbucks on 17th Street work with your schedule?”
Now, the person is going to check their schedule, and hit back with a confirmation or a change to the schedule but you filled in most of the blanks!
After they say yes, send them a calendar invite (so that they don’t have to do it themselves, and they won’t forget about the meeting).
5. Do your research on the company/ person
~If you were to take ONE piece of advice from me (ever), this is it~
This step is crucial. Take 10-15 minutes before you ever meet with the person, research who they are.
Some things to look out for:
Background on the individual (where are they from, how long have they been in the industry, some information about their interests & hobbies)
Background on the business (how old has the business existed, who is their target demographic, which products they sell)
Social media presence (what kinds of posts do they have, what events do they host, what information they share, their branding, upcoming news, etc)
Blog (read or skim through how the business thinks, what their plans are, what kinds of tools and resources do they already take part in)
Research is important because:
The business owner will most likely ask you “What do you know about ____” or “Have you had a chance to look at our website?” When a person asks if you spent time to learn a little bit about them and their work, you damn well better say yes. Invest your time if you want the individual to invest in you.
You can find opportunities for your skills to be utilized. By seeing that they have an Instagram, but the posts are dull, outdated, or not connecting with the target audience, that’s a great way for you to write your narrative and fit your skills in by showcasing a pain point to the client.
It becomes much easier to connect with the person once you can bring up things you have in common.
8. Practice your elevator pitch and what you want from them
At a certain point, either the individual or you will have to switch into the pitch. Practice your sales pitch so that by the time you meet, you can sound natural and collected. In a short, quick pitch, tell the person why you wanted to meet and what can you offer them. When starting my social media management client search, my pitch was along the lines of
“I wanted to meet with you because ______”
6. Arrive early. Take Deep breaths
This is a personal rule of mine. I arrive early, maybe 10-15 minutes. I find a table in a less-busy corner of the coffee shop (because I get anxious that people will listen to my pitch and critique it in their heads. Silly, I know.) I get a coffee, and settle in. I review my notes on the person, and I take 5 long, deep breaths.
Why do I do all of this? Because I noticed that the times I am running late or on time, I become slightly unnerved, and then my thoughts don’t come out as eloquently, which makes me realize that my sentences don’t make sense, and I start to panic and trip over my words, and stop sounding confident and oh my god the prospect thinks I’m—…
It’s a vicious circle that can be broken by me simply arriving earlier. You might not have the same worries, so this is why this step can be omitted.
7. Start with some small talk
This seems like a dull way to start the conversation, but having small talk can help establish a connection, and make both you and the individual set a base for the conversation. You can chat about the coffee shop you are at, where you are from, how long you’ve been in the neighborhood/city, or the OG- the weather. Take a couple minutes to ground yourself and start to lead the conversation. This is a way for both parties to ground themselves when beginning a meeting.
8. Have questions prepared and take them through your thought process
You came to the meeting with an idea of what you want to get out of the client, and you are ready to pitch, but how much do you really know about the client?
I love to engage the client in them telling me about themselves, and then building off of their responses to ask follow up questions. These will depend on your offerings and your career.
Start broad, get more pointed:
I’ve read about your business on your website. I understand ‘XYZ’, but I would love to hear more from you. Tell me about your business.
What would be your main goal with [social media/ branding/ website development /sales]?
What are your biggest challenges right now with the business? What would you say your main challenges are with [social media/ business development / etc.]
How do you currently use [social media]? Which platforms do you like best? Which platforms do you dislike the most? Which platforms do you think are a priority for your target audiences?
What is your process of prospecting with [social media]? Do you do any events, workshops?
What do you expect from a [social media manager] (or whatever your profession is)? What is your best case outcome from our relationship?
How do you like to work together? Do you like check-ins, or do you like to know that the work is done? How do you feel about iterating and experimenting?
You 100% have to ask them questions about their business before starting to offer services and pitching. Make them feel special and heard. Ask lots of open ended, thoughtful questions, and really respond to their needs and goals.
9. Engage in subject matter expertise but don’t be afraid to talk “human” to them.
You are an expert in your field, and the person needs your services. The reason someone would want to hire you is because of your unique perspective, so showcase it during the meeting! Tell the prospect your observations about the industry they’re in, your thoughts on your specific industry (such as how social media is changing, and how that will affect the prospect), and your thoughts on the prospects’ target demographic.
How can your perspective help the prospect engage their audience, sell more products, and meet their goals? Connect the dots for the prospect, and they will love you for it.
10. engage in Tangents but lead the conversation
When the prospect talks, you’re doing something well! He/she is giving you answers from the soul, but it’s your job to make sure that you stay on track. If the conversation steers off too much, bring it back with asking a question or simply saying “But to return to ___ for a second..”. It’s your meeting. Make it count.
11. Decide on “the next steps”
Never leave a meeting without putting forth some next steps. Is it an email, a phone call, a pitch deck? Decide on what it is, and make sure to follow up.
12. Ask the prospect whether they could connect you with their network.
This is a suggestion for the ones of you trying to grow your business, your network, or your understanding (abut a topic). Ask your prospect whether there is anyone in their network that you should get to know, and make a note. Follow up about this in your thank you note.
13. Send a thank you note, and stay connected
Always send a short thank you note summarizing why you appreciate that person for meeting with you, some thoughts from the meeting, and any follow up requests / obligations you have.
Connect with the person on Linkedin / Instagram / etc, and make sure to nurture the relationship.
14. Send a proposal and ask to meet again to discuss it, and the price
Send over any documents, resources, information that you discussed in the initial meeting. I love to meet with the prospect again after I send the proposal (if that’s the nature of the meeting) to continue