Why You Aren’t Landing Clients You Want (And What To Do About It)

client-handshakeA few days ago I had the idea to go through all of my past client and prospect communications. My plan was to see if I behaved and communicated differently when I managed to land the best clients, and to see how it differed from when my attempts were unsuccessful. After going through around 50 emails I came to a conclusion — I couldn’t find a clear dividing line between the two.

Sometimes I had sent a huge pitch in PDF format and the prospect loved it, practically begging for my address to send a check. In other cases I had done the exact same thing, and never heard from the person again.

There were times when people contacted me with a budget, a timescale, and exact outline of what they wanted. I didn’t have to convince them, they knew they wanted my services already. Yet there were times when I had to work my socks off close the deal (which, of course, didn’t always work out).

Before I did give up on my quest to find some kind of useful information from all of this, I came to a realization that I think will benefit all of us. I know the following statement will cause some discussion but I stand by it 100%.

The way you communicate with your prospects doesn’t matter as much as how your prospects found you in the first place.

Let me explain in detail.

My Strategy

When I first started out, I believed (as many people do) that the more places I could be found the more clients I would land. If I was in front of enough people, then surely, just based on probability, I would get at least a few new clients every month.

So, off I went, getting my name out there. And trust me when I say I went full force on this:

  • I took part in industry forums
  • I commented on the blogs of other freelancers
  • I wrote long and in-depth articles for my own blog
  • I emailed people with poor search engine rankings with a pitch
  • I was a very active user in a Digg-like site for my niche
  • I wrote articles for industry sources…

…and so many other things I probably can’t remember right now. Quite simply, I put all of my effort into truly getting myself out there. Looking back over the email communications now has confirmed my belief that casting your net too wide is not always a good thing and narrowing your focus is sometimes the best bet.

I realize now that I wasted a lot of time trying to land clients who would never commit to a deal, simply because of the location or method that they used to find me. Yet, people who heard of me through blogging, friend recommendations, or industry websites didn’t hesitate to hire me.

Based on this, there are just two things you need to do:

  • Define Your Ideal Client
  • Be Where They Are

If this sounds too simple to be true, that’s because you want to make things complicated.

Define Your Ideal Client

I can’t tell you what your ideal client should look like because that completely depends on what you do and how much work you can handle. If you’re a student with a spare 10 hours per week, you don’t want to be searching for a company that is looking to outsource 30 hours of weekly work. Similarly, if your freelancing income provides for your family, you don’t want to be competing with 50 other people on digitalpoint hoping to land a $30 logo or script.

As a successful SEO (and SEO didn’t have as bad a rap four years ago as it seems to do now) my ideal client was someone who already knew a bit about how things work so I didn’t have to do my job and teach them at the same time. On top of that, I wanted someone who was willing to pay for at least 4 months of work because you’re unlikely to see major search engine changes in a shorter time frame.

Spend a few minutes now just thinking of what your ideal client would be (realistically) and move on to the next section.

Be Where They Are

Thinking about it this way, with my ideal client in mind, I can now see which of my earlier marketing strategies were a total waste of time:

  • Emailing random website owners probably wouldn’t result in a nice 4 month+ contract
  • Commenting on blogs is just going to get the attention of other freelancers
  • Forum marketing is only going to land me people who have enough spare time to be on forums
  • Participating in a digg-like site is just going to get the attention of my ‘rivals’

None of these worked very well for me because I was being where my competition was, not my ideal clients. In my email communications, I don’t think I landed any great jobs through these sources at all, even though I was putting in lots of time into them.

In the end, my ideal client was best found near industry news sources like Search Engine Land (where I was a contributor). The few hours it took to write an article helped to give me work for months to come. I decided to focus on the strategy of writing for other sites and building my own blog and what happened? I made $20,000 in 4 months.

Of course, your ideal client might not hang around blogs, they might prefer forums, freelance marketplaces, industry conferences, conventions, or anywhere else. This is what you need to know. This is where you need to be. I’ve said it a few times on this site and I’ll say it again: trying to catch more fish by going to a bigger lake doesn’t always work out.

Finally, if you think this strategy is too simple, then let it be. Why make it complicated? The majority of pitches, PDF’s, phone calls and other communication that took hours of my time was with people who would probably never hire me in the first place. Once I had my ideal client in mind and popped up where their eyes were, my prospect to client rates jumped dramatically.


  1. says

    Good points, although if you’re looking for mainly development work, I guess your original strategy might have worked better? I too spend way too much time commenting on blogs and on Twitter. I’ve been thinking about writing for other blogs, but the only things I really could write about would seem to only be for other freelancers or design/development related.

  2. says

    That’s simple but true.

    We have been asking those questions with our services. We develop identities for new start ups and made a list of all the things a new business will do to get started. Certainly creating a logo is apart of that but there are other things. Like;

    Applying for a loan,
    Registering a Domain,
    .. and we thought of a few others. But you get the idea.

    Then we simply contacted people in those fields and most were willing to pass our name along. The results have been great.

    I love the pond analogy. It’s so true.

  3. says

    Great thoughts Glen!

    The start of this process could be outlined like this:

    1. Make sure you know exactly what you offer that’s unique and useful.
    2. Make sure you know exactly who out there has wants and needs that match your offering.
    3. Start creating content that forms a bridge between what they want/need and what you have to offer them.
    4. Find out where they go online when they want the kind of product/service that you have.
    5. Meet them there and invite them to visit your bridge content.

    I like how you used the phrase “clients you want” – there’s certainly a subset of all clients that would go under the “hmm, clients I probably don’t want” heading. :)

  4. crazywabbit says

    Picking your niche market for new comers to freelance is very difficult because they do not have a portfolio or work that showcases a targeted audience. Most want just to get jobs and with this economy anything that arrives at their door steps is a welcome business. Once one establishes themselves then targeting a niche market can be worth their efforts, but targeting and not knowing anything about that market and not having work to show for it, or specialty, is not the way to go.

  5. says

    Most people aren’t willing to envision and go after their ideal client, because they reflexively (and wrongly) believe they’re shutting out “everyone else.” Newsflash: you do want to shut out “everyone else.” They will suck as clients, you will hate the work, and you will not make more money.

    Be a freelancer, not a whore.

  6. says

    Glenn, this is a great post. I think it’s so easy to feel the pressure to put yourself out there any way you can that not only do you waste some of your efforts, you burn yourself out and run the risk of not being at your best when your best strategic efforts finally do pay off. Really excellent advice.

  7. says

    You’re right, Glenn, and it’s what I tell my readers all the time: determine who your target clients are, then be where they are.

    Sometimes that means paying to be a member of some forum or mastermind group. Freelancers shouldn’t be cheapskates and stay in free memberships. After all, clients who are in such groups (a) have expendable income, and (b) invest in their business.

    Go where people expect to pay good money for excellence, instead of trying to get away with paying peanuts.

  8. says

    Good advice Glenn!

    Blindly spewing out marketing materials rarely draws in qualified clients. Targeted marketing is key.

    Even after all these years, my biggest means of getting clients still seems to be referrals from clients and others who know me.

  9. says

    In my experience as a freelancer past 8 months or so, all those whom I pursued and pitched didn’t turn out as good relationships, but my good clients’ referrals did. Even those referrals too… those who know (as you rightly said) the value of an experienced copywriter can bring to their advertising and branding are the ones who readily agreed to my quotes and still campaign about us in the circles.
    The lesson I learnt is what you wrote in this post of yours: don’t overly bother and madly try to get more work from all sides… rather concentrate on the clients you’ve and give value to them and that in due course of time fetch you good results. In the spare time… write articles or posts on your expertise and experience.
    Today I went for a discussion and after long two hour discussion… the client still bargains and left me exasperated, and your post gave me the needed solution and direction to the way forward!
    Thank you so much!

  10. says

    Those are very good suggestions. I want to be where my clients are. Okay, I am a virtual assistant and I want to concentrate on attorneys. Most attorneys are at the court house. How do I advertise at the court house? Where else can attorneys be found? All suggestions are welcome.

    Cindy Freland
    Maryland Secretarial Services, Inc.

  11. says

    It’s hard when you’re starting out to be discriminating, but if you take every potential client who comes along, you will find yourself unhappy and poorly compensated.

    Most good coaches will advise you to define your perfect client. Once you know what you want, you are sending those vibrations out to the universe and you will find yourself attracting perfect clients. Law of Attraction works every time.

  12. says

    Glen, your post had me doing the end zone happy dance. Too often these days, new freelancers, and solo professionals are seduced by new media. They hear chants of where they should be and are never advised to ask “where are your clients?” I work with small and large clients and for some their ideal client is offline. It is critical to take time to define your ideal client and do the work of finding out where you can best reach them, and more importantly where to reach them when they are making buying decisions.

  13. says

    Great thoughts! Glen

    Its part of life’s game to be involve with clients who’s completely out or beyond of your “ideals”. I think what makes freelancers unique is their ability to cope and adjust with different people they are doing business with. Although, there are times things won’t go well and satisfying. You need to deal with it, practically.

    Defining an ideal client is good thought although you may not always get this persona, at least you have the standard of what you are really looking for. I guess that is a good step to take to make things organized and directed.

  14. says

    My experiences are similar. Identifying your niche market and your ideal client is difficult and tends to evolve with experience – which means you could go broke first! On the other hand having a niche doesn’t guarantee you business – you still need to find a way to market your service offering. Again this tends to evolve with experience. Surprisingly very few marketing consultants appear able, or willing, to help with B2B marketing, they appear to only understand B2C marketing. To me marketing is about two things, making sure your message goes where your ideal client is and helping them feel comfortable with you. One of my largest enquiries came from an article I submitted to a trade magazine. The biggest advantage of working to a niche, and having an ideal client, is that they become your best salespeople and often refer you to other potential clients.


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