A 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.
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.