The following is a guest post by Adam Palmer, entrepreneur, tech guy and freelancer at The Savvy Freelancer.
I've read more articles than I can count on "how to get more leads," or "how to grow your network," and afterwards—I'm just as confused. They usually go something like this:
- Find some potential leads.
- Find out what problems they have.
- Present a solution to their problem.
- Get paid!
"Great...but HOW?" I'm screaming at my monitor. "No one ever replies to my emails!" When you're not getting responses to your emails, it's impossible to really be sure of where you went wrong.
Was the email no good? Did the recipient even get it? Should I send another one? Finding leads isn't particularly challenging—your LinkedIn profile is a good place to start, and here are 27 more ways to find freelance clients. When it comes to making contact and standing out though, you'll need to put a bit more thought in.
When you've identified a lead, i.e. found someone with a need or a problem, the worst thing you can do is fire off an email explaining how qualified, experienced and generally great you are, and then asking them to hire you. The initial outreach is about them, not you. First step: understand the person you're talking to. Here are some things to be thinking about:
- Who are they? Age, gender, and background?
- What does their Company do? Culture, size and attitude?
- What drives the person you're reaching out to? Is he hiring on behalf of his own company? Is he a recruiter working on commission? Is he trying to meet targets? Is he growing his own business?
- What type of language does his Company use both internally and across their wider industry?
- What pains, problems and fears exist across that industry?
You need a detailed picture of the client's mindset. As a frequent employer of software developers, I'll give an example in that niche:
The Requirement: I need a great developer to build a Wordpress plugin that will allow me to display notices and tips on certain pages in a highlighted box (I should be able to specify the box color). I need a box underneath for visitors to sign up to my email list.
The fears and problems that clients have when working with software developers are pretty much the same across the board:
- Project ends up significantly over budget.
- Developer disappears mid project and/or never completes it.
- Developer goes off in the wrong direction and doesn't build what the client asked for.
- Missed deadlines.
- Poor development code quality. The product may function but will be buggy and difficult to build on later.
The freelancer that reassures my concerns will win the project hands down. I'll give a specific example on how to do that further down under "How to Reach Out." The freelancer that responds with a canned, "I'm a very experienced developer, here's my portfolio, and my rates are $40 per hour" will only ever be competing based on portfolio and price—not a good position to be in when you're potentially competing against hundreds of other freelancers for a project.
Understand the Client's Needs
The next step is understanding (in detail) what the client really wants. What has the client asked for from a technical perspective?
- I want a Wordpress plugin to display text on specified pages in a styled box.
- I want the ability to specify styled box color.
- I want form boxes for visitors to sign up to mailing list.
What does the client really want?
- I want to grow my email list.
- I want control over my style.
If you can respond to the real wants rather than just the technical needs, you'll have taken another massive leap past the competition. In fact, the more you understand your clients needs, the more likely you are to build a mutually beneficial, long term relationship.
How to Reach Out
And finally, it's time to write a response. The secret formula? Here it is...
- Respond to the client's real wants.
- Respond to the fears and concerns.
- Add that extra bit of value by providing relevant suggestions.
- Keep it as concise as possible, and end with a simple "yes" or "no"—don't expect the client to respond to detailed questions with an essay (he won't bother).
Here's how I would respond:
Hey Mr Client, I'd love to apply as your Wordpress plugin developer [Speak to the real needs, offer extra valuable suggestions]. I can absolutely build a plugin to help you capture signups, while also allowing you to keep control over the box coloring across different pages.
Have you considered a toggle button for dotted borders?
Would it help you to have the option of also changing the font and size of the text in the box? That way you can test which styling results in the most signups [Speak further to the real need - growing the mailing list, increasing confidence].
I built a similar styled newsletter signup box a couple of months ago, and it resulted in 20% list increase in the first two weeks [Address fears and concerns]. I know how frustrating it can be when projects go over budget and deadlines are missed. I guarantee that my quote and timescales are accurate. To ensure you get the highest quality code (allowing you to easily build out the plugin in future), my code is well structured and commented, and complies with industry best standards (the PHP PSR-2 coding guide).
[Simple yes or no question] Can we get on a Skype call in the next day or two to discuss further? I'd like to understand more about your business and your needs, and would also like to walk you through some of my relevant plugin projects and client testimonials.
Notice how you've said nothing about years of experience, the 17 different (irrelevant) programming languages that you're an expert in or huge portfolio of random projects. Outreach like the one in the example would definitely get a response from me, even if it was to say that it wasn't what I was looking for.
This freelancer has gone out of his way to understand my needs and offer me a couple of suggestions - I would feel guilty not replying. By proving your value and your ability to understand the client's needs, you avoid having to produce free sample work and jump through hoops to try and win the project. (You absolutely must avoid working for free).
The sole purpose of the initial outreach is to show you understand the needs, demonstrate that you have a solution, and then get a "yes" or "no" answer to getting on a call. As you test out the process, you might find that clients come back with certain questions. Next time, incorporate the answers to those questions in your outreach if appropriate to make it even easier for the client to just say, "Yes, let's do it."
Learn from mistakes, test different formats, and refine your process. If you take action on the steps in this article, I guarantee that not only will you start getting far more responses to your outreach, but you'll also start building better client relationships.
This is a guest post by Adam Palmer, entrepreneur, tech guy and freelancer over at The Savvy Freelancer. Ready to take your freelancing career to the next level? Head on over and get my free guide on "How to Win Top Paying Clients."