Have you set some goals for your freelance business this year?
If you’re like most other freelancers, there comes a time when you have a lull in your work and have to scrape around to get more clients.
This is why it should be an ongoing goal for every freelancer to maintain a reliable pipeline of clients, so that hopefully this scenario is not a common one for you!
How can you achieve this? We’ve seen a lot of posts that basically tell you to ‘go forth and network’, but if there’s one thing we dislike, it’s ideas that are mostly theoretical with no real meat behind them. That’s why we’ve sought out methods that are actually used by freelancers and have been proven to work.
We’ve put together a few proven strategies for maintaining a strong client pipeline and avoiding the ‘boom or bust’ situation…
Building Your Pipeline
Set up a regular time for reaching out
When you’re really busy with work, things like reaching out to possible new leads are often the items that get left off the list. It’s understandable. But part of running a successful freelance business is that you make the time for the ‘business activities’, lead generation being an important part!
Some freelancers pick a certain day of the week such as “I will devote Friday mornings to finding new leads”, others set specific goals like “I will send out 5 prospecting emails before 11am every day”. However it works for you, the key is to create a habit and stick to a consistent schedule. Don’t let a busy period keep you from your regular reach-out schedule; you will regret it when the busy time is over and you are floundering for clients…
Here are some ways to reach out to build your pipeline:
Look for the clients of other freelancers
It’s not that you want to steal the client, but as Paul Jarvis points out, you can potentially learn a lot from those who fit your ideal client profile and have hired freelancers before.
Here’s how he goes about it:
- Check out the websites of successful freelancers and find the clients they have listed.
- Ask them a few questions that will provide you with helpful information for finding and marketing to your ideal clients.
It might take a number of emails to get a response, but if you send enough you should get responses which point you toward exactly how you should be pitching your services. As Jarvis points out…
You may land work from this exercise alone, but at the very least you’ve learned something you can apply to your future pitches…
The good old-fashioned spreadsheet
Every freelancer should create a general picture of what their ideal client looks like: this allows you to go out and identify businesses who fit that description. It also helps you avoid wasting time pitching to businesses who either can’t afford or don’t need what you offer (perhaps they have a person in-house).
Martha Retallick suggests your profile should include information on the industry, annual revenue, maturity of the business and where it is located (for example, do you want to focus locally, nationally or worldwide?).
The revenue part is quite important. Freelance writer and coach Carol Tice recommends that writers and marketers approach businesses and start-ups that have at least $1 million in revenue or venture capital funding. This means that they are probably too small to have an in-house marketing team but are big enough to have a marketing budget. You will need to work out the revenue parameters relevant to your own niche.
Keep more prospects in your pipeline! Get the checklist of 16 places to find freelance clients here.
Start your search online to create a list of leads and input them into a spreadsheet. Here are a few places you can look:
- Industry directories.
- Local Chamber of Commerce.
- Trade Association member lists.
- Company websites.
- Lists of trade show or conference participants
Try to find the name and email address of someone who would have the authority to hire you. If not, you can always ask to be referred to the right person in your email (or phone call, or even hand-written letter as we mentioned in our post 33 Ways To Get More Clients).
Use your spreadsheet to keep track of these potential prospects, when they were contacted, and what response you got.
Tom Ewer suggests that you track on average how many leads it takes you to turn a prospect into a client. This helps you stay focused on growing your business because it makes it easier to calculate how many clients you need to reach your income goals.
Find active groups on social media
‘Go forth and network’… just kidding! This is a solution more friendly for the freelancer who is either not so fond of in-person events, or is perhaps based so remotely that there are not many options for events nearby. Find groups for people within your own profession, as well as those for the niche that you service.
Here’s what you should be looking for in a social media group:
- It should be active, preferably with people posting daily.
- It should be useful; there to start discussions and answer questions of group members, rather than being full of self-promotional posts.
- It preferably contains experts who have been on the job for a few years. You are less likely to find opportunities in a group made up of noobs who are all looking for work.
How to grow your pipeline with social media groups
Most freelancers we’ve spoken to have told us that they didn’t get work through social media groups by actually asking for it (often the group rules prohibit asking for work, or any form of self-promotion). The most common way they found the work was by being a useful member of the group, leading others to approach them. This means offering answers to questions, participating in discussions, and starting your own.
Advantages to participating in groups include the opportunity to showcase your own expertise, connect with potential clients, and form relationships with industry colleagues who may be swamped and looking to refer out some work.
Before you go ahead and jump into a group, make sure you follow a few best practices:
- Read the rules of the group first – you’ll find yourself swiftly blocked if you don’t follow them.
- Know the group, including its active members, style of communication and types of topics discussed. You may want to lurk around for a few days to check it out first.
- Introduce yourself – most groups allow this, and it’s a great way of letting people know what you do.
- Join the discussion from a mindset of adding value and being useful, rather than as a ‘what’s in it for me?’
- Ask questions – if you belong to a group that serves freelancers within your own profession, ask things like “what is your most reliable way of finding new clients?” There will be others who want to know the answer to this too, and it may give you some tips that you haven’t yet tried.
Try these useful Facebook groups:
Copywriters / Freelance writers – Copywriter Cafė
Developers – WIMP
Marketing/Branding – The Creative’s Corner
General Freelancers – Being Boss
Other online communities
Meet up with and learn from others who are successful in your area of expertise. An advantage of online communities outside of social media is that they tend to have less spam involved.
Much like social media groups, get to know other freelancers or industry professionals and be a useful contributor. Many freelancers have landed work because they make themselves known in these groups, then are contacted by others who have more than they can cope with.
Try these online communities:
Content Marketers/Writers – Inbound.org
Designers – Reddit Web Design
Developers – Hacker News
Want more places to find freelance clients? Get the checklist here!
Make yourself easy to find
Website and Social Media
This is an obvious step which is often surprisingly neglected among freelancers. One of the simplest ways to achieve this visibility is to have your own website up and make sure that it has an easy way for clients to get hold of you, such as a contact form.
Your website should showcase good examples of your work so that potential leads can easily see if you might be the person they’re looking for. Displaying testimonials is also a good idea to provide social proof. Also include your website on social profiles, and make sure those profiles are complete with details about what you do and how to contact you.
Get Found Locally
Do you cater to businesses in your local area? Make sure you appear on local listings both on and offline. Examples include claiming your ‘Google My Business’ listing and appearing in local Yellow Pages…
The Key Message…
As a freelancer, if you want to avoid ‘bust’ periods then you need to be working on your business all the time, even when you are swamped with client work.
The key to maintaining a strong pipeline of clients is to build a consistent time to pitch for new work into your schedule, maintain an active presence in the places where potential clients and industry colleagues can be found, and increase your own visibility with an appropriate online and offline presence. Make yourself so visible that you come to mind when prospects are looking for the services you offer.
While the strategies mentioned are by no means an exhaustive list, these are all proven places to start to keep your pipeline stocked…