A perennial question for most freelancers is, “How do I get more clients?” After awhile, the question shifts slightly to, “How do I get better clients and bigger projects?” Getting more and better freelance clients requires optimizing all parts of your business, not just your marketing and advertising.

Image source: wocintechchat.com

Marketing isn’t enough.

When we think about getting more freelance clients, we usually try to ramp up our marketing or prospecting. Post more on social media! Buy advertising! Send cold emails! Hire a skywriter! But here’s the problem:

Only focusing on marketing is like pouring water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom. Click To Tweet

You can scramble to get more likes and followers, but if you don’t have a way to get some of those fans into your client pipeline, those numbers are meaningless.

Gif of Kylo Ren yelling "MORE!!!"

Once you manage to get a few of them onto a sales call, if you don’t know how to close a deal, they’ll just drift away. (And likely not want to approach you again.)

Leia from Star Wars with caption: "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more the star systems will slip out of your fingers."

Even if you sell a project, without strong client care and a smooth working process, that project is likely to be a one-off and you’ll have to start the whole cycle again.

"It's a Trap!" gif from Star Wars

Get more (and better) freelance clients with small improvements throughout your process. 

If you don’t want your business to end up like both Death Stars, you have to do more than just put your marketing and prospecting efforts on blast. You need to be able to close sales, position yourself for repeat business, and generate referrals from happy clients. Fortunately, even small optimizations at each stage of a project can make a big difference in the long run. 

Gif of Yoda sitting next to Luke with quote, "Judge me by my size, do you?"

Here are five ways to get more freelance clients.

  1. Make your marketing and prospecting more effective by talking about your clients, not yourself.
  2. Close more sales by asking questions that let you tell the client what they actually need.
  3. Keep up the momentum with confident onboarding.
  4. Provide excellent client care to distinguish yourself from others.
  5. Leave a lasting impression with a strong offboarding process.

1. Make your marketing and prospecting more effective by talking about your clients, not yourself.

The trick about good marketing is that it’s not primarily about you, which is great news for those of us who hate talking about ourselves. (Though it may appear otherwise, this is still not my favorite thing ever!) If you’re struggling to find something to talk about on your social media or email list, use the PAS formula. 

  1. Identify a Problem your potential clients face.
  2. Agitate (actually, I prefer to Empathize with) the feelings and challenges caused by the problem.
  3. Offer a Solution.

The key to not sounding like a broken record is mixing up the solutions so that you’re not always pushing people to BUY BUY BUY. Share a problem on social media and then direct readers to a blog post for the solution. Write a blog post about a problem and offer a free email course about one solution. If prospects can see themselves in your marketing, they’ll be more interested in hearing about you.

Smoking Darth Vader helmet with the front busted open.
Not like this, though. This is creepy.

2. Close more sales by asking questions that let you tell the client what they actually need.

The best marketing in the world won’t do much if you prospects get to your sales process and drop out. When clients don’t book with you, it’s not (just) because your work costs too much, so slashing your prices isn’t a long-term solution for closing more deals. 

Clients don’t book when they don’t connect the dots between their need, your skills, and the money it takes to hire you to meet their needs. You have to make that connection for them during the sales process. Click To Tweet

A lot of service providers feel sleazy trying to sell a project, and that’s because you’re talking too much about you. Your qualifications, your experience, sometimes even your needs. (“I’m trying to buy a house, please book me for this project!” is…not a super effective selling method.) The client doesn’t care about you, sorry not sorry. They care about their problem and they want to know if you can help them.

If you can get the client talking about themselves before you tell them about your approach to their problem, you position yourself as an expert offering help rather than an intrusive salesbro. One of the best ways to do that is simply asking questions. Questions don’t make you look stupid; proposing a solution that doesn’t actually fit their needs because you didn’t ask about them makes you look stupid.

Here are some questions you can ask during a sales call or email:

  • Why is this project a priority for your right now?
  • What would success look like now and in twelve months?
  • What pieces do you already have in place and how well are they working? What would you keep and what would you change?

Based on their responses to these questions, you can offer suggestions and talk about how you would approach the project to get them where they want to go. In many cases, clients don’t really know how to get the results they want. They might have a vague idea, or think they know, but they are really looking to you to tell them what they need. The main difference I’ve noticed between folks who are “just freelancers” and folks who are sought-after authorities in their field is that people who are “just a freelancer” do exactly what their clients tell them and no more, while sought-after authorities propose solutions based on their expertise. Three guesses on who can charge higher project fees and fill their calendar months in advance.

Yoda on Luke's back with quote: "Clear your mind of questions."
Ignore Yoda’s advice unless you need to lift rocks with your brain or somersault through a swamp.

Getting a project on the books is actually only half of the client acquisition process, maybe less. (Though it’s certainly the harder part for most people.)

It’s a lot easier to get repeat business or referrals from past clients than it is to cultivate a brand-new client. Click To Tweet

From the moment you start a project all the way to the final handoff, you are persuading the client to work with you again and/or refer you to their friends and professional network. To build the strongest case, you need to help your client feel cared for and confident. Here’s how.

3. Keep up the momentum with confident onboarding.

A well-executed sales call is typically the high point of client excitement for the project. They’ve heard your approach and can see a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The energy dips a bit as you go through the paperwork and payments stage, and onboarding is an important way to bring the momentum back to a project. Remember, they are counting on you to lead the way. And when you are confident about the next step, they will also feel confident about you.

Think through the start of a project and be able to answer:

  • How will you get the materials you need from the client to get started?
  • What is the next deliverable and when can they expect it?
  • What’s the feedback or revision process? How should they send you comments and how quickly do you need feedback?
  • How should clients communicate with you? Email, phone, messenger, Zoom? Do you have a standing meeting or will you reach out when certain steps are complete?
  • When are you available for calls? When do you answer emails?
  • How quickly do you respond to communication? How quickly do you expect clients to respond?

As a slight side note, using software like Dubsado that can automagically send invoices and questionnaires based on your workflow is a simple but impactful way to make your onboarding and client processes smoother. I’ve been using Dubsado since the beginning of my business and I still get lots of compliments about how easy it is to sign off on a proposal and contract, pay the first invoice, and have the first questionnaire land in their inbox moments later. This not only saves me work but makes life easier for the client. Professionalism isn’t just about what fancy (and often expensive) tools you use to run your business, but I’ve found that paying just a bit of extra attention to detail goes a long way in making a positive impression.

Darth Vader with quote: "Most impressive."
Hopefully your clients are not Sith Lords but even if they are…take good care of them!

4. Provide excellent client care to distinguish yourself from others.

Once you clear a certain threshold of skill and experience, the difference between one service provider and another is no longer about how well they do the work or how impressive their portfolio is. The main difference, aside from artistic or technical execution, is in how well they take care of their clients. And in my experience, delivering a stellar client experience can even bridge minor skill gaps. After all, a client doesn’t need THE BEST SALES PAGE EVER WRITTEN IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. They need to feel like the copywriter they’re working with understands their business, keeps promises, and takes care of them.

Effective client service is all about managing expectations and anticipating questions, which can usually be handled with systematic communication. When clients have unanswered questions about the process, they make up answers that are rarely in your favor.

  • Why haven’t you answered this email? You must not care about their project.
  • When are they supposed to send you edits? You must not be in a hurry, so they’ll get to it when they get to it.
  • Is their project on track? What happens next? They feel uncertain and insecure and either bombard you with DMs or wander off into the void.

So whenever you interact with a client, make sure they don’t leave with unanswered questions about the next step. Let them know what to expect from you, what you need from them and when, and how you’re moving toward the final goal. This might look like a weekly summary email, a recap that you send after a meeting, or an updated project management system like Asana or Trello. 

I also try to underpromise and overdeliver, whether that’s with getting things done ahead of schedule or throwing in an extra bell or whistle. To be able to overdeliver, I have to do three things:

  1. Scope the project accurately from the beginning.
  2. Give myself enough time to beat my own deadlines.
  3. Charge enough to be able to be generous.

Charge enough to be generous without feeling resentful.

Which brings me (briefly) to the topic of resentment. Listen up, young Padawans. Clients can tell when you resent them, even if they can’t always name what’s going on. And the #1 reason freelancers resent their clients and complain about how needy they are…is money. When you undercharge a project by failing to account for admin and client care time, every extra minute you spend on an unexpected call, sorting out a miscommunication, or working through the sixth round of revisions is lost money. To be clear, some clients can be overbearing and annoying (and six rounds really is too many in most cases), but they might be less annoying if you got paid to hold their hand. So…charge enough to hold their hand. 

(And, real talk, as my prices have gone up, the less fussy my clients have been even though I am more available to take care of them. Magic, isn’t it, what happens when clients value their own time and expertise enough to invest properly in that of others.)

Finn from Star Wars with caption: "We'll use the Force."

5. Leave a lasting impression with a strong offboarding process.

You’ve booked the project and delivered the results you promised along with an amazing client experience. Now seal the deal for repeat business and referrals with a strong offboarding process.

I actually first started thinking about offboarding after my conversation with Sam Brandt, a technical writer who creates support documentation. They mentioned that a primary reason users abandon a product is because they can’t get it to work properly. And it’s way harder, if not impossible, to bring that user back after they’ve had a negative experience. The same applies to service providers.

What’s the point of building a beautiful website if the client can’t update it? Yes, they can hire you to do that but not everyone has the resources to pay for ongoing maintenance. If the website breaks because they didn’t update a plugin, in the client’s mind, you didn’t deliver what you promised. Record a quick video showing them how to update key parts of their site. Gather their login and theme license info in a document that they can reference easily. When it comes time to add more complex functionality, they’ll remember how easy it was to work with you, and more importantly, their existing site will still be in one piece.

What’s the point of taking great wedding photos if they languish on a thumb drive forever? If the client never looks at their wedding photos because they’re not accessible, they won’t think to refer you to their newly engaged friends. Now every business model is different and if you don’t want to mess with providing prints and products, that’s fine. But send them instructions for getting nice prints made. Customize your feedback form with images from their wedding. Gift them a print on their anniversary and when they refer a friend to you.

It’s so much easier to sell a retainer, update, or expansion project to someone you’ve already worked with, not just because they know, like, and trust you but because you already know their business and the thing you made for them the first time. (I typically give repeat clients a price break on maintenance and updates because there’s a lot less time needed to get up to speed.) 

It’s also easier to sell a project to someone who has come in by referral because they have social proof. I take good care of all my clients but am extra careful with referrals. Referral clients are there because someone recommended me, and my performance reflects not just on me but on the referring party. 

I think many freelancers (again, probaaaaably because they’re undercharging) are exhausted by the time a project is finished and just want to shove the client out the door. But it’s definitely worth the effort to finish a job well and maintain those positive relationships with clients and referral sources.

Han Solo speaking into headset with quote, "You're all clear, kid."

I know this was a lot to think about. But the cool thing is: 

If you get really good at running projects and providing referral-worthy experiences, you’ll be able to do a lot less of marketing and sales. Click To Tweet

Practically all of my client work comes from referrals now, and everyone who approaches me is basically ready to book. They just need me to provide a roadmap. I haven’t had to really do any lead generation for a long time. 

So the next time you want to get more freelance clients, look beyond increasing your marketing efforts and spend some time improving your service and client care processes.

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