15 Apr 2019

How to Win Your First Freelance Client

The most agonizing part of being a freelancer is managing deal flow. Most of the time, you’ll have your head down doing your work until you complete a particular project. When the dust settles and you’ve collected the cash from your final invoice, you look up with abject terror to realize there’s nothing on the horizon.Or maybe you’ve taken a hacksaw to the chain that’s been binding you to your 9 to 5, only to realize you’re a newbie, fresh product — no one knows that you’ve quit your job and are now in the freelance game

How do you score those first few important clients when you’re new to the hustle or you’ve found yourself in a financial Sahara?

First, let’s talk about gig sites. Repeat after me: Just say no to Upwork.

Competing on price is a zero-sum game. You will always be the loser.

 

There’s nothing more demeaning than a financial race to the bottom. Sites like Upwork and Fiverr benefit those who are hiring because they force freelancers to compete on price. And let me be crystal clear about this: Competing on price is a zero-sum game. You will always be the loser. There will always be someone who will offer to do the work for half your rate in half the time, regardless of whether the product is garbage.

Upwork is the biggest con going. Trust me, you can build a legitimate freelance career without having to devalue your work or deal with a middleman taking a princely cut.

Okay, whew. Digression over. Let’s get back to business.

1.
Decide What You Want to Do

Don’t freak out. This isn’t a lifelong commitment. For my first two years of freelancing, I only did social media projects until I woke up one day wanting to tear my hair out. I was good at social media strategy, but I hated social media strategy. That’s when I realized that just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean I need to do it for a living.

But don’t feel bad if you have to take gigs you don’t want at the beginning or during droughts. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of being picky. I’ve taken on projects because, at the end of the day, I had bills to pay.

Now, get clear and specific about your goals by asking yourself the following questions.

What do you want to do?

Decide on the products/services you want to offer. Let me share three magical words with you: multiple revenue streams. Generating income from various sources not only minimizes the risk of not getting work, it also diversifies your work. Your ideas are fresh and you rarely get sick of what you do. I have five streams going right now: strategy work, 1:1 coaching, writing, performing audits (i.e. I tell you what’s wrong with your business), and products/courses (coming in 2019). All of my work comes from my experience in storytelling and marketing, but I’ve chosen different ways to use my skills to make money.

Who do you want to do it for?

Visualize your dream client. And no, your dream client isn’t just someone who pays you on time, although that is certainly dreamy. What kind of business are they in? How large is the company? What are the company’s values, and do they align with yours? How does your client value you? For example, I’ve shifted my model this year to use my 20+ years of experience to help women-owned businesses and POC/marginalized business owners. The majority of my clients are small to mid-sized companies, and they view me more as an integral partner than as a vendor. These businesses aim to create products and services that truly meet the needs of their customers. They operate from a place of honesty and integrity, which aligns with how I want to live my life.

Why do you want to do it?

Yes, we all want to make money, but that goal isn’t self-sustaining. After a while, you’ll realize money is a thing, but not the only thing, and then you’ll risk being resentful of the work you do. Do you have big dreams of leaving the world in better shape? Do you have a skill that would truly help and transform other people or make their lives easier? A sense of purpose can be a constant motivator.

Where do you want to do it?

Does your work have a geographic component? Where are most of your ideal clients located? Do you want to work virtually or one-on-one with people, in person?

2. Validate Your Idea

Do the research. Is there a demand for your work? What are people paying for it? Make sure you price yourself wisely — there are scores of online calculators that can help you figure out your rate. Determine if you want to be paid by the hour or by the project. I could write a whole piece on

hourly vs. project, but for now, I’ll just say that at this point in my career I only do project rates.

3. Shout It From the Rafters

Tell everyone you know that you’re freelancing: your mom, your best friend, your dog, the barista at Starbucks… you get what I mean. Work can come from anywhere, but no one will offer you work unless you announce that you’re looking for it. I routinely send brief emails to my network outlining the kinds of projects I’m taking on and asking if they or someone they know is looking for a bomb-ass consultant. Email everyone in the free world: Do you need help? Do you know anyone who needs help?

4. Work Your Network

I’m a shy introvert. The idea of networking gives me palpitations. I used to go to networking events and just stand in a corner — the only thing that was getting worked was my cheese plate. But don’t worry: You can expand your network without being smarmy about it.

Join private Facebook and LinkedIn groups related to your industry

Connect online with people who run in similar industry circles. Why? Because who doesn’t want support — a place where you can field questions, punt ideas,and help others. Here are two more magic words: overflow referrals.

The more people you have in your corner, especially if they’re good at what they do, the better; you’ll find that work gets shared. I’ve seen countless freelance gigs posted in the Dreamers // Doers Facebook group, as well as a ton of other groups. I’ve also made a few friends online and those relationships have scored me projects.

Work your contacts

I have a philosophy that if I don’t like you, I can’t get on the phone or spend time with you. I want the time I spend with people to be gratifying. Have coffee with your peers. Schedule Skype/FaceTime dates to talk shop or buddy up with a peer for ongoing mutual support as accountability partners.

Ask your friends for specific introductions to people in their network, but don’t be vague. Don’t just say, “Can you hook me up with someone in your network?” Rather, say, “Do you know someone in nonprofits who works in social media marketing? I’d love to hook up with them for [X reason]. Could you make an intro?”

A key point: Never ask for or make blind introductions. Always ask each party if they want to be connected. It’s good professional etiquette and it ensures both parties are interested and not put in an awkward or compromising position.

Connect with past employers/former clients

You’re probably thinking, Oh, if they need work they’ll just know to contact me. Please stop thinking this. People don’t have elephantine memories and they’re not psychic. People can only see a few feet in front of them, so you have to be in front of them.

Reconnect with old clients or past employers and ask if they need help with something. Assess their business, sites, emails, and social channels and suggest ways you can help take their business to the next level. It shows you did some legwork and you have specific ideas on how to make their business better.

5. Be Open

Sometimes you need to get crafty because you have bills to pay. Work your revenue streams, but also think about smaller projects you can take on that will provide some quick cash. Recently, I created portfolios for fellow freelancers by pairing my wordsmithing and positioning abilities with designed templates on Creative Market. When you need cash, nothing is beneath you.

At the end of the day, you just need to find that person to hire you to do one thing. That’s enough to get the ball rolling.

_________________

Like what you’ve just read and want to get a 75+ page guide chockful of freelancer articles, advice, templates, and tutorials? For $49, you get a comprehensive freelancing guide that includes:

  • How to get started as a freelancer: the logistics, as well as a suite of powerful self-exploration exercises that help you solidify what you want to do. If you already have a business, learn how to shift to profit and purpose
  • My top freelancing tools–from CRM software to project management.
  • Learn everything about professional etiquette–especially as you’re getting started
  • How to market your business without being shady or smarmy
  • How to network when you hate leaving the house
  • How to talk about money and knowing your worth
  • How to be assertive when negotiating–advice from two c-suite executives
  • How to build portfolios that win business (+ a free tutorial template)
  • How to deal with clients who make you doubt your sanity, intelligence, etc.
  • How to deal with imposter syndrome
  • What your worst clients can teach you
  • How to manage tough clients and know when to fire a bad client (+link to an interview I did on the topic)
  • New Business Kit, which includes: cold pitch letter template, new business checklist, a proposal tutorial, and template + how-to, 4 contract templates, and an invoice template
  • New Client Onboarding Kit, which includes: a template for a new client magazine, onboarding checklist, and new client discovery questionnaire
  • When your business expands and you manage people–how to do it right
Social media bonuses: how to go live on Facebook and Instagram, how to create an Instagram feed that converts, and my top ten social media automation tools. And I’ve got so much more!
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Posted on April 15, in Career

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  • As you guys know, I am BIG on education. My goal for this year is to share as much education and free resources on freelancing, marketing, and writing as possible. I'm even switching email list providers (moving to ConvertKit) so I can send you better emails related to what you're interested in. Don't care about the brand stuff, but want to know more about writing? I GOT YOU. When I sell resources, I want them to be relatively affordable. So, I'm starting small with a MONSTER guide on freelancing. I originally thought this was going to be 100 pages. Well, it's 150+ pages with 40% of NEW content I'm writing RIGHT NOW. Templates, how-tos, personal stories, resources, and everything you need to know about getting started, getting clients, onboarding them, managing them, and dealing with them when they drive you bonkers. .

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So if you want to get started with freelancing (or are considering it), you're going to want to get this guide so you can avoid all the mistakes I made, get all the resources you need without spending $$$ and hours on the internet searching for competency. I'm selling this guide for $49. Pre-order link is in my bio. I'll be sending this out on 5/1, and then creating a fun course around it so the price will inch up a bit. .

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  • In this era of competitiveness and self-serving "entrepreneurs," it's rare to come across a peer who is generous with their work and their heart. Rarely am I moved by people, but today I was on the receiving end of an act of kindness that I had to share. 
I contacted a peer in the marketing space, a woman whom I revere and admire. She's young, smart, passionate, hardworking, and knows more about marketing than most people I've encountered in my two-decade-long career. 
I wrote her wondering if she was selling educational materials she created a few years ago-- an education that helped me refine my acumen. She replied and sent me the materials FOR FREE. 
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Who does this? Who extends their work and kindness so generously? I came away inspired. Inspired to share my knowledge--as much as I can--for free.

So many people paint consultants, marketers, educators and course providers with a broad brush. Yes, there are hoards of incompetent hustlers. People who don't do what they teach. But there are those who are bright lights. And today I was reminded of that. 
There are good people out there and I can still be surprised by kindness.
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Inspired by one of my professional heroes, @byreginatv, I removed 2,000 people from my email list and it felt glorious. Don't be tethered to a vanity metric. If people aren't connecting with you, the numbers are meaningless. I'd rather have a smaller, engaged audience of people who are into my vibe and work than the ability to shout out a high subscriber count. #foodforproverbialthought.
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I’ve got new book recommendations up on my personal blog: http://www.feliciacsullivan.com if you want to devour some excellent reads.

Finally, aided by a new friend, I’m going to my first Quilt chat this week. The Wing isn’t my vibe and it’s can’t rationalize spending the money and Quilt is my scene. I’ll likely be chatting about this in my newsletter as I’m FINALLY in a place where I can network in a non-smarmy setting.
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Here’s to an excellent start to the week!
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  • This year is shaping up to be my best yet, and I’m happy to have made it out of the dark country. I’m writing work that means so much to me. I’m reading 2 books a week. I’m tackling challenging, but thrilling projects. I’m collaborating with brilliant, beautiful friends. And I’m calm, centered, and focused. It too a long while and a breakdown to get here, but I’m grateful for my small patchwork of a family who always checked in, hired me when I desperately needed it, and didn’t flee when things got tough. Sometimes you need to feel the weight of your sadness to unburden yourself of it. Here’s to yummy lunches and the best year yet!
  • Over the past two years, I’ve been toying with teaching. I’ve taught marketing to creatives at USC. I’ve taught creative writing in New York. I’ve mentored employees and friends. I love learning and sharing what I’ve learned, and forpeople I know and love I often do it for free. 
So, what’s stopped me? Honestly, the machine that’s become the online course industry irritates me. Webinars that waste time. Who wants to watch a 45-minute infomercial? Not me. Or how about the fake fan love and Instagram platforms that are transparently transactional? Courses that are a million dollars, taught by people who haven’t done the thing they’reteaching beyond their own privileged platform. And did I mention that everyone looks the same? The super stars are white, well educated, and bragging about their seven-figure incomes. 
I mean, COME ON. 
Listen. I’m half-white, privileged as fuck, well educated, but I definitely don’t make seven figures. And I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated with freelancers who call themselves brand strategists (aka, predators posing as house pets) making bank, yet they lack the experience, education, and discipline. But I’ve learned that complaining does nothing if you’re not creating, if you’re not putting out the thing you want to see in the world. I spent two months creating an 8-step tutorial on how to build a brand platform because I was tired of people not having access to education and opportunity because they couldn’t drop $1,500 on a brand-building course.

Then I thought about how I need to stop complaining about the shady machine that is the online course space and put out the education I want to see in the world, made accessible to people who don’t look like me or have the fancy-pants Ivy League degrees I have (which have driven me to paralyzing debt, but that’s a whole other bag of sad tricks). I’m planning two courses: one on getting into the freelancing game and another on building your brand and finding your customer. Interested? Sign up for my email list (link in bio), where I’ll keep everyone posted.
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  • It may only be 5:48am, but I woke to amazing news. I’m toasting with coffee and a scone this morning. I’m partnering with brilliant friends and marketers (eh-hem, @luciaioevans) on incredible projects, my pipeline is healthy, my mental health is aces since I got off all personal social media. Granted, I won’t be able to see humans for the next two months as I’m locked down with some major projects, but I am not complaining. I’m ELATED. It’s all happening!!!! Yay! Finally!!!
  • You guys. I’m having an incredible fucking year. I’ve published tutorials, thought leadership and essays I’m proud of, I’m working with incredible clients who are breaking ranks, I’m partnering with brilliant people on projects, my pipeline is healthy, my mental health is getting back on track, and I’m reorganizing my business so I can run it more efficiently. Sometimes you have to applaud the wins, especially when they’ve been earned.
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  • What a day! Ive been floored and humbled by the tens of THOUSANDS who viewed my 8-part brand building series on medium (link in bio)! I’ve heard from four university professors who want to incorporate my work as assigned reading, the people who were grateful not to have to spend $2K on some wack course taught by an “expert” whose only success example is their personal brand.
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Today, I had a day of interviews that culminated in a presentation to the executive team. After it ended, several people asked if I’d considered teaching because I just delivered a master class on brand strategy.
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It feels good to know your stuff but still have the hunger and drive as a student!
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