Sales Tips For Freelancers

As freelancers we have to sell ourselves and our services to potential clients. Possibly due to shady tactics and high pressure sales from other people and companies (looking at you, car dealers), it’s easy to feel bad about ‘selling’. There’s no need however as it’s possible to sell yourself without any need to mislead or pressure people.

When thinking about ‘selling’ yourself or your services, it can be more useful to think about how you can clearly let people know what you can offer. It’s not hard selling but rather giving them the information and letting them make up their own minds.

Selling Yourself As A Freelancer

When speaking to potential clients, ask yourself can you do the job, and do you want to do the job? You can (probably) choose your jobs now you’re freelance. If it’s a good fit, then let them know and explain how you can help. Stating that you’re a ‘consultant’ or using other vague terms can turn a lot of people off as it sound expensive and it’s not clear what you offer.

I make websites, so if I’m talking to someone and can help, I let them know that I can design and build them a fast, easy to use and mobile friendly website that will help them promote their business. I don’t need to tell them I use Sketch, code in PHP or jQuery and use SASS. They don’t care about that bit – they want the end product.

I believe that confidence and clarity will get you more jobs. If people trust you can do the job, you’re enthusiastic and are clear about the end result it’s an easy choice for them.

Selling your Products and Services

When selling your products and services you can ask yourself is it a good fit and is this what they need right now? Selling people things you know are not fit for purpose or that they don’t need is pretty shady – leave that to telesales drones and used car salespeople. Chances are you went freelance to avoid the shady end of business and do good work, so these questions will help you stick to that.

Ask for the sale

After discussing things with a potential client and providing a quote, ask if that is within their budget and if they’d like to go ahead. There’s no need for months of back and forth or work up front – they either want it or they don’t. It’s up to you whether you negotiate, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to pay your bills and continue to do good work for people.

There are people out there who will try and waste your time either by being confused, or more rarely, because they enjoy it. Don’t let them steal your time – move on to better prospects.

Summary

I’ve covered some selling tips for freelancers including asking if the job is a good fit and if you can deliver, as well as being clear about what you can offer and asking for the sale.

How to become a freelancer

It’s a huge step going from working for the man to being in control of your own time and work, so here is some advice on how to become a freelancer.

Start slowly

If you can, become a freelancer while you have at least a part time job. You can take your time, do good work and pick your clients this way instead of taking on every crap project that comes your way for low rates because you’re desperate to pay your rent.

If you’re going to go freelance full time, try and get a few months living expenses in the bank first as a buffer. This will give you some time to get things up and running properly, but you still need to be making enough money to get by quickly if you want this freelance business to be sustainable. Believe me, being critically stressed while trying to be creative is not a good place to be.

Choose your services

It’s tempting to offer everything to everyone at first, but you’re better off focusing on what you’re good at AND what you can make good money doing. If you’re starting off slowly, you can have some confidence in yourself and your abilities and take on great projects that will help you build your freelance career.

This is a business too, so focus on the profitable services and projects to make sure you can keep this going. It’s tempting to just do the fun stuff now you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck. If you want to set aside time to work on fun things or do pro bono work for people that’s fine, but do it in a measured way after you’ve hit your targets to pay your bills and save some money each month.

The Business Model Canvas can help you work out what to offer, who to offer it to and how to reach them.

Build a portfolio

A good way to get your portfolio started is to do a couple of free projects for people you like, who you think will appreciate your work and who will give you a testimonial. Having some projects to show prospective clients makes it so much easier to sell them your time as they can see what you’re capable of.

Charities and other non-profit organisations often appreciate your volunteering your time to do things that could go on your portfolio. Be careful you don’t end up working with highly disorganised people or time vampires on projects that will never see the light of day however.

If you can’t find any people to do work for to build your portfolio, make some things for imaginary companies or brands to demonstrate your skills.

Get organised

Even if you do a few gigs for free, you’ll be taking money from people soon so you may as well set up a business bank account and work out how you’re going to invoice people. I set up a TSB business account in my lunch break from work one day, and as I wasn’t asking for any credit it was easy and painless. It costs me £5 a month after the free startup period. Other banks may offer business banking for free too.

I started off sending invoices made in MS Word, with the filename the client name and invoice number: “0001 – John Smith”. I now use an automated billing system but this lo-fi approach got me up and running.

There are other systems like Harvest, Invoicely etc if you want to go the cloud route from the start. A system that chases overdue invoices automatically will save you a lot of time emailing people.

If you’re doing complicated stuff, a project management system can help. You can probably handle things by email to start with though.

Have at least a simple contract and terms in place when you take on a project and take some money up front to weed out the time wasters. The freelancer subs on Reddit are full of people moaning about being ripped off because they didn’t do this. Do this.

Getting freelance clients

This can be the trickiest part of how to become a freelancer. You first need to find people who need what you can offer, and then you need to sell yourself to them.

Finding clients can tie in to what services you decide to offer. I went for web design as it’s a huge market and people often need upgrades etc over time. Pretty much everyone with a small business is a potential client for me.

If you’re still working a day job and freelancing on the side, when people ask you what you do, try telling them your freelance job first. Many jobs come via word of mouth referrals and this can be a good way of kickstarting things.

Networking can be a good way to meet potential new clients, as well as asking your contacts if they know anyone who needs your services they could introduce you to. Offering referral fees has consistently brought me enough work that I haven’t ever paid to advertise anywhere.

Often overlooked is contacting people you want to work with directly or via your network. Being able to work with businesses or people you have chosen is powerful as you may find your motivation and enjoyment levels higher than working with randoms.

There are paid advertising methods like Facebook ads and Google Adwords but I found they brought low quality enquiries that rarely turned into profitable projects.

Agencies can be a good way of building freelance skills and contacts. You will be working for bosses again, but day rates can be attractive and meeting people in your industry can be very useful.

At the bottom of the pile are freelance marketplaces like freelancer.co.uk, upwork etc. If you’re freelancing in a developed country, you’ll be up against other freelancers in India, the Phillipines etc who can massively undercut you. There are good projects on these sites but the time investment might not be worth it.

Selling yourself might seem a foreign concept if you’ve been working a day job. If you are good at what you do and clear about what you can offer, with a portfolio of similar work, your services should sell themselves.

Stating your prices can be hard at first, but stick with it and don’t negotiate against yourself by offering discounts. I strongly believe that doing that and being unclear about your offering is what hampers many freelancers. Act confidently (even if you don’t feel it) and don’t be afraid to walk away from a bad deal or if you get a weird feeling about a client.

Deliver the work

To be successful, you need to finish the projects you take on and deliver what’s been agreed. This is very important to build your reputation. If you flake out and deliver late or not at all, that person is very unlikely to recommend you. Be reliable.

Summary

In this articles on how to become a freelancer, we’ve covered starting off slowly while working a day job, choosing your services, building a portfolio, getting organised, finding clients and delivering the work. Hopefully by following this guide you can start off your freelance career with as little stress as possible!

Develop your freelance strategy with the Business Model Canvas

I recently went on a course run by The Big House in Nottingham called the Startup Success Series. They used a tool called the Business Model Canvas to help us freelancers and businesses work out and refine our strategy.

What is the Business Model Canvas?

In simple terms, the Business Model Canvas is a structure to work out what you offer, who to offer it to, how to offer it to them and the supporting infrastructure (resources, money etc).

It’s a free download from Strategyzer.com  and can all fit on one large poster to go on your office wall to keep you focused. We used a huge version with post it notes stuck all over to get our thoughts in order.

Customer Segments

This could be “mass market” or a “niche market”. Rather than trying to offer products or services to everyone, freelancers might focus on one type of customer, maybe “young mums” or “non-profit organisations”.

Value Propositions

These are your actual products or services that solve problems or meet the needs of your Customer Segment. This is absolutely vital, because if you don’t offer what your customers need and want your business cannot succeed. Closing this gap can involve market research and taking feedback into account to change your offering.

Customer Relationships

How do your customers expect to deal with you? Will it be via a call centre, support ticket only or personal service?

Channels

These are the ways you will reach your target customers. Website, social media, distributors, word of mouth and trade shows are all channels.

Revenue Streams

How will you make money from your customer segment? Selling them products, services or subscriptions are all potential revenue streams and can be combined. If you offer design, you might also offer print services or websites.

Key Partners

Who will be essential to your business? Manufacturers, investors, technical platforms and experts could all be key partners.

Key Activities

These are the things that you’ll spend the most time doing. In the case of a designer this might be working on client projects, and doing your own marketing.

Key Resources

If you’re a freelancer or small business, these resources could be human, financial, physical and intellectual.

Cost Structure

This covers the major expenses for your freelance business. This could be advertising spend, referral fees or software costs.

Why use the Business Model Canvas?

For your business

In my own experience as a freelancer, I started off offering a wider range of products and services. This has been refined over time to focus on the more profitable and enjoyable elements of what I can provide. This has made me happier and increased profit. By using a model such as the Business Model Canvas earlier in my freelance career I could have got here quicker!

It’s easy to offer too many things to too many people, diluting your effectiveness and reducing quality of your products and services. By focusing on a clear customer segment and value proposition you can be a more successful freelancer or small business.

For The businesses of your clients

If you’re a freelance designer, web designer or work with small businesses to promote what they do, the Business Model Canvas can be a good way of refining their offering and marketing message. Many small businesses aren’t 100% clear about what they do or who their customers are so this is a quick way of working that out.

Finding Freelance Work – Marketplaces, your network and referrals

When you’re first starting off, you will need to find the best ways of finding freelance work for your industry. There are various ways of finding new projects to work on and this will be a quick rundown of the different ways to do so.

Freelance Marketplaces

There are websites like freelancer.co.uk, upwork and various niche marketplaces for web design, marketing, 3D design etc. You can often add yourself as a service provider and people can find you by keyword search, or you can search jobs posted to some sites and pitch for those projects.

While this can be a quick way to get started, there are a few downsides.

  1. If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, you won’t have any reviews on these sites and may find it hard to get new projects.
  2. You will be up against people working in countries with lower cost of living. This difference in costs means that if you’re in a Western country, you will be getting undercut by people in India, Thailand etc. While some people might say they are cheap because they aren’t very good, that’s often not the case and the difference in currency means people can employ excellent freelancers from other countries at a fraction of what we might charge.
  3. The platform will take a cut of your profits and may not pay you straight away. This can be damaging to your cashflow and you may end up working hard and getting paid much later. Ideally you’ll be taking deposits for work so you’re getting paid part of the fee up front and this might not be possible if you’re working through a freelance platform.

Your Network

Depending on what you do and how you’d like to work, either contracting or working from home, you might now people who work for companies or agencies that need some help when they get busy. Don’t be shy – let your professional contacts know you’re available for freelance work and a rough idea of your day rate.

Here are some good tips from Sophie de Albuquerque on how to build your network as a freelancer

Referrals

This is the number one way I have built up my freelance web design work. Offering a referral fee encourages people to pass your details on to their contacts. As long as you take on work you can effectively deliver, your network of referrers will grow over time and you might not need to do any kind of marketing!

Summary

We’ve looked at three main ways of finding freelance work in this article – Freelance marketplaces, your network and referrals. I’ve found referrals to be the most effective way of building my freelance business without having to do other forms of marketing.

Increasing freelance work via referrals

It can be difficult to market your freelance services for a number of reasons. Making headway against established companies and freelancers can take time, and actually trying to market yourself can result in hitting emotional barriers.

Referrals

Referrals have been the number one way of gaining high quality business. Since I went freelance, offering a referral fee has resulted in most of my new clients coming from recommendations from existing clients. Referrals act as a vote of confidence and the potential new client will usually be aware of the freelance work you did for the person who referred you.

This has a secondary benefit, as contacts of existing clients tend to be of similar success and attitude. If someone is good to work with then the chances are their contacts will be too. On the flip side, low quality clients tend to refer other low quality clients!

Sources of referrals

Your friends and family might be able to put you forward for jobs, as well as your existing clients or professional contacts. You can also approach businesses that deal with your target clients (accountants and other business services are good) to work out a deal for freelance referrals.

Tips for successful referrals

I have found the cost of paying the referral fees is a great investment. Be clear about how much the referral fee will be and when it will be paid to keep things running smoothly. If you do staged payments for larger jobs, tying the referral fees to the payment stages can help everyone’s cashflow.

The amount and type of referral fee may depend on the nature of your services. For a large project you may offer a percentage of the project cost, or a flat fee. For ongoing work you might offer a cut of the ongoing fee or a flat “finder’s fee”. You may offer a combination of the two.

Tracking referrals is easy using a Google Sheet where you can list the projects referred, the status and details of the fees payable and whether they have been paid or not.

Summary

We’ve described how referrals are a great way of developing your freelance career, along with some ideas on who to approach to refer you and how to manage referrals when they happen.