In the past I had a tendency to wing it when it came to finding new clients. This led to gaps in work and honestly, a regular pervading sense of dread – "I literally don't have a project to move onto after this one finishes".
That feeling of dread would accumulate and eventually I took action. I needed to find a way to overcome it once and for all.
Over the years I've developed a robust but lightweight framework for supplementing my inbound leads and I'd like to share it with you today. It's robust in that it works – I've got countless projects off the back of it. It's lightweight – takes minimal thought and work, just a few minutes a few times a week – because I'm not a salesperson. I want to spend my time doing stuff that I care about like crafting amazin digital products.
A little note here – you might be thinking "I've heard this inbound/outbound jazz before, but can't exactly remember the difference". Fair enough! It's pretty simple really – inbound leads are ones that seek you out, like when a previous client gets in touch with you for a new project, or you get a lead through your Dribbble account. Outbound is more active, and you need to go out and get that work. I'm talking about outbound in this post.
Inbound is the dream and some freelancers are fortunate enough to live purely off that. But for the rest of us it's not so simple. We need to go out and pull that work in. I personally think there's a beauty in that – it reminds me of hunter gatherers and tribespeople who needed to go out and catch their dinner, and then carry it home.
Beautiful it might be, but stressful too. "Where do I find clients? What do I say to them to convince them to do a project with me?" This is complicated even further if you live somewhere where there aren't a lot of in-person gigs. You need remote freelance contracts and that puts even more pressure on you to get those gigs. Remote contracts are rarer and competition is stiffer – that's a fact.
But I've learned that with a simple system and persistence you can make it work.
So here's how I do it.
First things first, have you heard of a pipeline? I used to hear sales goobers talking about them and frankly didn't find them very interesting. But it's a concept that has deeply embedded itself in my psyche and day-to-day. And now I kind of love them.
A pipeline is a set of steps that you take potential clients through, from 'never heard of you' all the way through to paying customer.
They can get beautifully sophisticated, but in essence they involve a point where you—
In essence, a pipeline is like a systematic way of getting to know a new friend, except you ask them to pay you at the end 😉.
So what does a pipeline look like for a modern freelancer like you and me?
There are 4 main parts to the funnel which I'd like to walk you through today. I won't overwhelm you with detail at this point – you can sign up for my Freelancer Funnels email course if you'd like to get serious about putting your pipeline into place.
This is the most time-consuming, repetitive and boring step but it is absolutely essential.
Filling your funnel is about finding people who are already showing that they need some design or development help.
You can imagine the 'top' of your pipeline like a funnel where you throw people into who might be interested in your service.
How do you find these people? Well it's a bit of an art. Suffice to say, there are lots of places on the internet where people are signaling to the world that they need help from people with your skills. Maybe they're posting job posts, maybe they're commenting on a forum. Whatever the case, they're out there. They can be hard to find, but believe me – they're there.
It's important to be looking for 'warm' leads. That means you need to be looking for people who are already showing that they are looking for help with something that matches your skills. The reason for this is simple – most of the time, most people are not looking for your help. That's just a simple fact. And you don't want to be wasting precious time and energy engaging with people who might need your help. You want to be talking to people who you can start helping right away.
To find out more about specifically how to find those leads, sign up for my Freelancer Funnels email course below. I'll send the first lesson – Fill Your Funnel – right away!
Once you've found people you can help, the next step is to make a great first impression.
Freelancers are often intimidated by reaching out directly to clients. And so we often just end up staying within our comfort zone, tweaking our portfolios, making them pixel perfect.
But this is wrong. Oftentimes, people who are buying your services really just need to hear that you understand their problem. They often won't even be able to tell the difference between a good portfolio and a bad one. They want to feel like you've understood where they want to get to and that you can help them get there.
Making a Mark is about doing precisely that. It's about taking the warm leads you conjured in the first part of your pipeline and emailing them in a friendly, personal way that – most importantly – acknowledges that you have understood what they need.
Easier said than done, and the actual detail of this is really specific to the client and project in question. Writing these emails is an art – hugely complex – and one that took me years to master. But with the right approach and patience you really can get to the point where you're taking warm leads and turning them into real, engaged, meaningful conversations. And that's where the next part of the Freelancer Funnel comes in.
Even if you write a perfectly charming first contact email and really make a mark, you'd probably be mistaken to ask for a sale right away.
To buy from you, your future clients will need to be seduced a little. What are they looking for? Well, they want to look at you and feel trust. You also need to establish a certain influence over them such that when you ask for the sale in the next segment of your pipeline, they feel compelled to say yes to you.
There is so much to do here. And unfortunately, I think most developers and designers just kind of wing it at this point – "Woah! They responded to me! Great I'm just gonna say load of stuff now and hope for the best!"
This part of the funnel is usually some kind of real-time conversation. Have you ever thought about why this part is always real-time? Well, it's because innately our prospects sense as they can see through peoples' bullshit if they're talking to us directly. The irony is that, for all the time and energy we've put into our portfolio, at this critical moment freelance prospects often won't want to see your portfolio. They'll be assessing you based on things like how much confidence they hear in your voice. Again, they'll be looking to see how well you've recognised the problem they're experiencing. They'll be thinking about how much they like you.
This part of the funnel is absolutely critical and if freelancers only understood the principles of building trust and influence, everyone would be better off. Again – this is a topic in itself and so I dedicated a section of the Freelancer Funnel email course to help you avoid making the same mistakes so many other's are making.
OK, so if everything's gone to plan you've got a prospect eating out of your hands. They think you're authorative, get the sense you can help them achieve their goals and think you're a fantastic person.
But they're still just that – a prospect. They haven't committed to paying you anything yet. So what's next?
The biggest mistake I've made and heard about other freelancers making here is about not being diligent in following up.
Prospects need repeated contact with you in order to be reminded and to build sufficient desire to purchase your services. Studies have shown it takes upwards of 10 point of contact – emails from you, basically – to ultimately buy from you. I don't know if that's exactly true, but the point is that you really can't expect to shoot a couple emails back and forth and expect a tasty, multi-thousand $ contract to drop out of it. That's like flicking a mountain and expecting a flow of gold to rush out.
You need to follow up, over and over. Think about it – how many times have you been thinking about buying something for a week or two, only to receive a marketing email from a company and finally make the plunge? That's what your prospects are expecting from you. It's a part of your service. You're not annoying them – you're helping them get access to your skills. Your incredible skills which will be such a great help to them.
So here you have it – the four pieces of the perfect prospecting pipeline—
If this has been a help and you're curious to learn more about the pipeline, sign up for my free Freelancer Funnel email course below.