Like any entrepreneur, advanced freelancers should be working on their business, as well as in it. The sales process is the first thing I worked on, and optimised, because of the importance of it. This guide will take you through finding leads, discussing the project and closing the deal. Sales for an advanced freelancer should take up at least 20% of your time during engagements. And 100% of your time in a dry spell.
The most tedious and least rewarding part of your job is going to be lead generation. This is finding potential customers for your services.
Start with the problem you’re trying to solve. Who has this problem? How are they solving it right now? Who feels the most pain from it? Figure out who they might be, where they are and how you’re going to reach them. Common types of customer for web freelancers are:
- Small, local businesses
- Entrepreneurs starting up
- Other freelancers and agencies
- Non-profit organisations
I made this easy for myself. I kept a list of job boards, websites, communities, and social media searches. These sites had people posting their projects and asking for freelance help. This was a quicker way to get their contact details and partially qualify them.
You can make it easy to begin with too, by talking to everyone in your network. Talk to people who you think might need your help. And if they don’t, ask them if they know someone who is. You’ll find it much easier to qualify and close deals with people this way to begin with.
So you have a bunch of emails or phone numbers. You now need to reduce those down to people that actually need your help.
You’re aiming to send out a lot of messages, or make a lot of phone calls. Expect to lose around 70% of your leads to begin with, which means for every 10 messages you send, only 1–3 will reply. For every 10 of those, around 1–3 will show interest in working with you. That means you need to send around 100 cold emails or make 100 cold calls to qualify 20–30 people, and win 1–3 projects. This is where most freelancers fail, because they don’t put in enough effort.
Most freelancers will jump right into pitching their services and how great they are. This is wrong. Don’t do that. The goal here is to find out if they have the problems you solve in the first place. If they don’t, who cares how great you and your solutions are?
Send an email or phone them and ask one simple question, Do you have this problem I’m trying to solve? If “No”, rephrase the question or give up, you decide. If you get a “Yes”, then talk to them about it. How do they solve it right now? How painful is it? And always do this in person or over a phone call. It’s impossible to let a conversation flow over email.
Another important step here is to always follow up, if you don’t hear back after a day or two. Following up is like rocket fuel for your conversion rate.
The more you talk to people who you think would benefit from your services, the more you’ll learn about who to target and why. You don’t need to be selling right now, you need to be listening. However, I would ask them how much they could spend to solve this issue.
If you’ve understood their problem and think you can help, it’s time to move on. But what happens next? Well, you decide. The theme throughout this process is that you do all the work, so they don’t have to. At this point, I would tell them I’d like to help, and schedule another call. On that call, we’ll go through a proposal that attempts to solve their problem. And at the end of that call, I would tell them when I’d like to get started.
If it’s easy to get started, they’re more likely to do it. When breaking up the work in milestones, make the first one less than a week. If I hire someone new, I want to see progress so I can judge whether we’re on the right path or not.
The logistics of getting started are simple. You should always sign a contract that outlines the work to be done, how it will be done and when it will be delivered. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is it. To confirm the work, take a small deposit as well. Make sure they understand the work involved, as false expectations cause problems in the future.
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