Are you happy with your clients? Are they giving you projects you enjoy? Paying enough for your time? Hopefully you answered yes, but I often hear freelancers saying they’d like better clients. I thought I’d offer some ideas to help you build a better client list.
Before we get to those ideas let me say this isn’t a post of client horror stories. Sure everyone has had or will have clients who we’d rather forget. For the most part though, your clients are good and honest people.
However sometimes you feel like there’s something missing in your client list and you’d like to get more of that missing element.
What Makes One Client Better than Another?
Better is a subjective word. There’s no specific set of requirements in some set amount that makes one client automatically better than another. The truth is only you can define what makes a better client for your business.
Your first step in working with better clients is to define what a better client is. Some things that may define better for you:
- Clients with more interesting projects
- Clients that bring out the best in you
- Clients who give you more freedom
- Clients with a greater social ethic
- Clients that pay more money
- Clients you like personally
- Clients you believe in
The list above is, of course, incomplete. There are an endless number of things that can define better for you and the list above doesn’t take into account which items are more important.
The main thing is to realize that only you can define better and you have to define it before you can attract better to your business.
Today’s Clients Predict Tomorrow’s Clients
If I could summarize this post with a single thought it would be the work you do today leads to the work you’ll do tomorrow.
Today’s clients will recommend you based on what you did for them. They’re going to recommend you to people they know who are probably like them.
They’ll recommend you based on the reason they chose you and choose to work with you again. If you land a client because you had the lowest price, that client will recommend you as the low cost option.
New leads will choose you based on the work they’ve seen you do in the past. Your portfolio shows them the work you can do and offers proof of your skills. The work you do today is going to help convince others you can do that same work in the future.
If everything in your portfolio is a small site with hand drawn illustrations your portfolio isn’t doing much to convince corporate clients you’re the person for their large and conservative site.
How to Work with the Clients You Want
Essentially it comes down to doing more of the work you want to do in the future as soon as possible. That’s much easier said than done so here are a few practical tips.
The most important thing is to value what you do. You and I think it’s easy to set up a quick html page, but that’s only because we’ve been doing it for awhile. It’s easy to forget the years of learning that go into creating a simple site.
What you do is valuable and adds great value to your client’s business. If you don’t see that no one else will.
If you want clients to value your skills, experience, and time, you need to value them first.
Learn to Say No
You don’t have to say yes to every client request or demand. Learn to say no.
Clients will ask you to do lots of things that probably aren’t fair to you. It’s not because they’re bad people or trying to rip you off. They’re usually just trying to get the best deal they can for their business.
You generally won’t lose a client because you say no to a 20% discount or because you won’t work over the weekend. Instead you’ll send a clear message that you value your work and time.
Be Selective: Turn Away Bad Projects
There are times when money is tight and you feel like you have to take on any project offered at any price. While there might be times when you have to say yes to stay in business, these times really aren’t that abundant.
Often you’re better off filtering out some clients. Bad business recommends bad business. Taking on a bad project also means no time for the better project that comes in tomorrow.
Turning away business is not easy, especially when there’s a financial need, but turning away bad projects was one of the best things I ever did for my business.
Do More of the Projects You Want to Do
This might sound like a catch 22, but there are ways to do the projects you want even when no one is offering them. You can be your own client. Develop a theme for a popular CMS. Build a site for a new business.
This is also the exception to working for less than your value. Consider if it’s worth a large discount or even a free site in order to shape your portfolio.
A site built for a charitable organization is an easy way to justify any lost revenue. You can consider the lost revenue a marketing expense.
Think of all the example pages and sites you’ve built while learning. Think of this in a similar light. You’re doing free or low cost work in exchange for a portfolio that will help attract the projects you want to do in the future.
Blog About Things that are Important to You
Like a portfolio a blog can show proof of skills. If you can’t work on the projects you want, you can still write about how you would improve similar sites or simply write about things that show you can successfully complete the projects you want.
This is really an extension of the point above. If you’re not currently getting the projects or clients you want, find some way to show you can handle them.
It doesn’t specifically have to be a blog. You can write a book, a white paper, speak at conferences, give away sample code, etc.
Be Selective in What Your Portfolio Shows
You don’t need to show every project you’ve ever done in your portfolio. Be selective. Show those projects that most closely resemble the types of projects you want to take on in the future.
A portfolio isn’t meant to be all your work. It’s meant to be a selection of your work. What you choose to show will affect how people view your ability to work on their project.
Be Where Your Ideal Clients Are
Identify where your ideal clients are most likely to spend their time and then build a presence there.
If you want corporate clients, a small business forum isn’t the best community to join. Do what you can to network with the people you want to work with.
People network with others similar to themselves. Find a way to get into the social circles representing the clients you want.
Build a Brand that Attracts “Better” Clients
Everything you communicate affects your brand. The color scheme of your site, your copy, how you reply to emails, everything. Build a brand that appeals to the clients you want.
Every point above is really one aspect of this one. Figure out what what will appeal to your definition of “better” clients and do what you can to be those things.
Beware though that you may learn along the way that what you think makes for a “better” client turns out not to be all that great when you realize what you have to do to land those clients.
If you aren’t happy with the clients and projects your freelance business currently attracts don’t get down. Start taking steps right now to attract the clients and projects you want.
First define who those clients are and what those projects will be. You need to know what makes for a better client for you before you can attract that client to your business.
Understand that the work you do today will attract similar work in the future. Who you work with today usually leads to working with more of the same tomorrow.
Be more selective in the work you take on now and the work you show to others. Take incremental steps to grow your business in the direction you want it to grow.
It comes down to having your current business reflect that it’s capable of working with the type of client you want to work with and working more on the types of projects you want to work on.
If you liked this post, consider buying my book Design Fundamentals