Free Advice Friday: Your Freelance Clients, Prospected

What I’m listening to: Song #3 by Stone Sour

One of the toughest things I had to learn as a freelancer wasn’t how to do the job. It wasn’t how to run a business, how to market, or even how to chase invoices.

The toughest thing about freelance writing is finding clients.

Actually, it’s more detailed than that. Finding any old client isn’t all that tough.

Finding clients that are qualified and a right fit for you — that’s tough.

Many writers have yet to wrap their heads around the idea that they are small business owners. How are we supposed to convince them that they have to be salespeople, as well?

Truth is, we have to sell our services in order to run our businesses. And we have to have clients.

Time to build a list of prospects.

Prospects are simply people or companies we’d like to have as clients. Any salesperson in any industry will tell you — prospect lists are a must.

Yep, even for freelance writers.

I can’t imagine too many writers who haven’t had some semblance of a list over the years. My own list is a spreadsheet of vetted prospects I’ve culled from my travels in my niche industry. Yours could be a Word document of a few people you’ve seen regularly on social media. Or it could be a written list of companies you’d love to work with.

That, my friend, is your prospect list.

For those of you who have never formalized the prospect list, it’s not hard. It’s also not set in stone. You could list Acme Light-up Mouse Ears, Inc. as your ideal client, but then realize a year from now that they don’t hire contractors or their budgets don’t mesh with hiring outside help. Or there could be a scandal involving mouse ears that offends your sense of morality. Or you simply don’t like the way they interacted with you.

Just know that it’s your list. It can look however you like it to look and can change as little or as often as you wish.

Start building it by identifying these few things:

Your ideal customer profile

Tempting as it is to simply say “Anyone who will pay my rate” is your ideal customer, that’s too vague.

What industry do they serve? That’s different than what industry they are in — plenty of companies can support an industry without actually being “in” it. For example, a company selling weather damage detection equipment isn’t serving the weather industry or the technology industry, but most likely the insurance industry, where weather damage causes major expense.

How big is the company? That’s not an indicator of ability to pay necessarily. I’ve worked successfully with one-person shops as often as I’ve worked with global entities. It just gives an indication of potential need. Larger companies could be overrun with work. One-person companies could well need a bit more support and help in getting a marketing message put together.

Which prospects resemble your current clients? I’m not suggesting you go out and gobble up every competitor (and you might not want to have such a conflict of interest). But what types of projects and subjects are you handling now, and which prospects might have a similar need?

What kind of work do you like to do? It makes no sense to target companies that sell resumes if you hate writing resumes. The same goes for targeting medical marketing companies when you have no idea how to write for them. So ask yourself what mix would make you happy — brochures and websites, a little magazine work, some good-paying blog work, ghostwritten articles, case studies…

Put together your list

This is your draft, so any prospect can and should make the list. (You’re going to vet later.) Places to find your ideal prospects — social media (Twitter hash tags, LinkedIn keyword searches), conference lists, association lists (typically you won’t have access to the lists themselves, but there are people advertising who might hire you), industry lists, phone books, business directories….

What your research has uncovered

Oh yes, you have to look these prospects up. Consider this — you found this great company that writes about all sorts of great financial methods that can help customers grow their portfolios tenfold in a year. But without researching for five or ten minutes, you missed the fact that they head a major Ponzi scheme and the senior management team is under indictment. It happens. Even if your prospects aren’t that nefarious (and scarce few are, amen), you should know something about them before you include them on your list. Which communication methods do they use? Which should they consider? How do they present themselves? What is their business and who is their customer?

The best way to connect

It makes sense that if you’re seeing a prospect on Twitter every day, you might want to reach out and connect that way. Look for the easy answer — where you’ve seen them first — then build a mini-strategy that lists a few ways to connect with each prospect throughout a typical week. Now you have both a prospect list and a game plan for reaching out to each one.

Writers, what does your prospect list look like?
What other elements do you consider when building your list?

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  • Mary October 7, 2017 at 10:54 am

    First you made me create a website, and now this… Quit making me work so hard! 😉

    • lwidmer October 24, 2017 at 9:33 am

      Just think about how much you’ll get in return, Mary. That’ll keep you going!

  • Simon Akhrameev October 23, 2017 at 3:45 am

    Hi, L. Widmer. Thanks for the post! Knowing your prospects is really important for every freelancer (I’m a translator actually). FYI, I guess you occasionally put this sentence twice: Finding clients that are qualified and a right fit for you — that’s tough.

    • lwidmer October 24, 2017 at 9:34 am

      Simon, good for you for finding that! It wasn’t intentional, but it does bear repeating. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting. Happy to meet you!