How to land your first client
Landing your first client is surprisingly easy, if you know how to approach it. In this post we'll cover how to land not only your first client, but all subsequent clients as well. The approach might need some tailoring for your specific market and if that's the case we encourage you to share your experiences.
Tried & Proven
I started freelancing in 2007 and was fortunate enough to start with my first customer already on the books. Years later I received an offer I couldn't resist and stopped freelancing for 2 years, but when picking it back up, I started from scratch.
Getting into freelancing with a mortgage, kids and a family can be daunting. My wife has never liked the idea of me working a steady 9 - 5 because its a big restriction on your personal freedom, compared to freelancing, so when I wanted to try something new, she pointed to freelancing again.
Given all the factors above, especially the mortgage, I was hesitant. "I'll give it 1 month" I said and then we would assess the situation.
I made 46.000 USD that month.
Here's how you land your first client
The method is very simple on the surface: Simply think the sales process in reverse.
Think of how a deal is traditionally stuck: Two or more people, sitting around a contract, signing it one by one.
How do you get into that room?
You only get in by invitation of one of the stakeholders. This person must see real value in what you offer.
Who is the Stakeholder?
Whatever you're selling, there's someone in most companies with the authority to buy it. Let's say you're a web designer, you'll be a welcome voice in Marketing, Web Development and PR. You find the names of the relevant stakeholders by either calling up the company and asking the reception who's in charge of the domain you're looking at - or by researching their website and LinkedIn page. On LinkedIn you can actually search by company, role and seniority.
How do you get into contact with this stakeholder?
There's many different opinions but I prefer the scientific term: PEPPE.
PEPPE stands for: Phone, Email, Phone, Phone, Email. Based on a study of 2.000 sales reps, it was concluded that on average it takes 5 attempts to reach a stakeholder. If it takes more than 5 you're wasting your time. If you give up before 5 attempts, you're also wasting your time.
What made them interested in you?
Now you need to get inside their head. What kind of value proposition speaks to them? Staying in the lane of the web designer, check out their news on SoMe and mentions in the press. Are they launching new campaigns, brands, products? Are they growing or stagnant? Consider their circumstances and how you might add the most value.
When you meet new people, what impresses you?
To be completely honest I'm not the most charismatic person you'll come across, yet I do manage to open doors. My focus is simply this: How do I convey professionalism and courtesy while speaking only value?
For me that means being polite, friendly and interested only in their business objectives and challenges.
I strongly recommend that you disregard all the old-school sales-talk, like "Get 3x Yes for a signed contract". You've probably heard that door-to-door salesmen will ask if they may have a glass of water, because if the owner of the house says "Yes" then you've already gotten your first yes.
You may also have heard, that you always give your clients 3 options "Buy now", "Buy tomorrow", "Buy first of next month" because that way the client won't ever consider "No" as an option.
These are all spins on the same principle: Manipulation. Don't manipulate. Don't "befriend" to get their money. At least not if you have real marketable skills. Treat people with the respect they deserve, which includes the right to say "No" if something about your offer is a bit off. This is in your interest as well.
There is no magic in sales, you don't need to be the best dressed, the most beautiful, the most charismatic. All you need to do is convince the buyer that you will create a higher value that what you're about to invoice him/her. This is how you lay the groundwork for lasting relationships.
Now follow the playbook in reverse
- Find the stakeholder who can buy from you: Phone reception or search the web/LinkedIn
- In a friendly, polite, non-manipulative manner, tell the stakeholder the value you can bring
- Set up a meeting and discuss the project and the budget
- Sign the deal
Avoid common mistakes
The most common mistake, which I've seen many, many freelancers make, is to waste time. As trivial as this might sound, time is non-renewable. Once it's wasted, its not coming back.
When I'm told about a possible job I note it in my pipe:
The crucial elements here are: Date for follow-up and Phase. I never take a 2nd meeting unless the budget (or an estimate thereof) has been checked by the customer. You can make the most beautiful project outline imaginable and have it shot down because you're too expensive. If that's the case the entire process has been a waste of time for everyone involved. To avoid that, make sure you understand their budget restrictions before leaving meeting 1 - And gear your investment of time by the phase you're in. Even a 10 million dollar project is basically worth nothing if it's just a lead.
Date of follow-up is important for several reasons. Firstly its tied to my #1 rule for freelancers: Whatever you say that you will do, do it.
It sounds so simple, but broken expectations are common and hard to recover from. If you make an arrangement to send through a proposal on friday, no matter what happens, even if you have to sit up half the night, make sure it goes out on friday - Or at the very least, call them up on friday and tell them why its delayed.
Second, a follow-up call can feel intrusive, like you're checking if they've done their homework. If the person you're dealing with is stressed or behind schedule, let them pick the time and give as much space as possible. I've found that friday afternoons are usually good for a casual "How's it going?" chat. Just keep in mind, that even if you are desperately under budget, transferring that stress to your soon-to-be client will not speed things up, quite the contrary.
Having filled out these fields, ZimTik will give you a weighted value. So in the above case, coming out of meeting 2 the weighted value of 285k is just 142.5k. If my budget is set to 200k/mo - Then I need to keep working other opportunities.
This can create situations where you have to put tasks on hold or ultimately give up on them because your calendar is full, but scenario should never be feared. The alternative is coming in under budget most months.
Do not be afraid to walk away from a bad sale
If someone's asking for your help with an interesting job, there are many reasons to accept it but be aware of red flags. If you accept a suboptimal job today, you'll be too busy to notice the great job that's available tomorrow. At least that's my philosophy. As rational and data-driven as I am, I pay strict attention to my gut feeling before signing a deal. Here's a few things that should make you consider walking away
- Is there bad chemistry?
- Do you dislike the people you're about to go into business with?
- Do they talk disrespectfully about other suppliers/employees?
- Are they vague on finances? Is the money always coming tomorrow?
- Do they phone/email you at all hours of the day and on weekends?
- Do you feel like their project is doomed to fail?
These are some of the thoughts that can come up during a sales process. None of these reflect badly on neither you nor the customer, but they can suggest that it's not a good match between the two of you. I've never regretted walking away from a deal.
Handle rejections like a pro
This is probably the #1 question I get asked in networking groups "How do you handle rejection?". Again, being completely honest, as a person I don't mind rejections. I couldn't imagine a world where everyone I come into contact with is just aching to buy my services. You strike a deal when the timing is right.
But having spoken with so many freelancers as I have, I've found a mantra which seems to work for everyone: If there's 100 rejections between you and a good sale, then every rejection is a step closer to your goal.
Rejections are inevitable. Be glad you got it fast, as not to waste time, and be glad that you're one big step closer to finding the perfect deal.
I hope this helped you who are looking for new clients, and possibly even inspired someone to take the first leap of faith.
About the author
Lau B. Jensen is a Danish Freelancer / Tech entrepreneur. He's worked mostly with Software Development and management consulting all across Europe. In 2015 he took a 5 year break from freelancing to be the CEO of a VC funded SaaS start-up.