As a new, first-time freelancer, you can’t be very selective with work. You need to build up a portfolio, work on your skills, figure out how to deal with clients and how to get the work done well enough to get paid. You don’t have any reputation or work history to drive loads of potential clients to your door, so you take whatever is available.
Successful freelancers know that this is just a phase. After getting their feet wet for a while, and doing work of all different kinds, they develop a vision of what could be: the kinds of projects they want to work on, the type of clients they want to be associated with, and the project fees they will be able to charge. Clients beating at their door, disappointment on their faces when learning that they will have to wait in line due to so many bookings…
To get to that dream stage, a freelancer will need to ascend a few rungs of what we call The Three Levels of Freelancing. It looks like this:
We covered this one already. Beggars can’t be choosers at first. Unless you’re independently wealthy or only freelancing as a hobby (this article isn’t for you)… you’ll most likely be happy to service any type of client to start making some income. One good thing about working with so many different types of jobs and clientele is that you can notice some patterns:
• the types of work you do / don’t like to do
• the kinds of clients that you work really well with
• what industries or areas energize you versus bore you when you talk about projects or company needs
• what things you should do yourself, and what tasks you should probably outsource or get help on
You learn so much. You might want to take notes or keep track so you only replicate the things that are productive for your business, and avoid making the same mistakes twice.
If you do good work and treat all of these people well, you should get to:
Yes! This is progress!
People are calling you after they heard of something you did for someone else, and they hope you can now do this same something for them. This is the start of a virtuous cycle. You do good things. They tell others. You get to do more good things for some new folks. They tell others.
If you can keep this up, you can get really busy. You might even have to turn a bit of work away, or hire some help. [Boom!] If one of your biggest initial fears was “not being able to get enough work to stay busy”, then that is one fear you can check off the list.
Depending on your lifestyle and living situation, you may love sitting in this position for a long time!
Some freelancers choose to level up from here. Some reasons: Your rates might not have changed much. If a knew client knew how much their referrer paid you, your increases were minimal, if any. You might have too much work, and you’re struggling to get it done, working more hours than you want. You may have figured out that you really like working for a portion of your client roster, and they are all related to a certain industry.
Whatever it is, you’re making a push to:
This is a huge change. Before, the majority of your clients came to you. Dropped in your lap, with a glowing recommendation in hand. You just had to be able to react quickly enough (with a smile) to land some new work.
Level 3 freelancers are now switching to pro-active game hunters.
They have to think ahead. What are my ideal clients, and therefore my targets? Hopefully, some combination of these things:
• appreciative of the value I can bring them
• working in fields that interest me
• always in need of the service I want to provide
• able to pay what I want to now charge
• large enough that I could provide other additional service offerings to
• willing to share how good of a job I did with other people in the same industry
Before we move on, just let those thoughts simmer. Ideal clients… kinda makes you want to cry a little, knowing how prized these treasures are.
That’s who. Now, where are these people? Where do they work, where do they hang out? What places, online or in the physical world, are they perusing when they might be inspired to learn more about what I want to do for them?
Level 3 Freelancers make a plan to snag these ideal targets. Like a prize fisherman, scouring the globe to find majestic blue marlin (catch-and-release of course, you don’t want to kill your clients) they study ocean waters to figure out where the marlin live and eat. Then they figure out what to attract them with. Cause bare hooks don’t catch fish. What would entice one of these fish to take what is being offered? If they’ve located some fish, but they don’t take the bait, they adjust their tactics and try something else.
Key point: Figure out what problems your ideal clients have. Fish need nutrition, not a Squarespace website. Hence the fishy food on a hook, and not a coupon. Your clients will have more complex needs of course, so the more value you can offer that matters to them, the more successful you’ll be in attaining these clients.
How do you know what they need? It’s really simple. Successful freelancers talk to their clients. Instead of just telling them what you offer, spend time asking them about what they wish were different about their business, or what important goals they need to achieve.
Another part of the Level 3 plan: sustainable, persistent growth efforts. You most likely won’t catch a trophy fish on your first cast. Or even on your first day. But, you know they are there—and they have to eat. And if you aren’t throwing your line out, they’re going to feast on someone else’s offering.
Get Help Accomplishing This
Using a tool like Betterlance could be a great part of your Level 3 plan. Identify your ideal clients. Get the leads yourself, or use a service like Betterlance Leads to find and deliver these potential ideal client types for you. Then plug them into the Betterlance CRM to keep track of who you reach out to, and when to follow up. Once again, a fish might need to see the bait a few times before it trusts it enough to take a bite.
And then imagine when you have a full roster of ideal clients… and they start telling more ideal client types… THAT’s next level.