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Securing Ideal Clients (1 of 2)
Many who look back at their early years find that early clients are very different from the clients we work with now. That's also to say that as we gain experience, we find ourselves actively improving our clientele in a number of ways. And that's important! Sustainable freelancing depends not only on having expertise and knowing how to translate that into value, but also on having great clients that are receptive of the efforts we put forth to help their business.
Securing Ideal Clients is a 2 part series that'll cover how to improve your clientele, and the importance it plays in growing your business. Part 1 will cover three tips you can do now to start attracting better clients, while part 2 will cover how to successfully sell them on your services. Collectively, both parts will help you successfully seek out better clients, gain their trust, and create relationships with them that mean increased revenue and happiness for your business.
What We'll Cover
Before looking for better clients, it's important to have a few things in place. Not only do they provide a template, so to speak, on where and how to focus your efforts, but they also increase your chances of avoiding bad clients in favor of good ones. Here's what we'll cover in part 1 of Securing Ideal Clients:
- Learning from past experiences
- Defining your ideal client
- Your rate(s), and how it effects your ability to attract better clients
Before we can approach a search for better clients, it's important to take into consideration previous experiences and the type of client you want to attract. This is more than simply saying â€œI want to attract clients with a lot of money!â€. It's about really considering your interests, how you can deliver the greatest value, and who you decide to pursue relationships with. All of which have long term effects on your business.
Start by considering some of your less ideal client relationships, or mishaps from past experiences. Bad relationships aren't usually held in positive light, but it's incredibly important to learn from them. In that sense, pulling from your negative experiences and learning how to turn them into positive ones is one way to start attracting better clients.
To give an example, in my early days I had a client that liked to turn what should've been 10 minute phone calls into hour long conversations, and then got upset about the fact that I billed for that time we spent discussing their projects. Their objections and exaggerated phone calls made me believe this particular client simply didn't respect my time, particularly time I was putting in on their projects. The billable vs. non-billable time arguments aside, I also felt as if they wanted me to be available for hour long phone calls at their convenience.
When I took time to evaluate my client relationships early on, I realized that that client wasn't the only one with that mentality. So one of the first changes I vowed to make didn't focus on my rate, or how much billable hours I had per week, but rather on wanting to work with clients that respected my time and were good communicators.
And that's since been key in advancing my business. I found out early on that increasing my rate wasn't the only way to increase revenue or happiness. Instead, making sure I had clients I could efficiently communicate with, vs. those that bogged me down with gratuitous emails or phone calls, helped me maximize my billable time and stay on schedule with my projects. In addition to that, making sure I was rightfully billing for any and all time related to a client's project also translated into increased revenue, and happier relationships.
Defining Your Ideal Client
While past experiences help define the clients or experiences you want to avoid moving forward, it's also important to define the type of clients you want to attract. As an example, here's some of the criteria I now use to evaluate prospects:
- The type of work they need. I've always enjoyed building custom apps and games, so one trait my ideal client exhibits is wanting a custom app or game built. Other types of work, e.g. typical web sites, or eCommerce, don't suit my interests as much, so my value proposition on such projects is far lower and more risky; I simply avoid those kinds of projects all together.
- They must have passion for what they do. Great results start with great teams, and great teams always have passion for their respective area of expertise. One of the first things I interview clients about is history in their field, what motivates them in what they do, and the history the hiring team has with each other. If they have history with one another and an obvious passion for what they do, chances are they're going to be a great team to work with.
- Respect for my time. Pulling from past experiences, I prefer to only work with clients that respect my time, and don't expect time I spend on their projects to be â€œfreeâ€. Since using this criteria, I have no problem with clients understanding that meetings, phone calls, estimates, and travel or drive time are billable (I also spell that out very clearly in my contracts). My clients also tend to be good communicators, and start every email or phone call with clearly stated objectives.
- Project size or budget. The client's project size or budget must exceed a certain minimum. I used to do small one-offs, or quick turn n' burn websites. No longer, primarily because of the type of work I like to pursue (see #1). What I focus on nowadays is much more involved and takes time to scope out, develop, and manage. Having clients that not only understand that, but also have adequate timeline and budget to support those aspects of their project is important.
- offer work I'm not so passionate about
- lack a passion in what they do
- don't respect my time as much I'd like them to
- don't have adequate patience or understanding for what their project will entail
Increase Your Rates
Yes, another way to attract better clients is to increase your rates. The fact is there's psychology behind how we price ourselves, including the perception clients have about our rates.
For a lot of early freelancers, rates are one of the first things compromised in hopes of landing work. However, pricing services too low is almost always a bad idea, and prevents attracting better clients. My experience supplements that; as I've increased my rates, the quality of clients and projects that have come through Solution Factor's doors has only improved.
The problem with low rates is that they tend to attract smaller clients with lower or inflexible budgets, or those that lack understanding of what it takes to deliver end-to-end solutions for their business. Regardless of the negatives they exhibit, I think you'll find that prospects or clients attracted to lower rates are farther away from your ideal client, not closer.
However, you can work around those stigmas by increasing your rates, or pricing your services in a way that shifts your client's mindset from a restrictive budget to them asking themselves: â€œI wonder why their rate is so much higher than that of other freelancers, and how much additional value they can provide to our business?â€. And when you can change their mindset from price to value, you're on the right track. Not only to higher rates, but also toward working with better clients that want you for your value potential, not just as another cog in the wheel.
In short, our rates send a message to clients or prospects as to the value potential we can provide to their business. So if you want better clients, price your services in a way that better communicates your experience, worth, and value. Clients won't automatically balk at higher rates, as long as you do your part in selling them on your value proposition and delivering on it.
Past experiences, ideal client definition, and rates all contribute toward obtaining better clients. Through your experiences, you'll learn what type of work and clients to avoid, and by explicitly defining your ideal client you'll know where to focus your marketing efforts, and what type of client you ultimately want to pursue. Lastly, don't forget that your rates communicate experience, expertise, and value potential to prospects, so price yourself accordingly.
In part 2 of Securing Ideal Clients, we'll discuss how to engage better prospects and successfully sell to them once you have face to face.
About the Author
Marco Zarate is a passionate web developer and owner of Solution Factor, a small consultancy based in Austin, TX. Through his 7 year tenure as a full time web developer, and 4 years as a passionate consultant, he's delivered software solutions for companies ranging from small start-ups to some of the Fortune 500. He's also the author of TimePanel, a fast, simple time tracking and invoicing tool for freelancers and consultants.