Filling your pipeline with ideal clients is similar to dating -- you can date one person at a time or a bunch at once, depending on what you’re looking for. However, the first step in either process is having options. With dating, responding to personal ads alone is less likely to bring you the person of your dreams than exploring other ways of meeting people. Similarly, only responding to ads on job sites is unlikely to rope in the clients you’re hoping for.
Filling your pipeline with ideal clients is similar to dating -- you can date one person at a time or a bunch at once, depending on what you’re looking for. However, the first step in either process is having options. With dating, responding to personal ads alone is less likely to bring you the person of your dreams than is exploring other ways of meeting people. Similarly, only responding to ads on job sites is unlikely to rope in the clients you’re hoping for.
Instead, you have to build a freelance pipeline that includes multiple incoming sources for jobs. When filling your pipeline, consider the following:
Prospecting: Prospecting is like hunting for gigs -- identifying potential leads, outreach on social media networks and job boards, cold emailing, etc.
Inbound Marketing: Inbound marketing is setting up systems that bring leads to you.
Thought Leadership: Thought leadership is establishing yourself as a leader in your field, so that clients come to you instead of you going to clients. To build thought leadership, you can speak at conferences, write for reputable sites, be a guest on podcasts and YouTube channels -- basically things you can do to get your name and face out there.
Relationship Building: Relationship building is utilizing your existing relationships to get more business. It includes expanding existing accounts and getting referrals through networking and word-of-mouth.
You know how some people just swipe right on every match on Tinder, hoping that one will take? Those same people probably take a similar approach to finding jobs -- and there’s a better way to do it. It starts with qualifying who you go after. This means finding leads and prospects who truly need your product or service -- not just ones that are convenient. (AKA looking for a good match on Tinder, not just playing a numbers game.).
Before going out looking for clients, you need to know who your ideal clients are by being able to answer basic questions around demographics, revenue, and industries. Create a client persona by painting a picture of who your ideal client is. Similar to dating, it’s like dreaming up your ideal soulmate by assigning ideal traits. Do that.
Once you have that image in mind, go find your ideal clients in the right places. One way to do this is to follow the money. Here’s what we mean: Identify large brands that are hiring and startups that recently received funding. You’ll have better chances of getting paid a fair market price and won’t get ghosted by random job posters, which is a common problem on sites like Upwork and Fiverr.
Crunchbase, AngelList, and Inc 5000 are good places to search and filter companies by size, funding, revenue, industry, and sometimes even open positions. Another popular place to find prospects is on social media, specifically Linkedin and Instagram.
Once you’ve identified where to fish, create a simple prospecting spreadsheet or use one of the many CRMs available. The spreadsheet should have these basic fields:
- Company name
- Company website
- Prospect name
- Prospect title
- Prospect email
- Bonus: Social media profile (Linkedin, Instagram, etc.)
Carve out a few hours a week to go down that list and pitch away. Every cold email should be personalized, but a simple template can be something like this:
Subject Line: [Their company name]
Body: Hey [First Name],
I wanted to reach out and let you know I’ve been loving the work you’ve been doing at [Company Name]. [Insert something you like about their service or product]. I shared your [article, product, service, etc] with a few [colleagues, friends, people who may benefit from their work].
I’m also reaching out because I’ve done a lot of work with [the type of business they are in] to [achieve the type of results they want]. Would you be up for chatting about [their company name] [your core offering]? Here’s what [press mention or article about your work] says about my work.
Another way of prospecting is responding to opportunities posted online. Instead of checking an exhaustive list of sites everyday, set up a system so the opportunities come to you. You can use tools like IFTTT and Zappier to set up filters that will send opportunities directly to your inbox.
Inbound marketing typically means providing content and resources that are valuable to your ideal clients. Prospects receive value from the content you provide, which leads them to want to learn more, and finally purchase your product or service. The process goes like this:
- Attract: draw in the right people with valuable content and conversations that establish you as a trusted source of information from whom they want to learn more
- Engage: provide insights and solutions that align with their pain points and goals, so they have good reason to purchase your product or service
- Empower: provide continuous support and helpful resources to keep your clients winning, so they keep coming back for more
You can do this through:
- Social media channels
- Virtual events & webinars
- Blogging & content marketing
- Excellent client communication
One of the tricks to good inbound marketing is honing your messaging to fit your client personas. Speak the language that resonates most with them. Don’t you tailor the way you communicate depending on who your love interest is? The same concept applies here.
Here are the common areas to fill out when creating your client personas:
- Photo: Including a photo humanizes your persona.
- Interests and hobbies: What do they like to do? Where do they hang out?
- Psychographics: habits and viewpoints, “why” they buy
- Demographics: age, location, ethnicity, education, income/revenue
- Goals & Motivations: What are they trying to accomplish?
- Roadblocks: What are their pain points?
- Sales Objections: What are some objections you can anticipate them having about your product or service?
Review the client personas you’ve come up with, then look at your website, your emails, and your social media accounts. Are they conveying the right message to pull in that ideal client?
Thought leadership is about positioning yourself or your business as an innovator and a leader in the market. The higher you go on the thought leader ladder, the easier it is to get leads. Who doesn’t want to work with the best in the business? It’s kind of like dating a famous person who’s also a good person.
When you’re a thought leader, you’re not only known for your skills but also for teaching and advising about those skills to others. The larger the audience you have, the higher up the ladder you go.
If the goal is to speak at reputable conferences, write for well-known sites, or get featured or interviewed by respected publications, you can start with the following:
Position Yourself as an Expert
- Share case studies from your past work on social media
- Frequently answer questions in relevant online forums
- Offer to speak on subjects you are knowledgeable about
Create Educational Resources
- Create screencasts of products you’ve built and post them to YouTube
- Create an online course or newsletter course
- Write blog posts on how to solve common problems in your industry, publish to Medium
- Do a quid pro quo with another freelancer or business looking to grow their reputation by cross-promoting each other
- Ask a partner to distribute your online course
- Get featured on partner sites in exchange for introductions or something you can help them with
The whole goal of becoming a thought leader is to pop up as an authority on a problem when a potential client googles that problem or to prove that you can solve a potential client’s problem when they specifically google you.
We often start looking for the next opportunity before our current project is even concluded. But what if the next opportunity can come from our existing clients? Building a solid relationship with an existing client is a much easier way to get new projects than prospecting for a new one. You can do this by:
- Asking lots of questions along the way: the more you understand your customers, the more you are able to provide new solutions for them. You can also identify problems they don’t even see themselves, which you can then help them solve.
- Show your clients you really care: this is how you set yourself apart from others vying for their business. Think of their problem as your own: how would your attitude about solving it change?
- Over-deliver and deliver on time, every time: If you surprise and delight your customers, they’ll like you as a human being, not just someone who works for them.
Existing clients are also a great source for word-of-mouth referrals. A dream for every freelancer is to fill your pipeline with all word-of-mouth leads, so that you don’t ever need to go hunting.
When it’s time to look for new leads, though, tell the introvert in you that networking can actually be worth it. Approach networking like you’re playing the long-game: You’re here to develop meaningful relationships, not necessarily to score every time. Some leads are not obvious right away, but reveal themselves after a while or through introductions. Here are some suggestions for effective networking:
- Once you’ve identified where to network, whether online or in-person, look at how you can add value to the group. Listen, observe, and try to be helpful to others.
- Make two lists of people you network with: Those who could potentially be leads and those who could potentially introduce you to leads.
- Create calendar reminders to follow up with those on the list to either pitch them or send them helpful information, articles, invites, etc. so they continue to receive value from you.