This article is part of a new series that will attempt to answer the #1 question I’ve been getting recently: where do I find high-value clients?
By “high-value client”, I mean somebody who hires you as a consultant in the best sense of the word. These are clients that value your input and expertise, and regard you as much more than just a hired gun.
They also pay you really well, because they aren’t buying a commodity service that can be sold by the lowest bidder (e.g. someone charging $8 an hour on oDesk).
In short, I’ll be peeling back the curtain and showing you exactly how I’ve been closing five-figure a week consulting engagements (and to make things even more meta, I’m actually writing this from a coffee shop before heading over to a client’s office).
Become A Consultant
The single best career move you can make is to stop thinking of yourself as a freelancer.
I know this might sound strange coming from me. My courses all have “freelancing” in their name, and my new site is DoubleYourFreelancing.com… well, you see what I mean. But when I say freelancer, it’s because I’m saying it in reference to you — a fellow freelance consultant. I’m speaking to my peers.
But you’ll never, ever, ever hear me refer to myself as a freelancer when talking with a prospective client. Instead, I look at myself as a consultant — somebody who professionally solves other people’s problems.
If you want to be a great consultant, you need to understand how the game is played.
I’m always amazed by how few people understand the basic law of employment: you’re hired by someone because they want something from you, usually more money than they’re paying you. I’ve employed my fair share of people over the years, and only a handful of them actually understood this. Most saw their employment as more of a right — something they’re owed — rather than as an equal exchange of value between two parties.
And before I expose too much of my libertarian leanings, let me quickly tie this back into freelancing…
If you want to break through the glass ceiling of market rates, you’re going to want to ditch the idea that people pay you because you’re good at what you do. Clients pay you because they’re interested in the byproduct of being good at what you do. And if you want clients who value that, you need to stop pretending that they care about how talented you are.
This is going to have you seek out clients who have problems to solve, rather than clients with projects to do.
Produce Value Constantly And Consistently
So how do you get on the radars of these type of clients? You put yourself there.
The most successful freelance consultants I know are always creating. They refuse to let their work be confined by the walled gardens of non-disclosure agreements. They write about the technicals or the businesses of the projects they’re working on, and aren’t afraid to put themselves in the public square.
Joanna Wiebe, who has become a sought after expert in the copywriting community, put herself there by writing about how bad ass she is at what she accomplishes for her clients, as evidenced this amazing case study of hers.
John McIntyre started calling himself “The Autoresponder Guy”, and started teaching businesses how autoresponders — done right — can greatly reduce the typical sales cycle. No one appointed him as “the guy” who mastered writing autoresponders. He did.
Sean Wes is a designer who made beautiful hand letterings for his clients. He started showcasing his work on his website, and built up a huge following of people who see him as an expert in hand lettering. Sean could have kept his work hidden from the world, but he chose otherwise.
For a lot of us, myself included, it’s sometimes hard to put ourselves out in the open like that. Either we don’t feel like we have anything to say, or we don’t feel that we’re qualified to say it.
You won’t — and can’t — be an expert or authority to everyone. And that’s fine. Your focus should be on providing value in a scaleable way to whoever you will listen. Many freelancers don’t do anything close to this — they don’t have assets that work for them 24/7.
I leverage my blog posts to get me podcast interviews, and in turn leverage these interviews to land speaking gigs at software conferences, which help me get clients who pay $20k+ a week.
What leverage do you have in your freelancing business?
Make It Obvious That You’re Available For Hire
Finally, once you’ve established a habit where you’re constantly producing value for others, you need to make it clear that you can produce similar value for whoever’s listening.
I’m working this week with a client in San Francisco, but flew in early last week. A few days ago (Friday), I visited some old friends of mine at a particularly large consultancy in town. While there, I ran into some people who were running their startup out of their, and started talking with them.
After the initial pleasantries, we talked about why I was out in San Francisco. Instead of saying, “I’m working with a client.” My response was something like: “I’m working with $CLIENT to help them $LUCRATIVE_BUSINESS_OUTCOME.”
This piqued the interest of the founders, and we started chatting about the problems they had in their company. I listened, I learned, and then I suggested what I’d do if I were in their shoes — and let them know that I could do it for them.
Instead of saying, “If you ever have a project that I could help with, let me know”, I created the project for them. Needless to say, it was a huge win for them. And I skipped out on a day of sightseeing and made a few thousand dollars.
Wherever and whenever possible, make it obvious that you can be hired.
Let people know that you want to help them solve whatever problem(s) they told you about. Don’t just leave them with an open ended invitation to contact you if they ever have a project you could help with. Last week I didn’t walk away saying, “It sucks that you’re having a hard time selling. Let me know if you want any help.” Instead I said, “Let’s fix that problem this weekend.”
To put this into action, I’d encourage you to break out of your comfort zone and find a local networking group. Don’t go explicitly to find clients; go there to learn. Be on the lookout for juicy business problems, and just spend some time practicing being a business consultant. Talk with people about their businesses, and try to resist the urge to talk about whatever it is that you happen to be technically good at.