Deciding to become a freelancer is one of the best career decisions you can make. Where else are you able to potentially or triple your income virtually overnight, or work when and where you want — without worrying about an overbearing boss? But with great opportunity comes great responsibility, and sooner or later we all realize it’s not just about designing and writing code. We’re running a business, and we need to sell to stay in business.
The Rat Race of Business Development
I’m going to assume you aren’t a brand name freelancer, and that you aren’t sought after by some of the hottest companies in the world. You’re a great designer or coder, but to stay busy you need to meet potential clients and convince them that you’re the best person for the job.
- You attend networking events and user groups, chatting up prospects and passing out business cards.
- You setup followup meetings over coffee.
- You learn about the businesses of your potential clients and what projects you might be able to help them with.
- You put together proposals.
- You answer lots of questions. Who you are, what you’ve done, and why you’re capable of taking on their project.
And to make matters worse, even after dumping hours into a potential project — there’s no guarantee it’s yours!
How To Spend Less Time Selling
In this article, I’ll be outlining a strategy that helped my small consulting firm bring in over $100,000 of revenue a month. We weren’t well known, but we had to pay our bills.
I’ll be covering:
- What objections you need to overcome to land more clients.
- How you can spend less time selling, and more time billing.
- And how automating your sales process can help you charge more, work with better clients, and — best of all — work with clients who only want to work with you.
Why Do Clients Hire You?
In my book on pricing for freelancers, I cover at length the psychology behind why clients hire us (and why they don’t hire us.) And it all boils down to risk management.
At the end of the day, your client needs to know: “Will I make more money off this project than I’m spending?”
Will you fail to deliver, causing their money to go to waste? Is this project actually going to move the needle for their business (e.g., get them more customers, increase revenue, etc.)? Will it be an expense, or an investment?
The typical ways of mitigating risk are through strong referrals (“if my trusted friend risks his reputation to refer you, then you must be good…”), a portfolio (“if you’ve been able to stay in business this long, you must be good…”), and putting to bed any fears brought up in an endless series of meetings (“if you have the right answers to my questions, then maybe you’ll work out…”)
You Don’t Get Paid For Sales Meetings
If you aren’t overwhelmed by strong referrals, or don’t have a portfolio full of big name businesses, you’re probably going to spend a lot of your time in pre-sales meetings. You’re going to need to prove that you’re capable, trustworthy, and understand enough about your prospect’s business before your contract gets signed.
…But you’re probably not getting paid for these meetings, which means you can’t be billing while you’re proving your worth. On top of that, the need to be networking for future clients and billing current clients can be overwhelming.
How To Sell At Scale
Your #1 goal should be to eliminate as much time as possible spent proving your expertise and authority. By the time you meet with a prospective client, they should know you’re awesome and competent. Rather, you should be spending your time putting together a plan of action and getting contracts signed.
Below I’ve outlined a six step strategy that you can use to fully automate your sales process. You’ll be able to free up a significant amount of your time, allowing you to focus on what matters now — billing time and making money — while also filling up your sales pipeline.
#1 – Plan a live seminar
If you could work with only one type of client, what kind of client would that be? What needs do they have, and which of these needs can be solved by hiring you? Now, since you’re hired to apply your knowledge to problems, extract that knowledge — the stuff you’ve spent years mastering — and put together an hour long presentation that teaches someone how they can take that knowledge and apply it to their business problems.
You’re probably thinking, “But why would I want to tell people how to do what I do? Then they won’t hire me!” But consider this: business owners are busy, and they’re also usually pretty smart. There’s a reason it’s taken you years to get to where you are. But giving prospects enough context and understanding around how you work helps them make better decisions, and ultimately leaves them from feeling like they’re working with black magic.
If you don’t have an office, you’re going to need a place to host it. A co-working space or a business who happily embraces exposure are good places to start.
#2 – Hand invite business owners who fit your target client profile to your seminar
There are a few ways to get people to attend your seminar. First, and most importantly, it can’t smell of a “sales pitch.” You need to make it clear that you’re doing this for them, you’re going to be teaching them something that, when applied, can tangibly benefit their business.
A simple first step is to call up your local Chamber of Commerce, and ask if you’d be able to give a presentation to their members. Or if you’d prefer to host it yourself, find out if they’ll add your event to their public calendar.
An alternative is cold calling local businesses, or reaching out to some of the people you’ve met at past networking events (who’s business cards are undoubtedly now stuffed in your sock drawer.) But if you’d like to expose your event quickly to a lot of people, messaging connections-of-connections on LinkedIn works well.
#3 – Deliver an hour of incredible value
After you’ve collected a dozen or so RSVPs (using something like EventBrite), you’re ready to host your seminar. Put together your material, print out slides for each attendee (don’t forget to attach your business card), and get ready to teach. If you aren’t a seasoned public speaker, remember this: everyone standing in front of you came to this event because they want to learn from you.
For your finale, make it clear that you understand that you’ve covered a lot of material, and that you know that time is at a premium. For example: “If you have a problem that you think can be solved using some of the strategies and techniques I just covered, I’m currently accepting new clients. “
#4 – Close with a networking mixer
Business owners love mingling around other business owners. My business began to take off once I started surrounding my local business community around my company.
Another way to lure people out to your event is to close with a mixer. Pick up a few six packs of beer or soda, fill up a bowl or two with pretzels and chips, and allow entrepreneurs to do what they do best: talk about their businesses. Because they’re at your event, you’ll likely be a recurring topic of discussion.
#5 – Followup using autoresponders
Setup a Mailchimp account if you don’t have one yet, and you’re going to want to create a list for people who have attended your seminars.
Once you complete your seminar, import the attendees into your list.
Next, you’re going to be creating an autoresponder sequence that follows up with your audience and continues to educate them at scale.
The first email you send should go out a day or two after your event. It practically writes itself: “It was great meeting you the other night! Thanks for coming out, and I hope you got a lot out of my seminar. Over the next few days, I’m going to be sending you some additional exclusive content related to my talk. I can’t wait to hear about how you plan on applying this to your business.”
And then you’ll want to write between 2 and 5 autoresponders, spaced a few days apart, that further establishes your expertise and authority on the subject you spoke on. Your prospect will trust you and your judgement even more with each email you send.
Finally, you’ll want to close by letting them know that you’d love to talk about how they can apply this information to their business. Here’s an example I pulled out of one of the templates from my book, The Blueprint:
#6 – Rinse and repeat
Imagine going to a networking event and meeting 10 strong prospects. You’d probably want to setup at least 10 meetings and you’d be investing literally dozens of hours into convincing this group of prospects that you’re capable and trustworthy of their business.
With the system I outlined above, your only “input” is showing up and hosting your seminar. As long as you can keep up attendance, there’s nothing keeping you from recycling the same content again and again. And when you wrap up a seminar, dump the attendees to your list, and your autoresponder takes over.
You’ll be able to court dozens or even hundreds of prospects at once, and when someone is ready to take that next step they’ll know you’re an expert, they’ll be used to getting a ton of value from you, and they’ll likely only want to work with you. Your job won’t be to sell, but rather to iron out the details of a project!
Tying It All Together
Most freelancers hate the need to sell. We all dream of the client who seeks us out because they know we’re the best.
With the system I outlined above, you’ll be able to eliminate a lot of the mind-numbing aspects of sales by delivering an overwhelming amount of value — entirely free of charge — to a lot of prospective clients at once. And once a client has learned a lot from you, and comes to regard you as their expert developer or designer, the choice will be obvious when they’re looking to hire (or when someone asks them for a referral.)