March 20, 2016
5 proven ways to win new leads
As a freelancer, you have likely created some sort of lead generating funnel during your career. Like me, this funnel has been a large source of all of your freelance business thus far. You depend on your funnel and love when it works. At the heart of the “funnel” is typically some sort of call to action(s) be it a phone number, word of mouth, or some sort of inquiry form on your website. So long as your presence is known, new leads will hopefully continue to flow in from day-to-day.
Unfortunately, getting prospects to get in touch is half the battle. If you made it that far (congratulations if so), you will then need to earn their trust to win them as a client. You also will have to prove yourself worthy to be what they are indeed looking for in a contracted hire. Having so many variables in a new leader means you need to act fast and effectively to win the deal, but don’t forget that it is a two-way street.
Speak, Don’t Write
Depending on how a new lead is generated, you can go about handling it in a couple of different ways. Choose to continue down the email route or get the client on the phone immediately. Keep in mind that this is all after receiving some form of information from the lead first. Depending on the information provided, you’ll have to decide if the project is worth pursuing or not.
If in this position, you should almost always talk to the client directly. Yes, it is more effort and there’s more risk of losing finer details an email could document but in order to gain trust, you need to speak with clients from the start. This empathizes with them and is a great way for them to, at the very least, remember you by. If you tried this by emailing them you would be considered just another freelancer.
My process typically starts with an inquiry to my contact form on my website. When I started out, I avoided talking to clients. I didn’t want to waste my time talking directly with leads that had small budgets or lack of drive to make the project worthwhile.
My typical lead would leave some general contact information and a brief message outlining what kind of help they were looking for. With this, I would filter in the good and out the bad mostly based on budget. From there I would proceed to reply to the email generated by the form inquiry to reach out to the client.
Where I feel I failed was replying to the lead via email. By jumping into details almost immediately I sacrificed introducing my knowledge, empathy, and willingness to connect with the client. I should have rather requested a time to actually talk about the problems the client was facing and how I could be of help.
Reasons for filtering
I worked for a long time accepting low ball projects to gain experience and also earn money. I rarely said no to projects because I needed the money. This is fairly common to newer freelancers.
Looking back I liked this approach for the experience side of things but hated how much I had to sacrifice in terms of earnings and creativity just to get by. After a while, you start to get bored with busy-work and instead want to feel valued again for the type of work you provide. My main service was(and still is) designing and building websites. I wanted more freedom after a couple of years in so I decided to start saying no. I decided to increase my rates and filter out bad clients. I learned to say no and haven’t looked back since.
Empathy always wins
In almost any application where there is human interaction, empathy always plays a role. You need to always visualize yourself in your client's shoes to gain perspective in what you are offering them during negotiations. Never assume anything, always be responsive and show compassion to the problems your clients are facing. Ask yourself questions like:
- Why should the lead value me?
- What sets me apart from the competition?
- Am I fulfilling their needs and capable of solving the problems they face?
- Is my budget in line with theirs? If it’s too low is that hurting both the lead and myself?
Even if you know how to solve the problems you still need to reassure the client/lead that you can help as well as show them how you will help.
A lead comes to you looking for answers, help with a problem or skill they lack. Use your skills to show them you’ve got the situation under control and that all will be well in the end. They want to feel secure and know that you are there to help them get the job done.
Don’t sell yourself short
Don’t always agree with the client. The client may try to make decisions based on their own thoughts and understandings but what they commonly forget is that they hired you for your expertise.
It’s your duty to remind them that you are skilled in the area they need help with. Your skills, experience, and general working knowledge should lead the project in the right direction. If a client insists on things being their way from the start I would back out immediately as that’s already a bad sign of a crappy project ahead.
I’m not saying hold a client’s hand throughout the project duration as they have responsibilities to uphold as well, but definitely don’t sacrifice the way you work just so they can get what they want.
Being honest is the first step in any successful project. Don’t over-promise on anything. This could be anything from deadlines to budgets. If you lack a certain skill the project requires to be sure to let the client know before agreeing to any terms. You’ll need to decide if you are to hire out someone else or have the client do the same for the task at hand. If the client prefers you handle it be sure to document the added time, cost, and scope on your final proposal.
If hiccups arise during a project like vacation time, illness, technical difficulties, etc…, it should be fairly obvious that alternate plans need to be put into effect if this is the case. Make the client aware of the possibility of this. We are all human after all!
You don’t have to take every project on to get ahead in the freelance world. Sometimes being selective is actually good for your business as it promotes value within your brand. Onlookers see you as a hot commodity and compete to gain access to your services and knowledge. Letting everyone through the gates deems you less valuable which ultimately hurts your business.
I learned to say no and I’m glad I did. On top of saying no to some clients as well as increasing my rates, I filtered out the types of clients that weren’t as important to me or my business. In doing so I was able to focus on more projects I actually wanted to work on and excited to be a part of. I suggest you do the same!
If you do land a lead be sure to check out my article on writing freelance contracts to save you some hardships that may arise during a project lifecycle.