Turning Freelance into Fulltime: Building a Client Base
This blog continues a series of 5 posts which outline and address a very valuable lesson for any industry or any career – how to turn your freelancing into a fulltime business. If you’re currently contracting out a set of skills or have at least thought about it, this can be the critical first step toward starting your own business. I invite you to join me each week as I share the 5 most important components needed to prepare for a successful transition from freelance to fulltime.
In case you missed it, read:
Building A Client Base
The two previous posts, “Getting Your Name Out There” and “Moving Away From One-Time Projects” are both aimed toward the ultimate goal of building a solid client base. Reaching this goal is more than just having your business known in the local community; it’s taking it to that next critical level of getting people to actually hire you. While many aspects about taking your business from freelance to fulltime will be about building a professional brand, this particular component will most directly affect your business’s bottom line – or more accurately, its “life line.” You need to have a core client base which can provide you with a stable income while so many other aspects of your business are fluid and ever-changing. So how do you begin to build this base of paying clients? It only needs to begin with one. From there you can implement these following steps to turn this single brick into a solid foundation for your business.
Ask your existing client(s) for leads.
Your first one or two clients are much more than a desperately needed paycheck. They are a source of potential leads for new clients. Not only can they speak to your business from a firsthand experience, they are also likely to have connections in similar situations where your services could be of great value. If you are a freelance writer and one of your clients is a commercial video production company that often hires you for script writing, they are likely also connected to other video production companies that could use a freelance writer. My own client base was built in a similar way – through word-of-mouth recommendations from current and past clients. Because of my background in political campaigns, I secured my first freelance political client who I helped with public relations and planning fundraisers. At the fundraiser, many of his fellow colleagues who are also elected officials were fascinated with the services they could contract out to me. This single client helped me break into a unique area that has consistently grown my business ever since. I am also lucky that it’s an area I truly enjoy. When I first began my freelance Public Relations business during my senior year in college, I knew little to nothing about political campaigns nor did I have an interest in them. Yet with a single client, I established a whole new branch of my business. When looking to build your own client base, don’t overlook the obvious or easy. Ask your existing clients for leads from their own network who might be interested in your services. Better yet, ask them to connect you directly by personal email. If the initial introduction to your business is made by someone that the lead knows and trusts, it won’t be as easy to brush it off as a cold sales call and will speak volumes for the quality of your work.
Identify your niche.
When using existing clients as a building block for new clients, it’s natural that a pattern of businesses with whom you work most frequently will emerge. Allow this to build organically for some time before taking a critical look at what these patterns mean for the direction of your business. Essentially, you will now need to identify your niche and embrace it. Identifying your niche is not a limitation or a blinder for future business. You can and should seek out projects from all directions as you never know when this could tap into a new reservoir of work. But a niche will allow you to target many aspects of your business’s branding and marketing to appeal to this niche and establish your expertise within it. Say you make custom invitations to sell on Esty and begin to track that the most orders you receive are for wedding invitations. You can focus your web site content, social media and portfolio on wedding-related stationary. You may also choose to attend more bridal shows and advertise in bridal publications or on wedding web sites. This focus will allow you to place your time and effort in the area in which you are most likely to secure future clients. In the client building process your focus may form a spotlight on your niche, but don’t completely turn out the lights on all other categories of services. Remember that the bride you created invitations for will someday be interested in birthday and baby show invites or holiday cards. Make sure even current clients are aware of the full scope of services you offer.
Introduce and incentivize.
Once you’ve reached out to your existing clients for recommendations and have focused on your niches, next comes strategically introducing your business to potential clients. There are various ways in which you can accomplish this and the method will depend upon your type of business and the clients you’re trying to reach. One common method is a letter written to the business owner which serves as a friendly introduction to you are and what you do. This should go out to all businesses which fall within your niche or with whom you’d like to work. The letter should close with a realistic call to action. This can be as simple as inviting them to visit your web site or alerting them that you will be following up by phone in the coming weeks. If you’re in the position to do so, including an incentive such as a discount or free trial for one of your services is a very effective way to get a response. I’ve written such letters for several clients and we’ve seen some amazing results. The more personal you can make it (add in details specific to the person or their business) the more likely you are to receive a response. People want to feel that it’s genuine and not a form letter sent to hundreds of other businesses. Finally, by providing an incentive to try out your services, you reduce the risk of the unknown and take one step closer toward gaining a new client.
Stay tuned as the “Turning Freelance Into Fulltime” blog series continues with: Taking The Leap