We’ve all been there–you come to the end of your current client projects and realize, with dawning horror, that there’s absolutely nothing to start work on next.
Worse yet, you don’t have any clients in your sales funnel at all.
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the now that you forget to plan for the future. You devote all of your energy to sealing the deal with one client, and then doing the work for said client, that you don’t think about what’s going to happen after that project is over … at which point you realize your client funnel is empty and there is no “next project” unless you do something, and fast.
It’s a freelancer’s nightmare–but it is fixable (and avoidable in the future). If you follow these five steps, you can queue up a steady stream of freelance jobs and make sure you never run out of work again.
#1: Follow up with your previous clients
Make a list of every single person who has either worked with you or expressed interest in working with you and give them an update on what kind of service you’re offering at this time.
People who have already worked with you and enjoyed the experience are a much easier sell than people who are totally new to you and your services, so this is the highest leverage place to start.
Think about what they might need from you, based on your previous work with them. If you helped them with a whole website, then come up with one to three “touch up” mini-service packages (i.e. new social media icons or other small design/development tweaks).
If you don’t already have a system in place for keeping track of previous clients and following up with them, you’ll definitely want to set one up after you’re out of this immediate money crunch. Those systems and habits are part of what will prevent incidents like this from happening in the future.
#2: Create systems for finding gigs and pitching them
This has three sub-steps:
Make it easy for you to find gigs
Before you can pitch your services to a prospective client, you need to know that they’re in the market for your services. And that means keeping an eye on the major jobs boards and Craigslist.
A large part of this process can be automated using tools like IFTTT and Zapier. These tools let you essentially “hook up” two different services so that when something happens in one it triggers an action.
In this case, you can create an alert that sends you an email notification immediately when there’s a new post (not once a day or weekly). Once you set this up, you’ll no longer have to check job boards or Craigslist daily–you’ll automatically get an email when something new that fits your criteria is posted, and you can move straight on to pitching.
You can set this up inside IFTTT by using the RSS feed to email trigger. Most job sources have either an RSS feed for the board itself, an RSS feed available for search results, or both. For Craigslist searches, there’s a Craigslist search result to email trigger, and you’ll want to set that up for your search terms in both the jobs and the gigs section (since sometimes part-time, contract, or freelance work gets posted under the jobs section). You can also watch this video if you’d like a step-by-step walkthrough.
Have templates for sending in your information
First off, you don’t want to send a form email that’s copied and pasted for every gig. It looks tacky, and the person reading the email can usually tell if you didn’t tweak your email to match the listing. But it is a great idea to have a framework to use–something that will help you speed up the process and that you can add to or subtract from as needed. If you have more than one area you work in (for example, WordPress plugins and e-commerce development), it’s a good idea to have a template for each specialty.
Here’s a rough template that you can modify as needed:
I saw your posting on [name of source] and wanted to send over my information. My resume is attached and you can find my portfolio here: [link to portfolio] Examples of work are here [link] and client case studies with results are here [link]. [Obviously, only include those specific links if you have them, but if you don’t, consider adding them – potential clients love to see case studies.
I’d be a great fit for this project because… [Use this space to talk about your background as it applies to this job. A good structure to use is one sentence that covers your overall background, one sentence that mentions your experience and if you have any specialties within that experience--like the aforementioned WordPress plugin experience--and then one or two sentences that mention a specific project you've done relevant to this gig.]
Let me know if you have any questions. I’d be happy to discuss the project and my experience more via phone/Skype sometime in [the next three days, the next week, etc.].
Thank you for your time and have a great day,
A few notes about this template and why it works:
- Make sure to double-check the post for a contact name, and if there is one, use it. Going the extra mile will stand out when the person is sifting through emails.
- If they ask specific questions in the post that need to be answered in your email, then make sure you answer them. Don’t just copy and paste–this is meant to be a jumping-off point for your responses.
- Don’t forget to thank them for their time. I’ve been on the receiving end of response emails and you’d be surprised at how many just end abruptly.
Set goal metrics
If you have an actual goal that you’re aiming to meet daily or weekly, it gives your efforts focus and makes you more likely to get the required work needed.
If you’re working on a short turnaround time (meaning, you need more clients and you need ‘em fast), then pitching five gigs a day is probably a good place to start. Do your five daily pitches in the morning, and once you’re done, move on to other work for the day. I’d suggest spending your other “free time” (when you don’t have client projects to work on) doing work that will bring clients to you in the longer term–things like creating blog posts and guest posts, making videos, etc.
Pitching five projects a day every single day isn’t sustainable in the long term, but the idea is that you’re kickstarting your sales funnel, so to speak, while working to prevent this situation from happening again.
Resources for step two
Here’s a list of job boards that you can use to set up your IFTTT triggers. Most of these are a mix of freelance, part time, and full time opportunities, although some lean more one way than the other. All are focused on design jobs, development jobs, or both:
You’re probably already familiar with the following list of marketplaces, and they aren’t ideal for the bulk of your work. Jobs posted on these sites are usually from people who are looking to hire at below-market rates. However, if you’re low on your pitching quota for the day, it can’t hurt to check out the listings and fill the gap with gigs from these places:
#3: Look at agencies and talent networks
From an agency’s point of view, there are several advantages to hiring a freelancer instead of a full time employee–so if you’re finding yourself short on work, you can look at both local and national agencies. You can also check out talent networks and find out if your city has Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+ groups meant for freelancers or job-hunters. For example, in Austin there’s Austin Digital Jobs and Austin Freelance Gigs.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but here’s some agencies and talent networks that hire remote workers:
Don’t forget to check out temp agencies near you–they’re often looking for short-term designers and coders. Of course, all of these places will have listings for full-time jobs in addition to part-time or freelance positions, so you’ll have to sift through the listings. Better yet, you can set up an IFTTT trigger for search results (as mentioned above).
#4: Use your network
It’s time for that old chestnut: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!” Client work can come from a variety of places, and with that in mind, it’s time to email friends that work in industries even vaguely related to yours, post on your personal Facebook page, and so on. The idea here is to let people know you’re available to work and remind them of what you do.
You can also make a list of everyone you know that works in a complementary field. For example, if you’re a web designer, you could make a list of copywriters and web developers that you know and reach out to them. Tell them that you’re looking to get to know more people whose work overlaps with yours, so that you can refer people to them. Ask them what their specialty is and what types of clients you should send their way. Most people will reciprocate, helping you build your referral network and making sure that you don’t wind up in this situation again.
#5: Do a promotion to fill the gap
Definitely do not discount your services. You’ll just wind up working longer hours to break even, leaving you with less time to work on filling your funnel and making it more likely that you’ll wind up in the exact same situation in the future.
Instead, think about recent events and how you can capitalize on them. For example, if you’re a designer who needs new clients, then every time a social media site unveils a redesign, you’ve got something to capitalize on. Facebook and Twitter both rolled out new designs fairly recently. Every time a new design comes out, you can offer several packages focused on a profile refresh to suit the new design.
The idea with this is that you’re offering something very concrete. “Design services” is not as concrete as “$X for a Twitter layout that makes you look up to date.”
Another great example would be updating themes or plugins for people so that they work with the newest version of WordPress and offering that service for a limited time after an upgrade comes out.
Come up with two or three ideas like this, get feedback on them from colleagues and clients, and then move forward with the idea that’s going to be the easiest sell for you, your skills and talents, and your audience.
Bonus: Set up your client follow-up systems
The above steps should be enough to get you out of your current crisis, but once you get back to having incoming clients, you need to prevent this from happening again.
One major way to start getting out of the feast or famine cycle is by setting up client follow-up systems. This could be a whole post in and of itself, but here are some basics to get you started:
- Choose a way to keep your client information organized, and get all of your current/past clients in it. There are multiple options available: Contactually, Nimble and Insightly are all popular with freelancers due to their ease of use and budget-friendliness.
- Make sure you’ve created a reminder to update client information in the tool you’re using. You can put it in a simple task manager like Wunderlist (or whatever task/project management tool you currently use to handle your projects), or set up a reminder in your calendar–the important thing is that you actually remember to do it.
- Decide how often you want to keep in touch with your clients and customers, and create a communication template for each touchpoint (again, use something that you can and will customize–you don’t want to send canned, robotic sounding emails).
- To go the extra mile, create special discounts or service packages that are only available to previous clients, and offer these to them when you touch base. The previous example of offering a website refresh or update is one way to do this.
Get started today
If you’re just about ready to send an invoice and not sure where your next client is coming from, then now’s the time to fix the problem (and make sure you avoid it in the future).
Start by making a list of previous clients (or previous potential clients) and reach out to them.
Do at least three today and keep doing it until you run out of clients, then move on to step 2 above.
And don’t forget to set up your client follow-up systems so that you can avoid this situation in the future!