You can create opportunities by searching for direct clients yourself. This method requires you to be proactive, but in return, you will gain freedom, especially regarding services offered, budgets and deadlines.
This is also the method that gives the most uncertainty. Many of your prospects for a direct relationship will not be interested in your services. So, this is a strategy relies on “the greatest number”. The more connections you form with potential clients, the more you increase your chances of signing contracts. You’ll generally not have much competition since this technique is more difficult to implement.
Nevertheless, these connections must remain qualitative, and we shall study how to create them using the following methods:
First of all, we’ll see how to create connections in your industry, using the IT tools available to you;
Next, we’ll learn how to create a client file at the beginning of the search;
Finally, we’ll use an opposite method, leaving prospects to find us through digital communication tools.
Establish relationships in your industry
Using digital tools can help create strong connections in your industry. Some of them require a face-to-face networking meeting, while others are completely online support and networking systems.
To meet professionals face-to-face, use networking websites, applications and groups. Most of them are free. The most successful and widely used are:
MeetUp - specialising in events by areas of interest;
Shapr - a mobile app for connecting people’s profiles by their professional interests;
EventBrite - a town-based events website, used for numerous professional events;
Your town’s chamber of commerce and industry websites - which very often have meetings, conferences and networking events;
Conferences and roundtables of the universities and business schools in your region - which you can find on their websites;
Business associations – (generally requiring payment) offering members business referrals and helpful discussions. The best known is BNI (Business Network International). Attend a few meetings before you commit to a membership.
To create solely online contacts, don’t hesitate to join an industry-specific professional conversation and discussion space. Look for groups on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
Finally, use your existing connections to develop your network. Ask your former colleagues, your friends and clients satisfied with your work to put you in touch with people who could benefit from your services.
This simple technique can yield good results, as being recommended means that you will certainly have the confidence of your prospect from your first interactions.
Create a client file
Prospection for clients can be carried out in several ways (door-to-door, cold calling from a directory, distribution of publicity to prospects’ correspondence addresses). Since this course is about developing your digital marketing strategy, we’re going to concentrate on email.
The client file is a table with each line dedicated to a lead (contact). You can have several contacts per business, which is good in case there are staff changes. It could also help increase your response rate. However, don't send emails to more than one person at a time from the same company!
Here’s what a client file looks like:
There are online tools, especially CRMs, which we'll study later in this course. However, you can create an Excel spreadsheet file. The main thing is to fill it in and maintain it.
How do you create a client file?
Here are five steps to follow:
1. Target the person who needs your service and has the means and authority to hire you. Put this in the “Role” cell of your table (e.g. director of human resources, production manager, manager).
2. Research and note the names of businesses that match your target (geographical area, market, industry, services or products produced, etc.). To do this, you can use online directories such as Kompas, LinkedIn or AngelList (oriented towards start-ups). You can also use search engines. If your research is geographical, don’t hesitate to use Google Maps. This goes in the “Business” category of your table.
3. Find the surnames and first names of the people to contact within the business. The business’s “team” webpage or LinkedIn can help you.
4. Look up the email addresses for these contacts. There are several techniques for doing this:
Browse your prospect’s LinkedIn profile, if they have one. Perhaps their email address is public.
If the business has a website, browse the “Contact”, “Team”, and “About us” pages.
On the same website, click on “Legal notices”. The address of the publications director or of the webmaster should be shown there. It’s possible that the business has a standard email address format for all its employees (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org). In this case, fill in the surname and first name of your contact.
Consult the professional directories (like Kompass), which allow you to locate executive email addresses of international businesses.
Ask other employees to point you to the person in charge of the department you’re looking for, or even connect you via email. In this case, specify in the body of the email the reason why you are getting in touch.
5. Compile this information in your client file.
Try to use a similar and standard format and vocabulary for your file. Thus, you can easily import your file into CRM type software, or synchronise them with your email box.
Here’s what a client file looks like. The names are made up and it was produced for a web projects manager wanting to work with start-ups developing their own online tools.
This strategy is especially applicable to B2B clientele. Nonetheless, you can get ideas from these techniques for B2C, to organise your contacts (prospects and clients). B2C prospection is quite efficient within pre-existing communities (e.g. Facebook groups and Twitter lists), in a physical way (networking, leaflets in letterboxes etc.) or using inbound marketing.
Optimise your online presence to attract clients
There’s nothing nicer as a freelancer than being contacted by the clients themselves! This is now possible thanks to digital technology and inbound marketing.
This long-term strategy requires an investment of time and routine. However, it can pay off in the future. If this seems difficult to you, start with small goals.
Here are examples of action you can take to create content for your target:
A professional blog offering advice to your clients;
Compiling an email list for sending out your newsletters. In this case, to get the emails, you can offer an incentive to sign up to your list, e.g. an ebook or a white book;
A well-referenced website (SEO);
Regularly updated webpages or profiles on social networks;
Contributing on a blog or group (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc.) or professional forum (leaving your contact details visible);
Creating content on the social networks that inform and provide ideas to your prospects. Live videos are especially interesting, as the algorithms of these platforms highlight that type of content.
Louise is a community manager and freelancer. What’s her pitch? She helps very small, small and medium-sized businesses that don’t have a presence on social networks to develop their sales using Facebook. Louise’s inbound marketing strategy is simple, free and requires two hours of her time per week. She films live, weekly face-to-camera videos on LinkedIn, where she presents on subjects related to her services. Among the subjects offered are: “Five common mistakes by small and medium-sized businesses on Facebook”, or “Using Facebook to sell”. She adds identifiable headings, descriptions and hashtags to her content. Her profile is also up-to-date with what she shares (pitch, business proposal). She chose LinkedIn because she knows that directors of very small, small and medium-sized businesses regularly log onto it to network and recruit.
For inbound marketing to operate, it has to be regular. Regularity enables visibility. At the beginning it’s often necessary to add a bit of outbound marketing, since creating content is not enough to make it visible.
Let’s go back to the example of Louise, who, at first, had only personal contacts on LinkedIn (former classmates). Louise searched the site for business leaders of small organisations (start-ups, very small businesses, and small to medium businesses). Then, she invited those fit her target group to join her network using a short, personalised message. In that message, she told them that her profile was dedicated to helping businesses increase sales. Her contacts reacted to her videos by liking or sharing them, which made the content visible to a larger network. Louise increased her visibility, thanks to some initial effort and regular work.
All entrepreneurs can think about an inbound marketing strategy. You have the knowledge or skills that your potential clients don’t have. Share that expertise with them. This strategy will enable you to develop a strong and recognised business over the coming years and to reduce your prospection costs.
Here are the main advantages and disadvantages of seeking assignments from direct clients:
+ Direct contact with the client, which allows you to be proactive
+ Budgets, deadlines and the type of service provision are negotiable
+ Assignments are generally better paid (no intermediary)
- Time-consuming prospection
- Long payment deadlines and risk of non-payment
- Very unpredictable assignments
- Impossible to know whether the prospect has a relevant need before contacting them
Long-term development of your freelance business, freelancers who are comfortable with unpredictable income, freelancers wanting to increase their income.