Today I did a Facebook Live with Julie Morgan from Another Mother on this topic. Talk about facing your fears! Luckily it felt like I was just having a chat with Julie so I pretended we were on a Skype call! I’m so pleased I did it and it was great to reflect on what I’ve learnt over the last few months about getting and keeping clients. Here is a less waffly version of what I shared.
1. Get clear on what it is you do
This may sound obvious but it took me a long time to get this right. I would talk about myself as a freelance project manager and it soon became clear that this really didn’t hold any meaning, either for myself or anyone I was talking to. The work I did with Another Mother really helped me to pin this down. It was tough going and I really resisted narrowing myself down too far. I worried that if I was too niche I would miss out on opportunities. But the fact is clients want to hire you for your expertise. They want an expert, not a generalist. Someone recently described this to me as ‘working within your zone of genius’. I really love that term. What is it that you do that really makes a difference? Who do you do it for? And what impact does it have? When you can answer these questions you make it easy for clients to know whether they need your or not. And you can be sure you are focussing your effort where you can do your best work. The real breakthrough came for me when I invested time in developing my website. It made me articulate my offering succinctly. It was a huge learning experience which I’ve written about before.
2. Network like crazy
The fact of the matter is that your early clients are very likely to be people who already know you or will be put in touch with you through people who already know you. These people are our champions. They know our work and trust that we will deliver. But they need to know that you have entered this new world. They need to know you are available and what you are offering (see 1 above!). It can feel uncomfortable reaching out to people we know and trust to talk about new opportunities. Start out easy with friends. Talk to them openly about what you are doing. Share your hopes and fears. The more you do this the more comfortable you will become talking about your new business. It can be a really enjoyable element of the work. It is all about connecting with people, making sure you are visible and in their mind. That way when the right opportunity comes along they will think of you.
3. Use social networks – for me that was LinkedIn
Social media is a great way to get your message out there. Link to your website. Let people know you are available. Share your expertise. It’s all about visibility. I used LinkedIn to announce I was going it alone and I had four people contact me the same day I hit that publish button. I regularly post on LinkedIn as I know this is where my network are most active. I make sure people can see my progress; I share thought pieces and I comment on what others are sharing. This all serves to keep me visible in my network and makes approaching people a little easier. Work out which social media platform will be best for connecting with your potential clients and get visible!
4. Learn from every interaction
This may not seem like an obvious one but it was fundamental for me. I was putting myself out there like never before. It was daunting and I felt pretty vulnerable. To make the whole thing feel less personal I treated it like a research project. I reflected on every interaction I had, positive and negative, to identify what it was telling me. If I came away from a conversation feeling excited and buoyed up, what was it that had really excited me? Conversely, if I felt dragged down, anxious or frustrated, what was triggering that reaction? Making time for this and recording it helped me to identify both the type of work I wanted to be doing and the type of people I wanted to be doing it with. It helped me to be confident enough to identify what I didn’t want to do. After all, I had taken this step in to self-employment to bring back control and choice in to my working life. I had the opportunity to focus my work on what I love. My aim was, and is, to bring my best self to work every day. To be lit up by it. This process of reflection allowed me to identify what had that effect on me and I continue with it still.
5. Love your clients
When you do get those first clients, which you will, let them know how delighted you are to be working with them. Share your excitement and positivity around the project you are involved in. Your enthusiasm will be infectious. And when you are in there, deliver your best. Show them what you are made of and why they made such a mightily good decision to work with you. One piece of advice I had in my early conversions was – play the long game. It’s never about a quick win. About doing a deal. This is about relationships. Repeat business with the right clients is golden. And it’s not just about the work you win. Those ‘no’s’ may yet become ‘yeses’ if you remain approachable and keep in touch.
And most importantly, have faith. The work will come. Before you know it, you’ll be turning work away.