If I had to give you just one piece of advice if you needed new clients right now, it would be to start with your personal network.
If the thought of promoting your services to family and friends makes you squirm, then I would encourage you to think of yourself as a doctor.
Change the way you think about freelancing.
Patients bring their problems to doctors. Doctors diagnose the problems and prescribe some form of treatment.
A doctor might take an x-ray of a young athlete’s leg, and say, “Yep. You broke your tibia and fibula. I’m going to set your leg and put you in a cast.”
The doctor might take an elderly lady’s blood pressure, compare the most recent reading to her chart, and say, “We need to do a better job at managing your hypertension. I’m going to write you a prescription for Lisinopril.”
You get the idea.
As a freelancer, you’re not selling knick-knacks and non-essentials. You’re fixing someone’s broken business bones. How can their business truly thrive if it has broken bones?
You must believe that the services you provide are essential to the success of people you care about, friends and family included, and that saying nothing is withholding treatment.
To not tell your personal network how you can help would be doing them a disservice.
As a freelancer, you’ve got medicine, and you’re looking for clients desperate for it.
The question then becomes “how?”
How do you promote your skillset to your friends and family without being tacky or coming off as desperate?
I’m going to tell you how in two steps:
- Make a list.
- Send three emails.
Make a list
Don’t try to dredge up every name and manually search for every email address. Make your list the easy way by exporting a list of email addresses.
I didn’t say a list of contacts on purpose because you have emailed people who are not in your contacts.
What you want is a .csv or Excel file with the names (hopefully) and email addresses (hopefully) of all the people whom you have emailed in recent history.
How you export that list will depend on your email service:
Once you’ve got a .csv file, open it in either Excel or Google Sheets. Remove the email addresses you don’t recognize and people with whom you don’t have much of a relationship. Clean it up.
This is a time to focus on quality, not quantity.
It’s better to have a smaller list of seventy people than a larger list of three hundred people, the majority of whom will delete your email right away.
To clarify, your new “list” will be the names and email addresses of your friends, family members, colleagues, acquaintances, and people from other areas of your life who won’t mind hearing from you.
Fair warning: You need to carve out time to clean up your list.
Deleting rows and columns in a spreadsheet is by no means exciting, but you need new prospects in a pinch.
Sometimes, smart business is boring. The only shortcut is the long way around.
Once you have cleaned up and curated your “personal network” list, then what?
Write three different emails
- The first email will be a life update.
- The second email will be a professional update.
- The third email will be a freelancing case study, ending with an offer.
It is very important that you not try to compress all three emails into one.
You’ll want to. Believe me, you’ll want to.
The idea of actually reaching out to your personal network and asking them to hire you or refer business owners who might hire you makes many people uncomfortable.
We don’t like showcasing our needs, and to explain that you’re available for hire looks awfully similar to a need.
We can’t possibly have needs, right? We’re mature adults. Life is swell. We’ve got it all together.
Your freelance business? Ha.
You can barely keep up with the overwhelming demand! You’ve had to buy duffel bags and 55 gallon drums to catch all the cash people are throwing at you!
Except that we could all use at least one or two more kind, generous, respectful clients who never negotiate and always take our advice.
Even so, needing new clients might feel at first like revealing a weakness. We don’t like admitting faults and showing weaknesses.
Do some of these thoughts sounds familiar?
- Admitting that you have capacity or availability for new clients will hurt your reputation.
- Shouldn’t a successful freelancer always be inundated with demand?
- Wouldn’t prospecting for new clients be like admitting that you don’t have enough work?
- Wouldn’t not having enough work testify against you, so to speak?
- Shouldn’t people think you are already too busy because the best freelancers are always flooded with new projects?
- Won’t people think if you’re not super busy it’s because there’s not much demand for your services, and if there’s not much demand, that must mean you’re not very good?
We get caught in these defeatist loops. We think ourselves into paralysis.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, the more time you spend in your head, the less time you spend solving the problem.
So here’s a reality check to cut through any mental funk:
- For you to want or need more clients is a basic reality of being in business, not an indicator of poor performance or lack of skill.
- Wanting more freelance clients is natural, reasonable, and expected.
- To say, “I want more clients,” is to say, “I want to grow my business.”
- Businesses exist to grow. In fact, most businesses want more customers most of the time.
So don’t overthink the simple outreach strategy I outlined above: make a list, then send three emails.
Reframe it in these terms if you like:
- Tell people what you’ve been up to.
- Tell people how you’ve been making money.
- Tell people how you have helped a client, how you’d like to help more clients, and what interested parties should do next.
Then, if you want bonus points, start reaching out to local businesses that obviously need what you have to offer.
For example, as a freelance writer, I can find local businesses that have crappy websites and boring web content.
I can reach out to them.
I can offer to help.
Then, try another outreach strategy.
If that one doesn’t work, try another.
Don’t just wait for new clients to magically appear in your inbox. Go out there and get them! Patients out there need your medicine. Go give it to them.