Everyone has to start somewhere, but that doesn’t mean you have to do everything like it’s your first day.
Whether you’re a freelance designer, developer, writer, or any other type of worker that loves the freedom to do their own thing, getting clients without much experience can be a daunting task.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can look like you’ve been running your own business for a while, and we’ve compiled some of the best advice to help you fake it until you make it.
Look Like an Authority
The first thing you need to do to really impress new clients is to present yourself as an authority on the task at hand.
But what if you’re not exactly an authority?
You just need to be prepared. You can do that by trying to gain a little knowledge in the field beforehand and leveraging your brand to make you look like an expert (until you actually become one, that is).
Gain Knowledge in the Field
There are a few ways of gaining knowledge, from reading skill textbooks related to your field to following news and industry trends. True mastery only comes with time and experience: you have to put in the work!
If you don’t have time or experience yet, however, you can leverage the knowledge of someone who does. Being an authority is all about networking.
In Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Workweek, he notes that becoming an authority has a lot to do with who you’re affiliated with in the industry. Basically, if people see you with other industry leaders, you’ll get the same reputation.
The key is to get involved. Don’t expect people to come to you – you have to go to people.
Become a member of a leading organization related to your industry. Volunteer your services, request to speak or sponsor an event, and speak up when you have ideas. Don’t sit in the corner and be shy.
Most importantly, take in as much information as you can. If you can speak relatively easily about topics in your field, people will start taking you seriously, even if you’re “new” to the game.
Pro tip: Try joining a social network like Quora and start following other industry leaders who are giving advice. Then, when you feel brave enough, give advice to others who are wondering about topics related to your field. You’ll not only look like an expert, but you might actually become one, too.
Use Your Personal Brand
But what if you’re bad at networking? What if you really are shy, or introverted, or just unsure of where to start? If you’re not quite at the “looking for a mentor” stage, you can start by focusing on your personal brand.
Emil Lamprecht at Career Foundry has this to say about how he built his personal brand:
- I got myself on LinkedIn and I fully filled out my profile. Every single detail of my experience. Every relevant job I ever had. Every morsel about me that could be interesting.
- I then did the same thing on Facebook. I joined relevant groups for my field and started asking questions, lots of questions, as well as answering any I could.
- I did the same on Twitter
- And on Google+
- And on Meetup
- And when it was made available I did the same with Quora, which has become the fact-filled platform for experts.
Part of your success as a newbie freelancer will come down to simply acting the part. Create a digital profile that showcases your best attributes and what you have to offer clients, and then get busy asking questions of other industry insiders.
Create an Action Plan
The next thing on your list should be creating an action plan for handling all the small details of your business.
A lot of first time freelancers end up looking like first-timers because they’re unprepared. If a client asks you, “So what are your policies about XYZ” and you freeze up, that’s a problem.
Or – a relatively common example – a client wants to know what you charge for a certain project, and you hem and haw and tell them you’ll get back to them, it’s a dead giveaway.
The idea here is to present yourself as a professional who knows how to handle situations before they happen. Sure, you can’t predict everything. But you can predict a lot of things.
Know Common Concerns
Common things that clients will ask include (to some varying degree):
- What do you charge? (Brennan Dunn at DoubleYourFreelancing can help you with that)
- How do you process payments? (PayPal, direct deposit, check, etc.)
- Do you require half up front?
- What is your turnaround time/timeline for this project?
- What do you need from me to do/finish this project?
- Can I see your portfolio or work you’ve done similar to this?
- Do you need me to sign a contract?
- Have you used XYZ management tool before? (Slack, Trello, Teamwork, etc.)
- When can you start?
Some clients are more demanding than others and will ask you for everything except your mother’s maiden name. Others will likely forget to ask important questions, in which case you should give the answers anyway as a sign that you know what you’re doing.
For everything that comes up that you’re not quite prepared for, a simple, “It depends. Let me get back to you tomorrow” will give you time to do some research without tipping them off.
Other Things to Plan For
You also should have a plan for the following things, which a client may or may not ask for (but having a process for will instantly upgrade you to professional status).
- Have a plan in place for invoicing – when will you send one, what process will you use to collect payment, how will you chase down late payments, etc.
- Have a questionnaire ready for your initial meeting – (see the next section)
- Have a timeline and checklist of things to do for new clients (when to send them a questionnaire, when to setup a meeting, when to send them the invoice, etc.)
Speaking of questions…
Use Socratic Questions
It’s not just up to the client to ask you questions. You have to ask questions of the client.
The good news is that if you ask the right questions, you’ll instantly win more business.
So what makes up the “right” questions? Socratic questions – or open-ended questions that reveal pain points – can help you get to root of the problem that your client is coming to you for in the first place.
Sure, they may say they want a website designed, but what they really want is more business. But how do you know that unless you ask?
You ask a series of open-ended questions that reveal client needs and respond with the benefits of your service or product that provides solutions to those needs.
Brennan Dunn says this:
“For years I was convinced people were hiring me to build websites or apps. And that the list of requirements I were to the table weren’t up for discussion, but rather the result of a lot of deliberate and calculated study by my client.”
He later discovered, however, that Socratic questioning opened up good dialogue and helped him build real, trusting relationships with clients that turned into more business.
Basically, don’t take what your client says at face value. Dig a little. Ask they “why” and not just “how” and you’ll immediately turn yourself into a valuable commodity.
Moving past “newbie” into “authority” isn’t necessarily an easy task, but it doesn’t have to take you a lifetime. Start by getting yourself involved with other industry experts, whether it’s through local clubs or even using a platform like Quora to share your thoughts.
Make sure you have a plan in place for questions your clients may ask, as well as the small details like invoicing, setting up meetings, and your pricing structure.
And most importantly, don’t forget to ask questions yourself. Don’t’ take things at face value, and dedicate your time to asking “why” instead of “how” to win the respect that gets you business.