This doggo has zero experience at anything, but I would hire him to tie knots for me. Image credit — Andrew Branch via Unsplash
This post is PART 2 of a mini-series about landing your first freelance client with no experience. If you missed PART 1, check it out here.
Last week, I woke up to a friend of mine having a mini-meltdown. Here’s what happened, in my friend’s words…
“I used your pitch email to reach out to a contact that [mutual friend] had sent to me at [copywriting agency] … Your suggestions worked. She’s responded with…”
Cue yours truly punching the air in triumph.
But then, she quoted the client’s message, where they said they were interested in working with her… and asked her for samples. Which she didn’t have. Oops.
That’s where the mini-meltdown comes in. Even the F-word was uttered:
“I’m now asking myself what I got myself into … I feel like a fraud.”
I shared one of the tactics I knew with my friend, and she got hired. Which brings me to today’s post, where I’ll cover it along with 4 other techniques for landing freelance clients…
Last week, we talked about 5 things you could say to appear competent, interested, and memorable to a potential client. Today, we’re going to cover 5 ways you can prove said competence, even if you haven’t done much (or any) freelance work in the past.
Because this is a Part 2, I’m going to pick up the numbering where we left off last week, starting with #6. I’m anal like that. Let’s dig in!
6. Have an answer besides “No, but…”
Sometimes the client will ask you things like, “Have you done this kind of work before?”
Or “It would cost me much less to hire someone on Fiverr to do this. What gives?”
They might even have less confrontational things to ask, like, “When do you think this will be ready?” or “Can you give me a good price? I’m planning to do a lot more work with you in the future.” Or any number of other nitpicky questions.
Now, here’s the hilarious part — your answer doesn’t matter.
At first, I didn’t believe it either! Here’s the thing…
Most of the time when clients ask you a question, they aren’t doing it because they want to know the exact answer. They are asking because they have a concern, and they are looking to be reassured.
Established freelancers have an entire toolbox for reassuring clients: tons of experience, portfolios for days, testimonials from big-name clients, all that good stuff.
When you are starting out, you have fuck-all (that’s an industry term).
But what you can do is give reassurance with your answers. Be ready with firm, professional responses that leave no room for doubt as far as your competence is concerned. Here’s how you might formulate one:
First, acknowledge the concern. We talked about showing empathy last week, remember? Well, empathize with the client, and admit that their concern is real (to them, at least).
Next, disarm the concern by giving the client a compelling reason to say yes anyway… or flip the concern itself on its head.
To help you better understand how this works, here are some of my favorite ways to respond to common client questions (not always in so many words, but the gist is there):
Q: “Your fees are expensive.”
A: “My #1 goal is to help you make 10 times what you spend on my services. Yes, my fees are expensive, and that’s exactly why I’m confident I can deliver the results you want.”
(As I said before, you should never apologize for how much you’re charging. When a client takes issue with your price, you have only three options: remind them about the value they are getting, firmly re-assert the price, or ask them about the number they had in mind and see what you can do at that price point.)
Q: “Have you done X before?”
A: “No, I haven’t. Of course, I understand that you want to be 100% certain of someone’s ability to make this project a success. I promise you that I will produce my best work for you, and give you a full refund if you’re not happy with the results.”
(Note that this is just one potential way to respond to this, and not necessarily the best way. Your exact response will depend on your circumstances and experience. If I’m taking an unfamiliar job, I reassure the client by reminding them of my money-back guarantee or by giving them extra 1-2 rounds of revisions.)
Coming up with good answers to client questions is its own big topic, and I’ll have to do a proper post about it later. For now, let’s move on to #7…
7. Make it stupidly easy to say yes
This is the one I recommended to my friend, and it got her hired.
So, let’s say you’ve pitched your services to the client. They aren’t leaping at the opportunity to work with you. Instead, they probe you with this question, and that question… Like:
“Have you done [ridiculously specific project] before?”
“How much will you charge me for the whole project?”
That sort of thing.
When a client says stuff like that, it means they don’t have enough confidence to say yes. It might be because you didn’t give them enough to go on with your pitch, your samples, and your answers. Or maybe they are simply looking for an excuse not to work with you. Because, as you might remember from last week’s post, this whole process is just as stressful for the client as it is for you.
In that situation, the only thing you can do is make saying yes a no-brainer. Make it as easy and risk-free as possible to start working with you, and see how the client reacts. If they take you up on the offer — great! If they don’t, no worries. It says a lot more about them than it does about you.
So, how do you make it easy to work with you? You remove or massively reduce the risk of saying yes. There are roughly three ways to do this:
- Offer the client one hour of your time — paid, of course. Explain that you will consult them on the project, help them as much as possible, and establish if you’re both the right fit for each other. Optionally, you can promise to refund them the cost of this initial session if you end up working together.
- Pitch a smaller-scale test project — needless to say, it would also be paid. For example, if someone is trying to hire you for a full website re-design, offer to re-design one of their landing pages. Or, if the client wants you to write 10 emails, how about starting with just one as a test? If it doesn’t work out, fine — nobody will have wasted a ton of time and money. Your client still gets something valuable, and you still get paid. Win-win!
- Every freelancer should have a money-back guarantee of some sort. For example, if the client isn’t happy with the work after three revisions, they can request their money back immediately after receiving it. Having a guarantee works wonders for making clients less concerned. Plus, most clients will never take you up on it!
It feels like I should elaborate more about #3. You are probably worried that having a money-back guarantee will make clients abuse it. That fear is understandable… and unfounded. I’ve had a money-back guarantee for all 8 years of my freelancing career. In those 8 years, clients took me up on it a grand total of one time — in a project where I unforgivably screwed up. In my experience, having a guarantee is much more useful than not having one. Especially if you’re just starting out.
8. Provide a tailor-made sample
Let’s say a client asked you for samples of past work. You’re happy to oblige, except there’s a problem… you don’t have any. How do you get around it? Well, one possible way is to write a custom sample, using my friend Danny’s “Crystal Ball Technique.”
I have referenced his article to death by now, but it’s genuinely the best way to get around your lack of samples. I won’t rehash the whole post here, because I couldn’t possibly do it justice. Instead, you should go ahead and read it, if you haven’t already.
The basic idea behind the technique is this: when a client requests a sample of your work, prepare something special for them — something that’s as close to what they want as possible… but make sure they can’t use it as is.
For example, if they want to see an About page for an ecommerce brand, send them a few paragraphs of an About page for a SaaS company…
Or, if they would like a website design for a law firm, send them a wireframe / mockup of a website for an accounting firm…
Or, if they want a presentation to promote their own consulting firm, send them 3-5 slides of a presentation promoting a recruiting agency…
You get the idea. There are only two rules you want to follow here:
- Don’t do the exact same type of work — so it can’t be lifted verbatim by an unscrupulous client.
- Don’t do all the work. Send part of the work — so you don’t spend a ton of unbillable time on it.
For example, when I need to do a custom copy sample, I knock out the first 250-300 words, and that’s it. It takes like 15 minutes, and it still impresses the client. Arguably, it’s even better than sending conventional samples — because they didn’t have to scroll through 20 PDFs to get an idea of what my work is like!
9. Create a sales presentation
One of the best ways to overcome your client’s concerns about your experience is to create a detailed, visual sales pitch that kicks so much ass that they go, “Yep, this person is legit!” Creating a slide deck or recording a video works really well for this, and so does putting together a simple one-page website (more on this later).
If you can describe to the client what exactly you will do for them, and how it will help them achieve their goals, then you won’t need any samples at all. A presentation like that, by itself, is usually enough to persuade the client that they are dealing with someone who knows their shit.
Note that this tactic takes a lot of effort, and it’s time-intensive. So you will only want to use it when pitching someone you’re dying to work with. Like your favorite company, or someone you admire, or someone with a big-ass project that will keep you fed, clothed, and drunk for a year… then it’s worth going to all the trouble.
Your sales presentation should follow four basic steps:
- Talking about the client’s goals. Prove that you have a deep understanding of what they want.
- Showing them what specifically you can do, in detail.
- Circling back to those goals and desires — explain how this will get the client where they want to go.
- Giving them a simple call to action to take the next step — asking to get in touch with you works well.
Now, I can’t give you a step-by-step tutorial on the subject right now — because I have to hit “Publish” on this damn post at some point, and it’s already too long. But I can give you some things to study on your own time.
For starters, check out this video about “The Briefcase Technique,” which explains how these types of pitches and proposals work. Originally, it’s meant to be used during job interviews and salary negotiations… but it works like a charm for freelancers, too.
Next, I’m going to show you two great ways to put together an impressive, mouthwatering proposal:
- Recording a video presentation, like this pitch. It’s amazing. Even though Devesh (the person who made it) didn’t have a ton of experience with A/B testing (it was one of his first pitches), he made it crazy convincing. You will probably struggle to match his production values, but it doesn’t matter — a video like this, even if it’s not perfect, makes for an awesome sales pitch.
- Creating a custom one-page website instead of the regular boring PDF or DOC proposal. I love this website as an example. It does everything right. It paints a vivid picture, describes the promise and the outcomes in exhilarating detail, and shows a keen understanding of what the client cares about. Jacqueline, the person behind that pitch, used Strikingly to create it. It’s a very simple and powerful website builder, and a freelancing tool I personally recommend.
10. Showcase non-samples that make you look good
Examples of past freelance work are not the only impressive thing you can show to a potential client. Which is tremendous news if you haven’t done any freelance work yet!
There are lots of other materials you can use as proof of your competence as a freelancer. For example:
- Those freelance services you are pitching… Are they in any way similar to what you were (or still are) doing at your day job? You can use references from your boss, or quotes from your co-workers as proof that you have what it takes to do the job… because you already got paid for it in the past!
- Can you critique someone else’s work that’s like the project you’re trying to land? For extra credit, identify and pick on your client’s competitor! Recording a video with a quick tear-down of someone’s copy / design / sales funnel / whatever you want to work on is not only impressive — it also doesn’t take much effort.
- Do you have any work-in-progress to show off? Drafts, wireframes, mock-ups, sketches — whatever you do, you might have tidbits to share. They aren’t necessarily as good as finished samples, but in a way they can work even better. Even the stuff you produced while you were learning your craft can be a substitute for “proper” samples.
- Did anyone praise your skills? Did you help someone with copy / web design / code / whatever in the past? If you can find those statements, or the person who made them, you can use them as little testimonials.
- In a similar way, social media posts can be used as proof that you know what you’re doing, and have helped other people. So if you’re in the habit of hanging out inside online communities and helping people with your expertise, you can go ahead and take a screenshot every time they say something nice.
Bottom line is, “all is fair in love and war” — and hunting for freelance work. You can use almost anything that makes you look good to sway the client on your side. Just don’t send them 50 attachments showcasing your awesomeness — put together a webpage, a Google Doc, or a presentation that will serve as your not-portfolio, and direct the clients there if they want to find out if you’re any good.
By the way, if you do your freelancing on job sites like Upwork, and want to put together an awesome portfolio fast (is one afternoon fast enough), you should check out this mini-course. My friend Danny Margulies made it. It’s free — I took it, and can vouch that it’s super-useful.
And there you have it! Now, I have a question for you…
Which tactic did you find most, or least, helpful?
Like last week, when we were discussing Part 1, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment and let me know!