How to Close Bigger and Better Freelance Projects by Changing the Way You Talk to Prospective Clients

In a previous article, I talked about my experience of freelancing for almost a decade. In particular, I talked about concepts to transform freelancing into an awesome career.

A lot of us didn’t start freelancing because we saw it as something we wanted to do long-term. We started out of desperation, on the side to earn some extra money, something to do between jobs, etc.

In my case, I started freelancing as a way to transition to founding a startup. Nine years later, the startup (plus a couple more) have come and gone, and I’m still freelancing. But the difference now is that I love it. I’m pretty sure I’ll do consulting in some capacity for the rest of my life.

Ok, “concepts” are great, but there’s no substitute for action, so this article is about a few actual tactics you can put in place during the next 30 days to start to transform freelance into an awesome career.

In particular, I’m going to teach you a few tactics that I’ve learned that have helped me greatly improve how I talk to prospective clients. This has resulted in better clients, bigger projects, more revenue, and (most importantly) a better relationship with my clients.

This article is aimed at freelancers who just aren’t loving what they’re doing, and aren’t sure they even want to continue.

Ok, so here’s what I learned:

The way you sell yourself to a client makes a huge difference in your ability to close high-budget projects.

Here’s why:

Often freelancers commoditize themselves by really focusing on their skills, their experience, the minutia of the actual hands-on work that they do, or worst of all, their hourly rate.

No one cares about that stuff.

Really, no one cares. Clients do not want to buy your time, your experience, or your skills.

Clients want to buy a solution their problem.

When you sell them on your skills, your experience, etc, you’re selling them something that might, maybe, possibly, hopefully be a solution to their problem, assuming you even understand that problem (or that they do).

But worse, you’re making them do the work of mentally translating your services into their solution.

So here’s a few steps to fix it:

1. Don’t call yourself a freelancer

First of all, I’d recommend never using the terms freelance or freelancer with clients.

I know this may seem odd considering that I use those terms 100x in every article, but that’s because my audience is freelancers and that’s how they think of themselves.

However, I don’t ever refer to myself as a freelancer with clients. I either use “consultant” or something more specific to what I’m doing for them, like “mobile developer”, “writer”, “interim CTO”, etc.

For better or worse, the term “freelancer” just has a lot of baggage. Many businesses hear “freelancer” and think “flaky but cheap”, which is the exact opposite of the image you want to portray.

So whether you call yourself a consultant, small business owner, entrepreneur, solopreneur, independent contractor, etc, I’d avoid using the term “freelancer” with your clients.

2. Find the “why” behind what clients actually hire you for

No one wants to buy an hour of your time. And actually, no one even wants your skills.

They want what they think those skills can do for them.

No one hires a copywriter by the hour because they want to give up money in exchange for knowing that the copywriter is working. They hire them because they want the business result that they think (and hope and pray) the copywriter can produce in that hour.

I know, this is really simple and obvious.

And yet freelancers get on the phone and talk to clients about everything other than the end result that the client is trying to actually buy.

Figure out what the client actually cares about and sell them that.

How do you find that out?

Two ways I’ve found to work well:

  1. Ask past clients
  2. Ask prospective clients

And it sounds something like this:

To a past client:

“I really enjoyed working with you! What was it that made you hire me? Also, would you mind sharing what the business result of our working together was? It’s important to me that I deliver great value to clients, and understanding how my work impacted their business is very helpful.”

To a prospective client:

“What’s the business impact of this project? What happens if this doesn’t get done? What does success look like for you? What’s most important to you in selecting a vendor?”

Do this on the phone if possible. Reword and adapt as needed. The specific words aren’t critical.

The important thing is that you get an understanding of why they actually hired you, or why they might actually want to hire you. Why does it matter to them?

Ask them a lot of questions, and listen 5x as much as you talk.

Don’t focus on what they want you to do. Focus on why they want you to do it.

3. Use the “why” to paint a picture for prospective clients

Then once you have a good idea of the “why” for what clients actually hire you to do and what problem they’re actually trying to solve, you build your pitch to prospective clients around that.

You want to communicate to them that you can do what they’re looking to hire you to do, of course, but you also want to sell them on the end benefit that they’re trying to get.

For example, I do mobile application development. For years, I focused my conversations with prospective clients around my experience, my methodology with development, and the nitty-gritty details of pricing, availability, project management, etc.

And that was OK, but not great. I was leaving it to the client to translate those “features” into the ultimate benefits to them.

I was making them do the work of calculating the end-value of our engagement and weighing that against the price.

But once I started talking to my previous clients and asking them the questions I outlined above, I began to have a much better idea of who my clients are and why they hire me.

Today, my pitch to clients sounds like this:

“I help startups execute on v1 of their mobile product vision. Unlike most developers, I have product management and founder experience, so I can help you decide what to build for v1 and what to leave for future iteration. This ensures we can get the right product out there as quickly as possible to start learning and iterating based on user feedback.

In fact, if you know exactly what you want and just need someone to build it, you can find someone cheaper. My focus is on helping startups go from general product vision to polished app in the hands of their users.

From there, we’ll iterate based on feedback while you focus on hitting revenue or fundraising milestones. When the time comes for you to hire a permanent team, I’ll help you make that transition to ensure there’s a smooth handoff.”

And from there, all the details I give them about how I do those things are connected to this overarching vision I’ve painted for them about how I take them from point A (general product vision) to point B (polished app in the hands of their users) to point C (smooth handoff to their permanent team once they raise enough money or make enough revenue).

My pitch still isn’t perfect, but it’s 100x better than talking about how I do native iOS development, or what my rates are, or the schedule under which I send them builds. That’s all minutia that the client probably doesn’t care about. They care about the ultimate value, so I focus on that.

Still need help with your pitch?

Every freelancer is different in the type of work they do and what they want to offer clients, so I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all pitch to give your prospective clients, but hopefully the framework above will help you gather enough info to figure those things out for yourself.

And if you still need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and I’ll help if I can!