Finding your first customers as a freelancer

If you’re about to start up as a freelancer, one of your biggest challenges will be to find clients! Selling your expertise is no easy task. You might not know where to start or how to go about it, and that’s normal! This article features three steps to designing your business development strategy.

Step 1: customer, offering, pitch

Before setting out in search of customers, you need to have a clear picture of these three elements:

  • Your “typical” customer

You need to pinpoint your ideal customer, their issues and consumption patterns, and figure out where to find them (on which communication channel, etc…). This is called segmenting and targeting your clientele: you can’t get through to everyone, so it’s best to reach out to a specific target to increase your chances of success! To pinpoint your target clientele, you can use buyer personas. Always feel out your idea on the market by getting out and meeting potential customers!

(to find out more: segmentation marketing, identifying your ideal customer, make my persona)

  • Their issues

You need to offer a “solution” to an issue faced by your ideal customers. That means responding to a need they would be willing to pay for, with a relevant answer that differs from the competition! You can conduct a market study to confirm the issues of your ideal clientele and their interest for your offering.

(to find out more: understanding customer needs, testing your idea)

  • A clear message and a differentiated offering

Once you know who your customers are and have verified their issues, you can start building a pitch that fits both their needs and your expertise.

You need to take a clear and transparent stance by demonstrating your value proposition. What makes your offering unique? Why should prospective customers choose you?

When you’re designing your pitch, remember to make it personal. The customer has to be at the heart of your message!

(to find out more: differentiating your business, how to differentiate yourself as a freelancer, creating a powerful sales presentation)

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Step 2: acquiring tools

  • Professional media

Once those components are clear, it’s time to get equipped: business cards, brochures, a website and up-to-date social networks, sales presentation… and be prepared to pitch: you need to be able to present your business in all circumstances, whether you have 10 seconds, 5 minutes or even 10 minutes.

  • Customer base

When your target is well-established, create a document on Excel, for example, with all the essential elements of your business (first and last name, contact details, job title, company, needs, actions taken and to be taken, etc.)

It will allow you to keep a close eye on your prospecting activities and communicate with customers efficiently. To find the information, you can use LinkedIn, Viadeo, Xing, Editus and company websites.

A number of tools are available on the market. You may even choose to buy or rent a customer database (find out more here), although we don’t recommend it. A bought database will never be a perfect fit for your business or ideal clientele.

Step 3: choosing levers for acquiring new clients

  • Direct prospecting

Direct prospecting is the most widely used approach. It can be done by email, over the phone, or going out to meet potential customers. Always check to see if you have a contact within a company you plan to prospect. Thinking ahead can give you a real boost: prepare your pitch with possible objections and customize your speech to each company. Make sure you set goals for each meeting!

(to find out more: some tips from an entrepreneur)

  • Social networks

Social networks provide a great opportunity to boost your visibility via lively communication about your offer, your line of business, yourself and your news. Capitalize on building a community of followers, who could be future customers or “ambassadors.”

They are also powerful prospecting tools, especially LinkedIn (a few tips for boosting your LinkedIn profile, in passing). What’s important is being present wherever your customers are most active. Send them a brief yet attention-grabbing personalized message inviting them to interact.

  • Website and referencing

Having a website is indispensable, whether it’s merely a showcase site or to sell your services. You can learn web marketing techniques to generate traffic on your site and attract the right people.

There are two main levers to help increase your traffic: neutral referencing (targeted keywords, creating a blog linked to your website and writing relevant content on a regular basis, attaching links to other sites, featuring your website on all your online digital media, etc.) and paid referencing services (buying sponsored links, keywords, etc.).

These acquisition techniques require a long-term strategy, skills and regular monitoring.

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  • Networking and events

Keep up to date on events relating to your business, choose the most interesting based on price, number of participants and themes… and go! “Networking” does take planning, like prospecting. You need to set goals to reach for each event (getting contact details, references, information about your customers’ issues, etc…).

You can also create your own events (via Facebook or Eventbrite, for example) and host events such as workshops, webinars, themed lunches, etc… It’s quite an effective way to showcase your expertise, your business activity and attract new customers. To find a venue, you can try asking coworking studios, your partners and your networks, and even consider working-in a digital component!

  • Strategic partnerships

The secret to growing your business lies in your ability to connect with the ecosystem your business falls within. Pooling your strengths with other professionals/organizations whose offer complements your own can help you reach more prospective customers as well as existing communities.

Something else that’s important is getting in touch with your “influencers”, the people capable of influencing your end client (like, for instance, recognized experts in your line of business, those who monitor the competition, opinion leaders, bloggers, journalists, etc.)!

  • Communities and platforms

Never underestimate the power of community. You can join every organization, federation, platform, association and group in line with your business! Actively search the internet/LinkedIn/Facebook and join into your sector’s ecosystem! Once you’re a member, make your expertise known (but not with your sales pitch)!

Several platforms are dedicated to recruiting consultants (consultants.enligne - skalis, websites in French) and freelancers (adada (fr), progonline (fr), my-freelancer.lu, Kyosai), and you can register on directories such as editus and yellow.lu. Other well-known and well-reputed platforms exist beyond Luxembourg’s borders, including Malt, Upwork, etc.

  • Recommendations and network

Get into the habit of asking customers for feedback (video, article, a quote) and posting it. It reassures future customers to know others trust you and your work!

Your close network is your best ally! Tell them about your business offering!

To wrap up this article, don’t be shy to seek help or training via the House of Training, for example. Tons of resources for sales techniques are also available online.

And remember to focus on only two or three levers to avoid spreading yourself too thin. Organize your time to allow for regular prospecting and strengthening your relationship with existing customers. Test your sales strategy, and refine it as needed.

The only real key to your success is perseverance!

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