I’m going to get right to the point and not waste a lot of time with fluff here. If you want clients for your freelance business, people need to trust you. Easy as that. People give money to people they trust. That makes sense, right? Would you hire someone who cold called you out of nowhere? I hope not. So why should you expect people to act any differently than you? You aren’t special.
But you can be.
What follows is my (accidental) strategy to building my freelance business to the point of needing to turn down work requests on a daily basis. There are two components to this, so I’ll talk about each of those in depth, then follow up with what I consider the canonical to-do list of first steps for those looking to get into freelancing.
1. Building Trust
When you launch a new site, consider your reputation meter at zero. This is doubly true for your first site (what is zero times 2 anyway? Oh right, still zero…) So how do you fix that? Easy. Give away everything you know.
Giving it away – Write until your hands fall off. If you are hoping to attract clients who want you to make websites for them, demonstrate that you are an expert. Build a resume website to showcase your work. This goes beyond the traditional advice of “blogging,” because I don’t think just blogging is enough. Anyone can throw together one 300 hundred word post every week, but it takes serious knowledge and commitment to be able to product a 15 minute video tutorial (see my two most recent thesis tutorials for examples of this!) every week. By producing things that are helpful, to those who may ultimately end up being your competition, you automatically leap frog them in terms of authority. I can’t tell you how many developers or designers I’ve had end up paying me to secretly finish client projects for them. In addition, while you should never intentionally steal clients. The other designers and developers you help, may eventually just end up passing work directly to you.
Package it and sell it – Having a product that people can download (either for free or for sale) is the best way to land new work. Every single day, someone will buy one of the ThesisReady thesis skins then email me asking to pay me to customize something for them. This inevitably leads to more work down the road, and it takes me no time to hunt down potential customers.
In fact, as a result of implementing these two elements on my site, I’ve spent exactly zero dollars on advertising (if you don’t count the free $100 Google gave me to try out adsense) to promote my site. In-bound marketing at it’s finest.
2. Putting Your Plan Into Action
So there you have it. The key to success is give away everything you have. Give until it hurts, then keep going. Now let’s figure out a few actionable steps to put that concept to work.
1. Write Your First Reference Article
The concept of evergreen content isn’t mine, but it’s a good one. My first reference article was a tutorial about making the multimedia box in Thesis a widget area. It went viral in the Thesis community within a few days of writing it.
2. Find Your Community
I got lucky when I decided to specialize in Thesis development. DIYthemes already had a community help forum setup overflowing with customers asking questions. I genuinely wanted to help, so I made it a point to set aside a few minutes each day to answers people’s questions. It wasn’t long until I had had my first client as a result.
I went in with no expectations and I came out with a client. Cool.
3. Build Your Product
Now you’ve got a little good karma happening between being helpful in the community and writing great tutorials, and that stream of trust is starting to trickle in drop by drop. If you’ve done it right, you’re probably getting a few visitors to your site each day mostly via some long tail search traffic. You’ll notice though, that they’re spending a lot of time on your site. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes.
Whoa! That’s cool.
Now you need to give people a chance to pay you for something. By making a product, visitors can turn into customers via a painless, low-cost investment in what you’re selling. You now have someone who trusts you enough to break out their credit card.
4. Nurture Your Customers
I still SUCK at email marketing. I really do. But even with my limited understanding, and less-than-perfect execution, by emailing the group of customers who have proven that they want to give me money with even more helpful information, they are even more willing to pay me for my time when they have a question. More importantly, they’re willing to vouch for me when a friend of theirs needs the name of good web guy. That’s a huge deal.
So there you have it. My complete formula for freelance success. In the past 16 months, following those steps have enabled me to go from starving college student to successful small business owner making Thesis skins. I’m able to do what I love, and I don’t have to make the choice between buying either gas, or food for the week.
All in all, I’d say that’s a good thing.