Ah, the mission to find clients. Critical for any business, obviously, but especially daunting for the newbie solo consultant or freelancer. Today’s reader question solicits advice on how to tackle this.
I like your ideas for future topics. I’d love to see more on how to find and win clients. Not just general marketing, but actual sales.
Now, please forgive some introductory digression here. But I honestly can’t conceive of how to talk about sales without talking about marketing. Reason being, your marketing (or lack thereof) will heavily influence your sales strategy.
Personally, I don’t do a lot of sales. At least, I don’t do them in the traditional, numbers game sense. When I look back over the last couple of years, almost all client-facing work started with clients seeking me out. The only exceptions included past clients, where sales looks a lot different.
As you might expect, this dynamic heavily influences my sales discussions. I’m almost always in a favorable negotiating position, not really needing the work. And the mission to find clients? I haven’t historically needed to do that a lot. All this because of my years-long investment in personal branding and marketing.
I say this not to brag, but to illustrate the degree to which your marketing affects your strategy for identifying prospects and pitching to them. And now, I’ll seize an opportunity to stop talking about myself and start talking about the general would-be freelancer/consultant. But I will have to talk a bit more about the marketing (though not in the how-to sense).
The Silly Market for Software Work
If you put on a marketer’s hat and look at people selling software development labor, you’ll have a hard time knowing whether to laugh or cry. I saw this site, recently, called “Code Fights.” Assuming I understand its charter correctly, it perhaps epitomizes the bizarre market for our labor. The site encourages you to compete with tens of thousands of people for extremely similar work.
We don’t think anything of this when it comes to finding generalist programming jobs. But recall how I’ve talked about generalist programming not being strategic. And if you want to go into business for yourself, you can’t afford to tilt at algorithm trivia and programming competition windmills instead of being strategic.
Think of it this way. Imagine that someone came to you and solicited your advice on starting a business. Would you say the following to them?
Here’s what you should do. Take something that tens of thousands of other companies are doing, and do that. It’ll be hard to differentiate yourself, but don’t worry. There’s this website where you can practice by playing games…
It’s so preposterous that I’m going to stop right there because I’m actually laughing as I type it. In the business world, you don’t respond to market competition this way at all. Instead, you seek to differentiate your offering in a way that plays to your strengths.