How to find clients that fit

When you interview with a client, understand that you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. And it’s OK to decide that they are not a good fit.

Finding clients when you’re new to freelancing is challenging — finding the right clients is even more so. It’s so tempting to just cast your net wide and accept the first thing that comes your way, but that’s just not going to get you where you want to be.

You’re a professional and you have goals. You’ve defined your skill set and you know the type of work you want to be doing, now you need to understand the type of client you want to be doing it for. Here are a few ways to refine your search and weed out the clients who aren’t going to be your best fit.  

Think like an HR professional

Think about it. When brick-and-mortar companies are hiring for a position, they don’t just hire the first person who submits an application. They screen them. And only a few make it to the interview process. I once interviewed with the same company twice before I was offered a job — I simply didn’t match up with their needs the first time through.

When you’re scanning job boards or reaching out to potential clients, you need to be reaching out to the ones that are going to best fit your skills and work style. Otherwise, you’re going to be wasting not only your own precious time and resources, but the time and resources of the people you contact. On that note…

Network, don’t spam

How annoying is it to get a promising email from a recruiter only to read the listing and realize it’s nowhere near what you’re looking for? For example, I get countless emails from recruiters who clearly haven’t even read my bio — no, I’m not interested in a sales position at your insurance agency, thank you very much.

I immediately know that the person (if they’re a real person at all) has not put much thought into whether I’d be interested in the opportunity they’re presenting me with, and I dismiss it as spam. When you reach out to potential clients this way, they know. Don’t do it. This is spam and it’s annoying and unprofessional.  

However, you may come across professionals who don’t need your services, but might have contacts who do. If you think a person in your industry might be able to point you in the right direction, make contact and ask. Tell them that you think they may know someone who would benefit from your services and that you would love if they could pass on your information. Offer to do the same for them. When done correctly, this is called networking.

Be choosy

Chances are, when you were working a regular 9 to 5, you weren’t applying for jobs you didn’t want. Don’t do it as a freelancer. That seems like sort of a step in the wrong direction, doesn’t it?

Pro tip: Set yourself up for success by being honest with potential clients about your skill level. They’ll be pleasantly surprised when you perform beyond their expectations and they’ll be more likely to hire you again and refer you to other businesses.

Consider this: You probably do your best work when you’re doing something you’re good at in an industry you already understand. An article in the “Gallup Business Journal” ranked “the ability to do what they do best” as the No. 1 factor in employees choosing a role in an organization that fits them best. Gallup has also linked high engagement to better business outcomes. Read the full article here.

This makes sense. If you enjoy and understand fitness, look for clients in that field, rather than clients in the financial industry. Chances are, you know more about fitness than finance, and this knowledge is going to come through to the client in your proposal and your final deliverable.

Also, looking for jobs in an industry you are familiar with means you’re going to spend less of your time on background research and more on the actual job. This doesn’t mean you won’t have to conduct research at all, but it does mean you’ll have the savvy to know how to research what you need efficiently. And clients (and yourself) will appreciate your efficiency.

Understand your needs

Before you and a client agree to terms on a job, there’s going to be an interview (or two). Please believe that you are interviewing the client as much as they are interviewing you. There are a few things you need to consider before you decide a client is a good fit for you. Ask questions. Both about the job and the client. Consider the following:

Time. I’m not talking about deadlines here. If you’re not looking strictly at local jobs, there’s the possibility that you’ll be working with clients in different time zones.

Ask about the best way to contact a client during a job, including which times are best for them and how they prefer to communicate. You may find that they keep a very different schedule than you do, making it difficult to connect. Or maybe, they prefer to speak on the phone when you prefer to email. Are you going to be available to have a phone conversation?

Experience. You’ve already assessed your experience, but the client’s experience is also important because it’s going to inform their expectations. You might consider asking them questions about past jobs with freelancers. What went well? What would they have liked to see handled differently?

If they’re a new business, ask why they decide to start their new e-commerce site or blog. This can give you a few insights into their industry knowledge and, more importantly, their expectations for the work they get from you.

If you come across a client who has little industry knowledge and no clear direction, you can still decide to work with them, but you might decide to approach things a little differently. And don’t discount them right away — they might turn out to be your favorite clients to work with!

Scope. Does the client appear to understand what they want and the work that is going to go into achieving it? You’re going to come across clients all day long that just don’t understand what they’re asking for. And that isn’t necessarily a deal breaker — it may just be that they haven’t done this before.

In many cases, this can be cleared up by having an honest conversation with the client about your process and the amount of work their job is going to entail. This can accomplish two things: One, it weeds out the clients who just want the cheapest price regardless of quality; and two, it establishes reasonable expectations should you decide to move forward.

It’s OK to say “no”

If, even after screening the jobs and interviewing with the client, you decide that this just isn’t a good fit, say “no.” Just as you’re not going to be right for every job, not every client is going to right for you. Don’t set yourself up for the frustration of working with someone you just can’t have a productive and rewarding working relationship with.  

There are professionals out there who will argue that you just can’t be that picky when you’re first starting out. Sure. But is pursuing jobs with clients whose price doesn’t match the scope of the project or who expect a deliverable that doesn’t make sense for the industry really helping you reach your business goals?

You have to understand that the work you do in these cases is going to present you with challenges outside of what you might reasonably expect. These challenges are going to affect the deliverable and maybe not reflect as well on you as you would like. Don’t feel like you have to take this job just because it’s available.

If you focus on choosing clients who fit you as well as you fit their job, you can skip unnecessary conflict and get straight to the work you want to do. There will always be challenges in any job you take on — if there weren’t, life would be boring and we wouldn’t grow professionally. But, don’t take on challenges that aren’t going to make you better at your job.


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