Lets put aside client referrals... What are you doing to grow your freelance work?
1) Identify wealthy towns/cities near me and visit their towns Chamber of Commerce Business Directory. I go through the listing and quickly review each businesses website and then send them an email introducing myself, how I found their site and offer suggestions on how to improve their website, design, functionality, eCommerce, etc.
2) Networking events
What works for you? #1 is really time consuming and difficult.
I got a notification email saying there were 3 responses to this thread and I don't see anything... anywho... bump
Number 1, IMO, is rarely going to work. I get emails like that every day, mostly overseas developers telling me that my sites need improving, blah blah etc. These get immediately flagged as spam and deleted. Also as you say, it's very time consuming. Also those sites might be working out really well for them - how do you know they even a problem that needs solving? And who's to say they wont just take your advice and get their existing developer to work on your suggestions?
I prefer people to seek me out. I know you say 'put aside client referrals', but most developers I know get 95% of their clients this way. Once people start recommending you the sales aspect of your job becomes fairly painless. Work on your networking skills, and also try targeting a niche, become the 'go to' guy for that niche in your area rather than targeting all businesses and becoming one of several dozen generic web developers in your area. If that isn't working out for you or you just need to find potential clients quick, find out if your local chamber of commerce has some kind of business start up program as they'll usually be looking for web developers to send RFQs to (although these prospects are often low quality).
You are on the right track with "networking" but I'd like to suggest expanding your thinking about that to be more like "infiltrating." Instead of just going to networking events, find out what local association meetings your potential clients are attending and go to those association meetings. Become the go-to-guy for answering questions about the web. It's amazing how few web experts attend association meetings. It's easy pickins. Consider sponsoring the association so you get some stage time. Or offer to give an educational session to members. Or at least contribute a guest blog post for their website. All sorts of things you can do to market yourself once you're inside an association.
Great question. I believe freelancers have it especially difficult, compared to established companies and web agencies, because it is hard to find new clients. Being a solopreneur or a one-man band is off-putting to some clients who believe that hiring a freelancer is riskier than hiring a web agency. Agencies find it hard to find new clients as well, but they seem to cope because they do have more resources than freelancers.
For those reasons, I believe that freelancers should stick to their existing clients and actively upsell them to their paid monthly subscription services for support, maintenance and business growth work. Some clients are avoiding freelancers exactly because they do not offer this level of security. Not offering paid support, maintenance and growth services is a major drawback. Let me explain.
When we were a small and inexperienced web development company, we thought that we were doing our client a good service by not charging them for support and maintenance. The reality was completely different: because we did not charge for it, we forgot to mention support and maintenance as a line item in our sales proposals. The best clients were looking for someone to support them in the long-term and we did not seem like a partner whom they could trust with their online business. As a result, we lost who knows how many good clients.
I suggest you do the following:
- Think of a number of things you could be helping your clients with, every month. Premium support, technical maintenance of the website you’ve built for them, Internet marketing services.
- Create a list of all the clients you’ve worked with so far as a freelancer. Contact them one by one and educate them on the need of buying your monthly subscription service.
Utilizing local Chambers of Commerce is an awesome idea, with a twist.
Instead of going through their directory and contacting individual companies one by one with little success (tried this - it is difficult), talk to the officials in the Chamber of Commerce and set up a free, one-to-two hours educational seminar for their members.
In my experience, Chambers of Commerce love it when people come to them and offer to give a talk to their members. Me and my business partners have done this a number of times and the results were amazing for a couple of reasons.
First, the Chamber of Commerce will do most of the marketing for you by emailing or otherwise contacting their database of companies (make sure that they do this, it’s crucial).
Second, you associate yourself with a government organization, and this point gives you an instant and durable boost in authority and trustworthiness (something that’s almost impossible to achieve in so little time with so little resources and for a price of zero euros).
Third, you’ll meet attendees in person who want to learn about Internet technologies. These people are the best clients to have. After the seminar - even if you don’t give the best presentation of your career - these people will want to ask you questions and give you their contact information.
The first educational seminar we ever organized with a business partner was a huge success. Seventy people showed up to listen to the two of us talk about Facebook and eCommerce. After the seminar, people were standing in the line to talk to us presenters and get specific answers. We landed two projects the next week. It was not the best presentation I ever gave, but we were well prepared and executed well. Just focus on educating people and on what they want to know about, on what they think they need to solve their business issues. Leave hard sales and direct promotion for after the presentation is over.
Great suggestion! And, yes, I've made some horrible workshop presentations in my early days and STILL people came up to me afterwards telling me how much they learned and hired me the week after.
I strongly believe every web services provider should be constantly practicing their presentation skills. You never know when someone from something like the Chamber of Commerce calls you out of the blue to come speak to their group. Find a quality Toastmasters club in your area (Toastmasters.org) and join immediately. Attend every meeting every week and commit to being an active and participating member for at least the next year. Your public speaking and presentation skills will improve whether you are a beginner or seasoned pro....and it will show in the number of clients you take on after your presentation as a web professional.
I agree, and I believe this is the advice that the least people take. People are afraid of public speaking, that's why some have it relatively easy to get new good leads: nobody else wants to do it! To those who are afraid of talking in front of an audience in-person, I would suggest to try a couple of Google+ hangouts on air first, or to upload a couple of presentations to Slideshare, just to get some initial feedback to see that people ARE interested in what they have to say, the way they have to say it. Early successes.
Focus on a business verticle, also read some of the "freelance" articles posted by Noah Kagen.
I'll agree with you on item #1 being time-consuming and difficult. But, if you're looking for work, then it's time to start eating time-consuming and difficult for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
As for sending those e-mails about how you could make the sites of strangers better, look out. People can take that sort of thing the wrong way.
Which means a quick death beneath the recipient's delete key.
What to do instead? Pick up the phone. Call these people. Many wealthy people respond a lot better to phone calls than they do to e-mails. Why? Because they tend to skew older. And older folks still prefer the personal touch.
And networking meetings? Go! Meet people! Have a good time! You may find some clients that way.
Networking for leads is tough, especially for web related work, as very few people you meet in real life are looking at that very moment, at least in my experience. It's a long play.
I've found success using a custom app that searches 20+ sources everyday for active project requests. I filter out the irrelevant and end up with 10 or so new projects and RFP's each day.
Once you have the lead, it's on you to create a proposal that will get noticed and ultimately close the deal.
While there have been some very good ideas above regarding the Chamber of Commerce, I agree with this poster.
I can't think of any world-class salesperson who thought, "Gee, cold-calling is difficult, I think I'll try something else!"
Do you think Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison made it big by only being on the Chamber speaking circuit? Greater effort and risk lead to greater rewards...
You just need to hone your sales skills.
What makes cold-calling more productive is when...
You have researched your client ahead of time
You can anticipate their needs before they can
You have a unique business proposition
You have a unique angle to help your prospective client do even better
You ideally have a referral when you cold-call (e.g. Hi, this is Dino and you don't know me, but we have a common friend in Mary. I run a computer consulting business specializing in _____, and Mary suggested giving you a call...)