My 9-Step Guide To Attracting “A”-level freelance clients

attracting better clients

Remember that time you created the most amazing logo concepts for that client?

You smashed it out of the park. Completely nailed the brief. So excited by your own ability you couldn’t wipe the smirk off your face as you saved the PDF.

You. Were. Chuffed.

You fire off an email and patiently wait. You know there’s a winner amongst the concepts you’d created and you can’t wait to get a reply… showering you with praise… telling their friends  you’re the best designer in town…. worshipping the ground you walk on etc…

…And then it arrives.

Within 30 minutes you get a reply telling you they don’t like any of them.

They accuse you of not listening to them properly and the only feedback they have is: “I can’t quite put my finger on it but it’s just not what I had in mind. Can you have another go at it?”

Your heart just sinks.

Difficult clients suck. They crush your creativity, make you second-guess your ability and give you headaches you don’t need. Not to mention put a massive time drain on your resources.

I’ve had my fair share of them from 10 years in business. I’ve learned over the years however to spot them a mile off and I have some built-in receptors on high alert to send smoke signals to my team when they approach.

I once had a client who invested in a website with us just before Google’s Panda update. Within the first 2-3 months of going live her rankings improved out of sight. She was stoked.

Anyway, you can probably guess what happened next… Google rolled out Panda and she got slapped. And of course, it was all our fault. We tried to talk to her but her Indian SEO company was blaming the website and nothing we said mattered.

She tried to make all sorts of bogus claims. First, she tried to say that we owed her $50,000 in lost revenue. Then she said she had paid $30,000 in SEO that we needed to reimburse her for. And later on, when we didn’t buckle, she admitted that she’d made it all up.

We gave her 30 days to find another web design company. She was a nut job and clearly just trying to extort money from us, not cool.

Sadly, there are clients out there like her. And a lot of the time, you just have to learn the hard way, getting better with each nightmare client. It’s horrible.

But what if I told you there was a way to avoid clients like that? Not all of them (hey even I’m not bulletproof) but there are ways you can protect yourself from the pain and ordeals caused from less than ideal clients. Well there is…

Welcome to my 9-Step process for attracting ‘A’ class clients (without offending those who aren’t).

Before we dive into the juicy stuff, I first need you to identify who your top clients are so you can find more of them. It’s different for everyone so let’s do a quick little exercise to work out who’s ideal for you.

Say ‘hello’ to your Ideal Client Avatar, or ICA for short.

STEP 1: Research your ideal client avatar.

  • List the clients that spend the most money with you. Who are they?
  • Who has been the easiest to deal with?
  • Who was the easiest to sell to?
  • Who has referred you the most amount of business?
  • Who do you LOVE working with the most? And on what type of work?

So now you should have your top 5-10 clients you’d love to clone. Jot down everything you know about them and write a persona for them. (Hint: You should also make a note of who you don’t want more of just to keep on track here!)

Great, it’s time to move on.

STEP 2: Uncover their watering holes. Where do they hang out?

  • What websites, forums or blogs do they visit?
  • What magazines or newsletters to they subscribe to and read?

  • What social media platforms do they use?

  • What associations are they a member of?

  • What seminars do they attend?

At this step, it’s all about finding out what watering holes your ideal avatar frequents. If you’re not sure, just ask them. Once you know, it makes it a lot easier to attract more of a good thing.

So let’s get started on attracting…

STEP 3: Change the messaging on your website.

This plays a HUGE factor in attracting the right clients so make sure your messaging and copy is spot on. In our most recent website re-design, I actually wrote all the copy first before touching one pixel so I could make sure I got it right.

I’m targeting more established businesses, professionals 30-55 who have had a website before and been mucked around by unreliable developers so I use subtle language like:

“You might be on your second or even third website by now but let me ask you a very important question. Have you actually had your bookkeeper tally up how much your website is costing you each year? You might be surprised.”

Notice I mention their bookkeeper and talk about them being on their second or third website? That’s because I don’t want to attract startups. And because I want to attract more established businesses with a team of 5 or more I talk a lot about training them and their staff, having one central contact for their whole team etc

Although I don’t talk price I do let my clients elude to our pricing being middle range but great value for money so that I can avoid the low budget startups that don’t have a lot to spend.

I say things like “We saved one client $16,000. Find out how much we can save you.” and our clients say things like “My website paid for itself in the first two months since going live.” See how both these statements paint a picture that we’re not a web company doing cheap $300 websites? We’re affordable, yes, but not cheap.

Your messaging has a profound impact on who you’ll attract. Get it wrong and they’ll be less than ideal. Get it right and you’ll have landed in client heaven. Hallelujah!

STEP 4: Create a more exclusive referral program, reserved only for your top clients.

Have you heard that old saying “Birds of a feather flock together”?

Chances are that most of your top clients have access to lots of other top clients just like them. So why not get an invite to their circle by offering special treatment to those top clients you listed earlier. Coffee, lunch, movie tickets, wine, extra services on the house… the list is endless.

You could even consider hosting a special evening information session for their top five business friends to talk intimately about how to get more from their website. You could give each person a one-on-one website audit but in front of the group so everyone can benefit from your expertise. If you take a results-driven approach like this and offer your expert advice in a non-salesy way, they’ll be begging you to take their money to implement your recommendations!

STEP 5: Just come right out and say who you work best with.

There’s nothing wrong with blatantly talking about who you want to work with, it’s not rude. Just get smart about it and spin it into a benefit. It saves wasting valuable time for both you and them. Targeting a niche can also be an extremely wise and profitable business move.

Say you wanted to target hair salons as your niche, you could say something like this on your about page:

“If you’re a hairdressing salon in the need of a website that’s going to give you that professional edge over your competitors, allow your clients to book appointments any time with ease, a Facebook page to share your amazing talent with the world and a web design partner that’s all about results, then I’m your gal.

I love nothing more than to see the look on my client’s faces when they see bookings flying into their inbox every day because of something I created. That’s what I love most and I’d love to help you achieve the same results for your business.

Just as you want to find the perfect clients for your business, I’m also shopping for the right clients and projects. The hairdressing industry just happens to be my passion and core specialty, having now helped over 130 salons in just two years. If there’s a mutual fit, please get in touch, I’d love to show you how I’ve helped others achieve amazing success online, and how I can help you too.”

STEP 6: Advertise in the right watering holes.

This is such a no brainer when you know where to go, who you’re talking to and what their biggest problems are.

Go back to your hot list of watering holes and set up advertising through:

  • Google’s Display network

  • Direct newsletter advertising

  • Approaching blog or website owners directly for a deal

  • Buy Sell Ads

The opportunities really are endless!

STEP 7: Get busy guest blogging!

Guest blogging can open so many doors for you. Pick the blogs that will bring you the most amount of traction and obviously those that suit your ideal client avatar and write REMARKABLE content.

It’s okay to start small. Form great relationships with the owners and pitch them your ideas. You’ll be surprised how receptive they are if you take an approach that sees you trying to help them, instead of the other way around.

Slow and steady wins the race with this one. Even just one blog per month will make a tremendous impact on attracting the right clients if you write quality over quantity and in the right watering holes.

STEP 8: Joint ventures, partnerships and host beneficiary offers.

You don’t always have to pay for advertising. If you’re strapped for cash or just want to get smarter about how you get new business, the above options are all fantastic. They might take you longer to nurture to fruition but they’re definitely worth the effort when they do come off.

If you were targeting hair salons for example, you could try and setup a host beneficiary offer with the National Hairdressing Association, or partnerships with the wholesale companies that supply product to the salons. Or the actual hair product brands themselves as a way to reach the salons directly. It’s gold!

You can have a lot of fun with this one, I urge you to get creative! Just think about who already talks in large numbers to the people you want to talk to then figure out what you can do to make them look good or profit more. Voila!

STEP 9: Never price match or discount… ever!

I’ll admit it, we occasionally discount for referrals and friends, but it does set a precedent that’s hard to break. You might find that if you discount in the beginning, they’ll be trying to bust you on price for every project thereafter. Instead of discounting, I’ve found it’s better to try and add more value as an alternative.

In my experience, I’ve also found that price matching is dangerous territory. It can be tempting, especially when your cash flow is a bit wobbly, but my advice is to just walk away. State your benefits firmly, always talk about results (not your costs) and if they can’t see value then either A) they’re not a fit or B) your messaging and delivery may need a little tweaking.

That wraps up my 9-Step Guide to better clients but before you get busy on implementation, I also want to quickly leave you with a few final pearls of wisdom I’ve discovered the hard way dealing with 2,000+ clients…

When talking to new potential clients, consider the following as potential alarm bells and proceed with caution:

  • When they talk constantly about their tight budget in the first 10 minutes of the convo.

  • When the first question they ask you is “How much does it cost for a _____?”

  • When they talk poorly of their last designer who could never get it right.

  • When their project just isn’t in alignment with what you love doing most.

  • When they keep wanting a ton of meetings before signing on and putting down a deposit.

  • When they email you 5+ times a day asking questions. (Stalker material, be careful!)

  • When they have an unrealistic laundry list of features they want for $500.

  • When they keep trying to haggle you on the price.

  • When they’re just plain rude and abrupt.

  • When they tell you they could do it themselves, they just don’t want to or don’t have time.

  • When they impose unrealistic deadlines before they’ve even signed on.

  • When you’re gut is saying something is up, trust your instincts.

And lastly, don’t be afraid to say ‘no’. It actually feels really, really good. Try it some time. ;)

What’s your number one tip for attracting better clients? Let’s chat in the comments

About Bianca Board

Co-founder of Web123, Australia’s small business website specialists, author of ‘How To Destroy Your Design Business in 12 Easy Steps’, and creator of the Web123 ProPartner Program a complete ‘web business in a box’ solution for graphic designers, Bianca is Australia’s design-business doctor. Her mission is to help designers, just like you, create a profitable business you love.

 More about Bianca’s Business: Bianca is co-founder of the Web123 Partner Program. Design, build and deliver client projects in the space of a day. Design it your way, totally HTML and developer free.

Comments

  1. Great material on this one! I especially liked the “alarm bells” section. You really gotta trust your gut every time.

  2. Thanks for the tips and sharing your experience. I have used some of these tips and you have shared some additional good ones. I really need to be aware of the “Alarm Bells” and listen to my intuition. :)

  3. These are all these amazing and practical tips! Thanks for sharing the real life applications and how to foresee and combat all the problems designers come up against.

  4. Those are some great points you brought up. I also wrote an article on this forum, will include the link below. I see more and more designers using the budget selector as means to finding better paying clients and deterring the tire kickers.

    http://www.graphicdesignblender.com/designers-budget-option-contact-form

    • Great blog Sean! Do you know if adding that extra field to the form has and effect on conversions? That would be one thing I’d like to test. I was going to put a field asking how people heard about us on our latest quote form but after doing some research decided I didn’t want to take such a hit on conversions.

      Anyway, back to pricing… when I did have prices on our website I found that a lot of our target market didn’t think they could invest $1500 on a website and had a budget of $500 so never got in touch with us and we lost the chance to even speak to them. When in actual fact, when we took our pricing down and got the speak with them and explain what they needed to consider, and how much value they got for that price, we closed the deal 60-70% of the time, and the clients are ideal too.

      I’m not saying “don’t publish pricing” but it’s certainly interesting and worth testing either way. Our conversions and subsequent sales increased considerably when we took it down. Great post mate. Cheers,
      Bianca

      • I have been in business for almost 10 years now and have had my share of prospects who want work under $500. I have come to the realization that those clients (even if they have repeat work) will always want a cheaper price. I would rather have one high paying client than 5 low budget clients. I did spend a lot of time on phone educating potential prospects, soon to find out that they would not even have the decency to respond back to my email a few days later or follow up on my phone call.

        The budget selector simply tells the potential client what base line your willing to start work at. Displaying prices is totally different, something I would not do, because every project costs differently. It all comes down to what kind of clientele you want to work with.

  5. Samantha says:

    I have a hard time with this. I tend to get really stingy people especially through referrals and they automatically assume that I will give them a “friend” discount. Your advice really helps and I really need to practice saying no!

    • Hey Samantha, it’s really tough to break out out the lower end of the market. Perhaps consider increasing your hourly rate to attract a different type. It can be so scary raising your rates but every time I’ve done and lost sleep thinking I’m going to lose a heap of clients, I’ve only ever lost 1 or 2 that I didn’t want anyway. It can really do wonders.

      If you want, feel free to send me an email and I’ll take a look over your site and messaging and see if I can make some suggestions for you. Cheers,
      B

  6. I’m so excited to get my business to the point where I have so many clients that some are difficult and I get to worry about if the next one is a good fit or not. I’m so shy and scared to put myself out there but my desire and ambition and articles like this is propelling me forward. I will begin with step 1 and 2 on repeat.thank you

  7. Bianca, this is wonderful “must know” material!! I’ve been living by a couple of these rules as I continue to grow my business but it’s always good to know the extra details. I’ve had my fare share of tire-kickers that I accepted in the early stages of my business that turned out to be everything I should of gone with my gut on. I’ve since become wiser in who I do business with and I’m proud to say I have a good round of clients because of this thinking that are in it for the long haul. The “good ones” are out there. They may be a bit harder to find but with building relationships and getting into certain circles and niches, it can do wonders.

    Thanks again for such a wonderful article. This is a “must bookmark” read!

    Tim

  8. Thank you for this great article!!! I already “knew” some of the Alarm Bells tips and yet….4 months ago I chose to ignore my gut. Horrible move. Working with that client (whom I had a feeling would be very difficult) set me back, demoralized me and made me question my skills. Now that I’m not working with her I see I should have said a firm “no.”

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