If you’re going to actively look for clients (as opposed to lie in wait for them), who should you be pursuing?
What kinds of clients are worth hunting?
1. Rich ones
This may sound blindingly obvious, but it only pays to chase clients with money. And by money, I mean spendable cash that is in the checking account right now.
I wasted way too much time pursuing little businesses and start-ups thinking they were easy pickings for a newbie freelancer. No. They may be a source of work, but a lousy source of income.
Same with cash-starved producers and agencies who finance their projects on the backs of freelancers. (“Soon as we get paid, we’ll pay you.”) No.
You want to work with thriving businesses, busy firms, or individuals with fat wallets.
2. Heavy users
The economics of freelancing overwhelmingly favors repeat assignments, long-term relationships. You want clients who use a lot of what you do. (Sometimes cynically called “chronic clients” or “repeat offenders.”)
So spend your energy wooing clients who need boatloads of content, plenty of web design, photos, illustrations, copy, programming, whatever. Maybe they are design firms or agencies or web developers. (See Rule 1, however.) Or companies and businesses who do a lot of marketing, development or creation themselves. Sell them once, get work for years.
Nothing wrong with one-shot clients — if they walk in the door or come to you by referral. But if you need to hunt down and sell a new client for every assignment, you will exhaust yourself. (And you will spend 83% of your time seducing instead of working.) Better to focus on the frequent flyers.
If you sell something clients use only once — such as an identity — it’s more efficient to chase branding firms, marketing groups, consultants and others who can serve as your scouts and procurers.
3. Kindred souls
I’m embarrassed to admit that I got this part wrong for years. And so did many of the freelancers I know.
Look for clients who think like you. People with tastes, attitudes, outlooks, and philosophies that jibe with yours. They will be more profitable and easier on the psyche.
You write edgy, irreverent, ballsy copy? Chase firms who already have edgy and irreverent websites. You sell design? Court those companies with a design sense that makes you drool with envy.
You build tight and minimalist interfaces? Chase developers who already ship that way. You’re into human, emotionally-resonant marketing? Call on companies who act that way right now.
Me? I often did the opposite. Like a dope, I sought out clients whose marketing copy was riddled with corporatespeak or incoherent technobabble, reasoning, like a dope, that they were aching for my brand of silken prose.
I discovered that clients who used stiff, corporate copy (a) actually liked it that way (b) couldn’t care less or (c) hated my silken prose.
It was far more productive to go after companies whose copy I liked. We saw eye to eye.
My proofreading friend Miriam found tons more work by chasing firms with pristine and error-free websites. They were the ones who loved proofreaders enough to pay them handsomely. (Not the lummoxes with typos in their brochures.)
There’s no money in trying to convert the philistines.