You can’t just hang your shingle and expect to get clients without any effort. But sales and marketing for yourself is hard.
Especially if you’re new at it.
ESPECIALLY when you’re new to freelancing or are juggling a million other tasks every week.
To help, I put together 9 sales tips that can help you get clients with less effort and stress.
You’re Not Alone
Seven years ago when I quit my last job and started out on my freelancing journey, I had no idea that acquiring new clients would eventually take up such a large chunk of my time.
I naively thought that I would be spending most of my time and effort on helping my clients grow and execute strategies, not writing proposals.
In the beginning, I struggled to close new deals.
I would often spend too long on preparation, only for the client to be a bad fit. Or I would treat the call more like an interrogation rather than a set process where the client felt like they understood me, my system, and what they would gain by working with me.
Over time though, I refined my offer, my pitch, and was able to relax during sales calls because I had developed my own repeatable sales framework that allowed me to accomplish what every sales call should.
A buyer and seller understanding each other, developing mutual respect, and moving forward towards a shared vision.
On that note, let’s look at some key principles of sales.
How Sales Work
The simple definition of sales is all the interactions between two or more parties that lead to selling products or services.
The best way to think about sales is to liken it to the relationship between a doctor and a patient.
When a patient walks through the door, the doc (hopefully) doesn’t just look at them and force a diagnosis on them. She looks through their medical records, asks questions about their personal life, and gets a second opinion before making her final diagnosis.
The whole effort is designed to provide the most specific and useful solution to the patient’s needs.
That’s how you should approach sales.
If you approach it with the mentality that every single person is a client and that you already know they need your product without a single shred of evidence, you’re setting yourself up for a big FF (freelancing failure).
For reference, picture the last time you went to a car repair service or bought a car from a dealership. Do you have fond memories of the sales experience?
Wait… you do? Okay, well the rest of us can’t say the same.
The experience usually evokes feelings of confusion, frustration, shame, and even anger.
Most people are in an environment that they have very little knowledge about, likely with a stranger who they don’t trust, and are being asked questions in real time that affect their finances, but that they aren’t prepared for.
The ideal sales experience should be the exact opposite of that.
Your prospective client should know exactly what the sales call or meeting is about. They should feel comfortable in discussing their situation, and end the experience having a better understanding of potential solutions, while knowing the exact next steps.
“Okay, that’s great and all… but is there anything else I shouldn’t be doing”
I’m glad you asked.
What Not to Do
Refer back to my example above about the car mechanic or car buying experience. Let’s unpack a few themes of why the experience isn’t great:
- Being overly friendly to you for no particular reason
- Saying a price or giving an offer before you have heard their problem or know what SPECIFIC solution they need is
- Selling at any cost with manipulation or “tactics”
- Talking more than you listen
- Arguing or getting defensive
Any of those ring a bell?
Those sales experiences are the worst because the salesperson is making the entire interaction about THEM.
They are focused on making a sale, impressing their boss, not feeling nervous, etc. And that’s at the heart of every poor sales interaction, is focusing too much inward, instead of outward.
That includes feeling nervous or insecure.
Some freelancers who are new to sales struggle not because they are overly prescriptive or pushy, but because they are too timid and fixated on impressing the client.
In this case, you’re still sabotaging the interaction because you won’t be able to properly guide the conversation while in a bad headspace.
“Okay… that’s great and all, but what do I do about it?”
You’re on fire with these questions.
9 Sales Tips to Get More Clients
Ah yes, time to unveil the not-so-secret secrets to win more freelance clients and improve your sales skills.
Let’s do this.
1. Start with learning
Learning how to effectively sell your freelancing services is usually not an overnight process, it’s a skill like anything else. So how do you develop new skills?
You guessed it, learning and practicing.
One of the best ways to get better at sales is to read or watch videos about the subject from some of the greats.
Here’s a few books that got me started:
From there, you should practice with friends, family, or a work colleague while you sharpen your skills. You can even record your sessions as you practice to see where you can improve and what you’re starting to do well.
2. Create a repeatable process
Having a well defined and repeatable process will set you free.
Not only does knowing what your sales process will be ahead of time help you stay focused, but it gives your potential new freelance client confidence that you’ve been here before and can act as their trusted advisor.
You should work backwards from the best sales interaction you’ve had to figure out what key steps are needed each time. If not, refer back to the learning you did in step one to piece together the steps.
Make sure to record these as a checklist and review it before each sales meeting until it becomes memory.
Here’s an example sales flow that I recommend for most freelancers:
Step 1. Get on a discovery call. The goal is to learn about them, understand their needs, and map those needs to the perfect solution.
Step 2. Put together a strategy roadmap, quick concept, or fleshed out scope of work for you two to review together. Send any documents a day or two ahead of time.
Step 3. Have your clarity call where you review the scope, pricing, and answer all questions / objections.
Step 4. Schedule one last follow-up to decide on next steps. Whether you win the client project or not, you shouldn’t spend a ton of time meeting with folks who aren’t ready to work with you.
Step 5. If they close, place them into the client folder, send onboarding email messages, and set up invoicing.
Step 6. Schedule new client meetings after they pay the first invoice.
3. Cast a wide marketing and sales net to have more options
One of the reasons freelancers and solopreneurs struggle with “feast and famine” income cycles is because they don’t search for jobs and clients until they need money. By then, it’s already too late.
The key to having consistent new project work ready when you need it, is to have a steady flow of new client leads and inquiries coming in from your marketing and sales efforts.
This can include:
- Listing your services on freelance marketplace websites like Toptal, Upwork, or Freelancer
- Updating your linkedin, actively building your network, and regularly producing thought leadership content for your target clients
- Attend relevant networking events or meetups in your city
- Let friends and family know you’re prospecting (only once!)
- Search for businesses online that match your ideal client profile and reach out to them
The key here is to find a few tactics that work best for you and stick to them consistently over time.
Even when you have enough work, there’s no such thing as too many prospective clients.
4. Do your homework beforehand and don’t waste their time
I’ve been on sales calls where I spent 30 minutes answering basic questions about my business that are available on the website and my linkedin profile.
Objectively, I understand the need to dive into your client’s situation and understand them more deeply, but certain facts about them don’t need to be discussed during a meeting.
It’s a waste of their time and yours.
With this in mind, remember to do a bit of research about the client and their business before your initial call.
You can learn about:
- Their website
- Advertisements that use
- The founder or your contact on LinkedIn
- Company size, income, employee count, etc
- Who their competitors are
Etc, etc. You get where I’m going with this.
Use the call to learn about:
- Their most profitable services or products
- Who they want to be in 10 years
- What separates them from the competition
- What keeps your point of contact up at night
Those things matter most, and they’ll help you sell better.
5. Ask them questions in order to better serve their needs
Same as the point above, some solopreneurs take this too literally and create a meaningless list of 40 questions to ask their prospective clients.
That’s not what this is saying.
These questions shouldn’t just be for show. You should genuinely be interested in the responses and the client should be excited to give you the answers so you can be more seet up to help them.
You should ask specific and direct questions to get to the HEART of their ACTUAL problems in order to define the correct solutions (hopefully, what you offer).
Then after you’ve asked these questions, practice active listening, being empathetic, and asking deeper probing questions to really hone in on the gaps.
Great sales conversations should always have a ratio of about 70% listening and 30% talking.
Don’t stress too much about the ratio, but take it to heart.
6. Communicate the exact steps you’ll solve the clients problem
Most humans will be much more interested in the solution to their problems versus which web design software you use, writing style you prefer to cite sources, or where you went to school.
With this in mind, remember to always tie everything you do back to their needs, that you understand those needs, and how your offer addresses those needs.
When asked what you do, always skip straight to who you help, how you help them, and what the outcome will be.
If they ask to learn more, then you can go over the in depth specifics.
7. Record prospects in some form of CRM
A client relationship management system (CRM) is a tool that you use to record your interactions with clients and potential clients.
These tools help you keep track of who’s become a client, which projects you’ve done for them, how much they’ve paid you, and most importantly, which deals haven’t gone your way.
It’s important to have these insights so you can improve your sales process by analyzing what’s worked in the past, noticing patterns in ideal clients, and follow up on deals that have gone cold.
You don’t need to be fancy here as a new freelancer or solopreneur. You can use a spreadsheet like this one from Close. There are also many free tools to help as well as you grow your business.
Get in the habit of recording any prospective client projects early and often.
8. Don’t be afraid to follow up
This isn’t too complicated, but some freelancers are afraid that they’ll bother their prospects or offend them with follow-ups.
That’s possibly true, but it’s also possible that they forgot your initial response and following up will remind them about the conversation.
People are busy, emails get lost, calendars get overbooked.
Following up three times is a good way to look at it.
Follow up #1 – Did my message get eaten by your inbox?
Follow up #2 – It’s been awhile. Any updates for me?
Follow up #3 – Are you still interested in the XYZ campaign, project, etc?
Sometimes, your clients will even thank you for following up. Give it a try.
9. Directly and confidently ask for the sale
Last but not least, is to be confident in your approach.
Just like a lion, your prospective freelance clients sense when you’re nervous or don’t trust what you’re saying, which will cause them to lose confidence in your offer.
Say your price with pride.
Say your solution with pride.
Ask them for the sale with pride.
If you can’t, you need to rethink your offer and value proposition first to make sure you’ve got a firm foundation to stand on.
If that’s already taken care of, you have nothing to be nervous about.
Until you get the hang of it, selling your freelance services and products can feel overwhelming.
That’s why proactively learning, practicing, creating a repeatable process, and having enough deals in your pipeline is key.
When you think about sales, remember to picture yourself as a doctor diagnosing a patient — work hard to solve your client’s biggest pain points.
Do that, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Ken Marshall is the Founder of Best Freelancer Tools as well as a husband, recovering foodie, mini Australian shepherd puppy dad, and serial entrepreneur (mostly failures, lots of lessons). He is passionate about helping others achieve their full potential.