Maybe it’s uncouth to say, but most of the advice on earning money via freelancing is terrible.
That’s because when it comes to finding clients, typical advice goes something like this:
- “YEAH! Just start blogging! Create great content and someone’s bound to come along someday!”
- “Make a website and do some SEO on it so you always get free traffic!”
- “Do something unique and eye-catching, like creating a viral video to get lots of viewers and show off your viral video-making skillz!”
- “Go on some forums and you know, be helpful… answer questions… establish your presence and see what happens!”
Wow, I’ll just do a little SEO. It’s so easy! Then a simple viral video. Ugh, get the hell out of here.
Problems with creating creating fancy marketing strategies
Problem 1. Stop building complex marketing strategies for clients you don’t have. Your first goal is to get 3 clients. Do you really need a blog to do that? And notice I said 3 clients, not just 1 — that could be a fluke. Get 3. Once you have 3 clients, you’ve proven that you have a reliable base of people who’ll pay you for your services. You can test service offerings and prices on them. And now you can start with more complex marketing strategies. Remember: Skip all the fanciness and get 3 people to pay you first.
Problem 2. It makes complex marketing strategies like SEO, blogging, and viral marketing appear both easy and discrete, when in reality they’re often an excuse for you to avoid the hard work of finding actual people who will pay you for your services. Do you know how long “SEO” takes to work? Do you just start a blog, and then check it off your to-do list 5 minutes later? If you say yes to anything I just asked, I will kill you.
Generic freelancing advice tells you to do high-level – and in reality, highly complex – work that actually encompasses dozens of subtasks. Where will you be after Subtask 11? In all likelihood, you’ll have given up. Honestly, are you defaulting to high-level, almost impossible-to-finish strategies as a way of avoiding getting down to the real work?
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Solution: Get your first 3 paying clients
Getting your first client is a 2-step process that I call Locate and Communicate.
- Who is your exact client, and where do they go to look for a solution to their problems? Do they read magazines? Go to the grocery store? Ask their priest?
- Where are people already looking for solutions to problems, and how can you make a match between them and your service?
(By the way, the 2nd option is something that anybody can do by posting and responding to ads on sites like Craigslist. Just last week, after I recommended Vin give niche guitar lessons, he posted an ad on Craigslist and got immediate responses.)
The 1st option, though, is my favorite: Identify very specific leads in your very specific target market, and figure out where they go to look for a solution to their needs.
Look, most people don’t want to buy your services. Most people think you’re ugly! But a few people might be into paying for your services. When you’re starting out, your job is to find those few people and turn them into long-lasting customers.
Here’s how you find them:
First step is to niche down your market. Do not try to find every person who uses a computer between the ages of 18-34, lives in the USA, and likes pictures of naked girls. NICHE IT DOWN. By age, location, interest, income level, and so many more options (that we will explore in detail at Earn1k.com).
Then, find out where they go to find solutions. Get in their heads:
- Want to pitch to moms that blog about children? Go to The Mom Blogs and start with the ones under “Popular Blogs.”
- Looking for physical or massage therapists within 50 miles of your house? Yelp should get you started easily.
- What about tech startups with over $1 million in funding, with more than 10 employees, but less than 50? Here’s 100 of them.
- If you want to do… large dog grooming and sitting, well there’s probably a local pet store or dog park near you where owners are all congregating just waiting for you to offer them a solution.
Listen closely. Over the last few weeks, people have been coming to my weekly video office hours saying things like, “But Ramit! I have this idea and have NO IDEA where to find customers!” My response is always calm, yet you know that anger boils closely below. “What have you done to research your audience?” Have they emailed a few people? Taken them out to lunch? Asked complementary service providers if this is a good idea? The answer is almost always no.
Example that made me angry: Last night, someone said they were going to start a wedding-montage photo business. What should they do? They appeared to be stuck. Answer: Go talk to a few wedding photographers and ask them if this is a good idea. Would their customers buy it? Are there holes in the market that are not being served? What about event planners? Florists? You could do this in 1-2 weeks and save 1 year of your life.
80% of your ideas will be strengthened — or washed out — with this simple exercise. And it only takes a week or two to get started.
Get in these people’s heads & then niche it down. Read their minds and then act on those insights. So you’ve figured out where the secret large dog pet store is. Great. Now look at their website, visit the store, talk to the owner. GET OFF YOUR ASS AND TAKE ACTION.
Could you pitch one potential client each morning? You probably could if you created an email template. How about 10 over the weekend, playing with different headlines/offers so you can see which ones work better?
It doesn’t have to take a long time, and it doesn’t have to be agonizing…which brings us to step 2.
Email will be your most important communication tool for pitching clients. I get pitched via email all the time for guest posts, product pitches, and people who want to work together. I vomit routinely. The emails are usually way too long and have no clear point.
Subject: to the real ramit [Subject line is too vague]
Ramit (please forward to him, if VA reading),
I’m impressed, I’ve scanned your blog from 2004 to now, left a few comments and felt the need to contact you for networking, an offer, and advice. This should take you about 4 minutes to read, I hope you can. [Good compliments, but 4 minutes is way too long]
Background: I’m influenced by Tim Ferris, Seth Goden, Leo Babauta, Rocky Balboa, and Steve Jobs. Effective efficiency meets ideas, the power of less, will power and innovation.
Status: Working 40 hours a week until I can escape via passive or easily managed income. I am IT support for an all Apple global consulting firm. I run [Company], a well oiled machine of an IT support, web development, and internet consulting company (just me and my VA’s). I run [Website] – a chronicling of the stages of becoming self actualized to the fact that life isn’t how people tell you it is, and you can design it otherwise. I just bumped up my pretax savings to %11 of my earned income. I am unrelentingly in pursuit of the break that will come and free me to live out my dreams of supporting people and their technology, training in crossfit, learning spanish, and giving to youth without worrying about money. [Too long=I'm starting to lose interest]
My need is to learn from you (not your typical money wisdom), and your need is that you or someone you know could use me like a cup of coffee on a Monday morning. [This is where most busy people make the decision not to read on]
I’ve seen enough cases now, yours included of people vice gripping life and making it their own. I’ve always been service oriented in the quiet leader type way, and I’ve made smart no risk decisions, I’m 25 and will no longer take the slow road. I’m primed for a break, and will be unrelenting until it comes. I’d like to include you in that because I think you’re smart, on your way up, and accessible. Please review me below, I hope you can make use of me before I realize my full potential and be swept up in that.
Although I can be wordy, I’m not a magician with words, I’ll lay my most powerful qualities/experiences out in bullet points. I hope you see them as I do, as ammunition.
- will power like no other (never lost a “bet you can’t stay…”)
- technical savant (no technology too frustrating or complex)
- people person (communication is a strength, met several C level execs, Sony for instance)
- action oriented, all plans suck without implementation. simple plans plus action work.
- business man. started and sold several businesses
- founder of [Company]
- i save %11 of what i make, split to an IRA and emergency fund. i make very little.
- building a backup information product and breaking the ice of online marketing
- traveled the world while being a digital worker
- self starter, will succeed and see the positive regardless of situation
- educated, technical, fast and i think before i act
Would you let me help you or someone you know with these skills? If yes, please connect with me.
Honestly, the guy sounds like a nice guy who wants to offer his services. I think. I’m not really sure.
But instead of getting in my head and suggesting how he could help me specifically, he just listed a series of vague skills that were all over the board. And the call-to-action is…for me to “connect” with him? I responded, as I usually do to vague emails, with a 1-sentence: “So what would you like to do for/with me?” He sent another rambling email, so I at that point I simply shrugged and moved on with my life.
Subject line: I want to work for you for free [Best subject line I've ever received]
Love your site, especially the articles about automation and personal entrepreneurship. It’s because of you that I have multiple ING Direct accounts for my savings goals, a Roth IRA, automatic contributions, and asset allocation all set up. [Good buttering me up]
I’m a web developer for [Company], a site that gets around 50 million hits per month. I used to do freelance work exclusively, and I’m preparing to make the switch back to doing freelance work ~30 hours / week while I travel and study in China. I work in Ruby on Rails, doing everything from the database to the front-end, and I’m especially good at rapidly prototyping new ideas and projects. [He's in my head: I'm always looking for talented developers and he's clearly one of them]
In order to start getting myself back out there, I’d love to have the chance to do some development work for you, completely gratis. If you like my work and have some paid projects for me down the road, that’d be great of course, but I’d be happy just for the opportunity to network and receive a little advice. I’m sure you have a project or two in the back of your head that you haven’t had time to prototype yourself yet; let me do it for you! [I LOVE IT!! As a matter of fact, yes I DO have some side projects I've been wanting to do]
You can give me a call at ###, or find me on Google Talk under this address. You can also check out some samples of my work here: [website]
Two things: First, that was the best subject line I’ve ever received. Second, it’s clear, concise and makes me a strong offer while highlighting his experience. I called him within 60 seconds of receiving this email.
Note that if you are looking for paying clients, you can often skip the work-for-free arrangement that I often urge by creating an incredibly niche offer. For example, if he had attended the last 5 video office hours I did and had heard me make an offhand comment about how I’ve been wanting to launch XXX project, his subject line could be: “I can help you launch XXX in 2 weeks.” This could then lay out why he’s good, what he would do, and it could lead directly to paid work.
When it comes to communicating with your prospects, I hear many people complain that they’ve tried to reach out with little success. The truth is they’re often reaching out in the wrong way. But by getting in your clients’ heads, you can fix that and write emails that engage and lead directly to paid work — no fancy marketing strategy needed.
Why your first client is your most important
It’s not what you think.
Yes, you need your first client so you can actually say you’re in business. And you definitely need your first client before you can unleash a full-scale marketing campaign.
But, the most crucial thing your first client brings you is NOT money. It’s feedback.
- Is your business feasible?
- Does your basic pitch work?
- Can you execute on the service you’re selling?
Would you rather find these answers now, or in 6 months after you’ve put in massive amounts of your own money and time into marketing a business that doesn’t yet exist?
The point is to build a simple system that lets you rapidly test and iterate on your business. And while most people are worrying about building a fancy website or taking other useless steps, you’ll realize that the best simple system begins with THREE PAYING CLIENTS.
Today, I covered how you can LOCATE and COMMUNICATE with specific, targeted leads. Once you’ve done that, you’ve built your first simple system. Then what?
What’s next for earning money from your clients
This is just the tip of the iceberg. These are the next questions you might be thinking about:
- What about pricing? How do I test that? Can I negotiate as a freelancer?
- What exactly should I offer, and how should I structure my service? Hourly? By project?
- How do I get referrals? Should I be networking? How do I do that without wasting my time?
- When do I raise my rates?
These are all critically important questions that will shape the success of your freelancing work to earn more money. Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve been giving you specific suggestions for earning money, so if you read closely, there are enough recommendations for you to easily earn your first $500 — and this is just my free stuff. Imagine what my upcoming premium course, which I’ve been working on for 10 months, will contain.
If you want to get the answers in detail — and get your ass kicked to take action — with materials, scripts, tactics, and techniques that you won’t see on the blog, join my private Earn1K insider’s list:
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For those of you who’ve already signed up to earn more money, let’s do an exercise to help crystallize this and make it real.
Leave a comment with your responses to these questions:
What will it take you to get your first 3 freelance customers?
1. My specific customer is someone with this problem: _________.
2. My prospective customer spends time researching the problem / solutions in these 3 places:
3. One way I can break in to one of the places above: _________.
4. My opening line in an email to them: __________.
Leave a comment with your responses.