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How to run a successful freelance practice

Setting up a solid business foundation so you can focus on doing amazing work.

 

This guide is from WebsiteByTonight. We create professional websites collaboratively over screenshare + launch them in a matter of hours - for $749 flat. Primarily for solo entrepreneurs / independent consultants.

This guide is specifically for freelancers/solo entrepreneurs/one-person businesses.

The following are just opinions, and do not constitute official legal/business advice.

Positioning Yourself

 

Don’t just say “I do xyz for anyone.” The more specific you get on who the best clients are, the easier for others to refer you / the more likely you get those clients overall.

Focus on a specific services/set of services for a very specific type of client.

Ideally, that specific type of client is someone who you enjoy working with the most and benefits from what you do the most. It also makes it easier for you to become the go-to expert in that particular circumstance.

Pitch formula:

"Our (product/service/training) serves X, who are experiencing or looking for Y." Can possibly add "our services provides them with Z."

Generating Leads

 

Focus on where your ideal customers are!

That means don’t spend time adding every contact you’ve ever had to an email newsletter that nobody reads, trying to get 10,000 Facebook fans, etc. Those things don't actually get you business.

Instead, “get out of the building” so to speak, and go to where many of your ideal clients already are - ideally where many of them are at once.

Often times, this could also be certain kinds of networking events, associations, conferences, etc.

Reach out to individuals or companies that offer relatives services where there is some referral synergy. Even cold emails to them asking to have an intro call or coffee work great. People/organizations that may be receiving inbound requests from great prospective leads of yours.

And when you’re very specific (as mentioned above) in terms of what you focus on and your ideal clients, you’ll inevitably find those clients much easier than if you are vague.

Don't forget to periodically (perhaps once per quarter) email previous good clients and referral partners to let them know what kind of referrals you're looking for - and also ask what they're looking for, too.

Selling

You need a standard sales process. It's simple to set up, make it easy for your clients to pay you, and make you happier.

Many people have a weird aversion to sales. Do you believe that what you offer is valuable and helpful to your clients? Good,then make it as easy as possible for you to serve them. You'll both appreciate it.

This sales process is pretty standard for a freelancer/consultant.

The Sales Process

  1. Prospective customer fills out the contact form on your website. Contact form should have the following labeled fields (* means can’t be left blank): Name*, Email*, Phone, How can I help you?*, and How did you hear about us?
     
  2. As quickly as possible, if the inquiry seems reasonable/serious, reply to the email that was sent to you via the sending of the contact form. The call to action in this email should be to set up a 20-30 minute intro consultation call (“qualify the lead”). If you don't receive an email in 4-5 days, send a polite reminder email. Then try once more in another 4-5 days if no response. If still no answer, just let it go.

    Too many people hide behind long email interactions. People usually want to talk to someone on the phone. So talk to them!
     
  3. At some point down the road (possibly after more calls/emails), the client asks for a proposal. Only send a proposal if you know when it's coming back to you. That just means asking "Hypothetically, if I sent you the proposal tomorrow, when might I expect it back signed if we are able to move forward?"
     
  4. Client e-signs proposal and you successfully deliver another project.
 

What should happen on the intro phone call + why

A phone consultation is an amazing opportunity.

Use it to learn more about the client, his/her/their goals, share your story + what you do, and see if it'd be mutually-beneficial to continue the conversation.

It is also recommended to ask if a client has a proposed budget + timeline. Sometimes they give an outright answer (always helpful), but if not, chances are that because you specialize in certain services for specific clients, you can give an overview + range of what to expect to see if it's in the realm of possibility.

Ideally, your client's challenge aligns with your solution. It also helps to share values and working styles; e.g. if the client is very buttoned-up and prefers lots of official deliverables, and you work more casually, perhaps it will not be a fit.

Another benefit of a phone call is that you get a feel for the client - it’s a lot easier to tell on the phone if you’ll work well together or not than via email!

With about 5-10 minutes left in the phone call, it's important to propose next steps. Prospective clients expect you to lead them throughout this whole thing; after all, you do this for a living.

 

The two extremely important questions to ask during the last 5-10 minutes of the phone call when discussing next steps:

"What would you say are your decision-making criteria?"

"If you don't mind me asking, what does your decision-making process + timeline look like for choosing someone for this project?"

For example, it’s far easier and quicker to sell to a single person making a decision than an organization with a large chain of command. If you’re selling to a larger organization and someone higher up is making the decision / multiple people are involved in the decision, you want to loop them into follow-up discussions.

Having clear answers to these two questions will save you an untold amount of agony.


 

Basic email response template to someone filling out your contact form on your website

Hi [prospect name],

Nice to meet you and thank you so much for reaching out.

I would love to schedule a time for a 20-30 minute introductory call between us to see if we might be a fit to work together.

Please use this link [“this link” is a link that takes them to your Calendly page] to select a time that is convenient for you. 

I look forward to speaking with you.

Thanks,
[your name]

Pricing

 

In a perfect world, you want value-based pricing over hourly rates. Read the free eBook from Freshbooks called Breaking the Time Barrier.

Never compete on price - ever.

Good rule of thumb; don’t be the cheapest, nor the most expensive. Aim for the middle-upper 50-75% in terms of pricing.

Objection Handling

In sales, when a prospect pushes back on you a bit, that’s called an objection. Don’t take it personally.

You should have good answers to handling objections, which will come over time.

If you’re good at what you do, you offer your service at a reasonable price, and you can definitely help the prospect -- and he/she/they still don't get it -- then move on.

Usually, if you’re very clear on what you do and your value, a prospect will either want to move forward quickly or will ideally say “no” quickly. A quick "no" is honestly a win.

Branding

 

Professionalism is important, and branding plays a role in that. But you do not need super-professional branding all completed before getting out there and selling.

  • Business name - don't stress. But you can check out the free Igor Naming guide for great ideas.
  • Website - Get a website on Squarespace. Sure, we recommend you hire a pro like us, but whatever you do - build it on Squarespace. Wix and Weebly are far inferior, and a good WordPress site is usually very expensive, time-consuming, and challenging to update/maintain (most WordPress sites look bad / cookie-cutter).

    Squarespace has beautiful templates, all of the features you need, unlimited fantastic customer service, and does the hosting + all automatic security updates etc. - for a low monthly rate. It doesn’t get any easier.

  • Logo - Usually a logo from a good designer starts at ~$500, and can be a complex and lengthy process. 

    If you're looking for a more short-term and cost-effective option to get started and look professional, you can consider Fiverr, a logo builder like this one, LogoJoy, or even searching online to buy a “logo kit”. Using these options, you can get a solid logo for $100 or less. It may not be a full long-term solution like hiring a designer, but it will definitely get your freelance practice started off on the right foot.

    Also note that with Squarespace, you can rather easily get started with an attractive text logo, which may be all you need for now (and is free). Many of our clients choose this option.

  • Business cards - Moo.com. Please, please, please, do not use VistaPrint (or someone similar).

  • Social media / SEO / newsletter - don’t even think about it. If you make a website on Squarespace, you won't have any big SEO errors anyway.
     
  • Blog on your website - not a big deal.

    However, writing guest blogs for your industry / where your prospective clients might view it would be excellent and is a huge potential source of business. Or using LinkedIn’s blogging platform. In other words - going to platforms where your customers are likely to be in large quantities. Try to reach out and land these opportunities - many times, these organizations/platforms are very grateful for guest content from an expert.

The main tools you need

If you want to see alternatives to these tools, click here for an amazing comprehensive list that Bonsai has put together.

 
  • Bonsai ($16-$24/mo) - For some freelancers, this could be the perfect solution for all-in-one proposals, contracts, time-tracking, invoicing + payments, expenses, and reporting. AND CO is another great similar software.

  • Calendly (free+)- Scheduling widget that will auto-sync with your calendar and your preferences and allow others to book time on your calendar (no email back-and-forth of "I'm free Tuesday, you?").

  • G Suite ($5/mo) - Gmail, but for business (email@yourdomain.com). And make sure to use Gmail Canned Responses (email templates within Gmail) so that you don’t write the same emails a ton (instructions here). 

    Do not use a personal email, such as @gmail, @yahoo.com, etc. - even if it has your business name in it, as this looks extremely unprofessional.

  • Streak (free+) - CRM (customer relationship management) software, allowing you to keep track of your clients + communication with them from within your Google email account. Think of it as a tab within your Google account that is a large spreadsheet, where you can add data on your customers and never miss a follow-up.

    A CRM will allow you to see all of your prospective customers and what "stage" in your sales process they are - e.g. "Scheduling consultation call" to "Waiting on e-signed agreement".

  • Wave (free) - Full suite for accounting + invoicing (invoices have links for secure payments via credit card or bank transfer)

  • Proposify ($25/mo+) - Easily create + send out beautiful proposals that clients can quickly e-sign; best software for more intricately-styled proposals