The Art of Prospecting – It Takes More than Technical Skills to Be A Successful Freelancer

art of freelance prospecting header

How would you approach freelancing and prospecting differently if you knew that the product or service you provide was secondary to your ability to find the right people to pay you for it?

Freelancers are essentially commission-only salespeople. You decide what you are going to sell, you set the rules, set the price, and even get to choose who you work with. The ability to qualify prospects and close on the right type of clients for your freelancing services is critical to the success of your business.

So, understand this: it takes more than technical skills or a sellable product to be a successful freelancer.

38% of independent workers identify themselves as freelancers.  — and Co

Over 57 million Americans do freelance work.  –Upwork

61% of freelancers specialize in 2 to 3 skills.  — and Co

Whether you’re a seasoned freelance warrior, escaping a 9 to 5 making money for someone else, or side-hustling you’re way to a mini-empire, growing an independent enterprise takes a lot more work than just completing client projects.

You can’t close someone who isn’t closeable. That’s why it’s essential to qualify your prospects first, and only spend your time on the ones who are most likely actually to become clients.

ALSO READ: Essential Entrepreneurial Skills Every Digital Marketer Should Know

Freelance Prospecting – Find Better Clients and Make More Money

Prospecting is the process of searching for potential freelance clients to develop new business. All those leads you gather from your website, popups, lead magnets, and social media become prospects if they show the potential to be clients you want to work with.

The idea of qualifying—deciding if a prospect is good enough for you—may be a foreign concept if you’re in the habit of taking whatever work comes along or assume that every prospect is a viable one. But, to grow your business, all prospecting efforts must go towards those qualified potential clients who understand the value of your services and are eager to pay well for the results you can produce.

The secret to closing deals with better clients is ushering them through a qualifying process to determine whether they’re clients you want to work with. Don’t feel bad about implementing a screening process similar to the one clients use when they are considering whether they want to work with you.

When you don’t qualify prospects, you put yourself in a desperate position: waiting to be chosen. Instead, look for circumstances that point to prospects who would make good clients:

  • Professional Mindset: They behave like professionals and don’t have mental obstacles to working with you because you’re a freelancer.
  • Pricing Awareness: They’re aware of your price range, and they can afford you.
  • Expectations: Both their expectations of your services and the timeframe are clear and realistic.
  • Influence: They have all the information to scope the work, and they are the decision-maker.

Those who make it through pre-qualification usually arrive at your gateway by sending an email or calling you to talk about a specific project or service. They may ask right away for a proposal or a meeting, but don’t agree to anything without putting them through your qualifying process.

Depending on the services you provide, you can and should be paid for the strategic thinking that goes into scoping out a project. A discovery call where you ask questions of the prospect to qualify them should not turn into an hour consultation where solve all their problems.

Once you’ve determined that a prospect may be a good fit, you can even charge a fee for an initial consultation. This is especially effective when the client doesn’t know what they need. Consider your time valuable in providing planning or consulting services on any project, and the prospect will as well. That perceived value gives more weight to the “free consultation” or any planning services the prospect receives while you are qualifying them.

Whether you call this part of the process a free consultation or preliminary diagnostic, the goal is to assess their qualifications to be a good client.

Perfecting the Prospecting Conversation

Well-managed prospecting calls deliver better clients who pay more. Every client engagement starts the initial prospecting conversation, and handling them like a pro sets the tone for your entire relationship.

First, there are a few things you must be clear on to perfect your prospecting conversations:

  • What projects most interest you?
  • What is your project minimum?
  • Are you niched by industry or service type?
  • How much income do you want to generate?

These questions help you define which clients and which projects you want to gain and why. Knowing your who and why allows you to lead prospecting conversations where you can clearly demonstrate your expertise and differentiate your services from all the others. The way you do that, and how you run prospecting conversations tells them you have the ability to run the show.

Prospects who make good clients are the ones that want someone who can make their life easier by taking the project over completely. If they trust you can do that, you become a much more valuable asset to them. Instead of being just another paid worker bee, you can be seen as a trusted advisor for their business.

ALSO READ: How to Write Digital Marketing Proposals – FREE TEMPLATE DOWNLOAD

Setting Expectations to Learn Objections

Let’s say you get a call or email that says, “Hey, saw your website! Sign me up for 12 months. Here’s my credit card number.” While that sounds awesome, you’ll still want to qualify that prospect to see if they would make a good client.

It’s more likely that prospects will have questions about what you actually do and how easy it is for them if they are at the stage where they are considering outsourcing a service. This is great because it gives you an opportunity to establish client expectations with a generalized overview of pricing, timing, client responsibilities, and results.

The prospecting conversation isn’t the time to share your origin story of how you started freelancing or give a lengthy summary of your process and all it’s moving parts. Keep it simple and provide the information prospects need to qualify or disqualify themselves.

For example:

When our clients give us access to their website and GMB accounts (client responsibilities), we’ve consistently seen them reach the top three of Google search results for keywords (results) as fast as four months in (timing) with the $600 monthly recurring SEO package (pricing).

If that all sounds good to the prospect, you can move on to the next stage with your future client. If they give you push back, then you can address their concerns or let them know that you aren’t able to provide them with what they want.

You can talk prospects through common objections and educate them on the process, but push back on your basic service set up should let you know a few things:

“I Don’t want to give anybody access to my Google accounts.”

You may need to spend unpaid time educating this prospect on your services and still not win the client.

“I want to be ranked number one for highly competitive keywords in two months.”

This prospect has unrealistic expectations and will cause problems when they are not met.

“That much? I know someone who will do this for half the price.”

They don’t value the service at your price point and which could be problematic for any business relationship.

The Secret to Successful Freelancer Prospecting

There’s no magic spell for this prospecting and sales stuff when you’re a freelancer. It’s really a question knowing what you want, knowing what you need, and then applying focus, persistence, and effort, every single day.

Go through the qualifying process with your prospects, and if they’re not ready, don’t be discouraged. Just get them into your marketing system so you can send them your newsletter. Connect with them on LinkedIn and follow them on Twitter. Automate the process of staying in touch, and you can stay top of mind when they are ready.

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Picture of Tom Gaddis

Tom Gaddis

Attended the School of Hard Knocks. A former restaurant manager in Oklahoma, Tom always wanted to be self-employed and free from the butt-smooching of the corporate world. He wanted success bad enough that he picked up his family, including two small children and moved to beautiful Maui, Hawaii. Starting from zero, Tom embarked on building a local marketing consulting business. And promptly fell on his face! It seems Hawaiians were lovely people, until you tried to sell them something! But he persevered and learned from his mistakes. Today he's arguably one of the most successful in his niche and expecting to grow over 100% this year alone.

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