How to build a lead pipeline for your freelance business

You cover lots of roles in your business. One such role is that of the star salesman, so how can you make sure your lead pipeline remains full?

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Prospecting for new clients has to be the hardest part of building a business. When you’re building a freelance business, it often comes down to you to do the lead generation. So if you don’t consider yourself a natural salesperson, you may have to work on that! You may or may not be technically selling a product, but if you’re selling a service then really, you’re selling yourself.

So, you know that the product or service you have to offer is great, but how do you communicate that to prospective clients?

Note from Liam: This post comes from the awesome Tom Ewer, who knows a thing or two about generating leads for freelance businesses, he’s been able to build a six figure content production agency over at Leaving Work Behind, I’m delighted to have him on the team.

Although this article isn’t going to focus on how or where to prospect, it will show you an easier way to manage your lead pipeline. Hopefully, you’ll then be able to increase your conversion rates and decrease the time you spend marketing yourself.

Generating Leads

You know your business and potential client base better than anyone. Each of us finds leads in different ways. You might be cruising job boards, cold calling/emailing websites or contacts or asking for referrals from your existing clients. You could be doing all three.

The important thing is to figure out the method that works best for you and focus on it single-mindedly. The worst thing you can do is generate a bunch of leads and then do nothing with them. I’ve seen many people do this in different industries – professionals host a seminar or event, collect prospect information and head back to their office and stuff it in a drawer never to see the light of day again. Don’t be that guy (or girl)!

If you’re in the web design/development space a great option for a daily digest of new leads (hand-picked from all job boards and freelancer exchanges) is Robert Williams’ Workshop service. You can grab a few dollars off with this link. All helps, right?

You need to figure out who your customers really are and narrow down who you want to work for. This way you can ensure that your portfolio features customers who are targeted to that vision, and that your site and previous client roster is going to attract customers who value you.

I recommend building a criteria for your ideal A List client. Take this as an example:

  • Client must have credibility in their area of expertise.
  • The brand must be recognisable and established.
  • The brand must be connected and relevant to my vision.

If you would like to dig deeper into figuring out who your ideal customer is head over to the short books section and download A Blueprint for your next big move.

Creating a specific list of A List clients is rather simple – you should have a go right now. You’ll first need to profile Create an Excel spreadsheet or Google Doc, or make a handwritten list of prospects if you have to.

Know who you’re going to market to then continue to update, delete, add and make changes to it. This should be a list you work with almost every single day.

Pitching New Clients

When you have your list of leads, it’s time to start pitching. Again this could look different for everyone, but most freelancers do a lot of their business over email, indeed Liam won a $50k client without having ever met face to face recently

When you’re emailing a new lead, make sure you’re specific. If you’re responding to a job board ad, follow directions exactly. It’s okay to have a sample pitch that you use it over and over, but tweak it a little based on the job that you’re applying for. After all, it’s great to add a little flair or personality – you want to stand out from the crowd.

(Bonus tip: Use online proposal software like Bidsketch to make your proposals look far more professional than you feel! Hit this link to get 3 months free, a special Freelancelift discount.)

If you don’t have enough business right now, look at your calendar. How much time are you spending generating new leads? Do you have time blocked out each day or week to do this? If you’re not marketing, you’re likely not growing. Pencil in a time to start, immediately!

Ten Before 10

An old freelancer friend of mine had an effective strategy to getting more clients; she called it her “ten before 10” rule. It was simple enough: she pledged to contact ten clients before 10am, every single working day.

Of course, you can choose your own number and time, but the takeaway is that you need to be consistent. Start with a number and a time convenient to you, then do it every day until it’s a habit.

If you don’t know how many leads it takes you to convert a prospect into a client, you should start tracking. Make this process a science, or a personal case study. You can then figure out how many clients you need to hit your income goal. This is a great way to stay focused and grow your business.

Following Up

Following up is one of the most crucial parts of working a lead pipeline. A lot of folks think they’re done when they hit Send after writing a pitch email; that if they followed up with a prospect a second time it would look like harassment or stalking. The truth is, we’re all busy. Things fall by the wayside or through the cracks.

There might be one in ten clients that you offend by following up, but more than likely, many others will be happy that you checked in. The worse thing they are going to do is ignore you or tell you “No.”

Following up can be as easy as starting a new email folder. Another freelancer friend of mine has an Awaiting Reply email folder. Whenever someone responds to one of her pitches from a direct source (i.e. their own personal or company email address), she’ll thank them for their interest and respond to any additional requests for information.

While the prospect is weeding through applicants, she’ll place this email in her Awaiting Reply folder. This way she’s got an easy record of their communication to date and can follow up if she hasn’t heard anything within a week or so.

She also uses this method for clients too. If she’s waiting to hear back about any project details, she’ll have the latest email she sent in this folder. Every few days she’ll go through to see who she hasn’t heard back from yet, and then checks in with them and see if there’s anything she can do to move the project along. It helps her to stay organized and makes her look proactive to both clients and prospects.

Conclusion

In short, if you stop taking action after generating a lead, you fail. Meeting a prospect is just the first step. You then need to try to get an opportunity to pitch them (in person, over the phone or via email).

Pitching them isn’t the last step either. Be the proactive one and follow up if you haven’t heard anything for a while, make sure your web presence is ripe for conversion. Make it easy for them to tell you yes – or no. Either way, you have an answer and can move on to the next lead.

Do you have a lead pipeline? Do you currently use a similar method? Let us know in the comments section below!

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