The Short And Dirty Playbook To Finding Better-Paying Freelance Clients

If you want to move up in the client ranks, here’s a step by step approach that might work

There’s a client for every freelancer. But most also want them to get progressively better over time. Photo by Pille Kirsi from Pexels

There’s no magic formula for freelancing success — whatever you freelance in. Although that certainly doesn’t seem to keep people asking for it (disclosure: I’ve totally been there).

Nevertheless, over the course of the past 5 years, I’ve figured out a few strategies that seem to work for moving ahead with the whole process of it.

If you’re finding that you’re attracting the wrong type of clients — or simply ones that don’t see or appreciate your value or haggle with you over pennies— then you may want to think about making tweaks to improve how you run your business.

A couple of things to get out of the way first:

Firstly, the ladder I’m about to describe might strike some as Machiavellian. If you feel it that way, I’d encourage you to see it instead as charting out that natural path of forward evolution that many freelancers move through over years doing this. I believe that everybody should be able to capture their market value — including myself.

There’s also no need to feel sorry for doing whatever it takes to grow your income. If you’re anything like most people, your financial needs may be growing as you accrue responsibilities.

Working for less than you know you’re worth is also vaguely soul destroying — trust me I know all about this — and there’s a lot to be said for the boost in self-esteem that comes from changing that dynamic irrespective of your current financial position.

I don’t ditch getting rid of clients the moment you’ve found someone who pays better. That would be a short-sighted approach. Something I’ve found over time is that you can’t put a price on clients who are pleasant to work with and treat you with respect. Nevertheless, over the long haul, you’ll probably want to be advancing your income and client base in a direction that feels like it’s moving upwards.

This is an approach that seems to work:

The Process

1: Establish An Inbound Lead Pipeline

I’ve talked an awful lot on Medium about the immense importance of inbound marketing. I’ve affirmed the belief that for small businesses and freelancers, it’s particularly valuable.

The first step in this process is actually setting up some kind of a funnel that consistently delivers leads into your pipeline. This could also take the form of a referral network. What matters is that this should be something that you can depend on to deliver leads at a pace that can afford you enough room to shake things up.

2 : Get Fully Booked Or Close To It

The next step is to get fully booked or close to it.

That means taking on just about as much work as you can handle without taking on too much so that you have to either find an outsourcing partner in a hurry or else do a less than stellar job for your current clients.

3: Learn How To Ask Your Value From Prospects

Now, we’ve layed the foundations in place to make this work. Obviously this whole process is incredibly simplified. Setting up that pipeline could take years. You might also spend years honing your skills so that you’re truly great at what you’re selling.

But now that we’ve reached this point, we’re at liberty to say ‘no thanks’ to however many prospective clients we deem necessary.

Remember, you have a pipeline in place so they should still be coming in. But right now you don’t need to take on more work/projects in order to keep the mortgage/rent paid.

What we’re doing here is attempting to exploit this situation in order to get your comfortable with asking your value. Because doing that involves as much confidence as it does knowing how to send a sales proposal.

Please note: I’m not encouraging anybody to keep high-balling until enough people say ‘yes’. That’s kind of scammy. What I’m suggesting instead is that anybody who knows that their rates aren’t where they should be — or that they’re working for companies who don’t value them enough — do this to get from point A to point B.

Note 2: I don’t like the idea of setting up an inbound pipeline solely to tell a bunch of people that you don’t want to work with them. Keep your eyes and mind open to the idea and hope that something good will come along. Consider keeping a little bit of capacity in your schedule to make room for something that could grow into something amazing.

The crude way to describe what to do here is ‘cutting from the bottom.’ Again, it sounds a bit blunt but this might be what you have to do. Unless you’re madly enamored about the people you’re working for or passionate about the work that you’re doing, many freelancers will ultimately chose whatever option makes it easiest for them to put food on the table.

How This Should Work

Freelancing being freelancing, projects tend to wrap up. Often for reasons that are entirely beyond your control. If you want to know what some of those are, check out my previous post below.

In other words, in the world of freelancing, some level of churn is inevitable. This is another fact that can be leveraged. People pick up freelancers partially because they can pick them up and put them down.

When you’re in the learning phase, above, you’ll find yourself saying ‘no, thanks’ plenty of times. Perhaps a client wants to low-ball your (existing) rate before you even kick off a project. Or else you just get all sorts of negative signals. But eventually you’ll find yourself saying ‘that sounds great.’

What you should eventually achieve is that your existing client base slowly upgrades so that you can develop a referral network from higher tier clients at the next level on the ladder. True, this might mean working on some less than optimal projects in the short term. But this should also keep things moving forward.

A belief I’ve often heard articulated is that there’s a client for every freelancer.

Freelancers evolve and as they do the type of clients they’re best suited to working with do so in tandem.

Setting up a solid inbound pipeline isn’t just a great way to take some of the pressure off your sales and marketing.

It can also open up the door to working with the type of client you aspire to work with.

At a rate that makes sense to you.

Daytime: tech-focused MarCom. Night-time: somewhat regular musings here. Or the other way round. Likes: Linux, tech, beer.