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How to Identify and Attract Your Ideal Freelance Client

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the perfect clients always reaching out to you for work? It’s not only possible, but completely attainable for any freelancer. The key to attracting the right clients starts with understanding two things: what you offer and what your clients are really looking for.

It’s one thing to attract clients, but it’s a completely different thing to attract the right clients. The difficulty lies in identifying who they are.

Identify your ideal client

When I first started designing and building websites as a freelancer in 2008, I worked for anyone who was willing to pay me. Since I had very little experience, I didn’t think I was worth much to a client and I was happy they were willing to hire me at all.

As you might have guessed, this led me to work on projects for clients who didn’t understand the value of the work I was doing, asked for endless revisions, and wanted everything done at a discount. I slowly increased my rates and prices as I struggled through project after project.

Building websites was fun, but selling them to clients was not.

To identify your ideal client, start by listing the traits or characteristics of the person you would ideally want to work with. It’s not as hard as you might think. To me, an ideal client is smart, experienced (they have hired freelancers before), able to communicate effectively, understands the value of what I’m offering (they are business savvy and focused), willing to pay for my time and services, and have clear goals and objectives.

Make it a point to avoid clients who want to bargain with you. When I finally adopted the “take it or leave it“ policy, my business flourished.

When you’re trying to position yourself as a premium freelancer in a saturated market, remember that you shouldn’t compete with the overseas freelancers charging $5/hr. You aren’t just designing, coding, or writing. You are using those skills to solve real business problems for your clients.

An ideal client for me has been high-growth startups such as Uber or Square. They often have capital investment, a great new idea, a respect and focus on good design, and a team full of excited people. That works for me!

Know what your ideal client wants

Once you decide who your ideal client is, it’s time to identify what they need from you. What you’ll discover is that buried deep inside every project is a business problem. It’s your job to expose and solve that problem.

As a web designer, most of the project inquiries I receive start out with some variation of “my company needs a website redesign“. Here’s what I’ve learned: nobody wakes up one day and decides they want to spend thousands of dollars on a new website. Somewhere along the way, that person recognized a business problem and decided that a new website was the solution. It’s my job to expose the real problem.

So, instead of asking about how many pages and features they need, I start by qualifying my leads with these 5 “why“ questions:

  • Why do you want to start this project?
  • How is the current problem affecting your business?
  • What business goals are you trying to achieve?
  • Do you have a budget set aside for this project?
  • When would you like to get started?

Asking questions like this will immediately set you apart from other freelancers by letting your prospective clients know that you care about their business. It will also force them to confirm “why“ they need this project done in the first place. Your ideal client should be able to thoughtfully answer your qualifying questions with ease.

Attracting your ideal client

Once you know who your ideal client is and what they are really looking for, it’s time to make it easy for them to find you. Your clients and projects will be the foundation of your freelance business so you should minimize the energy you put into finding new ones. Your ideal client should find you.

Most freelancers focus on themselves and compete based on their level of experience. Their messaging, marketing, and conversation style magnifies their own qualifications which trains clients to hire the freelancer with the most experience, best clients, and most projects.

However, as I mentioned earlier, that’s not necessarily what your clients want. They want a solution to a business problem and the number of projects you’ve completed is not always indicative of that.

So, instead of focusing on your work, experience, and qualifications like most freelancers do, focus on the business value you can provide to your client because of that work and experience. It’s ok to show off your skills, but position yourself in a way that is beneficial to potential clients. This will help set you apart from the vast majority of freelancers in a market that’s more saturated than ever.

Last updated on April 18th, 2020

About Matt Olpinski
I've been freelancing since 2009 and have worked with over 100+ clients including some of the biggest brands in the world. I later started my own company Matthew’s Design Co. and now teaches 50,000+ freelancers each year how to succeed through his personal blog, newsletter, and community for freelancers.