Do You Want Better Clients? Do What Chad Birt Did
When Chad Birt started freelancing in 2015, he didn’t know much about getting better clients. So he used freelance job sites like flexjobs.com, freelancewriting.com, and Blogging pro, along with Craigslist. “I quickly started to realize that most of the gigs I was getting required lots of time and effort for very little compensation,” says the B2B and B2C medical information technology and finance writer (B2B means business to business and B2C means business to consumer).
Low-Paying Freelance Jobs
Freelance job sites suck. As Chad found out, most of the freelance jobs are low paying, and the competition is stiff. “Every job you apply for you’re competing with hundreds and maybe even thousands of other writers,” he says. “I could submit dozens of applications, but often wouldn’t hear back. Or if I did, the work and pay weren’t commensurate.” Chad wanted to work with better clients who would pay him well.
Low-paying freelance work is very common for freelancers who use freelance job sites. 72% of freelancers said that being fairly paid was a key challenge, according to the Freelancing in America 2019 survey. Conducted by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, most of the freelancers who took the survey use Upwork—the giant of freelance job sites—to look for freelance jobs.
Also, freelance job sites take part of your fee for every job you do. Over 25 years of freelancing, you could lose more than $100,00 in income.
Lack of Confidence Blocks Action
If he wanted better clients, then Chad knew he needed to do something else. But like many freelancers, Chad was short on confidence. “Why would a client choose me over another writer? Sure, I have some experience, but compared to other writers, it’s only a drop in the bucket,” he says.
So Chad worked with his two steady clients and hoped that this would be enough. Then he lost one of those clients. “I realized that the only way to survive was to constantly be putting out lines,” he says.
When Chad started his freelance business, his wife Ella had encouraged him to try direct email. But for the first few years, Chad lacked the confidence to do this. He feared rejection. Losing a big client made Chad desperate enough to try direct email.
Attract Better Clients with Direct Email
And in a few months, using direct email Chad got three new and better clients and four more clients who were interested in his services. Two of those interested clients have since hired Chad.
Direct email is writing a customized email for each client that focuses on helping that client meet his/her needs. It’s not email marketing, where you send everyone the same generic email.
The focus of direct email is on helping prospective clients solve their problems, not trying to sell your services.
And direct email lets you choose the high-paying clients you want to work with (that is, better clients), instead of using freelance job sites or taking whatever work comes along.
“Direct email provides an in to start a conversation,” says Chad. “At the end of the day, the worst thing that can happen is no response or a response that the client isn’t interested.“
A direct email campaign is a 3-step process:
- Develop your prospect list(s)
- Send the direct emails
- Follow up.
Learn more about direct email
Choose Better Clients
It’s easier to do a direct email campaign if you target one or a few types of clients. Chad focused his prospect list on care coordination software companies. He found these companies through online research. Chad then researched each company to learn more about its needs and to find the right contact person for the direct email. In Chad’s work, the contact person is a marketing director or marketing manager. (The right title for the contact person varies a little, depending on the type of work you do.) Using an extension for Google Chrome called Hunter.io, Chad was able to access employees’ contact information for free and get the email addresses for his contacts.
Chad wrote customized direct emails to each potential client. One client hired him right away. This is unusual, but it does happen.
“I think my timing was perfect,” says Chad. “They needed someone to write a series of blogs on genetics testing. I didn’t have any experience on the topic, but I thought I could do some research and make it work.” So he did, and those two blogs turned into steady freelance work for this client.
Follow-Up to Get Even More Better Clients
Get more better clients by following up with:
- Prospects who didn’t respond to your original direct email
- Prospects who did respond but don’t need freelance help right now.
Most positive responses to direct email come from the follow-up emails. That’s why it’s critical to follow up with all prospects who don’t respond to your first direct email.
Chad uses a spreadsheet to track responses to his direct emails. That’s the easiest way to do this.
Follow up with prospects who haven’t responded to your initial email about a week later. Send a short, polite email with your original email forwarded below that. [Did you get any clients or responses that clients were interested in you but didn’t need help now from follow up emails? If so, how many responses did you get?]
Stay in Touch with Interested Clients
Up to 90% of the time, clients aren’t ready to hire a freelancer when you first contact them. But they’re likely to need freelance help within anywhere from few months to a year or so.
That’s what happened to Chad. Four clients were interested in Chad’s services, but didn’t need freelance help right away. Two of those clients hired him within a few months, after he followed up. It’s easy to follow up professionally and without “selling yourself.” He continues to follow up with the other two clients.
Learn more about follow up
Specialize to Get Better Clients
Having a strong specialty is important, because clients want to work with freelancers with expertise in the type of freelance work they need help with.
Researching freelance writing markets and clients for direct email helped Chad narrow down his specialty and attract more of his ideal clients. While Chad chose his specialty “kind of by accident,” he was actively looking for a strong specialty.
“I knew I wanted to be able to make a living writing and I wanted lots of opportunities, so I started researching medical writing. However, I’m not very science savvy and don’t have a medical degree,” he says. “I landed a freelance job creating social media content for some doctors, dentists, and chiropractors. That got my foot in the door and allowed me to familiarize myself with certain terms and topics.”
Like many freelancers’ Chad’s specialty evolved over time. As he did more research, he realized that most medical organizations use software, which he understands and likes to write about. Now he focuses mostly on clients who sell community care coordination software, which helps medical providers and social services entities share data and information with one another. Chad also does some freelance writing in finance and some social media management for a few small business clients.
A strong specialty like Chad’s offers freelancers lots of opportunities now and in the future. Also, a strong specialty has high-paying clients and makes it easy for you to find and reach those clients.
Chad specializes by industry, the most common type of freelance specialization. Also, it’s the easiest way to find prospects and build your expertise.
Learn more about specializing
Get Better Clients by Never Giving Up
Before, when freelance work was slow Chad was “overwhelmed with worries.” Now that he knows how to get the clients he deserves, Chad sees downtime differently. “Downtime presents an opportunity to reach out to potential clients. Even if I’m not getting paid for direct email, eventually, it will pay dividends,” he says.
“Be persistent and never give up. If you’re polite, easy to work with, and turn your assignments in on time, you’re already ahead of the crowd,” says Chad.