The 3 Pillars for Landing Progressively Better Clients

Summary: In this week's training episode, I go over 3 key prospecting principles that changed my business

The legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, "Don't mistake activity for achievement."

That message has never been more relevant. We're so busy and overwhelmed these days, it's easy to confuse action with progress. Especially when it comes to prospecting for clients.

I see it all the time — freelancers who waste valuable time, money and energy going after poorly compiled lists of prospects. Or they take on whatever assignments or clients come their way. Or they'll resort to whatever client-attraction tactics sound good at the time.

Maybe they just heard from a colleague who had good success with a postcard campaign. So, they do a little bit of that. And when that doesn’t work, they start cold-calling a random list of prospects.

The following week they go to a few networking events without giving much thought to the types of people who might be there. (Yup, I've done all of the above!)

If you've been reading my stuff for a while, you know I'm all for taking action. But this haphazard and reactive approach to prospecting is not the best use of your limited resources as a solo professional.

When you're trying to improve your solo business, you need a sound marketing strategy And that strategy must be based on three essential pillars:

Pillar #1: Have absolute clarity about your ideal client

Pillar #2: Go after "hungrier” markets

Pillar #3: Implement proven and reliable marketing tactics that yield disproportionately high results.

Let's go through each of these in more detail...

Pillar #1: Write Your Ideal Client Profile

One of the secrets to having great clients, enjoying your work and earning a higher income is to get clear about the type of client best suited to you. Because once you know exactly who you’re looking for, everything else can fall into place.

For one, you’ll be able to build a targeted list of prospects that makes sense for you. And that increases your chances of success. It allows you to spend more time engaging with prospects who are a good fit and less time with those who are more trouble than they’re worth. You won’t waste time targeting clients who aren’t willing to pay what you’re worth.

You’ll also be able to do more fulfilling and enjoyable work while adding value to your clients. And you’ll earn more as you focus on your "sweet spot"—meaning the work you not only enjoy, but generates the most income per hour.

Finally, doing great work for clients who appreciate you almost always leads to more and better referrals.

But all this starts by being very clear about whom your ideal client is. This could be a person or organization you’ve already worked for, or a fictitious pie-in-the-sky persona.

Let me give you an example of one of my ideal client profiles.

My first ideal client is a medium-size-to-large software company. My primary contact has a significant amount of decision-making ability. She (or he) can make copy decisions on her own without resorting to a review committee. She also knows what she’s looking for, and she consistently communicates her needs and requirements. Furthermore, she values me as a key member of her team, so my fees are not an issue. She sees them for what they are: fair and reasonable, especially considering the unique perspective I bring to the table as an experienced marketer and sales professional (I spent 12 years in corporate sales). Finally, my ideal client has a steady stream of work for me. She doesn’t come to me with just a one-time need. Once she sees the quality of my work and the results I help produce, she continues to send work my way.

Notice the level of detail in this profile. The more detail, the better. Let’s go through some of the main elements in this profile.

  • Contact’s job title or position
  • Contact’s gender
  • Industry or industries
  • Size of company/organization
  • Important business attributes (e.g., company size, types of products/services sold, markets served, business performance)
  • Type of work/niche/specialization
  • Their view/opinion of using freelance professionals (how they think of you and the value you deliver)
  • Level of business sophistication
  • Price sensitivity
  • Type of projects they need help with
  • Amount of work they need help with (workload and frequency)
  • Level of involvement in their organization (i.e., how strategic or tactical a resource you are to them)

By the way, you don’t have to have just ONE ideal client profile. You could have two or three.

Pillar #2: Go After "Hungrier" Markets

Before you go too far with the ideal client profile exercise, think about where you're currently marketing your services and what other markets you should explore.

hungry marketsSpecifically, look for "hungrier" markets you could serve.

By "hungrier" markets I'm talking about markets would be willing to pay more for your services. In many cases, offering the same or similar services to other audiences can double or triple your freelance income. All without working any more hours than you are today.

Let me give you a couple examples so you can see how powerful this slight shift can be. I recently read an article in Forbes magazine about Pat Baird, a registered dietician who has worked on her own for 23 years. Rather than struggling in traditional dietician markets (with her nutritionist colleagues), Pat made a conscious decision a few years ago to position herself in hungrier markets.

The strategy worked. Today she earns a very nice living working for major healthcare and pharmaceutical companies and their PR agencies. Rather than providing traditional nutrition services, she does consulting work, writes white papers and web articles, makes speeches, produces TV segments and serves on advisory boards. She also teaches nutrition at an adjunct to two colleges. She’s thriving!

She’s done so well because she’s working in markets that are willing to pay higher fees for her knowledge and skills.

If you're a journalist struggling to land work with magazines and trade publications, how about going after case studies and white papers in industries or topics you find interesting? If you're a videographer, how about going after companies that want to save money on in-person training by producing high-quality video content instead?

No matter what your profession, there are probably other markets where you could apply your services with maybe just a few adjustments and get paid well. But to find them, you have to understand how companies prioritize their budgets.

Grab your free spot at IFD 2012

Where Are Budgets Shifting?

The trick to finding hungrier markets is identifying shifts in budgets and priorities. Where are your clients or prospects spending their time, attention and money? How do shifts in strategy and budget affect what you do and what you can offer?

Most clients prioritize their internal projects on a scale. Each specific project (whether it's a web redesign project, a new promo video, a translation project, etc.) is either:

  • Nice to have
  • Important
  • Urgent

When the economy is strong, people and organizations spend money in all three categories. But when conditions deteriorate, priorities change. Budgets become more focused on "Important" and "Urgent" items. "Nice to Have" projects are put on hold or scrapped altogether.

Bottom line: In a tough economy, freelancers simply CANNOT afford to go after projects that aren't considered "Urgent" or "Important" by their clients.

I came to this realization in 2008, when the economy really got bad. I began a concerted effort to go after projects directly tied to my client’s lead-generating activities — because budgets for these types of projects tend to remain strong even in tough times.

In addition, freelancers CANNOT afford to go after prospects that provide primarily “Nice to Have” services to their own customers.

Today, all of my clients sell products and services that tackle "Urgent" issues for their own customers and target markets. As a result, they’re relatively recession-proof — which in turn helps keep my business relatively recession-proof.

For instance, one of my clients helps their customers increase sales, reduce costs and minimize risk — all of which are urgent goals today.

Another one helps their customers reduce equipment theft and unnecessary equipment purchases.

Another helps their customers reduce the risk of losing millions of dollars and market share in the event of a product recall.

And yet another one helps their clients drastically reduce healthcare costs, as well as employee absenteeism and productivity.

All of these are either "Important" or "Urgent" priorities to my clients' customers.

Again, if you're going after clients that are still selling products and services in the "Nice to Have" category, you're going to have a hard time landing quality work at good fees, because those organizations are going to be too busy trying to figure out how to stay afloat in this environment.

Pillar #3: Develop a Systematic Way to Attract Better-Paying Clients

So far we've talked about identifying your ideal clients and going after hungrier markets. The third freelance marketing pillar is to develop a more systematic way to attract better-paying clients. And you do that by:

  1. Using proven and reliable marketing tactics that yield disproportionately high results when compared to the effort, time and money required to execute them.
  2. Getting into the habit of using these tactics by making your marketing efforts practical and doable.

One of the biggest reasons marketing efforts go nowhere is most freelancers don't have a systematic way of approaching their marketing. Most people use haphazard and reactive approaches to generating leads. These produce limited results with plenty of wasted effort and frustration.

The problem is there are too many CHOICES for marketing yourself! It's overwhelming. So most people do either nothing or they do a lot of something and then burn out.

What's needed is a framework for making smart decisions about where and how you spend your limited resources. That’s where the Marketing Effectiveness Matrix™ (MEM) comes in.

The MEM, which I cover in detail in my book The Wealthy Freelancer, classifies the most common marketing tactics by how effective they are and how much time they take to develop and execute. The MEM helps you make lead-generating decisions based on your specific goals and your unique situation.

As you can see, it’s divided into four quadrants:

Quadrant 1 contains lead generating tactics that tend to be highly effective and time-efficient.

Quadrant 2 contains tactics that are also very effective but require more time to develop and execute. Regardless of your goals, most of your efforts should revolve around these first two quadrants.

Quadrant 3 contains tactics that could work well, but you have to be very selective, as these tactics are often less effective than the tactics in the first two quadrants.

Finally, Quadrant 4 contains mostly wasteful tactics. They take too long to carry out. They also deliver questionable (or very little) value. Amazingly, many freelancers spend an inordinate amount of time in this quadrant. And this is where you end up when you start trying different tactics out of desperation. That’s why it’s important to have a sound freelance marketing plan. Otherwise it's easy to confuse “activity” with “effectiveness.”

Once you understand how these tactics are classified, you can use the MEM to make lead-generating decisions that work best for you and suit your goals, skills and personality. But try to stick to marketing tactics contained in Quadrants 1 or 2. These tactics will yield the best results for your time and effort.

And to make sure you actually implement these tactics and increase your chances of getting value from them, here's what I strongly recommend you do: pick two to four tactics only!

Out of your two to four strategies, make sure to pick at least one INBOUND tactic and one OUTBOUND tactic. INBOUND tactics attract prospects to you. These are things like blogging, article writing, some forms of networking, SEO and social media.

When done right, inbound tactics can generate a steady stream of high-quality inquiries. Which is great and all, but inbound tactics don't really give you control over who inquiries about your services. You're at the mercy of whatever's happening out there.

With OUTBOUND tactics you’re reaching out to prospects. For instance, direct mail, tapping your network and cold calling are all outbound tactics. You’re not waiting for prospects to come to you, you’re reaching out to them. Because you’re the one taking action, you have more control over it than inbound tactics. However, they do tend to take up more time and effort to execute than many forms of inbound marketing.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to both inbound and outbound tactics. Which is why it’s best to have a mix of both.

Set Aside Time Every Week

Finally, it's important to carve out time to implement your marketing system. Don't make the mistake of picking a series of tactics and then hoping you'll get them done. MAKE the time!

And the best way to ensure your marketing gets done is to schedule time for it. Treat your own marketing as an actual client project. In fact, it's a project for your most important client — you!

Also, keep in mind that not all of this time will be used for outbound strategies. Much of that time will be spent on creating marketing materials, campaigns and other internal elements of your marketing efforts. So when I say "spend X number of hours every week marketing," I'm NOT just talking about spending that time making cold calls or going to networking events.

At a minimum, commit to spending 10 percent of your workweek on marketing-related activities. Do that consistently and you'll quickly gain the critical mass you need to attract all the business you want.

What Did You Gain From This?

Our mission here at the Academy is to help you turn your inspiration into action... and to help you land more and better-paying clients that are a joy to work with.

I'd love to hear from you and how this information resonated. In the comments area below, tell me ONE specific insight you gained from this episode and how it will help you along your journey of business improvement.

Go ahead, don't be shy! We're all family here. 😉

  • 3 important principles Survey alter your business and you've wrung out of it. It's meaningful and valuable it can use a lot for your help.

  • Ruth Ann

    My favorite part of this post came at the end--spend 10% of your workweek marketing. That's a great guideline/goal that puts everything into focus. I'm just trying to get started, figuring out how to transition from a full-time job into freelance writing. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, but your book and other materials are helping me build confidence.

    • edgandia

      Great to hear that, Ruth! Thanks for letting me know. Yes, follow that rule of thumb and you'll dramatically reduce your chances of falling into that dangerous feast-or-famine cycle.

  • All of your comments are fine in a normal economy. In this country, the problem is finding clients that pay their bills on time. The largest companies are frequently the lousiest payers and chasing them takes up inordinate amounts of time, plus it makes you frustrated and depressed and less willing to provide very good services or run the extra mile.
    My problems in Spain (an unfriendly economy) are dealing with constant bartering and trying to get free work and late-paying or bad paying clients. This seems to take up inordinate amounts of time and renders a lot of business efforts useless. So, how do we deal with bartering for discounts? And how can we find clients who are serious about paying (aside from charging everything in advance)?

    • edgandia

      Leon - I would go elsewhere. I'm not saying it would be easy, but it has never been easier to find clients outside of one's country. There are many clients out there who don't really care where you live. What they care about is what you bring to the table and how that benefits them -- plus delivering all your work on time, every time (that alone is a big differentiator, believe it or not).

  • Ed,

    I love the MEM chart so much I'm going to take a screenshot and put it on my wall. I think it's a great tool for helping to focus on marketing efforts. Thanks for that...and the rest of the post; great!

    • Awesome!! Glad you liked it, Alex. 😉

  • These are some grest tips and they introduce me to perspectives that I never considered.
    I'm just beginning to go after commercial clients on a freelance basis after writing for online publishers
    for a while. This article came in at the perfect time.

    One thing that I will add is that I cant allow myself to think about how hard the economy is. I'd say its "the new economy" and it has simply corrected to a realistic level. Spending money using "unaffordable" credit is no longer a viable option for many companies so they are spending only where it matters to the bottom-line
    and shareholders' profits.

    All I need is a tiny peice of the pie. 😉

    Thank you for this article!

    • Thanks, Jarvis! Glad to hear this info was useful. Best of luck with your renewed efforts.

  • J

    Ed - you're thinking like a pro and forgot the raw beginnings! The "effective & efficient" quadrant? Well, sure, after you have networked long enough & consistently enough, you have a broad & deep network. It typically takes years to get there. HUGE investment of time (& often money) before you see real payoffs. Direct mail is costly, and if you have to build your own list, it is very time-consuming. "Existing Clients" - LOL! You need a batch of clients to begin with, then expand the work you do for the ones you've got.

    Gotta spend a lot of time (& often money) on Quadrant 2 before you have a chance to get to Quadrant 1.

    You might want to review your experience & expertise on "Starting From Scratch: How to Get a Paying Client Fast" when you're broke & clientless. Remember your 2008? How about way, way before even that?

    • Completely respect where you're coming from. I actually came up with the MEM when I was just getting started and had only 1 client. I had very little time to work my business because I was doing it part time while I held a full-time day job. So my intent was to come up with a way to organize these ideas for maximum impact. That way I could focus on the techniques that would yield the most benefit the fastest.

      The "network" part didn't come from building a network of potential clients. It came from reaching out to people I knew, even if they weren't potential clients. I had no contacts in the software industry (my target market as a copywriter), other than my employer at the time. So I had to start from scratch there. And the way I did it was to simply call up people I knew personally and professionally. I took them out to coffee and lunch and explained what I was trying to do on the side. Most of these conversations didn't lead to work. But one in particular led to 2 big clients over the next few months.

      My point is this: all of us have some sort of network. We just need to figure out how to tap it and how to communicate what we do in way that everyone can understand. Sure, some of our contacts may not be able to hire us, but some of their OWN contacts may.

      Regarding direct mail, the reason I put it in Quadrant One is that it's very time-efficient when you print and stuff letter at night. They then work for you during the day while you're doing other things. In terms of cost, I kept it simple, which kept my costs down to about $0.50 per letter.

      At the end of the day, you HAVE to spend money to promote yourself. There's no escaping that. You can trade some time, but time has an opportunity cost. The key is to find the tactics that yield the biggest impact for your time and money. The MEM, I think, does a good job grouping them.

  • For me, the best part of this piece (today, anyway) is the "nice to have/important/urgent" evaluation scale. It crystalizes some questions I've been thinking about as I try to find my strongest prospects. And it applies both to the types of business I should target, and to positioning myself as a valuable contributor to a prospect. I'm going to add this to my rating system in narrowing down my prospect list.


    • I agree. When I began to understand those differences, my prospecting improved dramatically -- because I was now approaching prospects that were much more receptive to my message. Why? Because they needed what I had to offer.

  • Ed:

    I am struggling with figuring out what is Nice, Important, and/or Urgent with my target audience. And, whether it resonates with my expertise. Not exactly clear how to ferret this out. Please remind me of what module I should refer back to if it is in one of them.

    Thanks in advance,

    • Hi Ronald -- It's different for every audience or market. But the bottom line is this: each of us can only have 3 - 7 things that we're continually thinking about. Top-of-mind stuff we think about on the way to work, while in the waiting room at the doctor's office, that sort of thing. Could be a mix of personal stuff (health, family issues, hobbies, etc.) or business stuff (getting more clients, problem with a current project, the upcoming tax payment, etc.). Studies have shown that our brain can't really handle more than 3 - 7 of these items of concern.

      So the question is, do your prospects sell products/services that their OWN customers consider important or urgent? In other words, products/services that address one of these 3 - 7 items.

      Does that help?

  • Ros

    Hi Ed, I am about to start looking for my first copywriting client, so this is a great tool to help structure my campaign. Thank you.

    • Awesome! Good luck with your prospecting efforts!

  • Jessie Nelson

    Hi Ed,
    Thanks so much for your help.
    The idea of a client profile really resonated with me.
    I especially noted the part about devoting myself to the clients most urgent needs.
    I am a medical translator and for years have translated very complicated medical material, and have been mostly underpaid.(another issue). However as I have aged I am more interested in life style and fitness
    material and am looking forward to approaching clients who handle this material as their priority.

    • Excellent way to look at it, Jessie! Glad this helped. All the best to you!

  • Ed, yes, dipping my toes in all kinds of social media ponds lately, without any kind of focus, is just pointless dilly-dallying. Not that you have to always be "Sell, sell, sell," but that there's a more intelligent structure to organizing marketing efforts more effectively, and you've laid it out.

    Thanks—your information is consistently solid and on-target.

    • Cool, thanks for letting me know, Tom!

  • Thanks Ed! I am in the process of refocusing my business and re-introducing myself to my existing network and new markets, so this entire article was extremely helpful. I think the most unique point that's got me thinking is Pillar #2. A lot of what I want to provide to clients falls into the "nice to have" category. Perhaps even really, really nice to have - but not easy to cost justify if things are tight. This was a great push to get me thinking about ways to reframe my offerings to meet more urgent needs, and also approach different markets who provide more urgent services themselves. Thank you!

  • Thanks Ed!

  • Hi Ed,
    I've been spending most of my time in quadrant 2 of the MEM, so it looks like I need to start utilizing quadrant 1 tactics. Thanks for the advice!

    • Keith - Quadrant 2 is a great quadrant to work with. Especially the items listed in the bottom half of that box.

  • Dana

    Ed -

    You always have the greatest advice - you're like a freelancing sage!

    The part that resonated most with me is identifying my ideal client. I'm about to lose the majority of my income in less than 80 days - my freelance contract with a Fortune 500 is ending. And all of my other clients are people I've worked with at other companies in the past, so it's a smorgasboard.

    I know exactly what type of person I like to work with, but I've never articulated it as well as you have and then intentionally sought that type of client. It inspires me to never pursue a client unless they can afford my fees!


  • Awesome! Thanks, Anna. Good to hear this came at just the right time. 😉

  • The MEM Chart is a great starting point for the beginning marketer of copywriting services. Springboarding off that with the three pillars enables you to start thinking strategically about how you are going to build a solid and stable client list. It's also encouraging to see the trials of an established expert - you - and how you overcame that adversity.

    • @writeheiney, Thanks for your comments!

  • This comes at a perfect time for me - I was just trying to figure out how to handle my flailing marketing efforts. I definitely need to focus, focus, focus. I have your book (which is AMAZING) and this was a great reminder.

    Thanks for giving us permission to only do two - four things - from what you read online, you feel like a ninny if you aren't doing EVERYTHING!


  • Thanks so much for this, Ed. your posts are always extremely helpful and this one is very welcome in these days of freelance uncertainty.

    • Fantastic! Thanks for the great feedback, Leoni.

  • Thanks for an insightful, helpful post, Ed. Coincidentally, I just lost my main client - who provided me with 80% of my income. (They brought their copywriting in-house.) This article will help me regroup!

    • Ouch!! Yes, that always hurts. But it can also lead to tremendous self-growth. Forces you to regroup and focus in ways you may not have done for a while. Wish you all the best in your efforts. You'll do great!

  • Ed:

    Your advice comes at a pertinent time for me. I'm in the process of delving deep into some new techniques to market myself using a highly targeted list I'm developing. And I just finished optimizing my website to make it more attractive for in-bound leads. Thanks for a timely reminder about keeping priorities and not slip-sliding back into bad habits!


    • Gina - Love to hear that timing was just right! That always makes my day. Good luck!

  • Wow! "Pillar #1: Have absolute clarity about your ideal client" is what I've been working on for the past couple of days. I received an invite to a webinar from someone regarding this topic. I rewrote my Home, About and Contact/Hire Me page so I attract my Ideal Client. It's still a work in progress, but I know my Ideal Client is one that understands the importance of investing in his/her company and understand the value I bring.

    I realized that I'm the type of freelancer who's extremely passionate about what I do and that I attracts all types of clients, including ones who don't fit what my Ideal Client is. I now have a system to 'weed out' those who aren't qualified to be my Ideal Client. I guess it's better late than never.

    BTW: I bookmarked this page so I can refer back to it.

    • @Amandah, It becomes a guiding light. You may never actually land the "ideal" client. But that's not the point. The point is to have that compass. To have that clarity. That way you can make better decisions as you talk with prospects. I know you get that. Just clarifying how I use my profiles. Thanks for the feedback. Always great to see you here. 😉

  • I just realized how silly my so-called marketing strategies are. Number three hit me hard. I think it's because I'm all over the place. I need to focus!!!

    Thanks Ed!

    • Good to hear that resonated with you, Glori. Thanks for letting me know!

  • Hi Ed, great post and so relevant too.. For me, the biggest takeaway is your MEM. I will be spending some time identifying the 2-4 tactics that would work best for my market and working them into my schedule.. I did have these in place but somewhere along the way, got distracted.. LOL.. Time to get back on track!

    • That's why I'm here -- to remind you of these things (I need reminding, too; so writing these episodes helps me just as much!). Thanks for your comment.