“How do I get better, higher-paying clients?”
This is the chronic freelancer conundrum. And for good reason. When you freelance, your ability to land high-paying projects with great clients keeps your lights on and food on the table (and hopefully gives you some extra to enjoy your life). This is ultimately about because it concerns a freelancer’s ability to make a living independent of employment.
The problem is most freelancers approach getting new clients the wrong way. I can tell the problem is getting worse, not better (and I’ll explain why in a minute). In the meantime, consider this a little tough love.
Where’s the Hustle?
Let’s take a step back. Most freelancers have spent some time employed before they freelance. The problem is that, when it comes to compensation, employment makes us lazy. Why? Because when you’re employed, compensation is guaranteed.
How many times have you heard a fully-employed friend talk about how they probably only did two hours of real work the other day? What about the reality that employee who stays late and does the work of two people can get the same paycheck as someone who shows up on time and does the bare minimum.
As an employee, you can have an “off” day and you’ll still get paid. You can even call in sick, stay in bed watching a Bill Murray movie marathon, and you’ll still get paid.
This is a “perk” of employment. And it attaches itself to many new (and experienced) freelancers like a barnacle, because having a guaranteed paycheck sucks the hustle out of you.
If freelancers don’t revive that hustle when they go out on their own, they’ll struggle to make a living.
Place Your Bets
People start freelancing for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one I hear is flexibility. Maybe it’s the flexible schedule, the flexibility to pick your projects, or the flexibility to work wherever you want (as long as it has good Wifi).
But freelancers leave employment without making the “full transition” into freelancehood.
Becoming a freelancer is like becoming an adult—you can’t half-ass the process and think you’ll be successful out there. Opting to freelance comes with perks, yes. But it also demands something of you employment doesn’t. And you’d better be damn sure you’re ready to meet that demand if you want to make a real living.
If freelancing were easy, everyone would do it. (How many times has a new acquaintance discovered you freelance only to say, “Wow, that’s awesome! I wish I could do that.”)
The fact is most people can’t freelance because they aren’t willing to bet on themselves.
While a lot of freelancers pay lip service to wanting to build their business or get better clients, they’re not betting on themselves to make it happen. So, they wait for good clients to find them. And they make excuses for why it’s not working. This is why talented, skilled freelancers fail. They’re not willing to embrace their tenacity, self-belief, and hustle to take action.
As the freelance economy grows, I’d like to say that this is starting to shift. But it’s not. And this is demonstrated by the proliferation of freelance job sites that tip the scales in favor of the client. (If you don’t want to take that project for a ridiculously low fee, someone else will.)
The fact that freelancers are flocking to these sites because they don’t know how else to market their services proves just how much their hustle is MISSING. If you wanted to freelance a decade ago, these sites didn’t exist. Hustle was a requirement because you had nothing else to lean on. It was up to you to find the good clients, not wait on the good clients to find you.
To be clear, the mistake most freelancers are making is not that they’re using freelance job sites. It’s that they throw their hands in the air and say, “Yes, they suck, but I don’t know what else to do.”
Take initiative. Do your research. Get clear on what types of projects you want to work on. Then hop on that lightning-fast Wifi, find the clients you want to work for, and contact them. Try email, phone, or direct mail. Be professional. Be confident. Maybe they’ll have work for you, maybe they won’t…yet. Stay in touch. And most of all, stay relevant by communicating how you can help them solve their problems.
Like it or not, freelancing is a business. While freelance job sites can be one way to find clients, don’t let it be your only way. Get out of the passenger’s seat. Revive and unleash your hustle. Start by making some decisions about who you serve and what you help them accomplish. Then go out and find them.
If you want to be successful, it’s time to start betting on yourself.