Don’t assume that making a living from your passion means all of your revenue must come from one source. Just because client work alone may not generate enough to pay your bills doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. From the outside, it may appear as though other freelancers and entrepreneurs make their living from a single source, but even if some of them do now, they likely didn’t start that way.
How do you know you’re ready to make money? When people are willing to hire you based on work you’ve done. If people are asking to pay you money, you’re ready to make money!
Build Your Portfolio Through Personal Projects
But what do you do if people aren’t asking to pay you? You need to consistently create new work and begin displaying that work in a public portfolio. Of course, that’s a challenge when you don’t have clients lining up to hire you. There are two kinds of work you can do when you don’t have any paying clients:
- Personal projects
- Pro bono projects
Let’s say you’re an artist. A personal project might look like drawing a custom illustration for every letter of the alphabet. Sharing a new piece every day for a month is a great way to attract attention. When someone sees a random piece in the middle of your series, they’ll be inclined to go back and view what you’ve done before. When you’re finished, you’ll have an impressive collection. You weren’t paid to do this, but the exercise gets your work out there in a way that showcases your skills and expertise.
If you’re a developer, a personal project might look like coding a piece of software that solves a problem for you. This might be a personal project you didn’t get paid for, but now your problem is solved, and you also have a finished product that demonstrates your abilities.
In both cases, you’ve created a portfolio item. Write about why and how you created the project and what problems you solved. Potential clients will be able to envision themselves in your past projects. This is especially true if you write a case study about the project. Don’t just put up the final project and call it done. Show your process and explain the decisions you made along the way in writing. This boosts the confidence a potential client will have in you and your work.
Different people will have different entrance points to discovering you and your work. Some people will hear about your project for the first time by coming across the finished product. Others will come across it by reading your case study. Still others may discover you from a piece of the process you shared. In addition to writing, you might even make a video about the project. The more entrance points you can create, the better for your discovery.
Take the time to write down your process. If your process isn’t written down, you don’t have a process. The case studies you write for your personal projects are a great starting point for creating your own process. Every project should follow a process. Whether it’s a personal, pro bono, or paid project, you should follow a process. You can do that only if it’s written down.
Build Your Portfolio Through Pro Bono Projects
The other kind of work you can do to demonstrate your abilities is pro bono work. Pro bono is another way of saying “done for free,” but there’s a significant detail that makes it different from just saying “free.” Pro bono work acknowledges the full value of the work you’re doing.
Let’s say you’re a web designer and you decide to do a pro bono project for a nonprofit organization. On the proposal you send, you’re going to outline the typical details of the project. List all the work that will be done, your responsibilities, the responsibilities of the client, your process, the completion date, and the project terms.
On your proposal, indicate the full value of the project. While this project is pro bono, or “done for free,” if the job you’re doing is worth $10,000 had it been a paying client, you should indicate that on the proposal. Simply add a line item describing the work and put $10,000 as the amount. Then, create a second line item called pro bono with -$10,000 as the amount, so the total is zero. This way, even though the client is getting the work for free, they will see the full value of the work. Not only that, but when you do a pro bono project for someone, you still typically charge tax based on the full value of the project. This fact really drives home their acknowledgment of the full value.
Doing pro bono projects is excellent practice for you to bring the client through your professional process. Going through the process with a client not only gives you practice but also provides the material you’ll need to write a case study on the project. The more case studies you have, the higher the chance a prospective client will feel confident enough to hire you. Seeing your track record will promote trust and lead to new work.
When you write a case study for a pro bono project, there’s no need to talk about pricing. The fact that the $10,000 worth of work you did for this organization was done under a pro bono arrangement is not relevant to your case study. The only purpose of the case study is to demonstrate the problems you solved and the goals you helped the client reach. Show your process, explain your decisions, and highlight the ways in which you made the client successful. This story will attract future clients. The more case studies you have, the higher the chance a prospective client will find and connect with a story they can see themselves in.
Lastly, this pro bono client is going to provide excellent word-of-mouth referrals. They just went through your professional process and acknowledged the full value of what your services are worth. They will vouch for your services to any person they refer to you. If they know the full project was valued at $10,000, they’re going to refer only people who can pay something similar to that amount. This is something you don’t get when you discount your services. If you discount the job for $10,000 to $7,000, it will be valued by the client at only $7,000. Giving someone a gift or doing work pro bono is giving them something of full value at no cost. Unlike with discounts, the recipient of the gift values the work at its full amount.
The reason you’re able to do pro bono work projects is that you already have your bills covered with a day job. You’re not in a scarcity mindset, and you’re not desperate to take on any work you can get or to devalue it by discounting. You have the freedom to take on only clients who fit your process. These clients will give you the fuel you need to produce great case studies, which will attract the right kind of clients, who will pay you your full value.
Don’t Chase; Attract
Continue to build up your body of work. You now have personal projects in your portfolio as well as excellent case studies that demonstrate your expertise. The idea is to build up a body of work that speaks for itself. People are going to hire you based on your track record. Show people what you can do. Having a portfolio makes all the difference in the world because you now have a body of work that attracts clients to you as opposed to you chasing clients.
Don’t chase clients; attract them. This is absolutely key in getting the kind of clients you want. When a client approaches you (instead of you approaching them), they’re the ones in a deferential position. They’re more willing to come under your process. When you’re chasing them or cold-calling them, you look desperate.
We’ll be talking more about the Rule of Reciprocity in a later chapter, but know that you should never start a relationship with an ask. When you’re chasing clients or cold-calling, you’re effectively asking them for the favor of being your client. You’re coming to them with an ask, which puts you in debt to them. The Rule of Reciprocity is an intrinsic human principle: when someone does you a favor or gives you a gift, you will feel as though you owe them.
A client you approach with an ask will be inclined to fight you on your process or ask for additional free work from you because you essentially owe them for doing you the favor of becoming your client. You’ve just set yourself up for professional failure, and you will feel a strong obligation to satisfy their demands, even if it goes against your process, what is best for the project, or what may be in their best interests—all because of your sense of indebtedness.
When you display your work and expertise to attract clients to you, they do the approaching. They’re the ones asking for permission to work with you. When they approach you, it sets the relationship off on the right foot.
Be a Pro
If you chase clients, you will not be able to do professional work. For the purposes of this book, a professional is one who solves problems, and a technician is one who performs tasks as told.
A professional is someone who helps a client achieve the desired results by learning what the problem is and taking on the responsibility of solving that problem in the best way possible. This may involve telling a client “No” if a request is not in their best interests. A professional is an investment. They’re an asset.
A technician is someone who does a job. They perform tasks as told and make changes as instructed. They may end up solving problems, but this is only a potential by-product of following commands. They never tell a client “No” because their client’s best interest is not their responsibility. A technician is an expense. They’re a commodity.
To do professional work, you need to have full control over the process. A client you chase will believe you owe them and feel justified in telling you what to do, how to work, or what to charge. This will result in compromising your professional process.
When you chase a client, you’re starting the relationship off with asking rather than giving. Immediately, you’ve already violated the Rule of Reciprocity. To prevent that:
- Do not pitch clients.
- Do not cold-call clients.
- Do not cold-email clients.
- Do not solicit work from clients.
- Do not talk a client into giving you work.
Literally every book and resource I’ve come across about gaining clients recommend that you do one of these things. Every single one of them violates the Rule of Reciprocity, and most people I know do all of the above. Is it any wonder that they continue to end up with terrible clients or feel like they’re always searching for work?
Why do people chase clients? Desperation. Their scarcity mindset rears its ugly head yet again. You know what good clients can smell a mile away? Desperation. It’s a terrible stench, and it’s unattractive.
Don’t Compete on Price
One of the biggest advantages to attracting clients is that it makes you immune to competition. When you chase clients, you open yourself to comparison with others. Potential clients will compare you with others, but not on the merit of your work, the strength of your character, or your ability to help them succeed. Instead, they will compare prices. This is the last thing you want. You are now in a pool of people begging for the attention, and the only way to stand out is through your pricing. Potential clients who do this are focused on the wrong things. They see you and your peers as commodities and expenses.
If there is a specific client you want to work with, don’t ask them for work. Instead, provide some value for free with no strings attached. Go out of your way to offer them value. Show initiative and provide some free advice or consultation. Demonstrate the quality of your work. When they’re aware of you and see that you care, they’re going to think of you first when they’re ready to move forward on a project.
If you truly want this client, repeat this process to stay on their radar. Provide value again and again and again. Never ask for anything. This will keep you at the forefront of their minds. Once is not enough. Play the long game and provide so much value that you’re the obvious person to go to when they have a project. This is completely different from chasing clients. You’re building up so much goodwill that when they do come to you, they’ll consider it an honor to work with you.
Clients who come to you already have a level of trust. There is a base level of respect in you and your process that will allow you to do your best work.
You never want the client to feel like they’re doing you a favor. You want clients who are seeking out the best solution to their problem and the best way to achieve their goals. When you practice this kind of selectivity, the clients who come to you are never looking for the cheapest or quickest fix. They are the clients who care.
Filter Every Client
The first step for a client who approaches you is to fill out a questionnaire. Your questionnaire should have every question you need answered by your client so you can do your work. Require that all prospective clients fill it out. Your questionnaire should gather information about the client’s business, what makes them unique, why they chose you specifically, what goals they have, who their target audience is, and anything else you’ll need for the project.
If a client contacts you directly, kindly point them to your questionnaire. Say, “Thanks very much for your interest. I’d love to hear more about your project. Please fill out this questionnaire so I can learn more about your goals and how I can best serve you.”
Your questionnaire serves two purposes:
- It helps you gather the information you need to do your work.
- It helps you filter out the wrong clients.
The purpose of a filter is to keep the bad out and let only the good in. A loose filter doesn’t keep much out. No filter means you’re inviting all the junk in. Spam filters keep our inboxes free of viruses and pharmaceutical ads. Pool filters keep our water clear. Air filters keep our air clean. Filters are a good thing, yet so many businesses operate without a filter! What does a filter look like when it comes to clients? A questionnaire.
Require every one of your potential clients to fill out your questionnaire. There’s no project or initial discussion without filling out this entire form. The purpose of a questionnaire is to save you time and let only the good clients in. If you don’t have a questionnaire, you’re operating without a filter. You must get a questionnaire in place because you’ll need to filter out bad clients.
“But that’s scary!” you may think. “What if it keeps clients out and prevents them from talking to me?” No, scary is letting those clients in! If your questionnaire filters them out, they’re not people you want to talk to. You can’t convert the wrong client into the right client. You must remember this. You do not want bad clients to contact you. You should not be spending any time trying to convert the wrong clients. All your energy needs to be spent on attracting the right clients.
The purpose of a questionnaire is to find clients with red flags so you can immediately discard them. When you find that a client isn’t a good fit, your goal isn’t to try to find ways to qualify them. Do not waste time or energy trying to turn bad fits into good clients. The instant you encounter a red flag, say “No,” and move on. The questionnaire is doing its filtering job.
Red flags with clients are like roaches. If you see one, there are fifty you don’t see. Don’t ignore red flags. Clients who try to change your process, talk you down on your price, ask you to work for free, or exhibit signs that they’re looking for a technician rather than a professional are all red flags. This is not a comprehensive list but should give you a good idea of what to watch out for. Again, any one red flag means you pass on the client. There are almost certainly many others you don’t see. It’s difficult to say “No” at first, but you will get better at it the more you practice.
You cannot fix red flags. It is not your place, responsibility, or job to try to change the way your clients behave or do business. Your audience, your potential client base, is bigger than you think. There are more than seven billion people on the planet. If you only target 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent of them, there are still many thousands of people in your audience. Don’t be afraid to say “No,” and don’t worry about fixing any of them.
Pricing is a complicated art. Most people trade time for money. They place an arbitrary value on their time and charge according to the amount of time it takes to complete a job. This is known as hourly pricing. Hourly pricing means charging a set amount per hour worked. The rate might vary depending on the task being performed, or it might be fixed. Flat-rate pricing is when either a specific type of work or an individual project is assigned a specific price.
Both hourly pricing and flat-rate pricing are based on either the going rate in your industry, the competition’s prices, or your base time and material costs plus an arbitrary profit margin. They do not reflect your reality or your client’s reality. They do not reflect the quality of your work or the value your work provides to your client.
Value-Based Pricing is a method of pricing where the client determines the price. This may sound strange at first, but the value of your work is not the same for every client. When pricing is not based on the value your work is going to deliver to your client, you end up charging too little or too much. It’s all but impossible to charge the correct amount with traditional pricing models.
Value-Based Pricing is always relative to the value you create for your client. Your price is only a fraction of the value your client gets, which makes it a win-win for everyone, every time. Using Value-Based Pricing means the only cap on your revenue is the amount of value you can deliver. As the quality of your work improves, you make more money. As you become more efficient, you make more money—without needing to increase your workload! This happens automatically. No arbitrary rate adjustments are needed.
Value-Based Pricing is the only objective, logical way to price. A value-based price is calculated using real-world factors and math—nothing is arbitrary. The price you quote is always a fraction of the value the client receives. Not only that, but the client is the one who defines this value in the first place, so there can be no argument about the fairness of your price. It’s a foregone conclusion.
I spent two years developing a comprehensive system for doing client work at ValueBasedPricing.com. There’s enough content inside that pricing course to fill a book and then some. It also includes three custom-developed tools to help you accurately calculate a value-based price every single time.
How confident are you with your pricing? Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten with each of these questions:
- How confident are you that your client will say “Yes” to your price?
- How confident are you that the client will accept your price as a no-brainer?
- How confident are you that the price is extremely fair to them?
- How confident are you that the price is extremely fair to you?
- How confident are you that you’re getting very well compensated?
If you gave yourself a score of anything less than a ten on every single one of these questions, there’s a problem. The Value-Based Pricing system guarantees that you will score a ten on every single item above.
Get Paid First
While a comprehensive deep-dive on pricing methodology is outside the scope of this book, there’s one important rule to remember: always get paid up front.
Don’t do work without getting paid. There are no exceptions to this rule. You get paid, and then you do work. If there is no pay, there is no work. Work does not begin before the contract is signed. Work does not even begin when the contract is signed. Work begins only when the contract is signed and you’ve been paid.
Just like you get paid before you do work, you also get paid before you deliver any work. Do not deliver work until you’ve been paid in full for the project. Here’s the order:
Always get paid first and always get paid at least 50 percent up front before starting client work. Always get paid the remainder before sending deliverables. Do not start work without getting paid. Do not send the final product before getting paid in full.
These payment terms need to be outlined in your contract. Having the terms in the contract alone is not enough. You must also explain the terms clearly to your client in person before they sign. If you’re not able to go over the terms in person, walk your client through them while you’re on a call. All these terms should come as no surprise to your client. Go through everything with them beforehand. Never surprise your client. They should always know what to expect, and you’re the one who sets the expectations—because they approached you, and not vice versa.
- How do you know you’re ready to make money? When people are willing to hire you based on work you’ve done. If people are asking to pay you money, you’re ready to make money!
- What do you do if people aren’t asking to pay you? You need to consistently create new work and begin displaying that work in a public portfolio.
- When you chase or cold-call clients, you look desperate. Don’t chase clients; attract them.
- A professional solves problems. A technician performs tasks as told.
- Red flags with clients are like roaches. If you see one, there are fifty you don’t see. Don’t ignore red flags.
- Don’t do work without getting paid. There are no exceptions to this rule. You get paid, and then you do work.
- Do not deliver work until you’ve been paid in full for the project.