Finding the right clients can be a struggle for freelancers, but it’s worth it. Here’s how to find clients you actually want to work with.
Clients. We all want them. We all need them. But we don’t always love them.
Sometimes it’s the work itself, sometimes it’s a personality difference, sometimes it’s simply communication difficulties. But whatever the reason, when you’re someone who works for a variety of clients, you often have a variety of experiences – and not all of them will be good.
But then you find those that are an absolute pleasure to work with. These are the people and businesses whose energy resonates with yours, whose purpose aligns with your own values and whose work engages and even inspires you. When you find clients like this, work becomes a joy (or at least, not a slog) and you leave at the end of the day motivated to be better.
Why it’s important to find the right clients
Of course, at the end of the day, we’re business people. Much of the time, we’re simply happy to have clients. But while generating business is certainly the main goal, the wrong clients can actually be bad for business, while the right clients are great for great.
Think of it this way, good clients – clients that are happy with you and that you are happy with in return – are generally satisfied clients. And satisfied clients are essential to your continuous success. Satisfied clients sing your praises, refer you to others and come back to you time and time again. Satisfied clients are the bedrock of your business.
On the other hand, the wrong kinds of clients can very quickly turn to dissatisfied clients. These are clients who aren’t satisfied with your work for one reason or another. Perhaps you aren’t the right person for their job, or maybe they’re committed to failure. Regardless of the reason or where fault lies, a dissatisfied client is bad for simply bad for business.
How to find the right clients
Late last year, Jolene Elliott and Theresa Sapatra, who own and run TJ Accounting Consultants, engaged me to work on a revamp of their website, including some SEO work. This was a pretty typical request and from the outside, Jolene and Theresa seemed like pretty typical clients. Many of my clients are professionals who are looking to update their business copy.
But Jolene and Theresa turned out to be just the ‘right’ clients for me. First, they are so much more than just accountants. Jolene is a proud Aboriginal woman, a descendant of the Yugunga-Nya people. Jolene is unique because though there are more than 200,000 qualified accountants in Australia, less than 60 are Indigenous. And even less of those are women. Jolene has followed in the footsteps of generations of strong Indigenous women and today is working to raise awareness of Indigenous business issues within Australia.
Theresa is also fighting on the side of diversity and inclusion. As a member of the LGBTQI community, for her inclusion is more than just a talking point. Theresa is working to represent the underrepresented and create change in the professional world from the inside. When they met in 2016, they were both becoming increasingly unhappy in roles that used outdated methods and made their employees feel undervalued, and with companies that spoke a lot about diversity and inclusion, but rarely put anything actionable into place. They knew that together they could do better.
Today, Theresa and Jolene are such incredible proponents of diversity and inclusion in a modern, forward-thinking accounting firm that they were interviewed by the Australian Financial Review as part of their Top 100 Accounting Firms series. In the article, AFR named TJ Accounting Consultants, ‘the most diverse emerging accounting practice in Australia’.
Of course, they are impressive women. But more than that, they are thoughtful, caring, funny and smart. They support each other without question, especially as Theresa has just recently married her lovely wife Sara, and Jolene soon after had her first child (adorable Elijah). Yes, they are award-winning Indigenous business owners, and members of the LGBTQI community, and they are women who are working to change the world. But they were also simply a pleasure to work with.
Working with Theresa and Jolene inspired and energised my own life… and my own work. When I sat down to draft copy for their website, or when I chatted with them via Zoom, I felt motivated to do more for my community, to open myself up more to my tribe. I wanted to do the best work that I could for them because I knew they deserved to be successful. And I knew that any client that found them through my work would feel the same.
They were great clients. I resonated with their ideals and I loved their passions. They were a pleasure to work with but they also inspired me to be better. And that showed in my passion for my work.
Here’s how to find the right clients for you and your business.
Seek them out.
We’re all looking for clients, but many of us cast our nets too far and too wide. Understanding your ideal client involves understanding yourself and your business. There are a lot of businesses out there that can help you create your ideal customer avatar or ICA but at the end of the day, you have to understand your ideal client to find them.
Once you know exactly who your ideal clients are you can seek them out. You’ll know where they hang out online, so you can show up there. You’ll know their pain points, so you can create services and products that address them. Your messaging will move from vague and bland, to specific and value-adding. Your social media and website copy, and in fact, all of your customer touch points, will address your specific client, and they will notice.
Trust your gut.
Your intuition is an important guide to whether a client is a fit. Trust your gut. When it’s shouting at you that this project is going to be a train wreck, it probably will be.
If you think something is off, try to address that issue. If you can fix it, then perhaps you can move forward with the client. But, if you can’t figure out the problem, or a way to fix it, it’s best to listen to your gut and move on.
Of course, it’s difficult to turn away paying clients. But ending up in a situation where you can’t make your client happy, or you are unhappy every day doing the work, is not a great end result. Save your energy for customers that you can help and situations that will help your business to thrive.
You might not understand why your gut is shouting at you now, but you probably will someday.
‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.’ – Steve Jobs
When you engage with your clients, be yourself. No one wants to deal with a robot or someone with no sense of humour or personality. Let your personality shine through. Be friendly and vulnerable. Be sincere. And let a real relationship develop between you and your clients.
‘Some years ago… I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client. And I am not talking about professionalism; I am talking about affection. I am talking about a client and you sharing some common ground. That in fact your view of life is someway congruent with the client, otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle.’ – Milton Glaser
Having a relationship with your client that rises above and beyond the professional gives both of you motivation to strive – whether that’s to strive to make the work better or to strive to communicate better. Whatever it might be, it is the motivation you need. Your work life will be better and happier when you have good relationships with your clients.
Do good work.
This should speak for itself, but at the end of the day we will all be judged by the quality of our work. Do. Good. Work. Work hard, go the extra mile, be conscientious. Set aside the right amount of time for a job, and don’t take on more than you can reasonably accomplish well. Communicate openly and often. Answer questions and concerns willingly and fully. Be responsive.
If you want to find the right clients, you need to be the right kind of service provider. You need to be someone that great clients want to work with as well. Anything less will be letting your clients and yourself down.
Finding great clients (that you actually want to work with) sounds pretty self-indulgent. But it’s actually vital for a successful business (that you actually want to work in). Figure out how to find the right clients – those that are part of your dream tribe – and focus your marketing on them. Respond to their needs and be a great choice yourself.
‘Stop chasing the money and start chasing the passion.’ – Tony Hsieh