Let's face it, being a freelance designer is just plain tough. In what other arena is one person responsible for answering the phones, balancing the books, paying the bills, designing the website, creating the graphics, and working with the customers throughout the entire process?
Yet, despite our amazing ability to juggle all of these duties, we still face one large barrier. We don't have that glowing brick building behind us, the one that screams, "We are a successful company!" As a result, it can be difficult to "capture" large clients.
Today, freelancers are becoming more and more prevalent. Why not? It is a fantastic job. We set our own hours, we take on only the jobs that we desire, we have artistic freedom, etc. But, the biggest gripe I hear repeated time and time again is the fact that the main client pool consists of people with tiny budgets.
We have to beat the big guys!
We've all done the local work for far less than we would normally charge.
We've all received the email from the guy that needs an E-Commerce website for $200.
We've all had the regrettable experience of taking a job against our better judgment. When our stomachs are screaming, "Don't accept this job!", we ignore it and must ultimately deal with the repercussions: the man with the $150 budget for business cards that expects you to work around the clock; the person who promised he would pay you only to suddenly change his mind a week later.
Quite simply, the small jobs don't pay the bills. In order to succeed, we have to beat the big guys.
Who are the big guys, you ask? I'm talking about the established design firms in those "brick buildings" that do exquisite work. But, how do you stand out when you're the shortest guy in the room?
What can we offer that they can not?
To truly be content and financially secure as a freelancer, we must be able to grab the large clients. But the bottom line is this: why would a financially stable company go with a freelancer when they can easily choose a more reputable firm? To answer these questions we must look at our strengths.
What can we offer that they can't? There are a few constants. First, we probably won't be able to out-perform a team of designers as far as "chops" are concerned. I believe we can equal that level of quality, but won't be able to stand out, per say, in this respect. Second, we can out-price them, but cost typically isn't as big an issue with large corporations. So, how do we beat the design firms?
Think to yourself: What is my main gripe, as a consumer, with large companies? My first thought goes to my bank. I called them recently to remove an erroneous charge only to be put on hold for thirty minutes. When I finally did speak with a human being, it seemed like he was calling from another country and had little, if any, interest in my situation. They, like many large companies, have terrible customer service! We can use this to our advantage.
Nine times out of ten, a prospective client doesn't know exactly what he wants. He doesn't know the jargon or even how to communicate a semblance of what his company desires. This is where we can rise above the larger design firms.
Act As a Guide
It may require a bit more work, but it ultimately gets us the contract. New clients are wary about the entire process. It is foreign to them. If we act as a guide, we can take their hand from beginning to end and provide them with the comfort of knowing that someone is looking out for them every step of the way.
If they have a question, they can call us directly - no receptionists, no programmer that doesn't know the full details, just one person. In my experience, this has been vital to my success.
I firmly believe that customer service alone has gotten me every single big client that I have. There will always be an individual or company that can do the job better. As much as this agitates me, I accept it. To stand out, we must focus on our unique "freelancer" strengths.
Use Deadlines to Your Advantage
What you'll find, if you haven't already, is that deadlines are a very real issue with corporate clients. They must have a job completed by a certain date, no questions asked. The only problem is that they very rarely have all their ducks in a row.
They have sudden changes that come from corporate which require immediate revisions. Who is going to make these changes in the middle of the night in time for that presentation Monday morning? They know that the successful Firm X designers won't be at work until Monday morning. But, Freelancer Y is a single ring away and will be happy to fix it at midnight. Yes, I'm talking about you, fellow freelancers! (The use of the word "happy" is probably open to negotiation ;-) -- Ed.)
How do I personally get big clients?
How do I personally "reel" in a big fish? First, I will work on weekends when the bigger firms are closed. Second, I will give a client my personal number and tell them to call me immediately if they even think that they might have a question. Third, I'll pick up the phone on the first ring - whether that is at two in the afternoon or four in the morning. When a client knows that he can rely on you no matter what, you begin to stand out in a big way!
I will close with a portion of an email that, just a few weeks ago, secured a very large client's business.
I truly hope you'll consider me. If you have not already heard from other divisions in your organization, I will be personally available to you 24/7. If you need a quick change to the site at 10:00 at night, it'll be taken care of. If you need me to communicate with your print designer in the very early morning, it will be taken care of. Relieving you of as much stress as possible is my goal - and I always achieve it. Please don't hesitate to call me personally if you have any questions. I'll hope to work with you soon.
The client called me later (without ever being put on hold, I might add) that day and said, "Let's do it!" Was it my "web chops" that got me the job? Nah, any developer can code a site. My "customer service chops" got me the job.
Jeffrey Way is a freelance web developer based in Nashville, TN. When not working, a rarity indeed, he enjoys spending time with his beautiful fiance.