Pitching and selling to clients can be such a chore for freelancers because, usually, we just want to focus on the work we do best, whether it’s design, web development, programming, photography, or writing. Sales and marketing require such a different way of thinking compared to working on our respective crafts, that we tend to put it off or do it haphazardly.
The good news is that there’s a way to do most of the “heavy lifting” beforehand so that sales, marketing, and pitching become so simple that it will just come natural to you. The way to do it is through market research. It might seem intimidating, but there’s a way to do market research without having to crunch numbers, conduct surveys, or get extra help. It’s simple if you just think of it as “understanding your target clients better”.
Without market research, a freelancer is just guessing at what her target clients want. She may even be offering them services they're not interested in. By looking at their needs, rather than the message or services you're trying to push, it'll be easier for a freelancer like you to position yourself and stand out from competitors that don't do the same kind of legwork. You’ll end up spending less time and effort on your proposals, and you’ll know exactly what type of copy to put on your website.
Here’s how to get started:
Use These 2 Questions to Get to the Bottom of What Your Target Clients Want
In a previous tutorial, we showed you how to identify target clients who are a best fit for your working style and business goals. It’s better to start this exercise having a specific target market in mind so that your efforts are focused and your results are accurate for your target clients.
Once you have a specific target market, it’s time to come up with the right questions to ask them. You only really need two types of questions: The problem question and the goal question.
The problem question asks your target market about their problems, pains, frustrations, or any barriers or obstacles they are facing, or any reservations or hesitations that they might feel. The goal question, on the other hand, asks them about their aspirations, their desires, or the ideal scenario that they want to have in their lives or business.
Asking the problem question could be as simple as asking “What’s the biggest problem you have in your business right now?”. But you can also try the following approaches and tailor them to your specific market and services:
- “Which parts of launching and maintaining a website keep you up at night?”
- “If there was a business problem you wish you could eliminate overnight, which is it?”
- “What’s the most challenging thing you’ve experienced when hiring photographers?”
The goal question is just a version of “What are your most important goals?” Here are more specific questions derived from that:
- “If you could achieve only a single thing with your real estate firm this year, what would it be?”
- “Think about your ideal mission for your law firm. What would it look like if it were to exist now?”
- “If there was one thing that could considerably push your business way ahead of your competitors, what would it be?”
We’ve covered these questions somewhat in a previous post on preparing for client negotiations, which you can refer to if you need more examples.
Knowing the answers to these two questions can help you learn much more about your potential clients than what most job ads will tell you. While job ads can list the task description and the qualifications the clients need, they won't tell you what the goals of the business are, what their problems are, and what they are willing to pay for.
Now that you know the questions to ask, where do you ask them? Here are some suggestions:
The main benefit to using Quora is that it’s easy to ask questions to specific audiences—that’s what the platform is built for. You can search for topics that your target market could be watching and post your question under a topic that your target market will likely be following. If you’re targeting small businesses, post under the Small Businesses topic. If you build tools and websites for accountants, you can post under the Accountants or Certified Public Accountants topics.
You can also search Quora for existing questions that were already answered by your target market. For example, if you create websites for real estate agents, you can do a search on “problems real estate agent” and the results will show a series of Q&As where real estate agents talk about their problems.
You can also post questions in LinkedIn Groups that your target market joins or follows. This option works best if your target markets are professionals and businesses, rather than individual consumers. Usually, you can even find regional and local groups if you’re targeting clients in a specific area.
For those unfamiliar with reddit, it hosts many communities known as “subreddits”. If your target market is tech savvy, it’s likely they’ll have a subreddit for their field, profession, or type of business, but the amount of activity varies. You can post your questions in subreddits relevant to your audience, or search for existing discussions. For example, all a wedding photographer has to do is search “photographer” in the weddingplanning subreddit and a lot of threads about raves, rants, and questions on wedding photographers will show up.
Just keep in mind that before you post your question, look through the subreddit’s community guidelines to make sure that you’re not violating them.
Message Boards and Other Online Communities
Remember online message boards? Some industries and professionals still use them for networking and shoptalk.
For example, if you’re a designer who wants to create websites for restaurants, you can look for different food industry message boards, such as the Food Service forums. By entering “website” in the search bar, you’ll see the discussions and questions that restaurant owners have when it comes to having their own website. When searching for “goals”, you’ll find this thread of restaurant owners listing their goals for the new year.
Do these kinds of detailed searches in message boards, and you’re likely to find goals and problems worth noting down. Even if you do find a board that’s mostly inactive, you can search through the archives to see if you can find any problems or goals there.
As you find or initiate more discussions with your target clients, you'll see repeating words and phrases which they use to describe their goals and problems. Take note of these phrases because you can repeat them in your site copy, cover letters, or sales pitches (more on that later).
When you gather various online communities where your target market hangs out, note and count the goals and problems you see in their answers or in the existing discussions you find. To track it efficiently, use the worksheet attached to this lesson or save it in a document. You’ll need this later as you make your market research report.
Creating a Handy Reference Guide
Once you’ve noted several problems and goals—five to seven of each is enough—it’s time to create a guide that you can easily refer to when pitching, writing copy, or trying to book a new client. This guide can be as simple or as detailed as you want. The most essential part of the guide is to list the top three goals and the top three problems according to your tally. Here’s a link to a sample marketing research report on small business owners:
Personally, I like making my market research guides a bit more detailed by adding some key quotes I found during my research. These quotes are usually the most emotionally charged or powerful, since the more emotion someone puts into expressing their problems or goals, the more important it is. These can come in handy when you’re stuck writing copy or are unsure how to phrase the problems and goals when you refer to them.
Crafting Compelling Offers From Your Research
Now that you know your target market's top goals and problems, it's time to convert those goals and problems into a part of your marketing strategy—whether it’s your website copy or email pitches.
Using the sample report attached to this tutorial, we can see that a major goal among small business owners is increasing sales, and a major problem is their limited resources and their worry about ROI. A typical designer might just say something like “We design beautiful websites for your business” on their homepage. But a designer who did her homework can say instead, “We help small businesses build websites that increase sales” or “Affordable websites for small businesses”.
Here are examples of photographers, designers, and writers who have done a good job of addressing their target market’s goals and problems via their site copy:
Design and marketing studio ZeroZen targets small businesses. Their copy above the fold mentions phrases like “reach new customers and make more money”, “in 10 minutes or less”, and “affordable”, hitting most of the problems and goals listed in the sample report.
Rather than letting their copy say that their photography is “gorgeous”, shoot2sell emphasizes that the properties they photograph sell faster than others.
The testimonials highlighted by DesignSpectacle address their ability to listen to clients, their trustworthiness, attention to detail, and that their design work brings in successful results for their clients. These testimonials specifically mention common business problems and goals, instead of just generic praise.
Getting in Your Target Market’s Head
You don’t need to hire a research firm or conduct statistically significant surveys just to answer the question, “What do clients want?” By doing the above exercise, you’ll know the answer for sure because you’ve done the hard work of finding out. When you apply it to your pitches, proposals, and copy, you’re effectively demonstrating to clients your deep understanding of what they really want—and that deeper connection makes you stand out from the other freelancers who just focus on making the sale.