#14: How To Find Good Clients

Freelancers not only need to know how to find clients, they need to know how to find good clients.  In this episode, Brian and Dave break down the strategies that have worked for them over their years of freelancing. From working the job boards when you’re starting out, to building a strong referral network, and marketing yourself so that great clients come to you.

Have questions or other tips for landing new clients?  Post them in the comments and let’s keep this conversation going!

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Brian Casel: Hello. Welcome to FreelanceJam. This is episode #14. I’m your host Brian Casel with my co-host Dave Yankowiak and we usually have a guest on, but this week it will just be the two of us. We’re going to be talking about a topic that I think a lot of people ask this question a lot, is how do you find good clients, and how do you develop a steady stream of client work as a freelancer, whether you’re just starting out or whether you’ve been at it for a number of years. That’s what we’ll be talking about. Dave and I have both been working on our own for several years, so we can kind of talk about what’s worked, what hasn’t worked for us, and hopefully you guys find it interesting. Dave, how’s it going?

Dave Yankowiak: It’s going great, it’s going great. Fall is in swing here in Minnesota and life is good! When the weather’s nice it’s hard to look outside the window and sit there and get work done all the time.

Brian Casel: Yes, absolutely.

Dave Yankowiak: Try to enjoy it as much as you can and then once winter rolls around it’s all work, all the time.

Brian Casel: Yes, exactly. I love this weather, this is the perfect time of year, you know. The fifties, you know.

Dave Yankowiak: Are the colors changing there?

Brian Casel: Just starting.

Dave Yankowiak: Okay.

Brian Casel: But yes, it’s going to start getting real nice around here.

Dave Yankowiak: Yes, full swing around here, it’s a nice time of year.

Brian Casel: Cool. So let’s get right into it.

Dave Yankowiak: Alright.

Brian Casel: So the first question we had down here is, what is your definition of a good client?

Dave Yankowiak: Oh, man. You know what? I’ve always heard one of the things you should do is kind of write down your ideal client. I haven’t been good at actually doing that but I’m starting to learn some of the characteristics of clients that I would consider good clients. And I think for me the biggest term that comes to mind is trust. A client that trusts you. You know, they trust your judgement when it comes to recommendations, if you’re doing design they trust your design input. I think that’s just the big thing. It’s hard for me to work with clients that see you more as an employee than they do as somebody who is like, an expert or just, you know, really knowledgeable in what you’re talking about. I’d rather people come to me because they view me as an expert versus I’m a person who is just kind of a manual labourer, if you will, or web developer. So to me, one of the main things is just trust.

Brian Casel: Yes, I know that a lot of web designers complain about clients who just dictate what they want done and the web designer is just doing the actual, like, kind of grunt work, just making the client’s vision happen, which is not really – I mean, the client is not a web designer. We are web designers, we’ve been doing this for years and we have that expertise. So a good client is one that understands that and trusts you.

Dave Yankowiak: Right.

Brian Casel: Not to say there isn’t a back and forth, but still, you know.

Dave Yankowiak: And that being said, I think part of it too is how your business is set up. If you are actually doing direct client work versus if you’re part of a team where you have like a project manager, it’s going to be different in that sense. But I’m talking specifically about you’re working with the end client and your relationship with them.

Brian Casel: Right, like if you’re a developer or a coder and maybe your client is the designer, that’s kind of a different situation but sometimes you run into some designers who try to micromanage the coding part of it, which can get, you know, kind of frustrating sometimes. Then there are designers and project managers who really understand and trust your input as the developer to make those kind of decisions on the development side of things.

Dave Yankowiak: Right, right. I agree with that. And another thing I’ve noticed, my best clients are the ones that number one, I don’t complain about, if I notice that, man, I don’t think I’ve ever complained about this client. That right there, like, okay, what is it about them that makes me really enjoy working with them. And two, is it a client, when I have to do a little bit extra for them, like I’m going to build this on and not charge them anything extra, if I can do that and have a good attitude about it then two, that says alright, this is a good client. I enjoy working with these guys. Because if you enjoy what you do, to do a little extra is – I mean, it’s fun. So who cares? But I think those good clients are the ones you’re willing to - you know, it’s no big deal to do extra for them, you never mind doing that.

Brian Casel: Yes, absolutely. Some clients, you just enjoy going above and beyond to make it work. So, you know, a lot of times we don’t really learn these things about clients until we’re actually working with them, until they actually become our clients. So then it’s a question of how do we recognize who is a good client and who is a bad one before we actually sign them?

Dave Yankowiak: Right!

Brian Casel: So there are a few factors that I take into account when a new client or a new lead comes in, and it’s not necessarily always money. I mean, yes, budget is an issue and I think we’ll talk a little bit about that later on, but one factor that I take into account is, will this be a good portfolio item? Sometimes the client is – I mean, like my company, we do both design and development, and I prefer to focus everything that we do on design. I prefer to have projects where we do both, where we’re working with the client, designing and building the site from scratch. That way I know I can put it in the portfolio and show that this is the work that we’ve designed from the ground up. Sometimes we’re brought in to only do the development side on a project which is also kind of interesting and fun and occasionally I’ll put that stuff in the portfolio, but it’s not a good indication of what we can do on the design side. So that’s something I’ll take into account.

Dave Yankowaik: That’s good.

Brian Casel: Let’s see...what else?

Dave Yankowaik: I think obviously if you’re dealing with a client and they’re like, you know, how much does it cost to build a website? And then, the second you like well, it depends on your requirements and it’s almost like they’re not trusting you right upfront – this guy’s going to rip me off, or this company’s going to rip me off. That to me is a warning sign, because there’s got to be trust both ways. But I think, too, like, do they have the attitude of, we want to ensure that we have a really good end product? Is that the primary concern? I mean, obviously you want to stick to a budget, but if they’re really trying to do way too much for too little and they’re going to do anything they can to make it cheap, then, you know... their success is kind of your success. If it’s a successful site it’s going to make you look good. If it tanks, it’s going to make you look bad, so it’s one of those things too, like how much are they trying to get for what they’re giving you? Do they really even care about the details? I mean, that’s a big thing too, to make sure they’re detail oriented and want to ensure success of the website launch.

Brian Casel: Yes, absolutely. And I’ve found that the clients who do haggle over price and really give you a hard time about price, I mean, a little bit of haggling, that happens everywhere in the world and there’s nothing wrong with that. But really giving you a hard time with, like, round after round over price, it’s a big indicator of what they’re going to be like moving forward as a client. I’ve always found that the same clients who haggled over price are also the ones who try to micromanage or just cause other communication problems later on. It’s funny how the ones who have the bigger budgets are just more trusting in terms of your price point, they’re also the ones who really put the ball in your court to let you do something that they’re hiring you for, it’s really a better situation.

Dave Yankowaik: Yes, yes. Now, related to that, I mean, and this maybe is more relevant when you’re a newer freelancer. I mean, you and I are both three plus years on our own, I believe, but I mean, I remember this in my first year. Should you really just take any business you can get? If somebody comes to you and says I need you to build this website and they’re being cheap, but it’s at least income. I mean, if you’re starting out should you take any business you can get, or is it worth it to risk your next meal and say ‘no way’, and just wait for good projects? What do you think?

Brian Casel: Well, I think yes and no. There are definitely situations where it’s just totally clear that this is going to be a bad client, and if you know hands down, 100%, like, they’re showing all the warning signs, you may not even have that experience to know what the warning signs are, but you just have this feeling in your gut, like, alright, this person sounds like they’re difficult to deal with.

Dave Yankowaik: Right.

Brian Casel: You’re probably better off just walking away and finding work elsewhere. That said, I mean, I know I’ve been there, during that first year when you’re just like I’m worried about next month, I need to find clients! I want to make sure that I’m staying in business here! You know what? You do have to put trust in your skills, because frankly you have to have a certain level of skills to be able to go out on your own in the first place, and if you’ve been able to land good clients already, maybe one or two, there should be nothing stopping you from landing another one, your third and fourth. You’ve already proven that you’re ready to play in the game, so it’s kind of... you know, because I look back on my first year and I do remember a couple of nightmare clients that turned out to be huge time wasters, which ended up sucking money out of my business during that first year. I had to go through that and learn that lesson. So what happened was I took on someone who I kind of knew would be a bad client and they turned out to be a nightmare client, and that was two months down the drain and I ended up having to cut it off before it was complete.

Dave Yankowaik: Yes, like you said, it can really get in the way of potentially good clients. And that I think when you’re just starting out there’s that idea of whoa...I need to take what I can get, because I don’t know what’s coming in. You know, I haven’t gone through the cycle of this yet. And I remember my first year, I went to Craigslist to see if anybody was looking for website work or whatever, and somebody was, and so I helped them set up their e-commerce site. I did it for way too cheap, I put way too many hours in it, and you know, three months down the road I was still trying to get payment from him. So it was kind of a nightmare all around. So a part of that was – I mean, it’s Craigslist. Who’s posting jobs on Craigslist? Probably the cheapest people you can find. It’s one of those things where I probably would have been better served to maybe connect with one of my existing clients and say, hey, do you think you could give me a referral, or do you know anybody that might be interested or that needs a new website, and maybe take a little more active approach versus wasting my time with kind of a dead end project.

Brian Casel: Yes, well I want to get into referrals a little bit later. But you spoke about Craigslist, so the idea of job board, I mean, they’re huge for freelancers. You know, going on job boards and responding to ads. Now I think most people who have been in business for several years, you know, hopefully your referral engine has kind of built up to that point where you’re not really relying on the job boards. But I know that for me in my first and second year I spent a lot of time responding to ads on job boards. Not necessarily Craigslist – I did try that out a little bit, and I gained a few clients there. Some were pretty good, some were bad. But there are a few other ones like the Freelance Switch job board is pretty good, authenticjobs.com is good for web designers, there are tons of other lists out there.

Dave Yankowaik: Yes, those are probably two of the bigger – the better ones that I would recommend.

Brian Casel: Right. So if you’re just starting out and you’re struggling to find work, just get out there and spend hours every day responding to ads on job boards. And then eventually you’ll build up your client base and then you don’t really have to rely on job boards anymore.

Dave Yankowaik: Right, right. When was the last time you responded to a job board?

Brian Casel: You know, it’s funny. I did respond to one recently, like a month ago.

Dave Yankowaik: Okay.

Brian Casel: But I was doing some research for a skip route because I wanted to get in touch with people who are hiring, because that’s kind of like our target customer for this app. And so I was responding to people to just get in touch with them to talk to them about how they hire and how they use job boards to hire and things. And one of them actually turned out – and one we kind of got into this dialogue about actually working on that project that they were hiring for, so that’s why. But it’s been, you know, probably a year or two since I really looked at job boards. Since then it’s been mostly incoming traffic and referrals.

Dave Yankowaik: Yes, I think since that first year I haven’t done much with job boards. It’s been mostly, like you say, we’ll talk about referrals and things like that. I mean, there’s some job boards where I feel like people are looking just for good help, and authentic jobs to be won, like I said Freelance Switch – I feel like Freelance Switch has a pretty good job board. But you get some of those sites like oDesk where it’s just somebody wants a website for $10, and it’s not even worth it to apply for jobs on there, because you’re just dead in the water totally, there’s really a slim chance that you’re going to get decent projects in that regard. But yes, I think if you can find a good job board, or even, like I’ve seen in Minnesota we have the Minnesota – I think it’s like the interactive marketing association, it’s mima.org. They have a job board where there’s full time jobs on there but then there’s projects. So sometimes if you can find job boards that have good jobs but there’s not a lot of competition as far as the freelancing part – that’s a good place to look as well.

Brian Casel: Yes.

Dave Yankowaik: I just remember seeing some good ones on there. So some of those – you can make the job board thing work, but it takes a little bit of digging, I guess.

Brian Casel: Yes, a few years ago when I was really involved in going into job boards I actually wrote an article on Freelance Switch, all about tips for finding work on job boards. I mean, back from ’09 I think, but you don’t want to just spam everything listed. You want to just pick out a few that you know that you’re right for that job. You want to read every word in that ad, and respond as if you’ve just read it and you’re writing your response to them. I mean, you can kind of start with a base template for what you want to say – I used to have a template but I would tweak it ten different times for each one that I sent out. And I might spend like two hours every morning just doing that, I would spend two hours responding to maybe ten to fifteen different ads that I’d picked out. So that’s a good chunk of time in a morning to just spend on job boards, and I knew that and I just remember that I kind of – I didn’t really track it so much, but I remember that if I did that maybe three times a week, you know like six hours a week, within the next month, out of those fifty to a hundred responses that I put out there, I had like ten real leads.

Dave Yankowiak: Yes, yes.

Brian Casel: And then right there you’re set for the next couple of months.

Dave Yankowiak: And the thing is, like, once you – say one of those leads turns into a project, I mean, right there you’ve created a new relationship with somebody that might refer you to somebody else, who might, you know...and so I feel like, as a freelancer, there’s a certain amount of going out and getting stuff, but then I feel like for every little bit you go out and get stuff, the referral engine just gets going and you’ll see a lot of other things come your way. And I know one of the questions we have is, do good clients come to you by referrals, or do you need to go get them? Like, versus for marketing and advertising.

Just to tell you a little bit of a story, I mean this is actually how... this ended up in me starting my own freelance business, I think this happened four years ago. My family and I wanted to do a little vacation. We live in an area with all sorts of lakes and resorts and cabins and there’s a little lake about a half hour out of town that I had been to one time and it was like, I wonder if there’s any cabins for rent at this lake? So I Googled cabins for rent on Borrow’s Lake. The first listing was this website for this cabin on Borrow’s Lake and I was like, sweet! This is exactly – this cabin looks great, this website kind of looks like crap! So I emailed the person and I said, hey, you know, we’d like to come stay at your cabin, and can you tell me about it? She emailed me back, gave me the prices and I emailed her back and I said, hey, how about a barter arrangement? I’ll spruce your website up a little bit and we can maybe swop some time? Totally went for it, we worked it out, I re-did her website, went and stayed at this cabin. Turns out, I mean, this cabin is just something she did on the side, she actually is a kind of a consultant/speaker/author and she has a regular non-profit that she runs. Ended up becoming kind of her main web guy, redid her website there, built a whole – this is when I was still doing .net – built the whole .net application, really kind of created this relationship that is still – I mean, I’m doing stuff for her this week, we actually just stayed at the cabin again last week.

Brian Casel: Very cool!

Dave Yankowiak: But that essentially launched my whole business, because I had this one good client, was able to kind of go off on my own and then got some other clients out of that and just built a good portfolio from that one project, and so it was all because I just said, hey, you know, how about I redo your website for you? So sometimes it never hurts to ask if you’re on a crappy website, just ask if they’re open to redo.

Brian Casel: Absolutely. Yes, yes, you know, I mean I have tried that approach a couple of times, like just kind of cold calling or really like, cold emailing. Hasn’t worked out for me! You know, I mean, you’re really just kind of a student in the dark a little bit.

Dave Yankowiak: Yes.

Brian Casel: I’d done some Google searches and kind of going back to our ideal client, I was trying to come up with like a certain niche that I wanted to start focusing on. I think at that time I was – I think I might have been just looking for like music recording studios or things like that. I mean, I’m still kind of all over the board in terms of industries and stuff, I haven’t really focused down on one niche yet. But that was kind of like my idea, I would just start Google searching and start emailing people who have really crappy websites and, you know, nothing came of it. A few people responded but they were just like, we’re not looking right now and I said okay...well.

Dave Yankowiak: Like I have no idea why that one time it worked. I feel like it’s worked a few other times too. It depends, I mean that was a situation where it was a barter arrangement that turned into an actual profitable arrangement. Sometimes people are more open to barter than they are that you contact them and you want cash for a new website. So maybe there’s some sort of tip in there, like be open to bartering, I guess.

Brian Casel: Yes.

Dave Yankowiak: So Brian, where are you finding most of your good clients these days?

Brian Casel: For me I think the biggest – in terms of marketing myself and my business the biggest thing that I’ve done over the past few years would be writing articles. That’s really my only method of marketing myself at this point. I mean you could argue, like, being on Twitter and maybe going to conferences and things like that, but I do make a point of regularly taking time to write articles and submit them to big blogs. I’ve written a number of Freelance Switch, a couple on Mashable, I think I have one coming out on Mashable later this week. Six Revisions, a few other pretty big websites. And so that does bring a certain amount of visibility and gets your name out there, get’s traffic coming to your site. So that’s been pretty good. I’ve been doing that for maybe three years or so. Doing that for a number of years, getting these high quality links from these big blogs has definitely boosted SEO on my site, Catjam, which I haven’t even really spent any real time, you know, SEO optimizing my site. It’s really just there to be my portfolio, I’m not really spending a lot of time on keyword research and things like that. But it’s just, you know, it’s been there for years, I’ve got these big blogs linking to it and now I’m getting a little bit more traffic, people just looking for like, local web designers or just WordPress web designers, people are coming to me that way.

Dave Yankowiak: Right.

Brian Casel: And so that’s starting to kick in a little bit in this past year. But yes, I mean a lot of it’s just kind of incoming traffic and definitely referrals. But I think, you know, referrals are huge, but also doing that, getting your name out there on these big blogs, kind of developing this personal brand, I’ve also noticed that I’m getting referrals from people that I don’t know.

Dave Yankowiak: All right!

Brian Casel: Like, people just know my name is out there, so they’ll like, maybe it’s someone who’s like, I’m not sure that I can help you there but I know this guy is like a WordPress expert. Check him out, I don’t even know him, but go there!

Dave Yankowiak: That’s exactly it! It’s almost like indirect referrals. People you’ve never actually worked with but maybe you’ve connected with them on Twitter or they read your article on Mashable and then they find one of their friends is looking for WordPress development, and they refer. So they’re not even a client that’s referring, it’s just somebody who has crossed your path at some point.

Brian Casel: Yes, yes, I mean, I was just asking one of my clients, maybe they’re like one of the biggest clients I’ve had yet from like two months ago, it was like, where did you find me? One of our first phone conversations was like, well, how did you come across my name? He was like, someone at FIT in New York gave me your name. I’m like... I don’t know anybody there and I’ve never known anybody there! So it’s funny how it works.

Dave Yankowiak: Also in a kind of indirect way, one of the...speaking of like Twitter or Facebook, I’ve definitely gotten clients through people from my past that maybe I never would have crossed paths with them again except for Facebook. So I have, like 600 – something Facebook friends and I add a lot of people from ... I have a lot of people from high school or from college on there. And again, it’s people I might never have contacted again in my life, but we’ve connected on there, they find out their company needs somebody to build them a website. They’re like, oh, Dave does that! Because I talk about it on Facebook quite a bit.

Brian Casel: Right.

Dave Yankowiak: So, again, this person has never worked with me but they know me, we have some sort of relationship and, you know, they refer me. I mean, I had a call this morning like that. It was actually a wife of a friend of mine from college and we had reconnected on Facebook and he had recommended my services to his wife’s company, and so I’ll be doing some WordPress stuff for them. Again, it’s indirect, it’s not somebody I’ve ever met but making those connections, you know, you’re in their mind, I guess.

Brian Casel: Yes, you know that’s interesting because I think that’s pretty different from how I’ve done it over the years. I feel like you are more... you’re much more active on Facebook than I am, for sure. Just even like posting pictures of your kids and stuff like that! So maybe early on, did you actually like actively promote yourself and your services to your friends and that kind of thing? Or...?

Dave Yankowiak: No, I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I mean, I can’t say I’ve ever done that. It’s always just been – I mean, to me it’s the same concept as you writing articles on Mashable. You’re not necessarily writing about WordPress or writing about exactly what you do. I mean, I know you’ve written articles on like the podcasts and things like that, but you’re out there. You’re out there, you’re flexing your expertise a little bit and...

Brian Casel: But I mean, are you like posting about...You’re posting like your website work on Facebook and things like that?

Dave Yankowiak: On the listed (inaudible 0:28:23) account I am, which I have linked to my profile, so I’ll just post a lot of personal stuff, you know, pictures of my kids, people like cute kids, and so they’ll, you know...or when I add somebody, if I add an old friend it might click through to my employer which is Lift Development and I’ve got, you know, samples of my work and stuff, but I will from time to time post articles on Facebook on my personal account with things regarding technology or web design or whatever, but most of that is actually on Life Development.

Brian Casel: Cool.

Dave Yankowiak: But it’s just that connection, I think you stay fresh and people (inaudible 0:29:04) and, you know, you’re out there talking about it or it’s kind of integrated into what you do, and you’ll come to people’s mind. Maybe it’s the kid pictures! Maybe people are... man, this guy’s got three cute little girls and we gotta support this guy, let’s hire him for this website!

Brian Casel: Yes, totally! Yes, it’s funny, I mean, my close friends know what I do and know that I’m like the web geek guy, but then that second outer, you know, the other few hundred people on Facebook that I know from high school I haven’t seen in years but they’re just on the wall, I think a lot of them don’t really know me as a web designer. I’m pretty – I don’t really put myself out there in terms of what I do in terms of being active on the web and WordPress and tech, I don’t really put myself out there with my real world network, for some reason. Because I kind of feel like a lot of them don’t really relate to this kind of stuff, you know. All my geekery about the new iPhone and WordPress custom post types and stuff, that stuff’s all for Twitter, and on Facebook, you know, I’ll talk about the Mets, I’ll talk about politics, but I’ll kind of leave the web stuff alone on Facebook.

Dave Yankowiak: Well maybe you’re missing out there, I mean, maybe if you did...like you said, even if your friends aren’t engaged in that, their job might have nothing to do with the web but their company is in need of a new website or something, you never know. Maybe it’s an experiment, maybe for the next 60 days you should Tweet, or you should update your status on Facebook with something web related.

Brian Casel: Right, right. Well that kind of brings us to Twitter. I think you’ve told me before that you do use Twitter to directly bring in clients. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Dave Yankowiak: In the past I have. We’ve talked about this a little bit, how a few years ago I had open search in Tweetdeck for a web developer and so it would be, like, I’m looking for a good web developer. People would Tweet and I would respond to a few of them, and one was like, I can’t get a hold of our web developer, I think we need to find somebody new! So then I Tweeted that person and it turned into a really, really great client. So there’s methods like that where you’re kind of seeking people out, but I think now it’s more changed to similar as Facebook, where I just, you know, I talk about web stuff, and I make sure I’m not just following people that are doing what I do. I follow people who are in all sorts of industries and just people I relate to, you know, and so you kind of work your way into other groups and people just know you as the web guy. So I know – I think you mentioned, you kind of only follow web related folks, correct?

Brian Casel: Ah, no, not really. I mean, I do follow a lot of web people, designers and stuff, but no, I do branch out to other things. I follow some political types, I follow some Mets people, like the guy who runs a Mets blog. I like following him.

Dave Yankowiak: Nice!

Brian Casel: Let’s see...

Dave Yankowiak: I follow Kevin Love.

Brian Casel: There you go! I follow, like Conan O’Brian and a few other celebrities, they’re fun to follow, but...

Dave Yankowiak: Kurt Warner, I follow Kurt Warner...

Brian Casel: Cool.

Dave Yankowiak: He’s... that guy Tweets like mad! He Tweets a lot! But I wouldn’t say I use Twitter for direct client acquisition. Again, it’s the same thing. It’s just – you’re in people’s minds, your posts and work you’ve done. You know, I use the Genesis framework for WordPress so any time I’ve got a new Genesis built theme I’ll Tweet out a link and I’ll use the Genesiswp hash tag. And so usually like Brian Gardner we’ll re-Tweet it and some of the other folks there. So that’s been good too, just using a framework like that. It’s helped get a little more exposure as well.

Brian Casel: Yes, kind of tapping into that little niche. Niche within a niche, so that’s good. Yes, I’ll try to use hash tags. I think some people overdo it with hash tags, but if I happen to talk about something, about WordPress and the word ‘WordPress’ fits in there, I’ll use that as a hash tag, so things like that. I don’t even know if those really directly increase traffic or increase followers, but it just kind of ties everything together in a way in the big scheme of things. You know I will say on Twitter I will get a direct message once in a while where somebody’s, like, hey, can you just take a look at my site, something’s goofy with the header. That’s gone off well, and a little fire-up firebug and get it fixed up for him, but stuff like that I think goes a long way too, because when you do favors for people, they’re going to be more likely to refer you to their friends as well.

Dave Yankowiak: Right.

Brian Casel: And you know, going back to people who are new, and maybe not people who are new, maybe if you’ve been at it for a while, people are hiring on Twitter. And you know, that’s nothing that I’m learning as I’m working on Skipper right now, I’m talking to a lot of people and a lot of potential – or customer groups. And a lot of people are saying that they go on Twitter to hire and to find freelancers and subcontractors. They’ll put out a message like, I’m looking for a designer, I’m looking for a WordPress guy, or I’m looking for a copywriter, please reTweet. So these types of Tweets are out there and I see them every day, people are looking for others. Sometimes just being tapped in and being really involved in your community and what you do, you can catch one of these things flying through, and just respond to it.

Dave Yankowiak: And it might be as simple as one of your friends Tweets off that this company’s looking for a job, and you reply to it so it replies to the friend and maybe the company that’s hiring, say hey, I’m interested, check out my site. Maybe your friend then says, you know, Tweets back to the company yes, definitely check this guy out. You never know if that Tweet might be the Tweet that puts you over the edge for that position or for that project or whatever. I mean, it could come down to that, I think sometimes it does.

Brian Casel: Yes, so I think what it comes down to on Twitter is not so much about, like, hunting new leads and searching for a certain keyword and then just replying to like 50 of these people a day. No, I think it’s just being involved on Twitter, being authentic, you know, I don’t want to start using these stupid social buzzwords or anything like that, but just really doing great work, but being out there on Twitter, and then if you happen to catch someone who’s looking to hire, at least you’re there to offer your name into the mix. And then sometimes it’s just other opportunities, like we’re looking for a writer, and then you can take that opportunity and that unfolds into something else. Or maybe it’s a Dribble invite, you know, just being tapped in you’re putting yourself in place to get a break somewhere, you know.

Dave Yankowiak: That’s exactly it, just keep putting yourself out there. You know another little tip too, and I’m just realising this now while we were talking about this. I think it was probably last August, 2010. The month kind of slowed down for me a little bit so I didn’t have a ton of projects and instead of like hitting Twitter or job boards or whatever, I was like, you know what? I really need to redo my own site. I’ve got to rebrand, I focused on kind of that in house stuff. Re-did my site, re-launched it, had a decent portfolio on it, got a ton of work just from like posting on Facebook, hey, check out my new site, I just re-launched it. I mean, I picked up probably five projects just from that. So sometimes you don’t always have to – if things are slowing down, don’t feel like you need to be out there going for more and more and more. Just maybe do something really cool in-house. Like re-do your site or build a cool plug-in for WordPress. You know, just kind of think more in-house, use yourself as a kind of a case study for what you can do for your clients.

Brian Casel: Yes, exactly. I think that will create more buzz.

Dave Yankowiak: Yes, totally.

Brian Casel: It looks less desperate, too!

Dave Yankowiak: Yes! So we talked a little bit about, well you gave that story about how you landed your first client and now four years later you still work with that client. So what about repeat business, repeat projects? Is that a big thing for you? Is that something you actively try to do, is get repeat projects from clients? I know a lot of people talk about that as a big factor for finding new work.

Brian Casel: It depends on the client. I work with some marketing type companies now, so they’re working with clients. Definitely I like those relationships. That’s the kind of repeat business I like. I don’t like maintenance related repeat business so much, I like hanging out of sight and then, boom! It’s the clients, they maintain it. And I think you’re probably in the same boat as me on that one?

Dave Yankowiak: Yes, I think you’re right. There are certain types of clients that are great. Maybe going back to that very first question, what is a good client? I think, you’ve got your budget, is it a good portfolio item and then I think a third factor is would this client lead to more work? And not necessarily from them, but are they tapping in to some new network where you haven’t been in before? Are they some kind of marketing agency, or maybe they just work in a certain niche that you’re trying to break into, and you know that they’re really networked with all these other potential clients. So that’s a good thing, is to kind of look for those referrals. But yes, I mean, in terms of repeat projects, especially these days when everything we’re doing is on WordPress. We’re handing the client the keys to manage their own content on their site, so they really don’t need us around to do maintenance work. And now it’s actually come to the point where I’m very upfront to clients. We don’t really do content maintenance work at all. If you do need something redesigned or rebuilt or adding a new feature, yes, we could talk about that as like a post-launch project, or maybe some hours or something, but if you need us to update your banner on your home page, we’ve already given you that functionality to do it yourself, so we ...

Brian Casel: We can train you!

Dave Yankowiak: I can answer questions and train you on how to do it. But we’re not into the website maintenance business. We do new projects from the ground up. And you know, when you’ve been in it for a few years, I think that’s what a lot of us kind of move to, is try to focus on the big projects and not the smaller maintenance stuff.

Brian Casel: I must say it’s easier to schedule new projects. Maintenance is so, like this, it’s so up and down and it’s hard to forecast, and when there’s a lot of maintenance stuff going on its - just – it kind of messes up your whole project schedule. But that’s our thing. But from the client’s side of things, you know, content – or putting a new banner on – it’s to their advantage to be able to do it themselves because if you want to pay me $99 an hour to change some text on your website that’s fine, but that’s a rip off!

Dave Yankowiak: Exactly! Yes.

Brian Casel: That’s a big time rip-off. So learn to do it yourself. And I’m actually doing this with a client today. We’re changing some things on their website. I put some screencasts together for them. Like, here’s how, you know, I just built this functionality, here’s how you maintain it. That way, you know, teach them to fish. They can go out and do it themselves.

Dave Yankowiak: Exactly. I’ve been doing the same thing recently using screencasts and it’s great. Put it up on some weblink that they can just always refer to back to, and it’s there, and even sometimes they’ll come back to you with questions, it’ll be like, okay well, here’s the link, or you know, you just have to answer a question here and there and that’s fine. I had one client this week, I’ve been working with him for several months now. This was something that I love to hear when we’re on the phone. And he’s in a business, he sells some product where it’s not really a very technol - he’s not very tech savvy himself and it’s not in a business that’s really tapped into the web and tech, so we’re using Word- and we set him up with the WordPress ems site and everything, and so using WordPress is not something that he went into business for. He didn’t go into business thinking, like, I’m going to be a web content expert. But now that he’s selling a product and now that the website is such a core thing for his business, what he said to me on the phone was, you know, I’m now realizing I have to become a WordPress expert. I have to start learning WordPress myself – he’s saying this, the client – he’s like, I have to know this thing inside and out because I’m seeing now that I’m going to be using it every single day, and I’m going to keep this website going. And he said the same thing about using MailChimp, because we set him up with a MailChimp newsletter and he’s got a pretty big list now. I mean, they’re doing some pretty big marketing campaigns. And he’s like, you know, I can’t be relying on me – you know, he’s speaking to me – he’s like, I can’t be relying on you guys to keep this going for me. I need to be tapped in and talking to my customers. And I love to hear that, you know, I love to hear him like really embracing WordPress, because we’ve already set him up with everything and more than what he needs, and so you know, so many clients you set up this really well thought out website and all this content management functionality, and then they just don’t even want to use it! So this client is really one of the good ones.

Brian Casel: Good, yes, that’s good that they get that. Nothing hurts me more than a WordPress website that when I log in it’s still version 2.8 and then logged and....they haven’t blogged in over a year, you know!

Dave Yankowiak: What are some things that you do – when you’re trying to persuade a good prospect who’s kind of on the fence, about hiring you for the first time? You’ve determined, okay, this is a client that you want, but they’re not sure, so how do you take it from there?

Brian Casel: This is something I feel like agencies or web companies that are more sales related, they maybe don’t do very good work but they’re like, it’s all about getting the client, feel like they do a better job of this. They’re organized, they have everything together, they write a really nice proposal, things like that. I feel I don’t do a great job of that, I more rely on people come to me and I try to do good work and just keep doing good work. But I feel like one of those things is to maybe be a little more organized. I think putting together good proposals, I think...I don’t know...

Dave Yankowiak: The proposal I think is a good one because I think a lot of freelancers don’t spend enough time creating proposals.

Dave Casel: I think too – being forthcoming with advice. Like, don’t have this attitude of, well, I’m not going to tell them what they should do until they are willing to pay me for these great ideas, or something, but I think giving people a little bit of training or giving them a little bit of valuable insight or advice before they ever even hire you, I think that really helps put you over the edge. I mean, it could be like, here’s some ways you could really use Facebook and Twitter to get yourself out there. I think stuff like that would help. For me I think doing FreelanceJam, having somewhat of an established personality on the web, I think that helps. I think there’s just a lot of little things that you can to that aren’t manipulative whatsoever. In a way they’re ... the main thing is be useful to that customer or that prospect, and if you come across as useful then they’re going to hire you.

Dave Yankowiak: Absolutely. Everything you said there. For me it’s always been – if it’s a prospect that I really like and I really want to sign them, I do everything I can to get them on the phone. I know this sounds like a sales-y kind of thing, but I really feel that once we’re actually talking, my close rate goes way up, compared to if we were just doing emails. Because you have to think about it that, usually, especially if it’s kind of just a random lead, they’re probably talking to like ten or more other freelancers or other companies to compare you against. And so starting out all they really have to go on is your email and maybe a few email exchanges and maybe just looking at your website. Hopefully all that stuff looks good, but chances are if there’s ten other guys that stuff looks good as well, so you’re not really standing apart. Once you get them on the phone and actually schedule a phone call and talk to them for maybe twenty minutes... you know, it’s not about being a salesperson or anything like that, it’s just letting your voice be heard and just being yourself, and talking genuinely about their business, about what they’re looking for, their goals, really focusing on them, and then as you said offering some ideas, some advice – well, have you thought of this? This is something that’s going on on the web these days and it’s pretty cool, you know. Again, you’re the expert so you have to really just let that come through. Not force it on them, but really just talk in relevant terms to what they’re talking about, what they’re looking for, and usually by the end of that conversation I hope that they leave thinking, okay, that was a comfortable conversation and I think he was really listening to what I had to say, and I think that really kind of puts me in the final standing.

Brian Casel: I agree with that and I think too, another thing, and this is something as I said I need to get better at doing this. Case studies, both on the blog on my website where I profile a client, I get some quotes from them, maybe have a little interview, talk about what we did with their site, how it’s helped their business. Not only do that on my site but do that when I’m talking to other clients. And this is something that as you have more and more experience, you can really use this in your conversations. Let’s just say, you know what, what you’re trying to do is similar to what we did with client X, and client X had this problem and this what we did to solve it and this is how they’re using their website now to filter customer inquiries more efficiently and market themselves better. Just something like that where you not only telling them here’s a good idea of what you should do, but here’s how we did it for somebody else.

Dave Yankowiak: Exactly.

Brian Casel: This is how they’re succeeding with that. I think that really - when people hear that you’ve done something before that you’re trying to do with them, I think that’s going to put them at a comfort level with you.

Dave Yankowiak: Yes, exactly, and I like that idea of having the case studies on your website, and the way you can approach that is if you’re speaking to them on the phone or on a Skype call or something, you don’t want to just overload them with all this information. You want to make it personal and quick, just like, yes, we’ve done something like that for this other client and it involved custom post management – or whatever we’re talking about, or yes, we did that mobile site and we did something like that a few months ago. And then you follow up – you make it nice and quick on the phone but then you do a follow up email and by the way, here’s a link to that detailed case study. And so now they’re digging into it and it just kind of leads into...you know. That’s all just kind of on a tangent a little bit, that’s somewhere I’d really love to use video. I would love to get to a point with my business where not only am I talking about the client and maybe I’m going out and meeting them, and you know, just doing a little video interview with them and making kind of a little produced short video that talks about what we did. I think that would – when we talk about something that might put you over the top with the prospect, I just think that would be pretty cool.

Brian Casel: Yes, very cool. I mean, these days only a small number of my clients are actually local.

Dave Yankowiak: You know, I’m not even (inaudible 0:51:49.1).

Brian Casel: Just like this, like a Skype?

Dave Yankowiak: Yes, you could do a Skype interview, you could do – heck, if it’s somewhere cool I’d fly out there in the middle of January...

Brian Casel: Exactly!

Brian Casel: You know, if there’s – some are south or something, who knows?

Dave Yankowiak: Yes.

Brian Casel: But stuff like that. I mean, get creative with how you feature your clients. Make your clients the superstar on your website, make it all about them, because then I feel like that’s going to put people at ease with you.

Dave Yankowiak: Right. How about testimonials? I forgot if you have testimonials posted on your site or not.

Brian Casel: Yes. Those are huge, and when I’m working on a site for people and they might be like a consulting company or something, I’m like, get some testimonials on your website asap.

Dave Yankowiak: Yes, I have them on mine as well. I recently redesigned my site and I actually didn’t include them in this new redesign until like last week, or maybe two weeks ago. Not that I really noticed a significant drop off or increase whether I had them or not, but I do think that having them in there and making it clear that these are real, you know. I want them to be as authentic as possible, and my clients have been nice enough to provide that. And that’s (inaudible 0:53:20.1) LinkedIn, I mean, I have my clients lead me referrals on LinkedIn so it gives some legitimacy. I’m not just making up some quote for some fake client. It’s actually on my LinkedIn profile, that links back to their profile. So it’s legit, people know I’m not just beat ass! I don’t make these things up.

Brian Casel: Yes, I think only a couple of my testimonials were actually done on LinkedIn, and that’s something I want to get better at. I actually want to just focus more on LinkedIn and increase my presence there, because I’ve been kind of sleeping on it the last few years.

Dave Yankowiak: And there’s a few – you can use LinkedIn, you could have some of your clients leave you – you could even like set up a Yelp account for your business.

Brian Casel: Have you done that?

Dave Yankowiak: Yes, I have. I don’t have any quotes on there yet, though, but I was like, I need to set this up just to...

Brian Casel: Yes, I haven’t thought of that.

Dave Yankowiak: Just in case any of my clients want that on their site, I can at least have some know-how on using Yelp. But I mean there’s so many like, LinkedIn competitors coming out and...

Brian Casel: Yes, I never thought of Yelp for web design! I was thinking of it as, you know, for restaurants and stuff.

Dave Yankowiak: Restaurants, yes. But you know, I’ve left reviews on there for like the place where we take our cars to get fixed. They’ve always been really good to us, so I’ll go on there and leave them a positive review, and...

Brian Casel: Do you ever leave a nasty review on Yelp? 

Dave Yankowiak: I haven’t left any yet. There’s one I’m going to leave, though. There’s a local restaurant that just totally was terrible.

Brian Casel: I’m not a big review – I read reviews a lot, I don’t really write them, but I feel like the only times I want to write one is when I have something really bad to say! But let’s see – anything else?

Dave Yankowiak: Yes I think testimonials. That’s huge. We talk about referrals – a lot of clients will refer you, if somebody’s like, who did your website? They’ll refer you. I never feel like it’s something you really have to actively push that much.

Brian Casel: Right.

Dave Yankowiak: But those quotes – I almost think getting a good quote from them on your website – it’s easy to get, because you’re like, hey, can I get a quote from you and I’ll link it back to your site?

Brian Casel: Right.

Dave Yankowiak: The more you can do to feature your clients, the better. I think they like that.

Brian Casel: Yes, and you know there’s that – again this might sound a little weird, but I think I remember Andrew Warner talking about this thing, like when you – some kind of psychological thing where if you say – okay, so like, there’s something in online marketing when you get someone to say that they like your product, they’re more likely to refer?

Dave Yankowiak: Yes! It’s like if you verbalize that you like something, or.. yeah.

Brian Casel: Yes, like in this AB test, right? In A it’s just a link to recommend the service to someone else. And in B it’s first they ask how likely are you to recommend this service to someone else? And you say, like, 8 out of 10 I’m likely. And then, well, will you refer it to someone else? And it’s like, 50% more people click it! You know, because they said that they would. So it’s like if you, I think it’s if you get those testimonials – and maybe I’m reading too much into this – but I think that asking for the testimonial, or maybe just letting - the client just saying to you that they’re really happy with how it turned out. It just adds that extra incentive to kind of refer your services to someone else. But you know, I think the other thing about referrals – because I refer work to other people a lot – and I know that I’m very careful about who I refer to. If I’m referring work to someone it’s because I know for a fact that they do quality work, I’ve known them personally, I know that they’re reliable, you know. I don’t want my friend or my client or someone, you know, working with someone that’s not reliable or not trustworthy. So in the end it all comes down to doing good work and being reliable, and making yourself easy to refer to. Making it easy for your clients to want to refer to you.

Dave Yankowiak: Yes, definitely, definitely. I know some people set up like a referral network or they’ll set up, like, if one of their clients refers a new client they’ll do some sort of incentive, and that’s something I have not done. I feel like at some point I probably should!

Brian Casel: Yes, I tried it once. I think it just kind of went unnoticed though. On my site I wrote that refer our services you get like 10% off your next project. It’s so project-based that it’s not really relevant, I feel like.

Dave Yankowiak: Yes. I’m thinking less as a way to get more referrals but more of a way to make sure your customers feel appreciated for doing that.

Brian Casel: Right. 

Dave Yankowiak: Even write a thank you note. And I totally suck at this. So if any of my clients are listening, I totally suck! I appreciate when you guys refer me. I’m just so busy working on those projects that I haven’t come up with a plan for doing that. I mean, even just a thank you note is probably good, just to take some time to thank them.

Brian Casel: Yes, and you know, I’ve sent gifts before. Early on, one of the big things for me in my first and second year was my former boss, I used to work for a web agency and he was a tremendous boss, tremendous company to work for, but he was nice enough to actually refer me my first few clients. These were clients who were kind of too small to be on that agency, but I was a new freelancer and he put me in contact with them and they were my first few clients. And then, you know, they still referred a few more over the next few years, so I would send him, if I got, like, sports tickets or something, sometimes I would send him those, or I’d send like a Christmas gift, you know, send them some wine or something like that. So that’s something to keep in mind and you know I learned that from my Dad who is an attorney in New York and does his whole business is all referrals, and he sends tons of gifts out around Christmastime to people. So it’s a good way of showing like you know, I appreciate what we’ve done in the past year, you know.

Dave Yankowiak: That’s good. That’s a good idea. I mean I think that’s too – not even just referrals but just like around the holidays and stuff, and this is something I haven’t really done since I’ve been freelancing either, is send something out to my clients, or even just your top clients. But that’s something I’d like to - do something creative, you know.

Brian Casel: Right.

Dave Yankowiak: I remember when I worked at an agency. I think one year we sent out like these branded barrel of monkeys – remember those barrels of monkeys?

Brian Casel: Oh, yes!

Dave Yankowiak: We sent those out because all our clients were like marketing departments, so they were all like, super creative kind of that playful spirit and so we always would come up with stuff like that! That’s cool, and something that didn’t cost a lot of money but it was just unique and you know, caught people’s attention.

Brian Casel: Cool. 

Dave Yankowiak: So stuff like that. I’d like to get into that. So alright...

Brian Casel: Yes, I guess we should kind of wrap it up here.

Dave Yankowiak: Yes, definitely got a lot of discussion off just a few questions, so that’s....

Brian Casel: Yes, so hopefully this is a good topic for people new, and in the business for several years. If you guys have any more questions or anything about this stuff, you know, feel free to leave it in the comments or hit us up on Twitter and let’s talk about what works for you guys. Maybe there are things and tactics that you guys like that we haven’t talked about, post them up, let’s talk about them.

Dave Yankowiak: I should say too if there are topics that people want us to cover, if they’re like, you know, I’d really love it if you guys would do a show on.. this. You know, just talk to us on Twitter or in the comments or on the contact form or whatever. If there’s something that you think you’d like to hear discussion about we can find a guest that’s relevant to that, just let us know. And if you have guest suggestions, too, that would be good too. We’ve got some guests lined up and obviously today it’s just me and Brian, so, we’re always looking for feedback.

Brian Casel: Cool, yes.

Dave Yankowiak: Not that we’re bad! Not that we’re bad.....

Brian Casel: As long as we talk about stuff...

Dave Yankowiak: As long we talk about stuff we know about!

Brian Casel: Exactly.

Dave Yankowiak: Thanks for listening in, everybody. This is Episode 14 and we’ve been having a good time so far.

Brian Casel: Yep – lots of fun stuff planned.

Brian Casel: Okay guys, so see you again in two weeks!

Dave Yankowiak: Alright, see you Dave.

Brian Casel: Alright, thanks very much guys.


Leave a comment
  1. Thanks so much for your video – I am a first year freelancer and have been in the feast or famine cycle since January. I’ve already implemented some of your tips. Your experience is invaluable to people like me! It’s good to hear that you’re doing some things right and that you need to beef up on some areas that are lacking.

    I think the most important thing is to stay the course – thanks for the fuel to do this!

    • Brian

      Thanks for watching Norma!

      Yes, it’s a challenge especially in the first year. But I can tell you it gets easier! If you do great work your referral network will grow over time.

  2. Nice. Love that you guys are taking to time to do this type of thing. Do guests have to use the iPhone earbuds, too? Hahaha.

  3. Great site guys. So glad I recently found it. I have found that facebook has given me top of mind awareness with my friends. Just last week, a neighbor of a high school classmate told them they were starting a business and needed some print work done. My classmate got my contact info to her and now I have a nice project completed. This couldn’t have happened without facebook.

    • Brian

      Thanks for checking us out Michael!

      Facebook is an interesting platform for freelancers… Some really like it for business networking, others keep it strictly fun/social. I tend to be the latter, but I know Dave has had success marketing his services on Facebook.

  4. Great video guys, really looking forward to watching more of you!

    I really agreed with so many of your points – it was really nice to hear like minded souls :)

    I’ve not incentivised referrals – for some reason this feels authentic for me. My happy customers want to refer me anyway; they don’t need a financial incentive but they probably need a prod.

    Totally agree with testimonials – people buy from people and testimonials have to be seen. I’m always amazed when people say “you could make them up?!” – I coudn’t imagine pulling such a stunt! I mean, if your business is at a point where you have to invent testimonials then jeeeeez!, something is wrong! Oh, I also use a special guy who interviews my clients for quality testimonials, this really helps avoid the nice, but pretty useless, testimonials like “use Joel! He’s great!” 😉

    I”d love it if you did a show on client/website support; how do you cost for and provide support clients? I obviously host websites and, in the early years, I allowed too much monthly support for too little money; that can really eat into your time & be quite an interrupt on current projects.


  5. cristina

    Hi ,

    I have decided to go as a freelence . Im feeling a bit scared.

    Any good tips you can provide me

    Thank you very much

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