Getting More Freelance Work: Reduce to the Ridiculous
How pitching yourself less will lead to more and better gigs
In the old school sales world, there was a technique known as reduce to the ridiculous. This was a way of removing price objections by breaking the price down incrementally. “For less than the cost of a daily cup of coffee you can upgrade to…”
“Only pennies a day” is another example. You get the idea. We still see it all the time.
So, What Does This Have to Do With Getting More Freelance Work?
I’m going to suggest reducing the challenge of pitching and finding work to the ridiculous. We read how if you just send out 100 queries, or do two or five or whatever daily, you will succeed. And you probably would, but there is a more efficient way that not only saves you a lot of effort but is more likely to bring in higher quality work. Before I get into it, a little story.
If you read my stuff you may know I’m older and have done a lot of stuff. I never liked being bored. At one point I was a real estate agent when I was in my early twenties. I knew nothing about sales, so I signed up for a miracle sales course by a guy coming through town and teaching a one-week intensive. I read his book, and it made sense, so I paid what was a lot of money for me back then and took the course.
Me and a few others sat in a hotel conference room and were given motivational talks, drank a lot of coffee, and then were given the same daily assignment: go back to the office, pick a neighborhood (he told us how to choose one), grab a reverse directory (a phone book based on addresses. You pick a street and every house’s phone number on the street was in there — ancient stuff), and start calling. But no selling.
This was his secret sauce: tell them you are taking a survey and it is only one question. The question, which in hindsight was genius, was: “are you considering selling your home in the next year?” If no, thank them, and hang up. If yes or maybe, ask if there is a reason why. You now have a lead.
Each day we were to call 100 or so until we’d called the whole neighborhood. The others in the course made a few calls and eventually stopped showing up, or sought endless advice, to avoid those damn calls. I was broke and made the calls. By the end of the week, I had five listings and sold several houses to them, on top of selling theirs. It was enlightening, though I hated it so much I ended up finding a less distasteful process, but it got me going. So those recommendations to send out barrages of emails might work.
Or they might not. In fact, today, we get so much spam that we ignore pitches without even noticing them.
How About One a Week? First Approach
Yup, one. But there is some work involved. First, establish some expertise you can point to, a subject matter niche. I’ve written about how to do this. Then do a weekly research project. There are two aspects. Find companies in your niche. LinkedIn groups are great for this. Go to the company websites and look at their team pages. Identify their marketing manager (or whoever would be likely to hire your skill). If you can’t find an email, you have two options. Send a general contact email with a subject line that says: please route this message to (their name). Or look them up on LinkedIn, and connect to, or message them.
Your message is extremely brief and to the point: I am a writer (designer, developer, etc.) who is experienced in (your niche expertise). If you need a resource for (articles, design, etc.) that knows your market, I’d like to talk. My portfolio, website, etc.
That is it. You’ve spammed them, sort of, but you have a legitimate reason they might want to pay attention.
I found this one by accident. I was doing research on some companies in my area of expertise. As part of this research, I always look at career pages. They tell me a lot about how the company positions itself, how busy they are, etc. So, I’m on a career page and I see an opening as a content writer.
OK, their need is enough that they are willing to take on and train a writer to know their market while paying a salary? I send a note, saying I am not looking for a job, but have they considered hiring a freelancer who is already up to speed on their market — while avoiding committing to a hire?
When you think about this, you’re offering them a risk-free situation, especially if they really may not need a full-time hire. It costs a lot to hire and onboard a new person. The only risk you represent is they send you a project, you blow it, they pay you something, and they get out cheap. Or they get an expert professional who saves them tons of time and money.
Once a Week
I’ll be honest, I do this once a month or when I come across something where I think I can get on the radar. I mention once a week because realistically that’s enough when you consider the research and targeting you have to do to make this work. For me, I’m constantly poking around industry sites doing competitor research for clients or getting to know the landscape. If I see an opening that is not a conflict and looks interesting, I’ll send them a note. You’d be surprised how often I get a cordial response. And if I don’t, I don’t care and I don’t bother them again. Remember, never take it personally.
You do not need a lot of clients. In fact, you likely can’t handle a lot of clients and keep them all happy. That’s the limitation and the liberation of freelancing. Your growth is limited by your bandwidth, but you are liberated from having to constantly grow your client base. So, how do you grow?
You grow by building your value to each client and raising your rates as you become more indispensable. And you use your established expertise to add high-value clients who are willing to pay more for your highly targeted experience. When you have clients who won’t pay, constantly ask for more changes and favors, or are never satisfied, you can drop them as you add better clients.
I know it is really hard for new freelancers to imagine this. But two things will happen: the new clients you bring on board with much more targeted marketing will pay more, and those clients you drop will probably come back. Saying no is a powerful sales technique. If it’s worth it, raise their rates. Otherwise, say no.
Self-Motivation for the Self-Employed
That subhead is actually the title of a book I wrote in the 90s, long out of print. I didn’t want to write it, but it was part of a series and my publisher liked the idea. So I started doing research and found that most of my many self-employed friends struggled with motivation. It turned out there was a book there.
I mention it because the articles I’ve been writing here on freelancing are really about building confidence in your abilities. When you are confident, or at least convincing, it is attractive to clients. That confidence shows when you send out that one message a week. Get it right, and it can change your freelance practice.