1. Develop a Unique Selling Proposition
If you've never taken a marketing class, then consider this your first free lesson: As an entrepreneur, it is essential that you develop a unique selling position (USP) to set yourself apart from the competition. Talent is wonderful, and experience is helpful, but neither one is enough to catch the attention of clients. The marketplace is crowded. In order to stand out, you need to build a brand that helps potential clients see your unique value.
Ask yourself, What does your business offer that sets it apart?
Begin by asking yourself two questions. The first is fairly simple: “What does your business offer?” You need to know your business like the back of your hand before you start approaching clients. Make a list of your values, skills, and experience—these are your basic “selling points.”
The second question is more difficult to answer: “What does your business offer that sets it apart from dozens of similar businesses?” This is the essence of branding: You are not just designing an identity for your business, you are framing your business in a particular way in order to set yourself apart.
The best way to begin to think about your USP is to approach your business from the customer's perspective. For many freelancers, a website is essential, as is an active presence on social media. A client needs to be able to take one look at your online media (Facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as your professional and personal websites) and understand immediately why you're different and better than your competition.
2. Connect With Your Clients
As a freelancer, your reputation stands essentially on two foundational supports: Your work (duh!), and your personality. Many clients choose to work with independent freelancers because they want to make a personal connection, they want to “know” the individual behind the output. And solopreneurs can shine by making an extra effort to connect with their clients, either in person or online.
Building a connection means more than just writing an email to say, “Hello,” or “How are you?” Make it a top priority to engage each client individually as though they were a close friend: Ask them questions about their business history, their mission, their goals. You don't necessarily need to “make it personal,” but you want your connection to transcend the typical client-provider relationship. Consider this a service that you do not bill: You are laying the groundwork for partnerships that will continue to reward your business in the future, and you are building your network in the process.
3. Be Professional
You've probably heard the phrase, “Dress for the job you want, rather than the job you have.” Well, as a freelancer you have the opportunity to reinvent yourself with every new assignment, and your goal should be to present a coherent, confidence-inspiring professional face.
Being a consummate freelance professional means different things to different people, but there are a few common denominators. First of all, the three P's: strive to be punctual, polite, and precise in all of your communications. Answer emails right away and be proactive whenever possible. Second, brand your business every chance you get. Emails, invoices, business cards, your Facebook page—these are all opportunities to promote your brand identity.
4. Go After the Big Fish
Your business is only as big as your clients. Many freelancers struggle for years to outgrow small, locally-based customers. (And it should go without saying, there is nothing wrong with small clients, but if you want to leapfrog to the next level, then you need to land bigger accounts as soon as possible.)
You will never know what you can do, or what projects your business can land, until you put yourself out there. Make bids, contact clients, and grow your network. Never be afraid of the word “No.”
Here's the dirty secret about landing the big fish: After you catch one, the rest practically leap into your net. The hard part is convincing one dream client (just one!) that you have the know-how and resources to manage such a large account efficiently.
One word of warning: It is best not to catch a big fish until you are absolutely ready. If you flub your first major contract with a national client, it can be difficult to live down that reputation.
Have another great tip for growing a self-employed business fast? Why not leave a comment below?