Day 4: Get Inside Your Clients’ Head

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Creative Commons License photo credit: _Zeta_

This is Day 4 of 31 Days to Start a Freelancing Career (or Make Yours a Better One).

Today you’re going to decide which clients you’d like to work with, and what they really want in somebody they outsource work to.

So the first question you need to ask is, “Who’s my ideal client?” The best way to answer this question is by figuring out:

  • who wants your services
  • who is willing and able to pay what you want to charge

Take note that I used the word “want” and not “need.” These are two different things and the distinction is very important.

You want a client who wants your services rather than one who needs it but may not be aware of it. A client may need your services but not want it. In that case, you’ll have to educate that client and work that much harder to get him or her to want your services.

On the other hand, with clients who want your services, your only task will be to convince them that you’re the best person for the job.

Who Is Your Target Client?

Determine as many specific qualities as you can about your target client, such as:

  • gender
  • age
  • marital status
  • family situation
  • residence

Also think of your target client’s

  • occupation
  • annual income
  • industry
  • life goals
  • hobbies
  • organizations they belong to
  • what books and magazines they read
  • TV shows they watch
  • which podcasts they listen to
  • people they admire and listen to

My copywriting mentor, Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero, goes so far as to give her target market (or “tarket” as she calls them) a name and an image. Do the same if it works for you.

Or think of specific people you know who fit into your idea of your target client.

That is only the first step. The next step is to find out what your target client wants.

What Does Your Client Want?

Getting to know your target client is now much easier than ever, thanks to the Internet. If you can identify 2-3 specific people online who fit the profile of your target client, your market research will get much easier. Here are some things you can do:

  • Follow them on Twitter and listen to their Twitter stream.
  • Read their blog. Comment and start interacting regularly.
  • Subscribe to their newsletter.
  • Be a fan of their Facebook page.

If you’re feeling up to it, you might even request a quick Email interview. Ask three questions, tops, so choose your questions well.

Even if you don’t have specific people in mind, you should, at the very least, research the general industry you’re interested in serving.

  • Go to Google and look for the most relevant sites, blogs and forums in the industry.
  • While you’re in Google, set up your Google reader to send you daily Emails with the latest updates on the industry.
  • Search for the industry term in Alltop.com.
  • Use Tweetdeck or Twitter search to see what people are tweeting about

But wait, don’t forget about offline sources, too, such as:

  • books and magazines about the industry
  • industry association meetings and conferences (you won’t be able to do this today, but do attend them whenever you can)

As you’re doing all this, take note of the problems people are stressing about. Do any of your skills address these problems? Also be on the look out for mention of service providers who seem to be doing well in your target clients’ circles.

By now you should have a pretty good idea of what your target clients want. However, this is an ongoing exercise. You need to keep track of your target clients and the industry they’re in. Set aside a few minutes every day or every week to visit the sites, blogs and forums you discovered.

What about forums you have to pay to join? If your budget allows it, join the best one. It’ll be well worth it if the forum allows you to interact with your target clients. But we’ll discuss this more later on.

For now, keep that image of your target client in your mind. He or she will be the most important person in your freelancing business from now on.

What did you think of today’s task? Did you discover something about your target clients that you never knew before? Do share by posting a comment below.

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30 Responses to Day 4: Get Inside Your Clients’ Head
  1. Chris Anderson
    October 6, 2009 | 10:53 am

    This is a good one here, and it’s something I need to improve upon. Thanks for the tips, they have been great so far.
    .-= Chris AndersonĀ“s last blog ..Todoodlist Review =-.

    • Alexis
      October 6, 2009 | 11:37 am

      Thank you, Chris!

      Effective communication begins with knowing our audience and getting inside their heads. This is a step that you can’t gloss over. The better we know our target clients, the more successful we can be.

      Lexi

      • Adam
        February 11, 2013 | 11:30 am

        I have a spectacular habit of screwing this up at the moment – usually when I’m asked to demonstrate something that a client needs to improve.

        I think I’ll go back to the “shit sandwich” model of constructive criticism (you say a good thing, a bad thing and finish with a good thing) over honesty. It seems much easier to swallow.

        • Lexi Rodrigo
          February 15, 2013 | 1:33 pm

          @Adam – Hmmm I don’t know about that approach, I would just be honest while still being kind. Let us know how the sandwich model works out for you.

  2. Leah
    March 5, 2010 | 7:51 pm

    Hi Lexi,

    This is great stuff; I just found your site a few days ago. I started your “31-days” today as a sort of crash course, to re-start my freelance business after a long time of inactivity. Day 4 is excellent! Can’t cram this one, so I’m taking notes and stretching it out in sections (plus it’s an ongoing thing anyway). So today I’m doing 4 days…

    This is exactly what I needed! Structure, a plan. Thank you. Thanks especially for the plug-ins on day 15! I am SO cheating and taking care of some of that stuff PRONTO :)

    Best,

    Leah

    • Alexis
      March 5, 2010 | 8:57 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Leah! I’m glad you’re enjoying the content and finding it really useful. Let me know if there are any other topics you’d like to read about. And do keep us posted on your progress :-)

  3. Emma
    March 23, 2010 | 9:33 am

    This is the biggest challenge for me…to figure out who my clients should be. Still not sure how to do it, but thank you for this helpful post, I’m going to dive in today!

    • Alexis
      March 24, 2010 | 10:15 am

      Hi Emma! It can be hard at first to zero in on one niche or segment of the market to focus on. Just get started with one, preferably one where you already have contacts, keeping in mind that you can always expand to other niches/market segments when you’re more skilled and comfortable about marketing your services. Hope that helps!

  4. Elvis
    April 18, 2010 | 9:14 pm

    Lexi, I’m freelance graphic and web designer specialized in Joomla CMS in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Thank you for the 31-days series! You sure are a mentor for me! It’s been a great help so far. Day 4 kinda scared me at first but I’m reading this post over and over until I get the most of it. I’m having doubts, though, because I feel I can serve any industru. Currently I have clients from diverse walks of life.

    • Alexis
      April 21, 2010 | 9:05 am

      Hi Elvis, I am very happy you’re finding the 31-day series helpful. It IS scary to put yourself out into the world and freelance. However, anything worth doing is scary at first.

      Let me know if you have any questions. Cheers!

  5. Elvis
    April 26, 2010 | 5:54 am

    Hello Lexi, thank you for your reply!
    I understand my target client is the client who wants my services. To figure this out, I wrote down in further details what my previous clients asked me to do. This helped me improve my skill list from Day 1 and 7. (I’ve been going back and forth the days). So far, I realized my clients are an individual or a very small company. They use my service once and come back after a long period. I service diverse industries. Most my clients are males, they own or preside their companies/institution and they demand web services from me (I also offer illustration and training). Still, I’m not sure how can I use this information to land new clients… Thoughts anyone?

    • Alexis
      April 26, 2010 | 12:22 pm

      Hi Elvis, You’re making good progress! Here’s how you use this: anytime you communicate with your prospective clients — whether you’re putting together your business card, or on your website, or anything else — you imagine this Ideal Client in your head. You essentially write or talk to him. Also, knowing what problems they go to you for will help you further refine the types of services you offer, because your services are the solutions to their problems.

      Of course having a specific Ideal Client doesn’t mean you’ll be turning down anyone who doesn’t fit this profile. It only means you’ll be focusing on your Ideal Client when you market your services.

      Hope this helps!

  6. ShelleyD
    August 25, 2010 | 12:57 pm

    Hi Lexi,
    Like Emma, I’m having difficulty figuring out who my clients would be. I’ve written blog posts for real estate, feature articles and editorials, ezines, and have kept brokerage sites in business.

    Ahh, I just read Elvis’ comment. THAT helped me tremendously! (*sigh of relief)

  7. Karine Delvare
    September 3, 2010 | 3:35 am

    A very hard task for me too… I procrastinated a lot before diving into this lesson!

    That being said, once the target is roughly indentified, it’s pretty exciting to find forums or blogs where these potential clients are, and read what they need… all at once you go from the feeling “am I really useful, does anyone wants me?” to “hey, I could solve that problem, I would make that person happy!”

  8. Kim
    December 22, 2010 | 12:01 am

    Karine,

    (Newbie graphic designer here. Totally lovin’ this, Alexis + theSavvyFreelancer followers!)

    Can you give an example of how you went about finding these forums and blogs of your “potential clients”?

    After having that “Hey, I could solve that problem. I would make that person happy!” moment, how did you proceed? Did you actually contact that PC?

  9. Jarod Billingslea
    December 25, 2010 | 4:01 pm

    One thing I do is just go to google and type in “top 10 INDUSTRY/NICHE blogs” and it pulls up a list of the best blogs about that industry or niche. Then I simply read articles based on what the client needs.

    From right there and on, everything is awesome.

    • Antonella Barbieri
      October 27, 2012 | 4:13 am

      This tip of yours is such a good start for a newbie!
      Thank you very much!

  10. Chris Vanasdalan
    December 31, 2010 | 10:54 am

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been freelancing for about 6 months now and I’ve been working to identify the needs of my potential clients, but I never made the connection about developing a true profile of my ideal client.

    I left the broadcast news and reporting world to go freelance and I’ve been trying to focus more on business writing. This exercise made me realize I should get back to what I do best (reporting), and now I can start identifying specific editors and publishers to pitch to. That way I’m not spinning my wheels trying to force a path as a copywriter when I don’t really enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

  11. Bonnie
    January 16, 2011 | 11:29 pm

    This one is really hard for me because of the diversity of my target client/audience. They range from family people to small businesses to people looking for work, even up to big corporations – so how would I incorporate that into my market/target client?

  12. Brian
    May 2, 2011 | 11:54 pm

    Thanks for this tip. I have been doing this sort of thing for a while, but hadn’t really taken it seriously as an important step. You have shed some much needed light in this area. I will now take it a step further, follow your advise, and do it more effectively. Thanks again Lexi for another great post.

  13. Abu Wilson
    December 31, 2011 | 9:53 am

    AWESOME, AWESOME ADVICE! Thank you very much. It can be tough to find convince a potential client sometimes. I wish I had an invisible hand to put inside a potential client’s mind and massage it to be my client. This post gives great info!

  14. Elizabeth
    February 14, 2012 | 6:22 pm

    This is a great exercise. Like many of the others I have found it really challenging. My client group is really varied, different ages/backgrounds/levels of need that I didn’t think I could find any common ground. To be honest this will be an ongoing exercise, but I have begun to see patterns emerging: they are all busy / they all lack confidence in writing / they all need great (and prompt) communication from me to feel reassured… Hopefully I will be able to give this the sort of detail required, but still working on it.

  15. Abu Wilson
    March 1, 2012 | 8:11 am

    Would having an ideal client profile help me to better avoid challenging clients?

    • Alexis
      March 20, 2012 | 12:04 pm

      @Abu Wilson – Definitely!

  16. Abu Wilson
    March 1, 2012 | 8:14 am

    If I meet a potential client and I know I do not want that person as a client, how do I say “Thanks but no thanks?”

    • Alexis
      March 20, 2012 | 12:04 pm

      @Abu Wilson – Just say you don’t think you’re a good fit for each other, and offer to refer the prospect to other freelancers, if you feel like it.

      • Abu Wilson
        March 31, 2012 | 1:29 pm

        Thank you Alexis!

  17. Antonella Barbieri
    October 27, 2012 | 4:10 am

    Dear Lexi,

    first of all…your website and tips are awesome!
    I am new to the freelancing world, and i am really glad i’ve find you!
    Day 4 is pretty hard for me; i think i have different ideas on how my potential clients could be but it’s like if i had all messy in my head and i don’t really know where to start..consider that i would love to work for an international market, not only for the Italian one (yes, i am Italian!)and i am interested in dealing with both translation and writing( be it SEO, creative, etc)…but honestly, i feel so darn tiny in this world if you know what i mean! Any good advise, my new great mentor? :)

  18. motolady
    August 28, 2013 | 2:56 pm

    I have a question. If I want that freelancing business being on a platform (like odesk) what should I do? Find the employers, read what they ask for a job? How can I find what qualities do they look for? If they choose someone else, I can’t ask what they liked to that person.

    Thank you for your answer.

    • Lexi Rodrigo
      August 29, 2013 | 8:43 am

      @motolady – I don’t use odesk or similar sites myself, so I don’t have a lot of advice. Definitely, read the requirements for each job. If you’re confident you can deliver, then make the best pitch you can. Good luck!

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