I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a freelance client back in 2013.
We were talking about the software we were developing. He paused for a moment, sighed, and then said:
“You developers are full of ideas but I always have to drag them out of you.”
That stuck with me. How many opportunities have I missed out on because I kept my mouth shut? How many products could have been better if I had taken more ownership?
After thinking about it for a while, I became more proactive when dealing with clients.
You don’t know if you don’t ask
There is a lot of talk in the freelance world about cold-approaching prospects. It’s exciting and lucrative - if you can email a total stranger and convince them to give you money, the sky's the limit. But aren’t we missing a far easier option?
When you ask something of an existing client - who is happy with your work - you have the warmest approach opportunity imaginable. And most freelancers still miss this opportunity.
When I talk to freelancers about this, they usually say something along the lines of “I don’t know what to ask for, anyway I’m happy as it is, I don’t wanna risk it”.
But the risk of losing a client is much smaller than the potential gain of pitching them with an idea. There are four kinds of pitches you can approach your clients with:
As a professional working on a project, you are in a unique position to spot untapped potential.
Sometimes the potential is lateral (another feature/project that would benefit the business). Sometimes it’s vertical (adding features on top of the current project).
Either way, never let ideas go to waste - write them down and let them mature for a few days or weeks. Then present them to your client. If they accept, they will hire you to work on the new feature/project too. This is a win-win: more work for you, more ROI for the client.
If they don’t accept, they will still appreciate the initiative.
Could your client benefit from something you created or are affiliated with?
For example, if you offer web development services, why not sell hosting while you’re at it? If you don’t want to manage it yourself, why not become an affiliate of a major hosting company?
This is a very straightforward way to add some recurring income to your freelance business. Sometimes, this income stream will outlive the project. In our example, long after the development phase is done, the hosting income will still be coming in.
Such income streams make your freelance business more resilient in the long run.
It’s a good idea to create upside for yourself wherever you can.
One great way to do this is to ask for a bit of equity in projects you’re involved in. If you’ve been working for a startup for a couple of months, why not ask them for a 1-2% stake in the company?
You’d be surprised how open clients are to this. It aligns your interests with theirs, which solves one of their major problems - freelancers jumping ship mid-project. Once you have equity, you are invested in seeing the company succeed.
Who knows, maybe you will someday own 1% of a billion-dollar company.
One thing’s for certain: if your client is paying you well and on time, they have money. Sometimes, they have so much money that they are looking for investment opportunities on the side.
Let’s go back to the client from the first paragraph of this article. Not only did he ask developers for ideas, but he was also looking for great ideas to invest in. If your project is nearing completion and you’ve exhausted the three kinds of pitches listed above, consider the nuclear bomb of pitches: try to convert your client into an early investor for your startup.
We all have side projects, ideas, and dreams. Who better to invest in them than a client who is happy with our services? That built-in trust will at the very least make them consider your offer.
Many of us, especially introverts, flinch at the thought of asking for things. It’s unnerving to expose your ideas that way. It’s scary to consider you might ruin a perfectly good business relationship with your client.
But, in 11 years of freelancing, I have never once ruined a client relationship this way. Being open and honest can only increase trust. It’s important not to become too pushy, though. Keep it respectful, yet convincing. Casual, yet confident. Unassuming, yet enthusiastic.
There’s a fine balance to be struck. One thing’s for sure: the only certain way to fail is to not try at all.