Every freelancer dreams of a land flowing with milk and honey where the perfect web development clients are ready and waiting to spend big bucks for a rocking website. A land where prospects understand the intricacies of the art and respect the skill and expertise of you, the developer, without giving you a 6 for a 9 or heavily discount your work. We’ve all heard stories of clients from hell and there are some developers I know who seem to have a platinum subscription to the hell clients express.
As developers, we tend to complain a lot about these clients from hell without realizing that we possess the power to up the ante in our favor, in large part, by approaching our business in a manner that demands admiration and respect.
Web Development is an Art and is Big Business
People in general tend to think of the term “freelancer” as someone who is doing work to simply get by. It’s less respected and not a legitimate profession. In fact, I personally know a developer who had a difficult time receiving payment for work because the client thought “freelancer” meant free work. I place the blame on him in that case though.
The point is that your mindset as a practitioner and business owner has to be serious. You may be a one-man army but you have to think and present yourself like a major brand to be reckoned. This can be achieved and is evident through making simple changes in your business. Let’s discuss some.
1. Don’t Give in to the Temptation to Under-Quote
Particularly for new developers, it may be tempting to offer quotes much lower than average market rates simply to undercut other players, with the hope of attracting clients and winning bids. Don’t do it. This practice can only devalue the market on a whole and in the long-term forces the market of developers to yield to lower expectations from clients. Know what your work is worth, be aware of the market and align your quote.
For instance, if you know you’re worth $100 per hour, do not quote $20 solely for the sake of winning that client. If you find that most of the clients you’re getting are continuously whining about your cost and worth then you may need to reevaluate how you’re acquiring those prospects.
In another case, my bid has been rejected in the past because I simply under-quoted. The prospect doubted the value of the work I was able to present because of the low rate and went with a developer who quoted 2x my rate. Cheaper isn’t always better.
2. Embrace Public Speaking
Many hardcore developers are introverts and thus like to sit quietly and do their work. We avoid confrontation and like to keep things simple. These are great qualities which make up the best of us. However, the ability to sell and present will take you a long way.
Look for conference opportunities to make powerful, impressive presentations on your unique approach and expertise on a particular subject or market. Events that attract CEOs, managers and other decision makers are vital and will expose you to a flurry of businesses looking to make a bigger impact online and finding ways of connect with the ever-evolving digital world. Inject yourself into that environment, start a few conversations, acquire some names and contacts then keep the conversations flowing after the conference.
Trust me, this approach can score you huge contracts.
3. Make the Decision to Specialize
Being a Jack of all Trades may seem impressive but your ability to own and conquer a set of very specific tasks or solve rare and peculiar problems, will be more attractive to businesses and big spenders. There are so many people trying to do everything that they end up entirely failing. If you are in love or have a somewhat special relationship with Java, for example, then hone those skills and be known for it. If you have a special love for UX Design then master that before moving to something else.
Specialists are able to offer more targeted and quality work than the full house developer. In addition, specialists are simply sexier :)
4. Kickstart Your Portfolio
Whether you’re a new or seasoned developer you need to have a personal project under your wing worth admiring. Think of a problem you’d like to solve through your coding skills and develop something so rare, so powerful that it cannot be ignored. Make the project around solving a problem that your target audience has and do it beautifully. That project could sell for millions or be the trump card you need to close a deal with a potential client.
Prospects love to see work completed that they can relate to. It validates your abilities and gives them a sense of confidence that you can handle the job.
5. Produce Beautifully Designed Invoices & Quotations
Spend time to create clear, original and elegantly designed quotations, proposals, invoices and other stationery. Don’t take your expertise for granted, thinking that your ability can convince a client to work with you. You’ve got to play the game. As prospects shop around for the best developer to complete their work, many of them in fact cross developers off their list who present bland, colorless proposals and quotes.
If you’re not willing to spend time to present yourself well then it is assumed that this attitude will pour into your work.
6. Don’t Abandon Traditional Brick & Mortar
Believe it or not, we still live in a world that responds to good old-fashioned presentations. Schedule meetings with prospects, get some proposals and material printing and get out of your home or office to engage them face to face. There are still many big spenders who prefer seeing things presented on paper and in person; and I agree with them. It’s more personal and they get an opportunity to evaluate who they’ll be doing business with. It means a lot for many prospects and many developers ignore and take this for granted. This is an opportunity to stand out and clients will appreciate it.
7. Be Transparent & Use a Contract
Big business demands the use of contracts. It shows that you’re fair, serious about your work and are not afraid to be accountable. High paying clients especially need to be reassured of your accountability and diligence towards getting the job done. Invest a bit of time to draft an effective contract / agreement that outlines every aspect of your projects and addresses all potential concerns.
Remember, you mean business.
8. Take a Risk, Present a Prototype
Without risk, there is no great success. If you’ve been eyeing a prospect for some time now and see where they would do well with a complete redesign of a website or approach to a product, do the work before approaching them. Create a working mock-up and request an audience to present it. This not only shows you’ve got the chops to do the work but is also an opportunity to showcase your unique talents while showing some bravado in your risky venture. This helps your prospect better visualize the possibilities and creates a powerful connection with you.
Of course, you should do your due diligence to determine whether your end product is useful for the prospect or not. Also, I don’t recommend doing this for every prospect but should certainly be attempted for the account that is worth acquiring. Choose wisely. Even if this does not land you a contract immediately, they will be impressed and will refer to you when the time comes.
9. Answer Questions
Yeah, this sounds very simple but 80% of my web development clients, upon first speaking with them, lamented on the fact that they could not reach a developer to answer their questions. They suffered many unanswered emails and calling design houses only to be blocked by a receptionist or assistant. Be accessible and the right clients will find you.
Also, remember that you’re the humble expert. Taking the time to educate your prospects and clients not only builds trust but places them under a certain amount of obligation to use your services. Be generous.
10. Don’t Be Afraid to Collaborate
If you realize you may not have the skillset required to tackle certain prospects or take on particular jobs, then collaboration might be a solution. There are some clients who tend to prefer or are more comfortable knowing that they are working with a team of professionals versus a one-man show. Take the time out to build your network of capable developers and designers who complement your skills. Come together, make an arrangement which allows each of you to pull on team resources when necessary. Depending on your comfort levels with each other, you could formulate a separate brand or partnership used when working with larger clients. This offers the flexibility and leverage of pulling on resources only found within a team to acquire larger, more demanding and rewarding projects.
Work smarter, not harder.
Acquiring valuable high-paying clients is not a far fetched goal but is attainable for the developer who dares to think and do things differently.