I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a small stable of “big clients” is far better than a large stable of “small clients.” When you work for just a few good-paying clients, you’re able to focus more on quality. You can deliver a better product, make more money and stress less. Landing big clients can seem an impossible task, especially for small companies and freelancers who are just starting out. Here’s how you can land big clients, no matter the size of your company.
What constitutes a “big” client?
Most would consider a big client to be one that pays well and has high work volume, but that’s not the only way to quantify whether a client is big. First, compensation and workload are relative; depending on your company’s size, overhead and your own salary expectations, a big client for you could be a small client for someone else, and vice versa. Second, some clients are “big” because of who they are. For example, one of my recent clients is a national hotel chain. The job I did for the chain wasn’t large, and it wasn’t ongoing; however, the ability to add the chain to my portfolio will make me more attractive to other high-caliber clients. Thus, I would consider the client to be “big.”
If you’re just starting out, it might be good to focus your efforts on landing smaller jobs with big names so you can establish the relationships and work experience that lead to greater, ongoing work. If you’re already established, it’s time to work on sustaining long-term work from your best clients.
How to land a big client
Once you’ve established what “big” means to you, you can start crafting a plan to land big clients. There are many ways to market your products and services to your target demographic, and I’m not going to cover them all here. However, once you’ve identified a big client, I can tell you how to position yourself as the best candidate. You need to focus on the following three areas.
1. Address client needs
This is the most critical area, and the area I most often see small companies and freelancers miss. You have to address the specific customer needs. If you’ve ever spent time on a bidding website such as Elance or ODesk, you' know that a vast majority of bids are “canned.” That is to say, they’re pre-written for every customer and simply pasted in to maximize bid volume. Fail!
Whether you’re responding to a RFP or you’re courting a client you found on your own, you need to identify client problems and needs and then address how each will be solved or otherwise attended to. Let’s say you’re submitting a proposal for logo design. Simply saying you can design a logo lacks the luster of telling clients that, according to your conversation, will address their need to visually represent their brand mission and connect with their audience. If a client wants, say, a hammer incorporated into the design, make sure your proposal makes mention of it. The more you can show that you listen to your clients specific needs, the better they’ll feel about working with you.
In addition to project specifics, you also have to consider other client needs. Most clients want to work with someone they would enjoy spending personal time with; thus, incorporating personality into your proposal and taking the time to learn more about your customers is critical to winning the best clients. Email is great for quick communication, but the willingness to discuss projects over the phone goes a long way toward establishing a true business relationship.
If you have experience solving a specific problem, your proposal should mention it. Again, be specific; case studies from specific clients or a visual portfolio is better than simply saying you’ve helped 50 other companies do exactly what your potential client needs.
I like potential clients to see my previous work not only to demonstrate my experience and expertise, but also to make sure we’re a good fit. Nobody likes leaving money on the table, but if you and a given client don’t mesh well, you will be frustrated and your business relationship will be strained, no matter how brief it is. I like a client to point to previous work and say “Yes, that’s what I want, but like this …”
This goes hand-in-hand with experience. When you have respected professionals willing to vouch for you, new customers are more comfortable hiring you. You don’t have to give out contact information (only do so if requested, and if your reference agrees on a case-by-case basis); but you can ask for a testimonial referral statement to include on your proposal, brochures, website and other marketing materials.
Do not make these up! Fake referrals can be spotted from a mile away. Ask your current client base for a few quick words you can use in your marketing materials, and use what they say verbatim. Potential clients will take notice, and they’ll often research your references – and be impressed. If they do ask for references, make sure your references are expecting their call. Not only will your references be happy you didn’t give out their contact information without asking, they’ll be prepared to give a glowing review.
No matter what industry you’re in or what fee you charge, addressing your customers’ needs, demonstrating your experience, and being prepared to give references will help you land bigger clients. Be professional at all times, and you can build a stable of outstanding clients you love working with.