The best leads happen just because you’re wonderful

Leads. From Glengarry Glen Ross.

Nine years after I started my freelance career, I’ve become an overnight success. In the last two weeks, these leads all came my way:

“I was a participant in your writing workshop a few years ago, now I want to do one for my own department.” — Executive at Fortune 50 firm.

“You edited my book three years ago. I have to work with you on the new one.” — Author of multiple successful books

“You ghostwrote a book for my CEO. Now I’m at a new company, and we need a ghostwriter.” — Executive at tech company

“Thanks for being a reference for [hybrid publisher]. You really sound like someone I should work with. Would you edit my book?” — Marketing agency president

“You interviewed me a while ago as a content expert. Now I want to write my own book. Can you help me?” — Senior researcher

These leads all have some very desirable characteristics in common:

  • They picked me, so I’m pre-qualified.
  • I’m not in competition with others. They want what I do and am uniquely qualified to do, not what somebody else does.
  • They’re far less likely to negotiate on price or ask for a discount.
  • Since I already know them, I know they’re probably not flaky or deluded.
  • They match my client profile — they’re working on business books or improving the writing qualifications of their departments.

In short, I didn’t have to waste time attracting or qualifying them. We can go directly to talking about what they need, how I can help, and how much it will cost.

How magical leads happen

I could just strut around feeling happy about this wealth of opportunity, but it’s in my nature to be analytical. So I asked myself, why is this happening?

It’s happening because I’m helpful, client-focused, and extremely good at what I do.

The first three leads happened because the people involved were familiar with the work I’d done for them, or people close to them, in the past. I’d done a good job, and they noticed. It’s way easier to get business from people who’ve already been impressed with you.

The other two, I spoke to in non-sales contexts. It would have been extremely offensive to pitch them anything while I was conducting a research interview or providing a reference. All I did was to be competent, and apparently, to project expertise about books and publishing. So when they needed help, they thought of me.

To make this sort of thing happen, I follow these principles:

  • Choose only projects that fit my expertise.
  • Make every client as happy as possible, doing extra work if the project warrants it. Don’t nickel-and-dime the clients.
  • Be as accessible as possible.
  • Constantly update my knowledge, so I can be sure I am always improving.
  • Be generous with advice in all contexts — but only when people ask for it.
  • Be generally friendly and helpful. Refer people to other top professionals when appropriate.
  • Work on projects where my work can be visible.
  • Keep my prices high, but not so high that I attract pissy, difficult clients that no one else will work with.
  • Make sure my LinkedIn is up to date with my work, so when they check me out, they see the kinds of things I do.
  • Make sure my web site is more informational than sales-oriented.

These really aren’t conscious choices. This is just the way I prefer to work.

This kind of attitude pays off. Not right away, but over the long term. And it assures that I spend more of my time doing good work, and less of it marketing and qualifying leads.

Would this work for you? I hope so. Because it’s an awesome way to freelance.

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