Are you leaving money on the table?

Sep 11, 2014

I’ve been helping creative professionals get gigs for more than 15 years. First as an agent, and now as a business coach, I teach freelancers how to attract and land their own dream clients.

One thing remains a constant: getting new clients takes a lot of work. You need to define what makes you unique. Then you need to create a marketing message that resonates with your ideal clients. And when you’ve done all that, you still need to close the deal. Whew!

But once you’re working with the client of your dreams, you have to keep them coming back! In my experience, clients want to build trusted, long-term relationships as much as we do. Yet, as freelancers and small businesses owners, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and miss opportunities to serve our clients in a bigger way.

Today, I’d like to share a few strategies for landing new contracts and keeping long-term clients happy, so you can keep your project pipeline full and avoid leaving money on the table.

1. We neglect new prospects


You’re at a networking event and someone expresses an interest in working with you. You take their card and follow up the next day (right?). Perhaps you follow up a couple more times before you let it go and forget all about them. After all, you don’t want to be one of those freelancers.


Create a "Low Hanging Fruit" list. Create 5 columns: (1) date (2) name (3) email (4) how they found you, and (5) status. Simply enter your prospect’s info and check every few months to see how they’re doing and if there’s anything you can do to help. People are busy and, for the most part, are happy that you checked in. If and when the time is right to hire someone, you’ll be top-of-mind.

2. We don’t stay in touch with our clients


You worked on a project, did a great job and the client was thrilled. Yet, despite your best efforts, it didn’t lead to more work.


In my experience, patience is always a virtue. Just because you don’t get another project immediately, doesn’t mean you won’t in a few months, or even years. Stay in touch with your clients and show a genuine interested in them and their business. If you learn about a big win they had, send them a “congratulations” note or email. If they experience a loss or blow to their business, ask if there’s anything you can do. If they get fired, take them out for coffee. Clients are people too and when they see you as a genuine and trusted partner, you’ll be the first person they call when you they have the need.

3. We wait for clients to take the lead


You have tons of ideas for how you can add value to your client’s business or brand, but they’re not reading your mind and throwing work at you.


Look for ways in which your client’s needs are not being fulfilled. Rather than point out the gaps to them (which could put them on the defensive), offer solutions. For example, when I was an agent for creative talent, a large department store hired my fashion illustrator for a tiny project. It went well, but nothing more was forthcoming. So we decided to pitch a much bigger idea to them. We developed a deck that showed how her illustrations could be used in a multitude of ways, from print advertising and promotions to in-store signage, windows and product design. I presented the ideas to the Creative Director, she loved the proposal and they became one of our biggest clients for many years to come.

4. We assume prospective clients won’t/can’t pay for our services


Someone once told me “Don’t get inside someone else’s pocket book”, meaning: don’t assume what someone can and can’t afford. Whether it’s investing in a coach, having a new website designed or hiring a copywriter, the kinds of clients we want understand the importance of investing in their business. It’s not for us to decide whether they can afford it, or how they will pay for it.


Focus on your side of the bargain (offering a great service and product) and let them focus on theirs (paying for it). To clarify, your side includes:

  • Know what problems you solve and for whom.
  • Only work with clients you know you’re the best person for. If I feel that I’m not the right coach for someone, I will happily refer that person to someone who’s a better fit.
  • Charge a fair price based upon your expertise, your time and the results you deliver. N.B. fair is not the same as low. If you’re highly qualified and have a proven track record of solving specific problems, you may charge a very high, yet fair, rate.
  • Do everything in your power to deliver a premium product or service.

5. We don’t educate our clients about what we can do for them


One of the biggest obstacles to getting more work is that clients simply don’t know the full range of our capabilities. As a result, they go elsewhere for services that we could provide.


Learn everything you can about your ideal client’s needs and build your services, packages and marketing message around to those needs. Not sure what your ideal clients wants/struggles with? Try this exercise. It works!

Have you noticed a common theme in these scenarios and strategies? When we focus on our client’s needs and do everything we can to deliver a service that meets those needs, we automatically stop leaving money on the table. When your client wins, you win too!

Justine Clay has been helping freelance creative talent build thriving careers for more than 15 years. As the founder of Plum Creative, she built a track record of making the perfect match between high-level, independent creative professionals and clients that included Vogue, Bloomingdale’s, Henri Bendel and West Elm.

Justine’s desire to share her knowledge with more than the handful of people she represented led her to found Pitch Perfect in 2010. As a business coach for creative professionals, Justine helps her clients define what makes them unique, create a clear marketing message and get more, high-quality, better-paying clients.

Justine’s services include one-on-one coaching, workshops and talks. She is also a regular contributor to the Freelancer’s Union blog.

Justine Clay

Justine Clay is a speaker and business coach for creative entrepreneurs and freelancers. Sign up for her free guide: How to Find High-Quality Clients and Get Paid What You’re Worth, above.