Reaching out to companies is a great way to win freelance clients. But if cold approaches seem intimidating, you’re not alone.
In this article, we explain the psychology behind why it makes you feel uncomfortable, how to go about it and why making the first move actually benefits businesses.
Don’t like approaching people? You’re not alone
There is a common perception that freelancers are really good at selling themselves.
But a study found that 70% of freelancers made no plans of how they’d win work before starting to freelance. And just 21% said they had experience with sales.
It’s not surprising then that having to approach someone – say a business owner at a networking event – makes people feel uncomfortable.
But as any successful freelancer will tell you, avoiding it isn’t an option.
Understanding why humans have an automatic aversion to cold approaches will explain a lot.
- Excuse #1: “My skills aren’t good enough”
Fear of failure: this stems from when we were cave (wo)men, living much more dangerous lives than today.
Back then, the chances of getting eaten by a tiger (or another predator) were relatively high.
As such, according to psychologist Dr Russ Harris, our brains evolved to help us survive in a dangerous world.
And our brains learnt that they had a better chance of keeping us alive if they stayed negative.
After all, if your caveman self heard a noise, and your brain would’ve responded with ‘it’s probably nothing’, you would pretty certainly have turned into tiger feed.
But by thinking negatively (‘there’s something out there, RUN’) your chances of survival increased substantially.
Nowadays, there may no longer be tigers lurking around every corner, but our brains haven’t changed.
They still feed us negative thoughts to protect us from harmful things – such as failure.
That’s why it’s normal to feel uncomfortable about approaching a new company. You’re literally wired to do so.
But it’s a matter of shifting our mindset: we don’t fail, we just learn from situations.
And all we can do is try again. Because only from experience we’ll know what works, and what doesn’t.
- Excuse #2: “They’re already working with someone better”
Fear of rejection: another reminder of our cavemen days is our need to belong to a group.
If your clan booted you out, you wouldn’t survive a day in the wild. So your mind learned how to prevent you from being rejected.
It started constantly comparing yourself to other clan members to ensure you don’t fall short.
‘Do I fit in? Am I doing the right things? Am I as good as the others?’
As Harris points out, our modern-day minds are continually warning us of rejection by comparing us to the rest of society.
He states that evolution has shaped our brains so that we are hard-wired to suffer psychologically: to compare, to criticise ourselves and to constantly focus on what we’re lacking.
From a business perspective, that means worrying about our skills and whether better-suited freelancers exist.
If this sounds familiar, it’s time you start looking for better fit potential clients (more on that later.)
- Excuse #3: “I’ve never done this before”
Fear of the unknown: whenever we have a perceived absence of information, our brains start sounding the alarm.
Your brain doesn’t know how to deal with situations you’ve never encountered before. Should it activate your fight or flight response?
To protect you, it automatically treats all unknown situations as potential threats – just in case.
That’s why you get an uneasy feeling when trying something new, and why humans prefer certainty to risk.
Essentially, it all boils down to one thing: all fears are your brain’s way of protecting you. And that’s not a bad thing.
But by understanding why you feel this way, you realise that the perceived dangers are nonexistent – at least when it comes to finding freelance work.
How to approach companies (and why they want you to)
When you build up the courage to approach companies, you start to realise you’re actually doing them a favour.
More often than not, you end up taking work off of their plate, particularly if they’re small businesses.
So without further ado, here are the three best ways to approach potential clients and how they’ll benefit them.
- Review them
First impressions matter: an individual will make a decision on your trustworthiness in a tenth of a second.
So if you come across a good-fit client, do your research to really understand their business. (Side note: for more on good-fit companies, here are three red flags to be aware of when deciding whether to pursue them.)
Our advice is to review their online presence in a way that shows your skill sets. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, come up with three ways they could improve their design.
Then, record a short video explaining your suggestions and send it along with your introduction.
Business owners get thousands of emails, but they don’t get many video messages. That’s what’ll make you memorable.
And you’ll benefit the company by giving them value without them even asking for it.
- Apply for an open position
A company’s open positions will tell you a lot about their required in-house skills. If you tick the boxes, reach out to them and offer your services.
Make sure to highlight the key benefits they’ll get from working with a freelancer, like flexibility.
If they’re adamant to hire a full-time employee, offer to help out in the interim instead.
The hiring process can be tedious and if they’re struggling to get someone in straight away, you can secure yourself work in the meantime.
Follow related hashtags on social networks, such as #Hiring and #JobSearch, to get notifications whenever a relevant position opens up.
The company will benefit by receiving more high-quality applications. Plus, they’ll have a potential interim fix if they need one.
- Reach out on social media
Social media communities, like LinkedIn groups, are a good way to reach out to individuals at target companies.
28% of freelancers say social media is among the top ways to win work.
But there’s a slight catch: this approach takes longer as you’ll need to build up a credible reputation first.
Noone likes people that just post promotional content and you’ll probably get banned from the group if you do.
It’s much better to share valuable, educational content over time and to engage with the individuals you want to reach out to (e.g. commenting on their posts).
The goal is to build up a relationship through shared professional interests. Ideally, your freelance work will come up in conversation down the line.
This way, you’re not putting pressure on them. But you are putting yourself top of mind when they need help.
This approach is beneficial to the company because it saves them time having to search for freelancers in the future.
Business owners get thousands of emails, but they don’t get many video messages. That’s what’ll make you memorable.”
Find yourself a freelance buddy (or two)
The more experienced you become, the more you’ll want to rely on a network.
A study found that 64% of freelancers find referrals from their network to be among the best ways to find work.
A network has financial benefits too: the income of experienced workers with fully-developed networks is up to 60% higher than that of an early-stage freelancer with no established network.
If you’re keen on learning to leverage your network, here’s how it’ll help you find clients.
A network can also be built up among a group of freelancers that work together. For example, say you’re a web designer and team up with an SEO specialist.
As your skill sets go hand-in-hand, you’ll be able to sell your work as ‘one package’ and refer to one another.
Collaborating with existing freelancers is a win-win situation: 31% of UK freelancers are part of a network and 37% used it to work together.
Three actions to improve your chances of getting hired
- Utilise social media: Potential clients will look up your LinkedIn profile so make sure it’s complete, professional and approachable. Include elements of your online portfolio as research shows employers use LinkedIn to ‘window shop’ freelancers.
- Create content: creating related blog posts will help you stand out. Start off by writing up answers to questions clients ask you. Chances are they’ll search for them online at some point. If you show up in those searches, you get the credibility and build up a good reputation.
- Build up an email database: not everyone will be ready to hire immediately. But if you nurture them, they might become a paying client down the line. Start building up your client base via email and send regular valuable content (just ensure you’re GDPR compliant). Here’s more on how freelancers can use email.
Before you quit your day job, do this
Approaching companies out of the blue can be intimidating – but you often end up doing them a favour.
If you’re thinking of going freelance, we offer a course on how to get started on your freelance journey.
You’ll get actionable steps to earn what you’re worth from someone that’s successfully started a freelance business.
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