How to impress a client (hint: it's not about you)

When you submit a resume for a job, you may be under the impression that what matters are your skills and experience. The more impressive the resume, the more likely it is you’ll get a job offer.

But that’s not what gets you hired. You are hired to solve a hiring manager’s problems. In theory your cumulative experience will help you do that, but really the resume just gets you to the interview.

When you strike out on your own as a 1099 freelancer, it is even more critical to avoid the “resume reliance” approach if you want to successfully land high quality clients. 

Here’s how you can do that.

Embrace the fact you’re not important to the client

When you first meet a potential client (a small business owner, program manager, or government client), you may be tempted to talk about how great you are and what you can offer them.

The hard truth is, potential clients don’t care about you or your background, and if you spend a lot of time talking about yourself, you will come off like a used car salesman from the 1960s.

In the first conversation, spend a minute giving a high level intro about yourself with a tidy narrative. “I help small government contractors establish repeatable processes to bid on proposals so they’re not always panicking” is a tidy narrative.

But then you should focus on the most important thing: the client!

Ask questions that reveal the clients’ true problems

Potential clients almost never reveal what their true problems are, so you have to do a little digging.

For example, one freelance marketplace client is “seeking quotes from a qualified Actuarial Firm for the purpose of providing an actuarial analysis and valuation of a proposed Defined Benefit Pension Plan.”

You may think that this customer just wants to offer a retirement plan, but what they’re likely concerned about is the ability to attract employees who might be turned off by the lack of a retirement plan or a subpar one. The client is asking for an analysis because they want to know if they can afford it.

So if you made the mistake of just talking about how great of an actuary you are and all your cool spreadsheet skills, you won’t get the job.

 But, what if you asked questions like this:

  • Why do you need an actuarial analysis now?
  • What would happen if you didn’t get this analysis?
  • Once you receive the analysis, what decisions will you make with this information?

By asking probing questions, you will get to the heart of the client needs.

The best part is, the client will LOVE that you’re asking these questions because they will feel you understand what they’re looking for.

Show how you can solve the client’s true problems

The final step is to show how you can meet the client’s true needs.

This is as simple as telling them (whether in writing or in person) that “I will help you solve X by doing A, B, and C.”

To continue using the actuarial analysis example, you could write up a brief e-mail saying something like:

“My firm will help you generate a benefits package that attracts and retain employees while maintaining profitability for your firm by conducting a detailed analysis of your business finances and presenting several options and recommendations for benefits plans.”

Notice how there is nothing about actuarial modeling techniques in that sentence? All it does is clearly state the client’s real problems and a brief summary of how you will solve them. Nothing more, nothing less. 

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Pitching to potential clients is less about selling and more about understanding their true needs. Spend 90% of your time getting information about their true needs, and the other 10% on how you can help meet those needs. This is the path to 1099 freelance success.