Win The Whale: How To Land Larger Freelance Clients And Bigger Projects

Nine tips to position your freelance business as a premium service partner so you can move upmarket to attract larger clients and more lucrative projects.

Orca whale representing larger clients

If you have been freelancing for any length of time, or if you attend industry conferences or hang out on social media interacting with industry peers, you might have noticed that many conversations are centered around growth — business growth, brand growth, email list growth, moving upmarket, reaching a specific income threshold, and working with larger clients.

It often seems like everyone wants to work with larger clients — to win the whales — not only to put the name brand logo on their websites but to work on projects with larger budgets.

The truth, however, is that larger budgets don’t always mean larger profit margins because larger clients require more management, consulting, resources, time, and attention. They aren’t just looking for a vendor to complete a project, they are looking for a partner to deliver a premium experience.

When I first started freelancing, I sold my first website for $600. I went on to build an agency with a $10,000 project minimum and eventually moved upmarket to work with clients on $20,000 to $50,000 projects. While there are quite a few similarities between small and large projects, there are several things you must understand and do differently to land larger clients — and they can make or break your success.

Tips To Land Larger Clients

The biggest difference between small clients and large clients isn’t the scope of work, it’s the time and attention that will be required.

The bigger the client, the less time your contacts/stakeholders will have available and the more they will rely on you to drive the project, process, and results. Similarly, with bigger clients, you’ll deal with more bureaucracy and red tape, more meetings, more opinions, and longer approval processes. This is also true during the prospecting and sales process when trying to land that “whale” as a new client.

If you want to attract more lucrative leads and land bigger clients, here are nine tips to help you position yourself as a premium service partner.

1. Stop Publishing Tutorials

Many freelancers publish tutorials to prove their level of knowledge and skill, but the people who most commonly search for and read tutorials are other freelancers and do-it-yourselfers.

Instead of investing hours into writing and publishing tutorials, consider investing in thought leadership pieces that focus on the thought process and strategy behind solving a problem or challenge or how you approached building a solution for a project. Think about publishing content that removes risk, confirms expertise, and delivers premium positioning.

2. Provide Case Studies

A huge portfolio with tons of visual work samples can overwhelm prospective clients.

Resist the urge to put every project in your portfolio. Instead, curate a collection of your best work that represents the clients you want to attract and the types of work you want to do. Then write a case study for each project that explains:

  • The challenge the client had (Why this project right now?)
  • The reason they hired you (What made them choose you?)
  • The objective/goal (What results were desired?)
  • The scope of work (What did you do for the client?)
  • The challenges faced (What obstacles needed to be addressed?)
  • The highlight (What did you enjoy about the project?)
  • The results (What did the client achieve?)

End each case study with a call to action that invites prospective clients to contact you, and whenever possible, include a testimonial from the client.

3. Showcase Testimonials

Speaking of testimonials… they build trust, remove risk, and provide social proof that other people have successfully hired you and received the results they wanted.

Display video testimonials or text testimonials with photos throughout your website — not just with a case study or in a portfolio entry. Consider a dedicated page for client testimonials and showcase testimonials alongside a project inquiry or contact form, on your about page, and near important calls to action.

4. Be Strategic About Event Attendance

If you want to connect with “big fish” or the people who represent “big fish,” you have to walk away from your computer, get out of your office, and go to events that provide the opportunity to make meaningful connections with the right people.

  • Mix it up with local, regional, and national events. While there may only be 1-2 potential clients at a local networking event, large-scale events can bring far more ideal clients into the room.
  • Increase the ROI of event attendance by preparing in advance. If an attendee list is published, reach out to people you want to meet in advance and invite them to meet up for coffee, lunch, dinner, or drinks.
  • Practice active networking. Avoid spending too much time hanging out with people you already know. Instead, walk around, introduce yourself to new people, and actively pursue the development of new relationships.
  • Seek out events designed for your ideal client. Rather than attending events for your own industry, peers, and competitors, attend the events aimed at helping your target market achieve their goals. With this approach, you may be one of the only people at the event that do what you do and you’ll be surrounded by potential clients.

5. Meet People In Person

Meeting prospective clients in person during the sales process can yield huge dividends. Stepping up to meet big-project, big-budget prospects in person demonstrates your professionalism, highlights your desire to earn their business, confirms your premium level of services, and provides an opportunity to accelerate the relationship and trust-building process.

Whether the client is local or in another state, when you’re negotiating contracts that are tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, the ability to sit down and talk about the project in person can be the difference between winning a project and losing a project.

Sometimes that means grabbing coffee across town, other times it means driving a few hours to sit in the prospect’s office for an hour, and occasionally, it means hopping on a plane to fly to their city and back in a day.

6. Follow Up

Most freelancers fall down when it comes to follow-up.

Even with the best intentions, day-to-day demands and distractions get in the way and follow-up gets delayed or ignored. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “The fortune is in the follow-up,” and disappearing after a meeting can take you out of the running for a potential deal.

You must pursue, nurture, and follow up with prospects in a timely manner — and you need to keep following up until a contract is signed or the prospective client hires someone else. Remember, your prospects are busy and distracted, which means interacting with you must be effortless. Don’t make them chase you down or work to move the sales process forward.

While you can most likely close a $10,000 project in one sales call, a single contract, and a few follow-up emails, a typical sales process for large clients will include multiple meetings and phone calls and maybe travel, a lot of email communication, continuous follow-up, contract changes, negotiations, legal review, and more.

7. Leverage Social Media

When moving upmarket, your social media strategy needs to be adjusted to align with the type of clients you want to attract. The social media accounts for your brand must move beyond your personal thoughts and commentary and shift to reflect the brand reputation you want to become known for. Whether you like it or not, you will be judged professionally by how you behave online.

This means you more than likely need to:

  • Evaluate your social feeds and remove posts that are negative or off-brand, or
  • Start new social accounts for your brand and keep your personal accounts personal.

As for what to share on your brand social media accounts, consider things like:

  • Client successes, testimonials, and wins
  • Project launches
  • Sneak peeks at projects in the works
  • Announcements of speaking engagements, podcast interviews, etc.
  • Things that position you are a trusted expert
  • Quick posts about interesting things you’re working on
  • Opinion pieces and thought leadership commentary on industry happenings

8. Have A Backup Plan

With bigger clients, bigger budgets, and bigger projects, comes bigger risk. The stakes are higher and there is more on the line. What scares big clients about freelancers is the lack of documented emergency plans. Prospective clients need to know their investment is safe and need to feel confident that when the $h!t hits the fan, they won’t lose everything.

Prospective clients want to know:

What happens to the money we’ve invested and the progress made on our project if you fall ill, get hit by a bus, or are suddenly unavailable? How do we recover our funds, access the files/code, and keep moving forward?

To land larger clients, you must establish documented backup and emergency plans so you have an answer to these questions. Things to consider documenting include:

  • How communication between teams will be managed. Will it all happen within a project management system that the client can access at any time?
  • How files will be managed and how the client will gain access to completed work
  • Whether the client will have access to in-progress work. Will you give them access to the project’s GitHub repo so they can follow the progress and access the code?
  • How an urgent need will be addressed if you are unavailable. Do you have a backup plan, an emergency support phone number/ticketing system, someone who can step in and provide assistance?
  • How hosting and plugin licenses will work. Will the client own their hosting and plugin licenses directly so they remain in control of their digital footprint? If not, how will they assume control if you are suddenly unavailable?
  • How knowledge transfer and training will happen. Will it be done at the end or throughout the process?

9. Never Burn A Bridge

No, the client isn’t always right. Sometimes they are very, very wrong. But being a business owner means putting the business first. Get your emotions in check, show up as a professional, and never burn a bridge.

No matter what the client conflict or sticky situation is:

  • Look for an amicable solution or a way to meet in the middle
  • Put forth the effort to ensure a client walks away on good terms
  • Put what’s best for the brand ahead of your own personal feelings
  • Keep emotions out of the conversation and behave professionally
  • Turn away ill-fit prospects with grace and point them in the right direction

I started my business in 2005 and over the years, I have had to turn away ill-fit prospects, fire unreasonable clients, and part ways with clients for a variety of reasons, and their experience was always my priority because you never know what will happen in the future and you don’t know who they know.

Some of my very best (and highest value) clients have come from referrals made by leads I turned away or amicably parted ways with. They were so impressed with how the situation was handled, they had no qualms about referring their friends and peers my way.

Larger Clients Larger Challenges

Working with larger clients looks attractive. The idea of working with fewer clients at much larger budget levels is seductive. The fewer people you have to make happy, the easier life can be. Today, I work on far fewer projects than I ever have because the engagements are much larger and longer — and I love it. The client relationships are deeper, stronger, and more personal and the work is more focused.

What can never be forgotten, however, is that larger clients also bring larger challenges and larger expectations.

When it comes to solving problems and delivering solutions, the stakes are high. More money, time, and resources are on the line, and more stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process, which means more bureaucracy, opinions, and politics. This translates to more client management, more project management, and more administrative/executive oversight that must be built into the project budget.

I don’t share these warnings to dissuade you from moving your freelance business upmarket, pursuing larger clients, and going for the “whale” you dream of working with… I share them so you can take purposeful action with your eyes open and a clear picture of what to expect as you move through the sales process with bigger clients.

This article was originally written for and published by Liquid Web.