Book clients without “growing your following”

“I’ve read the blogs, implemented the strategies, and somehow I’m not booking the right clients! My instagram following has grown, I’m busting it blogging weekly, and yet I’m not booking clients consistently.”

You are not alone. This is an issue I see crop up in my inbox or in conversations with creatives often, and sadly it doesn’t get a lot of air time in the online world. It’s something I hate to see — we all want to reap the benefit of our hard work, yes?!

I’m jumping into this all too common issue.

How to book clients without “growing your following” | Spruce Rd.

Two approaches — different results.

Let’s take a deeper dive into two different freelance designers. We’ll check out their stats to help shed light on this problem.

Freelancer A: She’s a smart gal who’s working her tail off to promote, promote, promote. She’s been at the freelance game for less than a year. During her 6 months, she’s grown her Instagram following over 1k, she blogs consistently each week, and is pretty well known online. Her inbox is FULL of inquiries. I’d say she’s off to a great start in her business!

Freelancer B: This girl has got some serious design skills, and took her passion to full-time freelancer earlier this year as well. She’s had a slow start on social media, rarely hits publish on a blog post, and isn’t active on social media. She’s got a few inquiries coming her way, but not a ton.

On the surface, Freelancer A seems to be crushing it… yes?

Let’s make this juicy.

What if I told you Freelancer A has booked 4 clients this year (pretty good for 6 months in!). BUT… here’s the kicker. Freelancer B has booked 8 clients — double the amount.

So what did Freelancer B do to earn those clients?

She focused on her priorities first… not marketing.

Consider your priorities

Back to our original dilemma — you’ve grown your social media, and even blog frequently, and yet you aren’t consistently booking the right clients.

If we get to the heart of it, you’ve bought into the notion that marketing will resolve your problems.

Reality check: you don’t have a marketing problem. You have a systems problem.

When you ask businesses what their struggle is, I’d say most of them would answer with one word: marketing. While we all could improve our marketing in one way or another, I think we need to take a step back and evaluate the root of our issues.

If you’ve bought a fixer-upper Craftsman home (who else has this dream!?), you no doubt have some issues to resolve. You wouldn’t simply paint the exterior and call it done, meanwhile there’s mold, broken plumbing, and AC that doesn’t work. In Texas, we would call that “putting lipstick on a pig.” :) You’d need to take a look internally first, before glamming up the outside.

The same goes with your business. Take a look internally at your processes and systems, before marketing becomes #1 priority.

How systems (not marketing) earn clients

You might be thinking, right… I have my processes down so this doesn’t apply to me.

… but do you?

If you’re crushing it online through marketing, using all the “right” hashtags and earning followers but not clients, then there is a disconnect.

In our example above, what I didn’t tell you is that Freelancer B had a system in place to court potential clients. She had an established process from inquiry to project completion. She knew how to provide a red carpet experience for her clients, which earned her a great reputation (rightly so!). You see, attracting clients is not the hard part. The hard part is booking the right clients, and having a smooth experience (for you and them) from start to finish. Not to mention how to work with multiple clients at the same time.

One crucial thing that Freelancer B had, that Freelancer A lacked, was time. While Freelancer A was researching the top hashtags, trying to grow her email list and frantically trying to gain followers on social media, Freelancer B had time to invest in each inquiry that landed in her inbox. She replied in a timely manner and made the complete client experience as smooth as can be. Yet, Freelancer A tends to be working last minute on projects, struggling to keep up with deadlines! She is stressed managing each project and even lets potential clients slip through her inbox because she can’t keep it under control.

Once you have the time to invest in your business, you’ll have more control over the direction it goes. You will no longer be throwing spaghetti at the wall hoping something sticks from your social media marketing. You’ll have time to establish ironclad processes, client experiences that have your customers drooling, and honestly more white space in your life.

Yes, this internal correction of developing processes may take longer because it needs to be done right. Whereas throwing up an Instagram post with a series of hashtags seems achievable and easy. However, once you have a streamlined process you will actually have time freed up to work on your marketing. You’ll also find that once your systems are smooth, you don’t have to market as much as you thought you did! Just ask Freelancer B — she’s getting referrals from her past clients, and even has recurring work from her current clients. It’s working out pretty well :).

Now, I know this might ruffle some feathers here. “But Jamie, don’t you blog? Don’t you earn clients through marketing!?” Yes and no. I refined my processes for YEARS before starting Spruce Rd. I observed what wasn’t working at current jobs, and secretly drafted processes I knew would work. Even today I’m still refining my processes as I learn from my clients.

I’m never going to say marketing isn’t important, because hello! — as a designer marketing is pretty important for our clients. What I will say is that many businesses prioritize marketing when they’re crumbling underneath. They’ve cast a mile long net that’s only an inch deep. I’d rather cast a smaller net that reaches deeper and books more of the right clients.

If that’s you too, I encourage you to take a look into what your real hang ups are. What’s preventing you from booking clients, and having a rave-worthy experience? Are you short on time to invest in your clients? Are you taking shortcuts in presentations, and not courting them through the process? Are you focusing your time on social media, when it should be on your process?