What do freelancing prospects really want?

A new freelancer asked, “What do prospective clients look for, and how can I show that I have those skills?”

The first time a prospect reached out to me, I wondered the same thing. I know it’s an exciting moment, but nerve wracking too.

For your first two-way communication with the person, you want to get off on the right foot. You’re also hoping to close a sale. 

That’s what YOU want.

But what does the prospect want?

And how can you give it to them better than anyone else?

The 4 things that a new prospect wants from a freelancer

No matter what your field is, the prospect is looking for four things:

  1. professionalism
  2. credibility
  3. proof
  4. leadership

The first three are all over your website. Only the fourth one is new.

We’ll assume you’re responding to the prospect with an email. Here are the five steps to writing your response that gives them all four of these things.

How to respond to a prospect in 5 steps

1. Give a timely response

Get ready to respond in a timely manner, hopefully within the same day but certainly within 24 hours. If this is an email and it’s early in the day, prepare to respond by end of day. If it’s near the end of day, reply back—say “thank you for reaching out to me. I will send you a response by end of day tomorrow (or Monday).” Then do it. That’s professionalism.

2. Research the client

Do your research. Now if the prospect is a business person, he or she will expect you to check out the company website and even look them up on LinkedIn. What are you going to find there? You’ll get familiar with their business and their position in it, and perhaps their experience and expertise level.

It’s good to know where people are coming from. For one thing, it will stop you from asking questions about that which you should already know, and secondly, you can move to asking more focused questions. That’s professionalism.

3. Answer the mail and go up a level

Answer their question directly, and also take them up to the next level. This could mean asking them what stage they are at in their decision making…do they have a timeline…do they have a deadline.

Or if they already gave you that, you could suggest to them in a helpful way, what information you would need from them to do your work well. Asking gently means don’t make them feel incompetent for not have that certain information. Qualify your suggestion with “if you have this detail” and suggest or offer to fill in any gaps with your own recommendations.

Asking these questions and making suggestions shows credibility, because it says you have a process in the way you work.

It also shows leadership, which prospects always need, unless they’ve purchased services like yours many times before, and you’ll probably figure that out from your research. Remember, you are the expert in what they are buying. The prospect looks to you for next steps, even if they don’t ask for it.

4. Present your proof…at the end

The second last thing in your email, after you’ve finished making it all about them, is to present your proof. This is the time to mention your own experience and skills that are relevant to the request. If your website has samples relevant to the service they are asking about, mention that too.

The idea is to get the prospect thinking “What a good fit you would be!” Going that extra mile makes it obvious that you are interested in the opportunity they are waving in front of you.

5. Close with an open loop

Now write a closing that leaves an open loop. Throw the ball back in their court.

If you gave a price, you could ask “Does that fit within your budget?”, or you could ask “How does that sound to you?”

If this was a get to know you request, make it a soft open loop. Keep it low key and no pressure by prefacing it with “If”. You could write, “If you would like to chat further…” Keeping it tentative lets them off the hook without making them feel boxed in just for reaching out to you. And showing up as non-needy keeps you looking professional.

I hope you find this five step approach helpful. You can download the cheat sheet here. The next time a new prospect reaches out to you, you’ll know exactly how to organize and write your email response so that you can send it out right away.