Ep. 8 | Freelance Cake Podcast
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Episode 8|

7-Step Freakout Protocol for Getting Last-Minute Freelance Income

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In Episode 008, Austin shares his 7-step freakout protocol – which will come in handy when you’re staring down the end of the month and freaking out a little about your lack of freelance clients.

Clients come and go. Meanwhile, bills keep coming; it's no surprise that many freelancers develop money worries!

This episode will help you overcome financial anxieties that make it difficult to do your best work and harness your creativity to score freelance projects. Make sure you listen all the way to the end, and don't forget to grab Austin's free templates on how to follow up with past clients or silent prospects without getting on their nerves.

Notable Quotes

“Anxiety about money can cause our creativity to contract like water when the temperature drops. We really have to fight harder to open up that creativity, to expand it, and think, “Maybe this is an opportunity to go after a dream client."

“Share what you’re building online. Give the play-by-play. Invite people into the mess. Show the work while the sawdust is still on it.”

The Perennial Needs of Freelancers

This episode touches on one of the perennial needs that freelancers have: more projects, more clients, more leads.

One of my most popular LinkedIn posts – which then became a popular Twitter thread – is about what I call “My 7-step freakout protocol.”

We’ve all been there – staring down the end of the month, freaking out a little bit about our freelance income.

“How am I going to pay my bills?”

There have been months I wasn’t paying my bills with old money. We couldn’t just pull from this extravagant emergency fund we had. I really needed money and fast to pay the utilities bill so that we didn’t have to put it on the credit card.

Can you relate? I thought so.

Let me show these 7 steps and maybe this will give you something to do instead of what I’ve done in the past, sit around, brooding, twiddling my thumbs, and hoping that a goose falls out of the sky and lands on the dinner table.

The 7-Step Freakout Protocol

Here is the 7-step freakout protocol:

1. Look at all your warm leads

Is it time for some clever, indirect follow-ups? What I mean is responding to your prospect’s tweet, to a LinkedIn post, or to an Instagram post.

Sometimes you can only email that client so many times before they’re just gonna get sick of hearing from you, so what you do is pop up on their radar in a different way, in a different place.

You don’t even have to talk about their project. You can just like a post, or say something like, “Hey, that looks like great barbecue. Way to go! What type of smoker do you have?”

Gather up all your warm leads and be sure to keep in touch.

2. Look at all your cold leads

These are people who expressed an interest in working with you and then for whatever reason, they just kind of went dark or went cold.

Make a list of people who have reached out over the last two years but didn’t become a client. Email them. You can use this script: 

“You came to mind this morning. How did that project we discussed go? How’s 2022 going so far? (That’s when I’m recording this episode, so you can obviously change the year) I’d love an update on the business front when you have a moment.”

See how simple that is? I’m not joking when I say that half the time, we don’t get projects because we don’t follow up, and then the prospect quite simply forgets about us.

So the way to get more freelance projects is to simply not let your prospects forget about you.

One quick caveat: if you don’t currently track every single lead that comes into your freelance business, do that. Half the time, I’m forgetting that somebody expressed a desire to work with me until I go to my lead-tracking spreadsheet, and I’m like, “I really need to follow up with Jason. He said he needed help growing his podcasting agency,” or “Andy told me to follow up with him in a couple of months, and it’s already been 2 ½!”

If you don’t already have a lead-tracking spreadsheet, look in the show notes below.

3. Look at all your past clients from the past 2 years

I was having lunch with a friend yesterday. He’s a filmmaker for small businesses and non-profits. He’s needing to generate some cashflow to pay off some debt. I asked him straight up, “Have you sent an email to every client that you’ve worked with in the past 2 years?” And he starts scribbling notes like this is the best idea he’s ever heard.

And I’m not making fun of my friend. I’m just pointing out that sometimes rather than freak out, we need to return to the fundamentals. It’s a lot easier to get someone who’s already given you money to give you more money, to give you a new project, than to win over a stranger. 

So, go back and look at all your invoices for the past 2 years, who are all the people who’ve given you money, and just reach out to them, reconnect, say hi. 

4. Think of 10 freelance friends

People who you would consider colleagues, fellow designers, fellow writers, fellow software engineers, fellow web developers, whatever your discipline is, or even people in other disciplines.

Make a list of 10 people who are also freelancers who you count as friends. Reach out to them.

This next part may be hard for you – it can be hard for me – but be super candid. Be transparent. Tell them you need work. Ask for help. Ask for introductions.

Now, an introduction is a little bit different than a referral because it takes the pressure off. So when I ask another writer or strategist for an introduction, there’s no pressure for them to already know that that person has a project for me.

All their doing is introducing 2 interesting people who might like each other and may eventually be able to help one another. We might call this “networking”, or “making new friends”, or “the opportunity to learn from another person.”

Reach out to friends. Ask for help. Ask for introductions.

Hot tip: You’ll find it easier to get those introductions if you write that paragraph yourself in the third person. That way, the person that you’re asking for help can send it to someone else really quickly. I might write,

“Hi so-and-so, I want to introduce you to my friend, Austin Church. He’s a writer and strategist. He also does some coaching for freelancers who are laid back and ambitious. You came to mind. I think you two would both enjoy a conversation. You can move me to bcc.”

What did you do? You offer to save them time by writing the intro paragraph they can flip in 30 seconds.

5. Think of 10 dream clients

Reach out and tell them what you like about what they’re doing. Mention several specific things you noticed in their recent Inc. or Fast Company article, or in the CEOs or the CMOs latest podcast interview, or things that you like about the rock-solid content they’re putting out.

Ask if they already have a specialist like you they really enjoy working with. If not, you’d love to throw your name in the hat. Tell them that you do your best work when you’re enthusiastic about the company’s mission, and you really like their mission.

People obviously love hearing from other people who admire what they’re doing. That’s true for CEOs and CMOs. 

Anxiety about money and about coming up short this month can cause your creativity to contract like water when the temperature drops. And we really have to fight harder to open up that creativity, to expand it, and think, “Well, maybe this is an opportunity to go after a dream client. To go get that project that would truly build my portfolio.” 

6. Make a laser-focused offer on your socials

Here’s what I don’t mean: “Does anyone need help with copywriting?” That is an unfocused offer.

Do this instead:

“Are you really pleased with your LinkedIn profile? Do you like how you’re presenting yourself? If not, would you DM me? I’ve got 2 spots open, and I’d like to pitch you on giving your profile a makeover in the next two days.”

See the difference? The second example has a clear outcome, a clear timeframe, and clear value to the people on the receiving end. And saying “2 spots” creates scarcity. That would make something more desirable, and chances are 1 or 2 people may actually hold up their hands and reach out.

7. Make something you like

As creatives, we don’t actually need clients to build out our portfolios. It’s easy to lose touch with our original love (creating, writing, design, illustration, coding, or whatever it is you find joy doing).

It’s easy to forget to do the work for yourself that your clients pay you for. So I recommend setting up a sandbox for yourself and playing hard. Share what you’re building online. Give the play-by-play. Invite people into the mess. Show the work while the sawdust is still on it.

Here’s a bonus tip

Take 10 deep breaths. Inhale, hold for 3 seconds, and blow out through your mouth like you’re blowing throw a straw. You can make it through this. A lot of us – all of us, I would say – have bad months from time to time. You can make it through this.

Links and Resources from this Episode

  1. Lead Tracker Template

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Welcome to the Freelance Cake Podcast. I'm your host, Austin L. Church. The goal of this show is to help full-time, committed freelancers get better leverage.

[00:00:13] As the sworn enemy of busyness and burnout, I have no desire to see you work harder. Instead, I reveal the specific beliefs, principles, and practices you can use right away to make the freelance game more profitable and enjoyable. So chill out and listen in, because the best is yet to come.

[00:36] Full disclosure on this episode. This has been one of my most popular LinkedIn posts. It then became a popular Twitter thread, so I figured why not share it here? I think you’ll see why people liked it. It touches on one of the perennial needs that freelancers have: more projects, more clients, more leads.

[00:01:03] I call this, “My 7-step freakout protocol” because we’ve all been there. You’re staring down the end of the month, you’re freaking out a little bit about your freelance income. “How am I going to pay my bills?” Yes, it’s true. There have been months I wasn’t paying my bills with old money. We couldn’t just pull from this extravagant emergency fund we had. I really needed money and fast to pay the utilities bill so that we didn’t have to put it on the credit card.

[00:01:37] Can you relate? I thought so. Let me show these 7 steps and maybe this will give you something to do instead of what I’ve done in the past – sit around, brooding, twiddling my thumbs, and hoping that a goose falls out of the sky and lands on the dinner table. I don’t know why I said that. I don’t think I’ve ever even eaten a goose. Anyway, here are the steps. 7-step freakout protocol.

[00:02:03] Number 1, look at all your warm leads. Is it time for some clever indirect follow-ups? What I mean is responding to your prospect’s tweet, to a LinkedIn post, to an Instagram post… Sometimes you can only email that client so many times before they’re just gonna get sick of hearing from you, so what you do is pop up on their radar in a different way, in a different place.

[00:02:36] You don’t even have to talk about their project. You can just like a post, or “Hey, that looks like great barbecue. Way to go! What type of smoker do you have?” That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about. Gather up all your warm leads and be sure to keep in touch.

[00:02:53] Number 2 (related to number 1), what about all your cold leads? Look at all your cold leads. People who expressed an interest in working with you and then for whatever reason, they just kind of went dark, went cold. Make a list of people who have reached out over the last two years but didn’t become a client. Email those people. Use this script: “You came to mind this morning. How did that project we discussed go? How’s 2022 going so far? (That’s when I’m recording this episode, so you can obviously change the year) I’d love an update on the business front when you have a moment.”

[00:03:41] See how simple that is? It’s not some long email saying, “Hey, give me a project.” I’m not joking when I say that half the time, we don’t get projects because we don’t follow up, and then the prospect quite simply forgets about us. So the way to get more freelance projects is to simply not let your prospects forget about you.

[00:04:04] One quick caveat: if you don’t currently track every single lead that comes into your freelance business, do that. Half the time, I’m forgetting that somebody expressed a desire to work with me until I go to my lead-tracking spreadsheet, and I’m like, “Oh, yeah. I really need to follow up with Jason. He said he needed help growing his podcasting agency,” or “Oh yeah, what about Andy? He told me to follow up with him in a couple of months, and oops! It’s already been 2 ½.” If you don’t already have a lead-tracking spreadsheet or a CRM like Pipedrive, look in the comments or show notes below, I can get you the link to the template that I use.  

[00:04:53] Number 3, look at all your past clients from the past 2 years. Reach out and say hi. I was having lunch with a friend yesterday. He’s a filmmaker. He creates videos for small businesses and non-profits. He’s needing to generate some cashflow to pay off some debt. And I asked him straight up, “Have you sent an email to every client that you’ve worked with in the past 2 years?” And he starts scribbling notes like this is the best idea he’s ever heard.

[00:05:29] And I’m not making fun of my friend. I’m just pointing out that sometimes rather than freak out, we need to return to the fundamentals. It’s a lot easier to get someone who’s already given you money to give you more money, to give you a new project, than to win over a stranger. So, go back and look at all your invoices for the past 2 years, who are all the people who’ve given you money, and just reach out to them, reconnect. 

[00:05:59] Number 4, think of 10 freelance friends. People who you would consider colleagues, fellow designers, fellow writers, fellow software engineers, fellow web developers, whatever your discipline is, or even people in other disciplines. Make a list of 10 people who are also freelancers who you count as friends. Reach out to them, and then this is the next part that may be hard for you. It can be hard for me, but be super candid. Be transparent. Tell them you need work. Ask for help. Ask for introductions.

[00:06:41] Now, an introduction is a little bit different than a referral because it takes the pressure off. So when I ask another writer or strategist for an introduction, there’s no pressure for them to already know that that person has a project for me. All their doing is introducing 2 interesting people who might like each other and may eventually be able to help one another. We might call this “networking,” we might call it “making new friends,” or we might call it “the opportunity to learn from another person.”

[00:07:17] I don’t care what you call it. Reach out to friends. Ask for help. By help, I mean ask for introductions. One last tip. You’ll find it easier to get those introductions if you write that paragraph yourself in the third person. That way, the person that you’re asking for help can send it to someone else really quickly.

[00:07:42] So I might write, “Hi so-and-so, I want to introduce you to my friend, Austin Church. He’s a writer and strategist. He also does some coaching for freelancers who are laid back and ambitious. You came to mind. I think you two would both enjoy a conversation. You can move me to bcc.” That sort of thing. You offer to save them time by writing the intro paragraph they can flip in 30 seconds.

[00:08:10] Number 5, think of 10 dream clients. Reach out. Tell them what you like about what they’re doing. Mention several specific things you noticed in their recent Inc. or Fast Company article, in the CEOs or CMOs latest podcast interview. Things that you like about the rock-solid content they’re putting out. Ask if they already have a specialist like you they really enjoy working with. If not, you’d love to throw your name in the hat.

[00:08:43] Tell them that you do your best work when you’re enthusiastic about the company’s mission and you really like their mission – which is (fill in the blank). You can look that up on their website. People obviously love hearing from other people who admire what they’re doing. That’s true for CEOs, it’s true for CMOs. 

[00:09:05] Anxiety about money, anxiety about coming up short this month can cause your creativity to contract like water when the temperature drops. And we really have to fight harder to open up that creativity, to expand it, and think, “Well, maybe this is an opportunity to go after a dream client. To go get that project that would truly build my portfolio.” 

[00:09:34] Number 6, make a laser-focused offer on your socials. Here’s what I don’t mean: “Does anyone need help with copywriting?” That is an unfocused offer. Do this instead: “Are you really pleased with your LinkedIn profile? Do you like how you’re presenting yourself? If not, would you DM me? I’ve got 2 spots open, and I’d like to pitch you on giving your profile a makeover in the next two days.”

[00:10:09] See the difference? The second example has a clear outcome, a clear timeframe, and clear value to the people on the receiving end. And if you say 2 spots and you create some scarcity, that would make something more desirable, and chances are 1 or 2 people may actually hold up their hands and reach out.

[00:10:33] Finally, number 7. Make something you like. As creatives, we don’t actually need clients to build out our portfolios. It’s easy to lose touch with our original love – creating, writing, design, illustration, coding. It’s easy to forget to do the work for yourself that your clients pay you for. So I recommend setting up a sandbox for yourself and playing hard. Share what you’re building online. Give the play-by-play. Invite people into the mess. Show the work while the sawdust is still on it.

[00:11:16] Here’s a bonus tip: take 10 deep breaths. Inhale, hold for 3 seconds, blow out through your mouth like you’re blowing throw a straw. You can make it through this. A lot of us – all of us, I would say – have bad months from time to time. You can make it through this. My friend, the best is yet to come.

[00:12:05] Before you go, a quick reminder. Be sure to check out the Freelance Cake coaching program. The program is for committed, full-time freelancers, and it’s designed to help you get better leverage in your business.

[00:12:20] We have group sessions, a private community, and on-demand trainings. And each week, you focus on implementing a specific lever such as your positioning cheat code, juicy offers, or morning marketing habit.

[00:12:34] The same or better income with more free time, fun, and creative challenges - that’s the point, right?

[00:12:42] So go to FreelanceCake.com/coaching. My friends, the best is yet to come. See you in the next episode!

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