“I’m looking for the right project” – this is a sentence that It-freelancers would prefer to erase from their vocabulary. The Freelancer-Kompass 2022 clearly shows that contract and project acquisition is currently the biggest challenge for freelancers, along with problems such as bogus self-employment. One thing is certain: The search for new customers eats up a lot of resources, which are then not available for the actual core business. Nevertheless, there is often no way around it.
But how can the acquisition of projects as an IT-freelancer be structured in such a way that new orders are successfully generated with a moderate use of resources? Which strategies are particularly helpful and what should be considered? Read on and use our tips and advice for successful customer acquisition.
Strategic Approach to Project Acquisition
Before you fire up the sales engine, you should first develop a strategic basis. Because you will significantly increase your success in acquiring projects if you take a strategic approach to doing so.
By preparing appropriately, answer the following questions:
- Who exactly do I want to address? = Target group
- What are their “pain points” /challenges?
- How can I solve them with my skills ?
- What makes my offer stand out from the competition? = USP (Unique Selling Proposition)
- How do I want to address my target group? = Channels
Find Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)!
With a unique selling proposition, you stand out from the competition and can stand out from the crowd of professionals. But how can a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) be found? In this context, the following questions are helpful:
- Which skills am I particularly good at?
- What services have I impressed my customers with in the past?
- In which area of my specialty do I have special experience?
- What kind of customers have I had particularly good experiences with?
With the answers, you can further differentiate your service and possibly develop a unique value proposition.
Example: An app developer has already developed many different apps in her career. Their best work, however, is health apps. She knows this segment best and has also helped develop some special functions. In this case, positioning herself as a health app developer would make a lot of sense. This form of specialization enables it to offer particular expertise for corresponding projects. The customer-perceived value of their service increases.
Define Your Target Group!
Defining one’s own target group is particularly important and can already represent a unique selling proposition, as the example of the app developer shows. Beyond that, however, there are many other questions that help in the search for one’s target group:
- Do you feel particularly comfortable in certain industries?
- Have you become more of an expert in a small area of expertise or are you more broadly based?
- What manners and leadership style in the company are important to you with your customers?
- Do you prefer to work with small companies or are you attracted to global players with international operations?
- Do you like to work with your proven knowledge over and over again or do you prefer varied tasks with a higher learning curve?
- For whom is your offer relevant?
By answering these questions, you will be able to create a picture of your ideal customers (persona) with their needs. Together with your USP, you can position yourself in the market and know which projects are ideal for you. It is also possible for you to address potentially interesting clients in a targeted manner and thus optimize your customer acquisition accordingly.
Choose the Right Acquisition Channel
This step builds on the selected target group and the company’s own USP. This is because you only reach your target group where they actually are. Do you want to target young start-ups in particular? In this case, print advertising would be rather the wrong way to go. Do you prefer to support e-commerce companies? In this case, an interview on a specialist portal with a link to your own website could significantly advance your acquisition of projects.
If, in the end, your offer and its USP match the channel that suits the target group, project acquisition can quickly become a no-brainer. You speak to your target group in their “language” and offer exactly what they need. Your offer will be perceived as special by your ideal customers and purchased accordingly.
Tip: If you have established yourself as an expert with your target group, it is also possible to charge a higher fee. Their perceived value increases – and that’s exactly what customers pay for.
Digital Channels for Project Acquisition
In the IT industry today, most orders are placed online. Whether via suitable platforms, on the company’s own website or via social media – a large number of the projects advertised can be found there. For this reason, it is essential to use digital channels for your profits.
The following channels offer good conditions for IT-freelancer to acquire projects:
1. Use Freelancer Portals for Project Acquisition
Freelancer portals represent a common way for new customer acquisition. The procedure is quite simple:
- You log in to the respective portal.
- You create a profile with important data (for example skill profile, previous projects, as well as your availability).
- You are now visible to potential clients and receive requests for collaboration.
- Alternatively, you can use the “marketplaces” there to obtain information about open contracts that have been put out to tender and submit a bid yourself.
– Easy contact with potential clients
– Time saving (little own research necessary)
– Increase your own reach and visibility
– Possibly great competitive pressure
– Mediation often associated with costs (5-15% of the order volume)
– Irrelevant projects are also offered
An overview of common freelancer portals and project exchanges:
- WeWorkRemotely.com (international)
Tip: With both project brokers and project portals, you should signal in good time that you are open to new project inquiries again after your current project. Failure to do so may result in an order gap.
2. Customer Acquisition via Your Website
They can also intensify their customer acquisition via their own website. This approach is about positioning yourself as an expert in your own field of activity. The website offers you the advantage that you can design your presentation completely freely. Through strong landing pages and good content, you inspire potential clients, who then send you project inquiries.
However, for this strategy to be successful, you need one thing above all: the necessary visibility. This is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play. In this article, Online Marketing Consultant Tom Gleitsmann explains very clearly how important Local SEO and an associated and optimized GoogleMyBusiness profile can be.
The main reason: Google displays a so-called Local Snack Pack in many search results when searching for experts in certain fields. This appears before the traditional search results and contains the top experts on the desired topic in the searcher’s region. With the right optimization, you can quickly become the top expert in your region and easily acquire projects with your website.
Tip: You can also go deeper into the SEO matter. Provide additional high-quality content in your blog for relevant keywords from your area of expertise. With an appropriate SEO strategy, you thus consolidate your expert status and become even more interesting for potential clients.
3. Social (Business) Media: Social Selling as a Means of Customer Acquisition
In times of digitalization, social media is a valuable tool for freelancers to be visible to contracting companies and project decision-makers. LinkedIn and Co. and your profile are much more than job portals and digital resumes.
Social business media are more like digital trade fairs where you can exchange ideas with like-minded people – and also acquire projects. The focus here is on your personal profile.
For one thing, the LinkedIn algorithm favors posts from people, and for another, people don’t do business with companies… they do business with other people.
Whether you want to reach recruiters from staffing firms, the CIO of Daimler, or an IT project manager from Google: Social business media, such as LinkedIn or XING, give you the opportunity to anchor yourself in the minds of your target group with your expertise . But what is the best way to proceed here?
Personal Profile: Your Digital image
Their LinkedIn profile is the foundation for all their acquisition efforts on social business media. The structure is similar to that of a landing page:
It should be recognizable at first glance what problem you solve for your target group and what service (skills) you offer as an IT freelancer. A professional profile picture makes you look competent and likeable. Sympathy still plays a role in this day and age.
With your cover image you can introduce your service and at the same time convey credibility and authority: Choose e.g. an image where you can, for example. speaking at a conference or being seen with colleagues to show your expert status.
In addition, you have the possibility to show in your profile slogan: What added value do you offer your customers? Here, you should use industry-relevant keywords if possible so that project stakeholders and recruiters can find you among them.
In your infobox you can then elaborate on how you solve your customer’s problem. Here you go into it: What do you do and for whom? Feel free to go in depth. Mention your target group, industry or maybe even the region where most of your customers are based (Germany? Switzerland? Or international?).
Show some personality: what is important to you in your work so that you can deliver these results to your customers?
Address the problems of your target customers precisely and answer: How do you save time and moneyfor your customer? Maybe you write particularly clean code or develop individual software solutions faster than your competitors. Differentiate yourself by your industry experience or work ethic.
In the point of professional experience, I would recommend the following to you as a freelancer or tradesperson:
- Show your own independent activity (creation of a company account with logo) and present your services in more detail. Also reference past successes within your freelance career.
- Present your individual projects as stations and describe what type of work you did for which client. This is especially useful if you have worked with reputable companies.This gives you the opportunity to fill your profile with relevant keywords and build trust by showing your past projects with company logos.
In addition, you have the opportunity to obtain votes from your ex-contractors at the point recommendations . Take this opportunity to ask your (former) project contacts for a recommendation to generate more trust via customer feedback.
I gave a webinar for 9am’s Tech Freelancer community on project acquisition via LinkedIn in English. Take a look.
Digital Networking: Who do you want to address?
Social business media is an excellent way to network specifically with relevant contacts to .
Find out: Which employees are involved in the freelancer recruiting process?
These are precisely the people you should be networking with: These can be IT decision-makers (CIOs, IT team leads), recruiters from contracting companies, but also employees of IT service companies. Networking with IT recruiters from staffing firms can also be worthwhile.
Tip: There are recruiters or sales employees in the area of recruitment who are only assigned to a specific clients, e.g. “Key Account Manager for Daimler”. It’s worth finding out who these people are if you have an interest in a particular industry or customer.
The LinkedIn search function offers you numerous filters, such as location, company or industry. But you can also search directly for certain keywords in the “Position” field. On no other social media platform do you have the opportunity to search so specifically for potential contacts to support your acquisition.
Content: The top class
What would happen if your previously identified project stakeholders saw your face and value contributions in your LinkedIn feed every day?
Right! You anchor yourself in their brains with your expert status and they remember you. This is especially helpful if you want to be the first point of contact on a new project.
When creating and posting content with subject matter relevance, we take advantage of a psychological effect called the Mere Exposure Effect:
The effect of this is that the repeated exposure of an initially neutral thing (in this case your person) alone results in a positive evaluation.
Also, LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to stay in touch with a much larger number of recruiters and clients by commenting on their posts or interacting with them socially in other ways now and then (e.g., congratulating them on birthdays/promotions, following up via direct message, etc.).
However, the most important criterion for content marketing (on LinkedIn) is continuity. Are you planning to acquire projects by creating a pull on your profile through content?
Think about your audience, your topics, and create an editorial plan to make regular posting easy.
Offline Channels for Project Acquisition
Even though a great many orders are acquired digitally today, offline channels still offer a lot of potential. These include:
4. Use Recruitment Agencies for Project Acquisition
Recruiting companies like Hays have an important interface function: They bring IT-freelancer and interested clients together . In doing so, they access a huge network of contacts. There are several advantages for you as a freelancer:
- You do not have to manually search for suitable projects
- You can draw on the placement expertise of the service providers
- Due to the so-called “offshoot management” on the part of the recruiters, you will often be offered a follow-up project directly after your current project.
Through many years of experience and appropriate contacts of the recruiters, you can also get jobs from the hidden job market. These are potential contracts that do not even appear on project exchanges or open tenders. Rather, they are awarded through relationships or referrals from recruiters.
Hinweis: Die Kosten für Personalvermittler tragen in vielen Fällen die Unternehmen. Even though there may be different regulations here for freelancers in the case of pure project placement, the chances of receiving a small commission payment are high.
5. Project Acquisition on the Phone
Winning projects over the phone is another alternative to digital customer acquisition. Your chances of success with this method depend heavily on your preparation. The cold call by phone proves to be rather difficult for projects for IT-freelancer.
You can simplify the procedure with the following preparatory steps :
- Establish contacts beforehand via your own website (lead generation)
- Call companies that have advertised projects
- Research exact contact person
- Use a good conversation starter
- Develop conversation guide (Develop your own message)
Tip: The shortage of skilled workers is becoming increasingly acute. For this reason, as an IT-freelancer, you can also call companies that are actually looking to hire permanently. Before an important position remains completely unfilled, some companies prefer to rely on the expertise of freelancers. This provides a conversation starter that facilitates project acquisition.
6. Recommendations from Existing Customers and Follow-Up Projects
Referrals from existing clients are the most valuable resource you can build as an IT-freelancer. When you deliver good work, clients develop confidence in your abilities and the way you work. So if your special expertise is in demand in their environment, you are certainly on the shortlist for a recommendation. In addition, you can always acquire follow-up projects through customer relationships that have grown in a spirit of trust.
In order to be able to successfully acquire projects via this route, clientsis a must. The following aspects are particularly important:
Maintaining contact: Even after a project has been completed, it makes sense to maintain contact with clients. This is achieved particularly unobtrusively via social media platforms such as LinkedIn. You respond to posts from the customer every now and then and stay in the memory. This could prove to be a real asset for later projects.
Show appreciation: Loyal clients are worth their weight in gold for IT-freelancer. You should show this by showing appropriate appreciation – for example, by sending a Christmas card or a friendly email on certain occasions.
Celebrating success together: You have successfully completed a joint project with a clients? You should also celebrate such successes together. Invite your clients to dinner or otherwise spend time together. An established customer relationship can thus become a permanent mainstay.
7. Print Advertisements in Newspapers and Trade Magazines, Flyers
Whether print ads are suitable for your customer acquisition depends largely on your target group and the specific situation. For example, flyers are well suited for trade fairs or other events in the industry.
As an IT-freelancer, you might also find appeal with your print ads in trade magazines. There you can address your target group precisely and avoid wastage as with general daily newspapers. However, please note that you are more likely to reach customers with little online affinity. However, depending on the definition of your target audience, this can also be an advantage. A good example here are classic small businesses that have so far still carried out many steps analogously, but would like to tackle digitization.
The Definition: What is Project Acquisition?
The word acquisition describes all measures to win new clients. For companies, this often means finding buyers for their own products or services. However, as an IT freelancer you are usually looking for suitable projects to work on. That’s why freelancers often talk about project acquisition.
The definition is very broad and includes many different measures. These include, for example:
- Applications for advertised projects
- Initiative Contacting potential customers (cold calling)
- Registration with various mediation platforms
- Cooperation with project intermediaries
- Work on your positioning and strategy (passive measure)
These examples already show different approaches to clients. Depending on your personal situation, you can select individual ones or combine different paths.
Types of Project Acquisition
When it comes to types of project acquisition, you can choose between two fundamentally different approaches:
1. Make inquiries to new Customers: What is Cold Calling?
By means of cold calling, you approach potential clients with whom you have not yet had any contact . The way of contacting does not matter. Whether you pick up the phone, compose an email, or leave a message via the website, all of these fall under cold calling.
Worth knowing for the German Market: In the B2C sector, cold calling is
according to §7 UWG (Law against Unfair Competition) only allowed with prior consent of the potential clients. In the B2B area, however, a loophole exists: If the target company is “presumed” to be interested in your service, you may contact even without prior consent .
2. Winning Projects from existing Contacts: What is Warm Acquisition?
Warm canvassing is always done when you receive projects from contacts at you are already known to. This sometimes happens due to a recommendation from other clients. In addition, order acquisition from existing customers is also warm acquisition to a certain extent.
The great advantage of warm canvassing is above all that the chances of success are higher. If there is already a connection or a basis of trust with the potential client, the latter is more willing to cooperate.
Conclusion: Successfully Acquiring Projects is no Coincidence
Project acquisition is definitely one of the most important tasks for IT-freelancer, in addition to their own area of expertise. After all, the flow of orders must not stop. Ideally, you should approach the acquisition strategically and define your offer including USP and target group beforehand. With this data, you are able to target your potential new customers through the right channels. In addition, you should not neglect customer care. After all, existing customers are still the easiest source of new orders.
Don’t be too hard on yourself and maintain realistic expectations: The acquisition of projects is also always linked to the willingness of companies to invest and the accessibility of your contacts. If customer acquisition is a challenge at certain times, this may also be due to seasonal fluctuations or the general economic situation. However, as an IT-freelancer, with the current demand for IT specialists, you have a good Starting position.
There is no one way in project acquisition. You have many different options and channels at your disposal. These include:
- Strategy and positioning
- Online channels
- Offline channels
- Recommendations from existing customers
- Follow-up projects
- Public tenders
- Contact with former employees
Warm acquisition includes measures to win orders from customers to whom you are not completely unknown. So this includes new projects with existing customers or projects that come about through referrals from your existing customers.
The term acquisition describes all customer acquisition measures that are directed at a specific addressee. This includes lead generation, lead qualification, contacting, as well as sales calls, closings, and after-sales. Advertising for branding purposes does not fall under acquisition, as it is not directed at specific addressees.