June 11, 2017

How to identify the right kind of clients when you’re first starting out...

Reader John Tseng wrote in to ask about how to identify the right kind of clients when you’re first starting out as a freelancer (shared with permission):

I am really interested in your comment “Even a freshly minted developer can deliver valuable business outcomes ...”. I’m not that freshly minted, anymore, but I am stuck on identifying ideal clients. How would, say, a recent college grad with a CS degree go about figuring out who the right kind of client is?

Thanks for writing in, John!

The list of qualities that constitute an ideal client is different for everyone. It’s not unlike asking what qualities constitute an ideal spouse.

But when you’re just starting out you probably don’t know what qualities you’re looking for. You need to gain experience to figure this out.

But where do you start?

Generally speaking, I would focus on finding clients that are in an industry that appeals to you and are in a position to derive clear benefit from your expertise.

For someone with the skill set of a recent CS grad, I’d probably suggest looking for established small businesses that are non-technical in nature.

By “small” I mean a business that has maybe 10-20 employees and does maybe $2-5 million per year in revenue. Businesses of this size are big enough to have budget for projects and small enough that you can talk directly with the owner.

Here are a few random examples off the top of my head: used bookstores, dental practices, local restaurants, designer clothing boutiques, etc.

I’m just guessing, but I would hypothesize that a decent percentage of these types of business would not be savvy with digital tools and therefore could benefit from even basic digital marketing, inventory management, online ordering/scheduling, accounting integrations, and so on. All things that I presume a recent CS would be capable of delivering.

To validate this hypothesis, you would interview owners of these types of businesses looking for expensive problems or big opportunities that could be addressed with your skill set.

Over time, you would build experience and notoriety in this vertical and could work your way up to bigger (and more valuable) engagements.



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