As a new freelancer, finding the perfect offer can be an intimidating process. Particularly for those of us with little business experience. After all, it requires making some very important decisions about how you want to spend your time, who you want to work with and how you expect to stand out from the competition. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the entire process and feel like giving up before you even start.
The good news is that choosing a service to offer as a freelancer doesn’t have to be overwhelming—in fact, with a little bit of research, planning and self-reflection, it can be an enjoyable process. By taking your time to explore what you’re passionate about and what skillsets you possess, you can find opportunities that fit your needs while providing value for potential clients.
Depending on your current situation, there are two avenues you can take. The first assumes that you don’t already have a skill to offer and you’re starting from scratch with raw desire to escape the rat race and be your own person. The second option assumes that you already have a skill that you want to monetize, and just need to figure out how to package it. Let’s start with avenue A.
Option 1: No skill
If you don’t already have a skill to offer, believe it or not, you’re actually in an advantageous position. Here’s why:
Regardless of what you end up offering, you’re going to be a salesperson first. Sales comes before service, simply by necessity—you can’t perform a service unless you sell it first. This fact is unfortunate to some, particularly those who are less socially inclined. But a fact it remains.
Because of this, most people at this stage pick a service that they want to sell. But this is directly antithetical to business. The root concept that governs the economy is supply and demand—but realistically, it should be “demand and supply.”
In order to have a successful product, there has to be demand. There are plenty of things that are in high supply, but very low demand. Then there are the things that are in high demand. Whether the supply for high-demand products is high or low, there will always be money in it. DEMAND is what you need to find.
This mans that, rather than choosing a service that you want to sell, you should choose a service that people want to buy. This puts you in a position of power right from the beginning, and you will have significantly less difficulty selling your service.
I made this mistake early in my career. At the beginning, I really wanted to sell websites. It was something I was already good at, and I felt like it was my best option.
I had also just come out of working in the food service industry, and I wanted to stay in that sector. So I tried like hell to sell websites to restaurant owners. I think you can guess how that went.
It turned out that restaurant owners didn’t care about their websites, and I wasted six months of time, effort and money trying to sell a solution to people who didn’t feel they had a problem. (Another tip: It doesn’t matter whether YOU feel your customers have a problem. It only matters if THEY feel they have a problem.)
So if it’s a bad idea to start with the service, where do you begin?
Simple: by finding out who you want to work with.
Identify the people you want to work with
When choosing who to work with, it’s important to look for a demographic that values your skills and abilities. But it’s more important to look for people you’ve gotten along with well in the past, or for people who are on a mission that you identify with. This is about you—and you must choose the people that are right for YOU.
For many people, this is a pretty organic affair. You likely know exactly who you want to work with. But if you don’t, no worries. Give it some thought, and even if you’re conflicted, make a choice and commit to it internally.
Once you’ve made your decision, the next step is to learn about their problems.
Find their problem
Fortunately, this part is pretty easy. It just involves talking. The best part? You don’t need to be good at it.
You just need to be good at listening.
The only trouble you’re likely to run into is getting people to slow down and give you enough of their time to talk, particularly with the more gruff business owners out there. If you don’t have a lot of experience with these types of conversations, this is something you should get comfortable with immediately. It’s a challenge you’ll face for the length of your career.
The key to starting these conversations is to not sound like a marketer. These business owners get bombarded with dozens of marketing messages (or more) every week. Just be honest about who you are, where you’re at, and what you want. Your audience almost certainly doesn’t want to engage in a sales/business conversation with you. But many of them will get a big warm fuzzy from being able to help you start your journey. Give them that opportunity!
Here are a few ways I’ve used in the past to break through that initial resistance and get into some really productive and interesting conversations.
- Call/email and ask to pay for an hour of their time to ask some questions
- Show up in person, multiple days in a row if they’re super busy
- Ask if you can buy them lunch to ask some questions
- Offer to do some unrelated work for free (write a guest post for their blog, take some photographs for them, or even mow their lawn. Whatever you’ve got to do)
- Bring them a snack (seriously! No matter how rich you get, you’ll always be motivated by food to some degree. Bonus points if you can figure out what they like first)
- Create a personalized video for them. I use Loom for this
- Send them a postcard or hand written letter in the mail (this is a big one! People rarely receive mail from an individual these days)
Once you’ve broken the ice and gotten the opportunity to talk, it’s time to ask your questions.
Interview them. Find out what they need, compare it with what you’re good at
This might sound trite, but it’s a good idea to start out with some small talk. For the introverts among us, this might feel a little stilted and awkward, but it doesn’t have to be. Small talk is how you establish the subconscious belief that you’re a normal person who respects the social contract and isn’t likely to be a potential threat.
It also helps you to build rapport. It’s important that you establish a give and take early on in the conversation—if you’re just asking questions and your prospect is giving you one-word answers, there’s no rapport. You need to ask open ended questions and encourage the prospect the share more details. You know you’re in rapport when you ask a question and receive a detailed response, preferably one with extra details that don’t really matter.
Entire books could be written on the subject of rapport (and have been), so I’ll leave it there, but I highly recommend reading some books and watching some videos about these kinds of interactions. If you can get good at communicating and getting people to open up to you, you’ll already be halfway to whatever goal you might have.
Once you’ve built rapport, start asking some discovery questions to learn what your prospect’s pain points are. Here are a few examples:
- What are the biggest challenges or frustrations you’re facing in your business right now?
- What keeps you up at night or causes you the most stress when it comes to your business?
- Are there any specific areas of your business that are not performing as well as you’d like?
- Are there any processes or systems in your business that are time-consuming or inefficient?
- Do you have any concerns about your business’s growth or future prospects?
- Are there any external factors, such as competition or market conditions, that are impacting your business?
- Is there anything that you wish you had more time or resources to focus on in your business?
- Are there any areas of your business where you feel like you could use some support or expertise?
- What are the most common problems or complaints that your customers bring to your attention? (This is a big one! Asking about customer complaints can help you identify problems that the business owner may not be aware of or that they are not prioritizing.)
- Are there any tasks or responsibilities that you find particularly tedious or frustrating in your business?
Keep in mind, if you print these questions or bring them with you, don’t fill it out like a worksheet. If you must take notes, keep them brief. Or, ideally, get your prospect’s permission to record their interview so you can refer back to it later, or even transcribe it with a service like Rev.com.
I made this mistake once as well. When I was 18 and selling cars at a Nissan dealership, a guy came in to look at some light trucks. I sat him down at my desk and immediately began asking him the questions on the sales training document my bosses had given me. Item by item, line by line, filling in questions as we went.
Five questions in, the guy just stood up and walked away without a word. I waited a few seconds, stunned and confused. I followed him to the door and asked him “Are you coming back?”
He turned around sharply. “No,” he snapped. “You’re interrogating me like I committed a crime.” I immediately flushed deep red and watched him leave while my bosses scowled at me from the office. It was so embarrassing, but it definitely solidified an important lesson about being conversational.
Find the service they need
Once you’re a ways into the interview, you’ll likely hear your prospects harping on the same issues over and over again. Pay close attention to the problems they repeat, emphasize or get emotional about. These are the ones you want. They might be a little hard to find solutions for, but once you do, they’ll be WAY easier to sell.
Take note of the problems they have that could be solved with a done-for-you service (great for a full-service approach), a do-it-yourself service (the optimal choice for info products like how-to guides), or a done-with-you service (a happy medium/hybrid of the two). At some point, you’ll likely want to have offers of all three of those types, but we’ll get into that later.
Add a star on the problems that you feel you’re uniquely suited to solve or very interested in working on, then pick your top three.
Beneath each of your top three, answer the following questions:
- On a scale of 1-10, how fun would this likely be to work on?
- On a scale of 1-10, how valuable would my target market likely find this?
- On a scale of 1-10, how easy would this be to implement?
- On a scale of 1-10, how strongly to I feel that this is the best choice?
If you don’t already know which service you want to offer (which you probably will at some point immediately after reviewing your interview, if not during the interview itself), tally up your scores and choose the service with the highest score.
Once you’ve chosen and committed to your service, it’s time to figure out how to make it happen. (A quick note: You may want to run through this next exercise with each of your top three).
How to acquire the necessary skillset
In many cases, it’s possible to develop a working knowledge of a complex skill in jsut a couple of weeks. However, this is another topic that could take up an entire book. Here’s a condensed version of my learning method.
- Set specific, achievable goals for what you want to learn
When I wanted to learn Japanese, I set an initial goal of being able to sweet-talk my truck within 2 weeks. (Yeah, I talk to my truck. Sue me). I put together a list of phrases to praise my truck for her reliability and beauty and used that as my first benchmark.
- Find high-quality resources, such as courses, books, and videos to guide your learning.
There are a thousand ways to learn any skill, and 80% of them are totally free, and every bit as informative and valuable as you would get from any college. The trick is finding there. I rely heavily on YouTube. There are likely 10+ (at minimum) highly skilled experts on YouTube in any skill you could imagine—and all of them are giving away their information for free. Seek them out.
- Practice consistently and regularly, and make sure to allocate enough time for learning and practice each day.
Consistency is king. By making learning a habit, you virtually guarantee that you will eventually become an expert in whatever it is you’re doing. Think about it. If you get 1% better every day, you’ll be twice as good in 100 days. Keep that habit up, and the only alternative to mastery is death.
- Seek feedback from others, such as a mentor or coach, to help you identify areas for improvement and track your progress.
Finding a mentor is something that your newness can make significantly easier. People want to help out those further down the mountain. As long as you’re not asking people who literally make a living by teaching, odds are there are plenty of professionals who would be happy to critique your skills.
- Have a vision and review it daily
This is probably the most important thing. Having a vision for the end of your learning journey (or at least the end of this leg of it) is critical to staying motivated and committed. Review your vision every day to remind yourself why you want to learn the new skill and how it will benefit you in the long run.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to rapidly learn new skillsets, refer to this awesome video from Charisma On Command.
Option 2: Existing skills/skill you want to learn for yourself
This path is very similar to the first, with a couple of key differences.
Rather than look for the people YOU want to work for and finding problem to solve, you’re looking for the people who HAVE the problem you know how to solve.
You don’t get the same freedom of choice that you’d have if you were starting from scratch, but you benefit from getting to bypass the first half of the learning phase and immediately get to the fun stuff.
Find the people who need what you do
One way to find the people who need what you do is by exploring job boards on websites like Indeed or Upwork; these allow you to search for specific jobs that are relevant for your particular skill set. Additionally, joining online communities related to your industry can help you narrow down the type of service or product that customers may be looking for. Networking with experienced professionals can also give you insight into current needs in your field as well as tips on how best to market yourself. Taking these steps will make it easier for you to determine which services will help launch your freelance career successfully.
There might be multiple types people out there with the same problems. At this stage, you shouldn’t limit yourself to just one group. Talk to everyone. Take them out to lunch, pay for an hour of their time—use whichever steps from Option 1 that would work to get them to slow down and talk to you for a while. More information is always better.
Discover Your REAL Value Proposition
Whatever service you decide to offer, it’s important that you realize that people don’t want to buy your offer. What they want to buy is the results they believe your offer will generate. “People don’t buy a drill—they buy a hole.”
It’s important that you find out WHY somebody would buy what you’re offering. What would they do with it? How would it make their life easier? For example, I sold only web design services at the beginning of my career.
However, I had a great deal of trouble selling this service to people who didn’t already want to buy it. I would try to sell a website rather than learning why my customer would want to buy one. I would sell features: no-code construction, a loading speed under 3 seconds, a beautiful design.
Eventually, I started to sell benefits. The benefit of no-code construction is easy maintenance and few (or no) recurring costs. The benefit of a loading speed under 3 seconds is a higher conversion rate and better search engine rankings. The benefit of a beautiful design is establishing higher authority and credibility quickly.
Selling benefits as opposed to features worked a LOT better…
But what really changed things was when I started selling the end state.
People buy on emotion and justify their purchase with logic. Conversion rates and search engine rankings are nice, but they don’t really inspire emotion. They’re logical selling points. These selling points are important, but they’re only there to supplement your emotional selling points. The end state—painting a picture of a better life—is how you create emotion.
The end state I sold was a picture of my clients having a high-authority web presence that everyone would see. Potential clients would find them online and say “Oh, wow. These guys obviously know what they’re doing.” The top job seekers in their industry would see their careers page and say “Oh, wow. These guys are serious. What a cool place to work this would be—I’m going to submit an application.”
With this website, my clients would find themselves getting better employees and having the best customers competing for a spot on their limited schedule. Once I made that change, my results skyrocketed. This was how I knew that I’d found my real value proposition. If you put in the time and effort to find yours early, you’ll set yourself up for much greater success right from the beginning.
So talk to your future customers. Find out what they need, what they’re doing to get it, and what problems they’re facing along the way. After that, you need only design a great offer that will help them accomplish their objectives, avoid the problems they’re facing, and ultimately get them into a pleasurable end state.
Next up, I’ll show you exactly how I used this information to redesign my offer—based on my real value proposition—and made it into something that my clients couldn’t wait to buy.