Guest Post: The Future of Freelance – What do clients want?

November 2, 2010


1st installment of a series on the Future of Freelance by Rick Duncan and Scott Morrison of The Bauhub.

A few weeks back we were asked to speak at Toronto’s Freelance camp. The topic we chose for this talk was one near and dear to our hearts… The Future of Freelance. It’s a big topic, so we broke it down into three sections for this blogpost series. There were three questions we’ll answer: What do clients want? Where are we now? Where are we going?

What do clients want?

Knowing and understanding what clients want from an independent contractor is critical to successfully landing projects. The trick is to understand the client’s unmet needs. Understanding what problem you are solving for them, or opportunity you are allowing them to capitalize on gives you a better chance of convincing them why your solution is the right one for them and this drastically increases the likelihood of you getting the contract. Below are five factors you need to understand.

People in organizations are accountable for their projects. If they can’t complete them with the resources they have, they have to look outside to solve their problems. Whether it is a problem that needs fixing or an opportunity that needs to be seized, the client’s thought process is the same:

  1. Can the person I hire do what they say they can do?
  2. If they can do what they say they can do, will it solve the problem?
  3. If I contract with this person and we get the job done on time and budget, will it increase my stature within the organization?
  4. If it doesn’t work, who am I going to hold accountable?

These questions translate into internal dialogues such as, “Am I confident this person, group or company will solve the issue, cover my back as they do it, and if it goes south, does the contractor have a plan?” That is why trust is such an important issue when picking contractors. You can be the best at what you do, but if you don’t address the emotional needs of the client, you won’t get the project. The challenge we face being self employed is that bigger companies we compete against frequently can answer more of these questions with a check mark than we can.

Businesses now want best of breed. Contractors, suppliers, agencies, and consultancies have historically been built on solving all the issues organizations face, and selling the “whole meal deal”. If you need that, we can help. The recession has forced organizations to look for specific skills to solve individual issues, and they are often less interested in the sum total of all the services a large outside contractor can provide. Becoming the best in a specialty, and then partnering with others who are the best in their different specialties, allows you to sell only what the Client wants and needs. They do not have to buy overhead and services they don’t value. Digital collaboration tools make working with other specialists easier and more seamless than ever. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, be highly relevant for some people, and deliver an order of magnitude benefit that makes you unique.

If it can’t be measured, it won’t be approved. No one gets a budget approved anymore without being able to explain how the organization will know if it is successful.  Whatever service you are selling, metrics which can help define what success looks like are central to the proposal and have to be included. The more quantitative these metrics are, the better. They are proof of why they need you and will go a long way to help the client explain the benefits of hiring you to their boss, board, or partners. Part of why they will want to contract you is that you understand what they face in measuring success, and see that as part of the service you are selling.

There is no time like the present. Actually, there is no time other than the present.  Sales, profit, and return on investment are all now measured at least quarterly. The projects that are approved are the ones that solve a “now” issue, and must make an immediate impact on results. All the other slow-build, important for the future, growth projects are now classified as nice to have, but not imperative. What you sell and how you sell it needs to address the current time frame of clients. Expect when the project gets approved, it will be required immediately. There are no other types of issues; only those that need to be solved now.

The market has never been better for freelance work. A lot of talented people have joined the ranks of independent contractors over the last two recessions, and their jobs weren’t replaced at all, or they were filled by less qualified people. Someone has to solve the issues, and organizations are now more open than ever to new ways to accomplish it. Understanding how you position what you do as a defined project will help you communicate to clients how you can help solve issues without increasing headcount.

It is said the future of work is independent people coming together to solve complex business issues. If we can recreate the services offered by larger companies our clients will feel properly supported and will be more than happy to hire us for their work.

Watch for The Future of Freelance Part 2: Where are we now?

Rick Ducan and Scott Morrison have worked in advertising and marketing for a combined 42 years. Together they are part of a global collective of senior creative minds called The Bauhub. Please contact rickduncan@thebauhub.com or 1-888-BAUHUB-4 to find out more.

Interested in writing a guest post for Fresh Thinking? Please contact John Coates.


about the author

This is a guest post for the FreshBooks blog. FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.