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Early Exit #22: How to grow your (freelancing) sales pipeline
The single biggest mistake most self-employed people make at isn’t executing on the work, it’s building a consistent pipeline.
You’re reading the Early Exit Club — a newsletter about leaving the 9-5 workforce to build a $20k/month solo business by Nick Lafferty.
Last week: 4 mistakes I made as a new freelancer
Next week: holiday break! See you fine folks after US Thanksgiving.
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You can’t sell anything if no one knows you exist.
I’ve found that the best way to sell yourself isn’t about selling at all.
Instead of approaching every interaction as a potential sales transaction I’ve had better luck approaching them as an opportunity for friendship.
Put yourself out there with a genuine interest of making friends with other people in your industry.
Because people buy from other people that they like.
But fair warning, there are no quick hacks here.
This is a long game but it will enable you to charge more (because customers come to you) and be more selective with your clients (because you have a lot of interest).
So whether you’re a full-time solopreneur or you’re just looking for side gigs, read on for my tips on building effective, long-term sales pipeline.
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Superhuman is soon releasing an Auto Summarize feature that makes it easy to catch up on long email threads.
I got a sneak peak and the results were impressive: Superhuman instantly summarized my email thread with them talking about this sponsorship opportunity in a quick series of bullet points.
It displays as a 1-line summary above every conversation and it updates instantly as new emails arrive. And if you want to see more detail, just hit M (which is what that screenshot shows).
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Creating your own demand
Your most powerful lever for building a freelancing business is YOU.
There is no one else in the world who is exactly like you.
You are a business of one and you only have so much time in the day.
If you have a full-time job that means you can only take maybe one or two advising clients at a time.
Those are two really lucky companies who get access to your years of experience for a comparatively small amount of dollars (or equity, if you ask for it).
This is the mindset you need to use to create your own demand and it starts with telling the world all about yourself and your work.
Talk about your work
You will never find high quality side work if no one knows you exist.
While marketplaces like Fiverr can be an OK place to get a few clients, in the long-term they are a race to the bottom on price and quality.
The best thing you can do, either as a full-time freelancer or full-time salaried employee, is to post on social media about the work you do.
Not having an active social media presence is like not having your physical store listed on Google Maps.
Pick your favorite social platform. Which do you vibe with?
My preference is LinkedIn, but Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram are all great options too. I’m so bullish on LinkedIn that I invested part of my consulting income to pay for a LinkedIn writing coach.
I only mentioned social media channels because they have inherent distribution.
I left out newsletters, and podcasts because those can be great ways to scream into the void while wasting a bunch of time on something no one will find. You need another channel to really scale a podcast or a newsletter anyway (fun fact: most of y’all found me on LinkedIn).
There’s no better time or place to showcase your work right now and getting started is as easy as posting about something:
Challenges you’ve faced and how you overcame them
Interesting projects you’ve worked on
What you struggled with this week
Books you’ve read recently or events you’ve attended
What annoys the crap out of you
Go post today. Then do it again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.
Show up. Be consistent. Pivot when you feel things aren’t working.
And make friends while you’re doing it.
Make friends, not connections
Public LinkedIn content can be cringey and shallow but the real secret is when you take it offline.
Don’t think of this as networking. Networking is a dirty word that no one actually likes doing.
You know what’s more fun than networking? Having a coffee with a friend.
And that’s what I do 1-3 times a week and it’s my superpower for building a big network, growing my brand, and serving my mission of being a genuinely helpful person.
I’m wildly introverted and generally panic at the idea of going to a large conference, but I can crush a 1x1 call with a stranger any day of the week.
My secret is to be inquisitive and friendly.
A few guard rails:
Do this with honest intentions, people can sniff out bullshit
Stick with people in the same line of work as you (e.g. growth marketers, content writers, product marketers)
Make it easy to book time, generate booking links with Vimcal (disclosure: I’m an advisor for them)
Here are three examples from the last week where I’ve setup or accepted networking calls with (mostly) complete strangers:
I don’t go into these conversations expecting anything in return.
I’m not selling them, they’re not selling me, and we’ll come away with the beginnings of a beautiful internet-based friendship.
Which brings me to my next point: share your knowledge and experience for free.
This is my content strategy for this newsletter and my Linkedin account: I’m giving everything away for free.
But I also freely give away my time.
One of my consulting clients came after I gave two pro-bono calls with a company that needed help with my area of expertise.
I sat on two 30-minute calls and gave them free advice without expecting anything in return.
I didn’t charge for these because I honestly wasn’t sure if I could help them and I saw this as an opportunity to build my network.
A few months later they re-engaged with me and they’re not a paying client (and I’m crushing some LinkedIn ads for them).
This strategy is dangerous because if you’re not careful you can be too free with your time. You need to learn how to judge a potential opportunity to cut out time wasters.
I’ve had this fail too: people I’ve hopped on calls with have yet to circle back with me. But I haven’t always done a good job at following up so some of that responsibility is on me.
Some of my friends think my level of networking on LinkedIn is crazy.
And maybe it is. But it works for me.
I find it personally fun and rewarding to make new friends, learn about other people, and see if I can help them.
Sometimes these friendships turn into random lunches in Austin or drinks when I’m visiting NYC. And when we do meet in person it feels like we’ve known each other forever.
And sometimes it turns into freelancing opportunities or an introduction to someone who needs my help.
Find a social channel that works for you, maybe it’s not LinkedIn, and go make some friends.
See you all after Thanksgiving.
Photo taken on a recent NYC trip where I met one of the earliest Early Exit Club supporters, Suzanne.
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