Leaping into freelance work requires bravery. Building a freelance business requires strategy.
Few know this better than freelance web designer and creative consultant Brad Hussey, who quit his steady agency job over a decade ago to launch his own business. Since then, he’s worked with clients from (almost) every country in the world and launched web design courses that have helped over half a million creators.
From Hussey's experience, designers that are fresh to freelancing are often guilty of taking on any task they can find just to stay afloat. But “complexity kills progress,” Hussey says. “The more you add in, the more you put on your plate, the more things you’re doing, the worse you do.”
His solution is simple. Follow a "rule of ones": one client persona, one offer, one marketing channel, one conversion method, and a commitment to this focused approach for at least one year.
In a recent Editor X webinar, he broke down his "rule of ones" into a step-by-step guide that can help you build a client Rolodex of your own, develop business strategies you’ll actually stick to, and apply the tips he wishes he knew when he was starting out.
Watch the "How to get a full book of clients" webinar in full.
1. One client persona
You might be familiar with user personas, which segment users into similar groups. But personas can apply to clients too. Just think of them as profiles of your ideal clients. By honing in on the type of person you want to work with, you’ll be more likely to find, connect and collaborate with them.
Hussey suggests you include these details when determining a client persona: demographics (the societal groups they fit into), geographics (where they are), psychographics (their attitudes and values), and behaviors.
Honing in on one client persona also allows you to better “understand who they are, and what they suffer with,” according to Hussey. He recommends interviewing folks who mirror your clients’ persona to acquaint yourself with their needs and learn their language.
By putting in this leg work, you’ll be better equipped to craft a pitch that solves their problems, in a framing that’s familiar to them. Meaning, ultimately, they’ll be more likely to hire you.
2. One offer
After defining who you want to work with, identify what you can provide for them. Many do this on a client-by-client basis: 61% of the freelancers who joined Hussey’s session, for instance, tailor each offer to the client they’re working with. On surface level, this approach seems logical, since every client is different—to some extent.
However, bespoke offers are too complicated to be scalable. Save yourself time and work with a fill-in-the-blanks offer model that builds on client persona information from step one.
By specifying your skills and expertise, client pain points, the valuable outcomes your solution will provide, your delivery method, timeline, and price, you’ll have the building blocks. If you solve for this formula using that info, you can distill a single offer fit for every client, says Hussey: “I help [target client] solve [problem] by doing [solution].”
3. One marketing channel
To make the most of your bandwidth as a freelancer, Hussey recommends you consolidate your marketing approach. Since freelancing breeds a sense of urgency, it can be tempting to share your business with everyone you’ve ever known, everywhere they’ve ever been.
By doing this, Hussey says you’re setting yourself up for failure: “You get no traction anywhere and you wonder, two months in, why nothing’s happened.” You won’t have time to create tailored content for each marketing channel or social platform. Plus, this more generic marketing won’t speak to the specific type of potential customer that you want to reach.
Hussey suggests beginning with one marketing approach, focused on the channels your persona is most likely to use, and how likely they are to be ready to hire you. For example, if your goal is brand awareness, Hussey says to put your efforts into a single social media platform. If you want to get your past customers to consider you for their next project, try your hand at email marketing.
To reinforce this strategy, he insists on staying consistent and measuring results. Only switch channels or adopt new ones once you’ve seen success within a given timeframe (e.g. two business quarters).
4. One conversion method
Once you’ve established a marketing strategy, provide a clear path to where clients can sign up with you. Direct traffic to a single endpoint, whether that’s a contact form or a landing page where clients can request a consultation call.
From there, it’s all about execution. Identify your call to action, conversion flow, and the tools you’ll need to execute it. You’ll also need to set up a structure to review and analyze this. Set success indicators, a timeline for reviewing progress, and a target number of conversions so you can continue to improve the outcome.
When new customers start to come to you off the back of this, Hussey recommends adding social proof, like testimonials from existing clients recommending your services. Client reviews are “worth their weight in gold,” according to Hussey.
5. One year
After establishing a process, the hard work begins of both maintaining and optimizing it. “Follow your plan for a year and regularly review and adjust the plan on a quarterly basis to ensure progress,” says Hussey. In his experience, freelancers abandon approaches like this when they don’t see immediate results. It’s one of the most common mistakes he sees among his peers.
One way to avoid this pitfall? Seek out fellow freelancers that can keep you accountable. One source he suggests is his free, online community for creators: Creative X Crew.
While it might be a bit too late for new year’s resolutions, that doesn’t mean you can’t try something new. “You don't have to wait until the new year to start something,” says Hussey. “You can start tomorrow. Tomorrow's your new year.”