Recently (well, this summer) I passed the three year milestone in self-employment. That’s how long I’ve been working for myself since I left my last full-time office job in Israel. It’s a burgeoning track record.
It’s been a really busy few years and a rollercoaster journey (much as my time in Israel has been!). When you’re in business for yourself, there’s always something to do, whether that’s marketing yourself, nurturing your sales leads, paying taxes, or ….. doing whatever it is that your clients pay you to do.
Somewhere along the way, most self-employed folk will turn their attention to inbound marketing. I began the transition a couple of years ago and have invested far more effort in this side of my marketing than in outbound-led processes ever since then.
Inbound marketing — getting people to come to you in plain words — is a large part of the work that I help clients with. If you’re successful at it sooner or later you’ll begin receiving a trickle — or deluge — of inbound leads. Folks that found you through the internet, or through networks, and want to together. It works passively. Which is why it’s such a powerful and useful force for time-pressed solo businesspeople.
When inbound marketing begins to “work” — by which I mean you begin to receive inbound leads, thereby proving that somebody found you as a result of your efforts — there’s a sort of temptation to rest on your laurels.
Even getting to this point represents the fruits of a lot of effort. Can’t you just stop there and hope that enough of those filling in your contact form will turn into paying customers? Unfortunately, by getting this far, you’ve only reached the first stage of the process.
All you’ve done, by reaching this point, is succeeding in adding another channel to your lead acquisition approach.
Experience has taught me, and others, that there’s often nothing inherently better about inbound leads even though it may be tempting to think that those who “seek you out” are higher intent leads and therefore more likely to convert.
This isn’t always the case and many B2B marketers will actually argue the other side of this debate: asserting that inbound-generated leads are actually inherently weaker than those generated through outbound approaches. Scattergun quote-sourcers are prevalent as are competitors using shady methodologies to keep tabs on what others are charging. So don’t put any lead on a pedestal just because it was inbound-generated. They’re just leads. And like any other leads, you’ll want to attempt to handle them in the most time-efficient manner possible.
How quickly you can do that is — in my opinion — one of the most important freelancing skills to develop.
Why You Need To Be, Or Become, A Bad Lead Squashing Jedi To Succeed In Freelancing
There’s no conventional KPI I’m aware of for tracking how quickly you can say “no thank you” to a lead that you determine isn’t going to meet your qualification criteria. Average time invested per disqualified lead (ATIPDL)? It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
But if there were, I reckon that it would turn out to be among the most significant differentiators between freelancers who manage to stay the course and those that end up going out of business.
The problem with freelancing, especially as a solo business, is that there’s simply so much to do. You’re dealing with a constant low-level time crunch. Which is why going headlong after every lead that comes your way is a recipe for disaster. Lest this weren’t clear, I’m talking from bitter but fruitful experience here, much of it gained over the last couple of years.
When it comes to my inbound marketing and sales process, there are two metrics that I’m currently fixated upon driving:
- Attracting top-of-funnel opportunity. This goes without saying. For inbound marketing to work out, I do need people to enter my pipeline at some point.
- Quickly differentiating between viable leads and those that are not viable. In conventional sales terminology, this is the lead scoring and lead qualification process.
The Double Edged Sword Of Talking Price Early On
I’ve echoed, previously, the time-trusted wisdom that service providers — including marketers — need to be focused upon selling value to their clients and not selling by price.
That advice, though now beyond trite, has perhaps never been more pertinent. Too often, the only ones who think about applying this adage are high-end management consultants. But truthfully even humble freelancers would do well to heed this advice.
In an era of increasingly globalized freelancing marketplaces and the races to the bottom that they tend (unfailingly) to generate, for those based in high cost of living countries, maintaining rate integrity by asserting value is likely to prove the only viable approach over the long term.
Clients, however, tend to balk at numbers picked out of the sky. Which is partially why calculating value and then demonstrating how your clients can achieve a positive return on investment (ROI) on that is the necessary path to making this work.
My very quick surrogate for a proper lead qualification process is to talk money very early on in the process. A more elaborate methodology involves using the BANT lead qualification checklist. But even that still starts with ‘b’ (it stands for ‘budget’).
So here’s why I call talking price early on a double edged sword:
- It’s a razor-sharp tool for quickly discerning between those who could be good fit customers and those who will likely never be.
- From a negotiations perspective, it’s a dubious move. You’re anchoring yourself to a figure from the get-go.
The commonly proposed solution:
- Assert your price by reference to the value you can deliver to your potential customers. However, also have a “starting from” rate to ensure that you don’t end up wasting time talking to those whose budget is way out of line with where your rates are currently
- Inbound leads aren’t necessarily any better than outbound leads from a conversion perspective. Getting people interested in what you do is only the first stage in the inbound sales process.
- Getting on the phone with every inbound lead is sooner or later going to prove un-viable. You can also waste a boatload of time doing this. It tends to be not a whole lot of fun either.
- Becoming a bad lead squashing Jedi — an expert triager, a master qualifier —is an essential skill for the self-employed.
- While quickly flagging and turning away bad fit leads may sound a bit negative, it’s actually the opposite: you’ll have more time left over to run your business and more time, energy, and enthusiasm left to direct to the leads that do stand a chance at being good fits.
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Daniel Rosehill is a technology writer and marketing communications (MarCom) professional based in Jerusalem. Originally from Cork, in Ireland, Daniel’s diverse set of interests include Linux and open source technology; backups and disaster recovery (and naturally, digital prepping); and language-learning and travelling.