One of the delicious freedoms of being self-employed is choosing the clients you work with. Certainly you want to work on material that is also interesting or exciting to you personally, and with organizations or causes about which you care. Perhaps that is exactly why you went out on your own.
But that doesn’t mean you should decline bread-and-butter work, or fail to pursue (or even to follow up on) perfectly acceptable work because you don’t feel passionate about it or because — heaven forbid — it’s boring!
That freedom is reserved for those who have a steady flow of work coming in and a full pipeline to back it up, which takes a consistent and focused marketing campaign founded on a clear positioning. Without that, you probably can’t yet afford to be too picky.
It’s not just the material you work on that could be exciting. In fact, the real freedom of freelancing is this: you are free to find excitement in any (and every) aspect of your work, from having complete creative control no matter what the subject matter, to the thrill of depositing the biggest check of your career.
“What’s exciting may not be immediately obvious,” writes Lynne Venart of The Art Monkey. “Maybe it’s simply the availability of steady work, or that the clients tend to be easy to work with or are hands-off. Or maybe the industry isn’t typically “exciting,” like show business, but one you can feel good about because it does important research or supports learning. I can usually find something about an industry that is appealing; I just have to look.”
Gerry Suchy, of GMS Designs agrees. “It’s tempting to delude yourself into thinking that you will only do work that is exciting and interesting. I haven’t found that to be true,” Suchy writes in a LinkedIn Group discussion on the topic. He believes creative professionals can learn to compartmentalize their personal feelings and focus on the technical aspects of the work which in itself, can be rewarding. “Plus, working for not-so-exciting clients is an exercise in self-discipline. Life before freelancing required it or you would have been out of a job.”
Viability trumps excitement
Frankly, viability is more important than excitement. In fact, a viable market can be very exciting, no matter the topic. Is the market growing? Do they need you and your services — and do they know it? Do they have the money to pay you, and pay you well? There are plenty of “boring” markets that fit that description, and many creative professionals doing very well in those markets.
Kathryn Grill Hoeppel, of Kathryn Grill Graphic Design, is one of them. She chose the federal government as her target design market because it’s huge, has lots of needs, and is right in her backyard. “Because the government is such a major player in my local area, I’d be remiss as a growing business not to look at it.” She acknowledges the work won’t win any awards, and getting the work in itself is very hard work, not to mention the paperwork required to be eligible for the work. However, for her, there is plenty to be excited about:
- Bigger projects = bigger budgets. Many freelancers complain that all they can find are small projects for small businesses. Hoeppel is not complaining. Instead, she’s seized the opportunity to start pursuing the bigger fish and putting the pieces in place to be able to handle it. “I’m excited about the growth prospects, the bigger projects with bigger budgets.”
- Loyal customers. Many creative professionals spend a lot of time courting a new client, only to find all that person needs is a one-off project, not ongoing work. Not so with the federal government. “They don’t fix what isn’t broken. If you can prove that you will do what’s necessary to find them a solution, they will stay loyal. I am excited about becoming a resource for federal agencies because once you build those relationships, they are strong.”
- Limited competition. Many freelancers also struggle because they are essentially competing against anyone who hangs out a shingle. Not so when you focus on a specialized aspect of the government work. “I’m excited about being able to expand into a niche sector that wasn’t available to me a year and a half ago, because [the niche] limits the competition.”
Most important, Hoeppel is excited about the growth potential of her own business.
“This forces me to take a ‘grown up pill’ and get serious. Being able to vie for this type of business has enabled me not to just wish and hope for growth, but make it a reality. I’m applying for financing so I can bid on bigger contracts. I’m planning to move into a brick and mortar office to better separate my work from the rest of my life. These benefits are more exciting to my company overall than the actual work it will produce. This is a valuable stepping stone toward getting to the work that will be award-winning.”
If you want to pick a niche but aren’t sure which is best for you, check out these resources:
- HOW Design University Live Workshop: next session is on June 17.
- FREE DOWNLOAD: Niche Checklist: 60+ niches to choose from – find the perfect one for you.
- Podcast episode: How Excited Should You Be About Your Market
with Ilise Benun
If you feel scattered because your clients are all over the place and you need to find more but aren’t sure where to look, this series of Live Workshops is for you. You can take control of your business by focusing on the clients with better projects and bigger budgets. In this Live Workshop 3-part series, Ilise Benun, the Marketing Mentor, will teach you how to find your ideal clients (or clone your favorite ones) so you can find more of them and develop the elevator pitch that makes them say, “This is the creative professional for me.”
Session 2: Researching Your Markets
In these workshops, you will learn:
- learn how to select and research 3 target markets
- learn how to determine which markets are viable
- develop a list of 50 practice & ideal prospects
- draft an elevator pitch for 3 ideal clients
- develop versions of that pitch for networking in person, your LinkedIn profile and your homepage