Think like Michelangelo: A freelancer’s guide to choosing great clients.

part of the sistine chapelHistorically, artists have always needed to find a patron. Sometimes the church, sometimes a nobleman or a merchant.

Without the support of a patron, artists wouldn’t have had the resources to do great work. We all have to eat.

And those patrons often gave pretty clear instructions regarding the topic of the art. For example, painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel wasn’t Michelangelo’s idea. The work was commissioned by Pope Julius II.

In fact, Michelangelo was reluctant to take on the project. He would rather have been sculpting.

But you know how it goes…what the client wants, the client gets. (Particularly when, in addition to being the Pope, you are also referred to as “Il papa terribile”.)

The thing being, the artist’s life isn’t so very different from the freelancer’s life.

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The $10,000 coaching call. Or…Why I love coaching.

freelance super heroI don’t work as a coach full time, but do thoroughly enjoy the clients I work with.

Why? Because coaching is a creative process. It’s about creating something new, something exciting.

Earlier this week I was on the phone with a client and were we talking about how she might best position a new direction for her freelance business.

Previously, we had figured out the general direction that she felt worked best for her. Now we had to find a way to position her service in such a way that prospects would feel enthused by the idea of working with her.

This is easier said than done. The mechanics of what she offered were not new. Hundreds of other freelancers in her field offer pretty much the same features and benefits.

So we had to dig and to find a way that would separate her from her competition, and would also make her shine.

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You can achieve freelance success if you really WANT it. Discuss.

Talk to almost any freelancer and he or she will tell you they really want to succeed.

But there are many different degrees of “wanting” something.

As a coach, working with freelancers almost daily, I often hear about how badly people want to succeed.

But the word,”want” is inadequate to the task of expressing what it really means to want something.

I want some ice cream for dessert.

I want to go away for the weekend.

I want my children to grow up healthy, happy and wise.

The degree to which I want ice cream is insignificant compared to how much I want my children to grow up healthy, happy and wise.

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If your freelance business website looks old, it will damage your brand.

nick usborne's freelance websiteLast year’s fashions look old. Last year’s smartphones look old. And last year’s websites look old.

OK, I’m exaggerating a little. Let’s make that 5 years.

Whatever the exact timeframe, there is no doubt that any given look and feel for a website eventually grows old.

As a freelancer, or for any business, you can’t allow that to happen. You can’t have a website that looks like it was last worked on back in 2005 or, even worse, 1998.

In some ways it’s odd that website design should be so susceptible to changes in fashion. If a particular look and feel works, why change it?

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Are your freelance copywriting services perceived as an expense, or as an investment?

cash registerMaybe you don’t think about your services in this way.

But your clients and prospects do.

As a prospective client looks at your estimate, she will perceive it in one of two ways.

“This is going to take a chunk out of my budget for this quarter. I wonder if this is really the best use of my dollars.”

Or…

“This is going to cost me a few bucks, but it’s going to generate a truck load of extra sales.”

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Do freelancers really have to become celebrities? Good grief, I hope not.

Thirty years ago, when I first started out as a freelance copywriter, I networked by phone and by shaking hands at various industry events.

The most productive of those events were when I was collecting an award for some work I had done. There I was, being shown in my very best light, surrounded by my very best prospects.

All I had to do was keep doing good work and appearing at those functions.

There was no email. No Internet. No social media.

My marketing strategy was simply to keep doing good work.

Nobody even knew what I looked like, or even how young or old I was. I was known and judged by my reputation alone.

In the late 1990s I switched from print to online.

By the year 2000 I needed a website for my freelance, consulting and speaking business. After all, if you are on a stage, speaking to a group of 700 prospects in the audience, you need to give them a url.

The day I started speaking was the day I was no longer judged simply by my work. From that moment, other factors came into the mix – like what kind of speaker I was, what I looked like, whether I was amusing and likeable.

By about 2002 I had to update my website. The first version was beginning to look a little old. Websites are like that. The appearance of your website is a bit like fashion in clothes. If you are wearing last year’s collection, you don’t look cool any more.

It was probably back then that I added a photo to my About page.

And, of course, since 2003, my website has gone through some additional upgrades.

But in one sense I am horribly behind the times when it comes to how I market myself.

Marketing yourself as a freelancer or consultant seems to have become less and less about the quality of the work you do, and more and more about how you present yourself as a person.

The casual headshot has given way to the professional studio shot….or the professional “casual” shot.

And I dare say many of those studio shots have had a quick wash and rinse through Photoshop.

“About” pages are becoming less to do with a person’s qualifications, experience and results, and more to do with who they are as individuals. Less about the results achieved for clients – more about someone’s love for surfing or raising puppies.

It’s like we are no longer promoting ourselves as industry professionals, but have turned to promoting ourselves as industry celebrities.

The rise of social media has simply accelerated this trend. Less about performance, and more about the cult of the personality.

If you are under 40 and good looking, so much the better.

You think I’m kidding? I’m not. A while ago I had a conversation with a publicist who specializes in getting book authors on TV shows. I asked her whether a good looking author was more likely to get invited to talk about his or her book. She said, “Absolutely, that’s about 90% of it.”

Scary. Never mind the quality of the book, let’s see if the author is cute.

Can it be that this is how we are going to have to promote ourselves as freelance professionals?

What’s next? A little Botox before taking that $5,000 “casual” photo to stamp all over your homepage?

Count me out.

If I’m lucky, the tides will turn one day, and clients will say, “Hang on, we don’t need a cute freelancer who enjoys surfing, we want a grumpy old professional who can deliver results!”