Choosing your clients
Flexibility is a key benefit for freelancers choosing to be their own boss. A greater variety of work and more control over the work you do, as well as the hours you work, are just some of the advantages of freelancing.
So picking and choosing your clients should be a natural progression of that theme, where you focus on those clients that are more enjoyable to work with, and those that are more profitable. The extent to which you can do this will depend on a number of factors.
If you've previously been hired by a company where your work focussed on a specialised field or was niche in some way, then the obvious step is to seek out similar clients. The accepted line of thought is that specialists charge more than those offering an 'across-the-board' service, so it would make sense to capitalise on that previous experience when you set up on your own. Similarly it would be a sound plan to try and carve yourself something of a niche if you start out without one. Providing this specialist area yields adequate work opportunities for you, it will make financial sense to tailor the expense of targeting just this one field and then enjoy a higher profit margin from the results rather than the scattergun approach which will cost you more in marketing and sales costs and likely return fewer new business opportunities.
The reasons behind starting your business and the financial return required from the business should also to be factored in. If you set out only to freelance part time, or to enjoy a narrow field of work, or you're lucky enough to have low living costs, then this obviously makes picking and choosing your clients a lot easier.
Even if you do have pressing overheads to meet, then most freelancers will tell you it is easier to gain new business from an existing client rather than converting prospects or cold contacts into paying clients. So one way of maintaining your industry niche is to train in other creative skills that are in demand, enabling you to offer additional services to those niche industry clients where your specialist experience and insight will bolt on profitably for clients lacking those skills in-house.
Building a solid 'full service' relationship with these core clients will also put you on a firmer footing for referral marketing. Vince Golder's Referral Marketing Ebook for freelancers (available through Freelance Alliance) offers guidance and tips on how to go about this; the theory is that you capitalise on word of mouth, which works particularly well in specialised market sectors, by rewarding existing clients that pass new business your way.
Profitable clients are not just those that pay a fair rate for your expertise however (don't be afraid to turn away clients only wanting to pay £50 for logo concept and development); companies that you 'gel' with and enjoy a clear line of communication with will result in a more enjoyable working week, with portfolio worthy projects done to budget and on schedule. Clients that are difficult to service on the other hand may well require more hand-holding, which if not managed carefully, could result in working more hours than those charged as well as being a drain on your enthusiasm. So it's wise to manage your business in such a way that you can see who your most profitable and rewarding clients are so that you can concentrate your efforts on selling more to your 'top 10' as well as targeting similar, new clients.