Getting to know your target market – best advice I've heard in a year

If you are like me, a developer that has started out on his own just a few months ago, for sure you've realized very early on that finding clients is one of the most challenging and most important parts of running a freelancing business. I would like to share one of the best tips I heard in a year about getting new clients.

Around the topic of finding new customers, a lot of the advice we get these days is around niching down and positioning. Proponents of this strategy are Philip Morgan, Jonathan Stark and Brennan Dunn. When I started out a year ago, I wanted to do everything right and since I have had a decent amount of d3.js knowledge under my belt, I decided to position myself as a data visualization specialist. While in fact my first project was a data visualization gig and I still get meetings with leads around this topic, selling data visualization services basically came to a standstill.

It's hard to gain knowledge about a new niche

I came to the realization that I didn't know enough who my clients would be. Nor did I know (to this day) enough about the expensive problems I could solve with my data visualization skills. I went through all the free niching advice known to me, even went through the advice of validating self-funded startups (e.g. Amy Hoy's Sales Safari). But I just couldn't find a good resource on how to know if the picked niche is a viable one. All resources I've found started right after one already picked a niche.

But how do you know if you've picked the right niche? If you are a generalist and you lack domain knowledge about the market you aim at, that's even harder.

Luckily, I stumbled upon Paul Jarvis article An Experienced Freelancer's Guide to Finding Clients today and found the best advice on how to get into the heads of your potential clients I've seen in a year.

The get-to-know-potential-clients hack

I really recommend reading the article because of all the other good advice Paul is giving therein.

However, if you've the feeling that you don't know enough about your target market and struggle to build up this knowledge, I'll summarize Paul's advice for you:

  • Look up past clients of successful freelancers that offer similar services to yours
  • Start a little outreach campaign and email ten of them.
  • In the email tell
    • that you've seen their work they've done with freelancer X.
    • Then, explain that you just started your business in the same realm
    • and if they would do you a favour to answer three to four questions.
    • Revolve these questions around why they've chosen to work with freelancer X, how they got to know him, what the underlying business problems were.

Hope this helps.

Published by Robert Möstl

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