Do you remember the madness of 2008 when the global recession hit the economy and brought everything to a grinding halt? I remember it like it was yesterday.
I'd just gone freelance and was doing well, then boom! I lost all of my clients overnight. It was how the idea for Creative Boom came about. I could see that we were all suffering on Twitter and wanted to help.
Here we are, 10 years later, and the current political crisis has many of us worried all over again. Talking to a few of you in recent weeks and the conversation isn't pretty. It seems that clients are "waiting for Brexit to happen" and are cutting back on their marketing spend.
If you're a designer, illustrator, photographer, PR consultant or copywriter, don't panic just yet. Uncertain times can bring great opportunity. For instance, some of you who went freelance a decade ago are now running successful studios and agencies. You've benefited from clients looking for more affordable and flexible support. Those difficult times proved fruitful. And they can do so again.
You just need to convince new and existing clients that your freelance services aren't just beneficial; they're crucial if they're going to survive. Here are some things to do with clients when they're stalling on making things official.
Use the old marketing line and make fear your friend
You know what they say, whilst other businesses might cut back on marketing during downturns, those who continue to make it a priority will benefit in the long term. Remind your clients of this. Be bolshy about it and put the fear of God into them. Send out a mailer to your network, reminding everyone about the importance of consistent marketing. There's a risk that their competitors will push on regardless – surely they don't want to get left behind?
Now is not the time to cut back, tell them. It's the best time to push forward. Be proactive and suggest fresh campaigns, new ideas – anything to show them that you're open for business and eager to help.
Small is the new big again
Full-service agencies have enjoyed many years of success, and they'll continue to do so. But during hard times, clients might be more inclined to hire smaller studios or niche experts – cherry-picking what they need, when they need it.
Don't be afraid to shout about your small size. Say that you're lean and adaptable. That you can work around their needs, not your own. Tell them what they want to hear: affordable, flexible services and no lengthy contracts. Small is powerful right now. Just remember to sell your skills and experience, too.
Consider a focus
Clients love experts. They're credible, reliable and can get the job done. During downturns, pitching yourself as an "expert" can prove lucrative. Are you good at one particular thing? Yes? Shout about it. No? Find something your existing clients have been asking for lately and upskill. For copywriters out there that means getting to grips with SEO. With illustrators, it might mean motion design. Photographers... small video clips for Instagram. Spot the opportunities and use or boost your skills to have a focus in an area that's in demand.
Don't hang about if you've got a bite
You've got the client interested. They've almost given the go-ahead. The last thing you want to do is give them the chance to have second thoughts. Clients often want speedy solutions. And they'll often go with the freelancer who is the most responsive. Immediately book a face-to-face meeting – whether in person or virtual. Because by building a relationship, the client will see there's a real person behind your brand. That will make it harder for them to dismiss you. You also want to take them down the road a little, so they invest in you and start the ball rolling.
Be passionate and confident in your consultancy
Don't think something is right during that initial meeting when a client is thinking about hiring you? Spotted something in their business that could be improved? Speak up. Tell them about it. But tread carefully. This is their baby, after all. And you don't yet know the politics involved – and boy, there are always politics. With time comes experience and you'll get better at offering on-the-spot advice during meetings. The point is, you need to show passion and eagerness at this early stage. Clients LOVE it when you bring energy and enthusiasm to the table.
Use "we" instead of "I"
It's an old Jedi mind trick: don't say "I" when talking about working together, say "we". You'll subconsciously place yourself in the client's team as one of its key players. You'll show that you care about their business and want it to succeed.
When it comes to money, offer an intro rate
If they're still not biting, money could be the final stubborn obstacle. Make the decision a no-brainer. Dangle an introductory rate and say, "If you're not happy with my services after three months, then no hard feelings". It reassures them that you're confident you'll still be working with them and lessens the risk for them, too.
Plus if you have loyal clients who have worked with you for years, tell them about it. It'll convince them you're the right person for the job.