The Real Reason Freelancers Struggle to Land High Quality Clients [Survey Results]

Towards the end of 2019, I noticed a common theme crop up amongst my students and readers. Contrary to popular belief, the biggest struggle freelancers face isn’t landing their first client or getting paid more, it’s actually finding high quality clients that value them and that they love working with.

One of the main reasons I went freelance in the first place (besides the fact that I kept using up alllll my holiday leave) was so that I could pick and choose the kind of people I worked with.

It makes such a big difference.

Think about how many hours you work a year, and imagine spending all that precious time working with people who don’t value you and want to fob you off with low pay and criticism at every turn.

It’s a far cry from the idealised image of freelancing many “gurus” would have you believe.

It took me a good two years into freelancing to get to a point where the majority of my client base was what I would consider “high quality” — that is, they paid me the kind of money I wanted, I enjoyed the projects, and they were nice to me.

Doesn’t sound like too much to ask for, right?

Except, when I sent out my annual survey last month, I was shocked to discover that most freelancers do not have this luxury.

Instead, they are working with clients that don’t value them on projects they absolutely loathe for money that won’t even buy them a cheeky trip to McDonalds.

It’s pretty grim out there.

Which is why I’ve made it my mission this year to focus on everything to do with high quality clients. This will include:

  • What a high quality client looks like
  • How you can find high quality clients (or, more importantly, where)
  • How you can demonstrate your value so that clients never take you for granted again
  • How to speak to high quality clients to seal the deal
  • Understanding your worth so you get paid what you want
  • Everything else you can think of relating to high quality clients!

I’m determined to get to the bottom of the high quality client conundrum and help freelancers all over the world start landing clients they LOVE.

To put some backstory to this, you’re going to need to see the results from 2019’s survey. The survey went out to my Twitter followers and my email list, and I got tons of great responses around the topic of high quality clients.

Results:

  • I’m brand new: 21.05%
  • Less than one year: 15.79%
  • 1–3 years: 31.58%
  • 3–7 years: 26.32%
  • 7+ years: 5.26%

The majority of freelancers surveyed had been freelancing for between one and three years. This was a revelation for me, especially as the answers to the following questions unravelled.

For me, the sweet spot came at about three years into my freelancing career.

This was the moment I started landing clients I loved waking up in the mornings to work with and eventually led to today, where my entire client base is made up of what I would consider high quality clients.

Results:

  • What’s a niche?: 5.26%
  • Yes, I’ve got a really focused niche: 21.05%
  • I have a couple of niches I specialise in: 42.11%
  • Not really — I’ll take pretty much anything: 31.58%

Most of the freelancers that responded had a couple of freelancing niches.

After that, the most popular responses were “not really, I’ll take anything” and “yes, I’ve got a really focused niche”.

This could be one of the reasons why a lot of freelancers are struggling to get traction with high quality clients. I’ve spoken before about how doubling down on my niche actually opened me up to more leads and helped me forge a name for myself that means I can charge more and land amazing projects.

Results:

  • None/I’ve just started and haven’t landed a gig yet: 26.32%
  • 1–5: 36.84%
  • 5–10: 15.79%
  • 10–30: 21.05%
  • 30+: 0%

It was a mixed bag when it came to how many clients the surveyed freelancers had worked with. One to five clients seemed most common, but there were still plenty that worked with between 10 and 30.

Remember here that quantity doesn’t equal quality, which is something that will become more evident later down in the results.

Results:

  • None of them: 33.33%
  • One or two: 33.33%
  • A handful: 22.22%
  • About half: 0%
  • Most of them: 5.56%
  • All of them: 5.56%

Yes, quantity doesn’t equal quality.

In fact, very few freelancers that were surveyed were able to say that the majority of their clients were high quality.

On the flipside, the most popular answers were “none” and “one or two”, which hints that many freelancers are taking on clients they aren’t a good fit with because they have to (or, at the very least, feel like they have to).

Results:

  • I didn’t get any clients in 2019: 26.32%
  • None — I’ll take anything remember: 26.32%
  • One or two: 31.58%
  • About half of enquiries: 10.53%
  • The majority of enquiries: 5.26%

To get to a point where you have a roster of high quality clients, you have to be ruthless. It’s so tempting to take on any and every project that comes your way because you might not know where the next pay cheque is coming from.

However, the less bad-fit clients you turn down, the less space you have open for high quality clients — something that is evident in the results to this question.

As you can see, most freelancers turned down only one or two clients, with a large number not turning down any at all.

Very few actually turned down the majority of enquiries.

Results:

  • Not a good fit: 45.45%
  • The pay wasn’t good enough: 54.55%
  • I just got a bad vibe about them: 36.36%

It’s not enough to know the number of clients that freelancers turn down, it’s also important to know why they turned them down.

To summarise, the majority thought the pay wasn’t enough, but just a general bad-fit vibe was enough to have freelancers turn down a job.

I gave freelancers the chance to expand on their answers in the survey.

Here’s a handful of responses:

  • “They never got back to me after requesting to send me work, so it was too inconsistent and flaky”
  • “I didn’t want to work with them again (too much hassle for too little money!!)”
  • “Not enough time/focusing on other projects”

This shows that it’s not always the freelancer saying “no”; sometimes the freelancer might actually be ready to say “yes”, but may not hear back from the client.

What Does the Term High Quality Client Mean to You?

As I was carrying out this research, I quickly realised that my definition of a high quality client might not be the same as everyone else’s. In light of this, I added a space in the survey for freelancers to create their own descriptions.

Here’s some of the results:

  • “One that values skill level and compensation”
  • “A client that has similar values, someone who understands my worth and is easy to work with”
  • “One that pays well”
  • “Appreciate my work, pay on time, I enjoy the projects and feel I’m making a difference, they book me in advance”
  • “Someone well-connected and that pays me well and on time”
  • “To me, they’re clients who recognise the value of content marketing for their business, have a plan in mind, and pay well too because they understand the value they’re getting”
  • “A client who knows their industry well and understands the value that copywriting can add to their business”
  • Someone who is pleasant to deal with, who communicates their needs clearly at the beginning, and who pays on time”
  • “They pay on time, they appreciate what I do, and they ask for my input”
  • “They pay well, give respect, and there’s the potential for repeat work”
  • “They have reasonable expectations and deadlines”
  • “A high quality client would be a nice person that I get on with — I want them to do well. We also want to do the same things and have the same vision”
  • “Someone who is easy to work with, friendly enough and allows me creative freedom while paying me good rates”

From this small selection of responses, it’s easy to see that high quality doesn’t just mean high-paying. Freelancers are also looking for clients that they get on with, that they share a vision with, who pays on time, and who values what they do.

Results:

  • I don’t know where to find them: 50%
  • I don’t think I’m good enough just yet: 11.11%
  • I’m too scared to approach them: 11.11%
  • I don’t know what a high quality client looks like: 5.56%

Once I landed the first client I’d consider to be high quality, I knew that I needed to find more — but that was easier said than done.

It took me ages to figure out where I could find high quality clients and what they looked like from the outside, and I wondered if other freelancers had or have similar issues.

True to form, the majority of freelancers said that not knowing where to find high quality clients was holding them back.

Others put the blame on themselves, claiming that they didn’t think they were good enough or were too scared to approach clients they considered to be high quality.

I can completely resonate with both of these things. It’s only been in the past two years or so where I’ve been able to send out a pitch without overthinking it and without sweating.

Again, I asked the surveyed freelancers to expand on this if they could. Here’s what they said:

  • “I’m just not sure how the process works, so I’m scared to look silly while pitching”
  • “I need to improve how I communicate my value to the right people”
  • “I’ve let clients come to me, rather than actively reaching out to clients who I would consider high quality”
  • “It seems a bit hit and miss. You can’t always tell at the beginning who is going to be a good quality client, but, as I get more clients, I’m able to let go of more of the lower quality ones”

It seems that feelings of self-doubt stop a lot of freelancers from going out and seeking high quality clients — that, and the struggle with identifying quality in the first place.

Results:

  • Yes: 42.11%
  • No: 42.11%
  • I don’t know how to make a plan: 15.79%

Once I’d had a taste of the high quality client life, I never wanted to go back to miserable, low paying projects. My plan involved pitching, pitching some more, and working hard to establish a name for myself in my niche.

You too can learn the formula to successful pitching in my signature program, Pitch & Prosper. Want a roster made up totally of quality clients? Enrol today!

I wanted to know if other freelancers had the same goal. The results were surprising — an almost 50/50 split between “yes, I do have a plan” and “no, I don’t.”

I’m hoping this is simply because the freelancers who said “no” don’t know how to create a plan and not because they don’t want more high quality clients.

Why Aren’t High Quality Clients the Norm? Summarising the Results

So there you have it.

From this survey, we can loosely draw several conclusions as to why freelancers struggle so much with landing high quality clients:

  • They don’t know where to find them
  • They struggle to demonstrate their value to the right people
  • They don’t turn down enough clients
  • They are filled with self-doubt
  • They don’t have a plan

If we can change this, I’m hopeful that hundreds more freelancers will enjoy a much happier and fruitful career — but that’s easier said than done, right?

This is precisely why, this year, my mission is to help you find high quality clients, convert them into well-paying projects, and continue to build a roster of great work.

This post first appeared on Wanderful World.

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SaaS, Marketing and Ecommerce Writer and Content Consultant. I also help freelancers create long-term, lucrative businesses.

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Lizzie Davey

Lizzie Davey

SaaS, Marketing and Ecommerce Writer and Content Consultant. I also help freelancers create long-term, lucrative businesses.

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