0111 – Authority Building & Qualifying Clients w/Sarah Jackson (Part 2)

Sarah and Chris discuss how to build your freelancing authority, how to qualify freelancing clients, and how to communicate with a client. Part 2 of a 2-part interview.

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You can follow Sarah on Twitter, and find her work online at Office of Sarah.


Build your freelancing authority on purpose:

  • Cherry-picking portfolio pieces
  • Only your best work
  • Only work similar to what you want to do
  • Only work that you can do profitably

Impart faith in the client’s mind that you can do the work:

  • Show that you’ve done it once, the client will believe you can do it again

Loss-leader strategy?

  • Show your least-expensive work to get clients in the door
  • Runs the risk of attracting penny-pinching clients
  • Ignores professional quality-of-life issues

If the client wants YOU then the price is not an obstacle:

  • Sometimes there’s no factor that explains why you fit w a client
  • Pricing send a signal
  • Pricing positions both you AND your clients

“I have no low-bid. If I did that, I would starve.”

Cost is a factor, but shouldn’t be the factor, bounded by the potential ROI of the project.

A lack of understand of value and ROI can lead to a cost-first focus and a lack of the client being committed to working with YOU specifically.

Qualifying clients:

  • It’s a common struggle
  • Educating the client on the process & where the value resides
  • It’s part of your job to educate on the process & the value


  • Hyper focus on cost or speed is a red flag
  • Expecting quality out of line w budget or cost is a red flag
  • Unrealistic timelines are another red flag

Immovable rule – the decision-maker HAS to be in the room when I’m presenting design or making decisions:

  • “When I’m not dealing with the decision-maker, that’s when projects go haywire”
  • One of the best ways to get design work approved is to have the decision-maker in the room.
  • It avoids turning a project into playing a game of “telephone”.

Trying to communicate experience via proxy does not work:

  • Some contacts lack the ability to articulate your feedback to their boss
  • You have to make sure your contributions aren’t mis-represented by the non-decision-makers to the decision-makers
  • Some contacts lack the inclination to appear lacking in authority

Some contacts will actively misrepresent how much authority they have over your freelancing project:

  • We want to presume goodwill
  • Sometimes our trust is not rewarded

How to determine if you’re talking to the real decision-maker:

  • Authorized to sign deals in general
  • Authorized to sign THIS deal
  • Authorized to approve payment
  • Authorized to veto this project?

You have to be very careful here:

  • You have to discover the real decision-maker, AND
  • You have to also respect the non-decision-maker point-of-contact, AND
  • You have to turn non-decision-maker stakeholders into allies, AND

If you don’t like interacting with people you will have a difficult time in freelancing.

The Freelancing Continuum (Contracting <—> Freelancing <—> Consulting)

If you’re not facing the clients yourself, you’re dependent on a middle-man of some kind to give you work.

Getting closer to the money helps create stronger clients relationships, and charge more for your work.

Finding the sweet spot:

  • Sarah likes striking a balance between being a strategic consultant and a technical pair of hands
  • Helps create a blend of work
  • Keep you technically satisfied as well as positioned for healthy fees

Difficult to find the client before all the important decisions are made?

  • This is a marketing problem
  • Nobody likes doing useless work:
  • Getting in on the strategy allows you to ensure your work truly benefits the client

Don’t let the client tell you what thing they need:

  • Client should tell you their desired outcomes
  • You should tell the client what thing they need

Sometimes the client won’t listen:

  • How much time do they have?
  • How much patience do they have?
  • Are they resistant to your help?
  • This might end up being a one-time project

Recurring work:

  • The goal is always to have a long-term relationship with a client
  • The simplest thing to do is listen and ask “why”
  • This often leads to strategic discussions that create more and better work

You don’t have to be interested in turning every client into repeat work:

  • Sometimes you see yourself becoming part of the client team
  • Sometimes projects are just projects and that’s the end of it

Chris once got called out for disinterest on a client project early in his career.

Our role is as much to signal the health of and confidence in the project as it is to execute on the project.

How to combat apathy about projects:

  • Make sure you stay connected and inspired
  • Always have a side project
  • Stay active in professional groups
  • Practice “professional self-care”

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