How to attract larger clients

Every freelancer and small agency owner wants to succeed in getting a big gig with a large, high-profile client. These jobs bring you the instant prestige of being able to say you've worked with these companies, boosting your profile for future gigs.

At Ballistiq, we're privileged to be able to say that we've worked with companies such as Autodesk, Nvidia and Intuitive Surgical. But where do you start when you’re looking to score yourself one of these kinds of gigs?

The unfortunate 'secret' about the consulting business is that most of the jobs you will get will likely be based on your relationships. In the history of our company, we have only landed one major deal through someone visiting our website. Other than that, it's all been through the network of people we know or have met at events.

In today's globalised world, most companies get countless emails and LinkedIn requests every day from outsourcing companies. Relationships and recommendations from friends and existing clients cut through the white noise.

Making connections

Many creative or technical freelancers just want to focus on the craft. It's easy to forget that you're a business and so you have to sell. That means networking: talking to people, calling them, following up, having lunches ... going out and bringing home the bacon. Networking can help you to find opportunities that you would have missed whilst sitting at home with your Dribbble account, waiting for an enquiry.

You know you're good at networking when the people you're meeting start introducing you to others, and leading you to jobs. Industry events are a great place to network. Go to where the clients are. For example, we work in the media and entertainment industry and attend the major trade shows that attract all the software and hardware companies.

Once you've scored a meeting with someone that might want to hire you, it's important to set the right tone. It should not be about you, it should be about them. The number one question I ask any client, big or small, is: what are your business objectives?

This not only helps me understand the project better, it shows you're interested in what their company is trying to achieve. Many of these larger companies don't particularly care about HTML5, responsive web design and all this 'stuff' that we internet pros are obsessed with. They're more interested in how you can help them achieve their objectives.

Money talk

The great thing about working with larger companies is that they tend to have set budgets and are usually more open about money than smaller companies. A large company that wants to build a micro-site would say with a straight face, "We have $15k budgeted for this. What can you do?" I’ve found that smaller companies don't have budgets and tend to squirm when you ask them what their budget is.

Large companies also tend to work with quarterly budgets. Find out when your potential client's fiscal year ends and use this to figure out the quarters. This helps you work out when you should follow up with your contact. The best times are at the beginning of the quarter when they are setting budgets, and the last month when they need to spend any remaining budget.

Once you've settled on the project and budget, it's time for the contract to be signed. You need to have a contract and a lawyer handy, period. The contract can be done one of two ways: either the client will ask you to use their standard vendor contract, or they'll ask for yours (which should be professionally drawn up) and it will be reviewed by their legal team. If they ask you to use their contract, have a lawyer do a sanity check and make sure you’re not exposing yourself.

When working with larger companies, you're usually at the mercy of their payment cycles and it’s difficult (though not impossible) to demand anything other than 60-day payment terms. You might like to consider a higher rate for these long payment term clients. You can still invoice at the start of a contract and split payments up into milestones. It sounds scary when you start, but once you build up enough cash reserves to ride the payment cycles, it's just business as usual.

Words: Leonard Teo

Leonard is the CEO of Ballistiq, a web and mobile software development company in Montreal, Canada

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