Create a Seven-Part Sales Funnel – and Work it Like a Champ to Turn Leads into Prospects, and Prospects into Clients
At a recent networking event, the speaker was clicking through her slideshow on Content Marketing. When she displayed a page showing her company’s sales funnel, I gasped. It was a thing of beauty to behold.
I’m not the only one who appreciates a good sales funnel these days. Sales funnels are one of today’s hottest topics in Content Marketing.
Everyone is talking about sales funnels. I thought it was time we discussed the Freelance Sales Funnel.
The sales funnel is popular because it is the backbone of Content Marketing. All of the content we create is used to capture leads and move them down the sales funnel – from a lead to a prospect to a sale and beyond. (What’s beyond sales, you might ask? Customer advocacy and referrals.)
When executed with an intelligent strategy, precision tactics, and awesome content, sales funnels work like the proverbial charm.
Sales funnels are important for freelance content writers to understand for two reasons: One, so we can write better, more targeted content for our clients.
And two, so we can create our own sales funnels – and use them to build successful, lucrative, long-term freelance careers.
My Rudimentary First Freelance Sales Funnel
The general idea of a sales funnel – and how it gets is name – is that you attract a large sea of leads at the top of the funnel. This group winnows down to a smaller group of hot prospects. Then this group winnows down into an even smaller group of clients.
It’s a classic business sales model: You need a lot of leads at one end to produce a small number of customers at the other end. In other words, it’s a numbers game.
I inherently understood this concept when I started freelancing. I immediately set to work on building a large list of potential clients – including companies, agencies, and publications.
I looked for prospects in several key places – including the Yellow Pages (yes, that dates me!), newspapers, magazines, and networking events. I kept track of my leads with a rudimentary paper system (this was long before home computers and the internet).
When I wasn’t working for a client, I was working on my sales system – adding new leads to my contact list, contacting them to see who were hot prospects (all by cold calling back then), and regularly following up with existing prospects.
My system worked brilliantly. I’ve enjoyed a steady flow of freelance clients and a lucrative career for three decades. Of course, I’ve had a few peaks and some valleys – but it all averaged out.
If this sounds like the kind of freelance business you’d like to have, then I would highly recommend setting up your own sales funnel — right now!
Today it’s so much easier than ever before, because we have so many more tools available to find and attract prospects. We don’t only have to rely only on an outbound cold-calling lead-generation system like I did years ago (although cold calling still works!).
Now, you can leverage some inbound lead-generation tactics as well, by using your blog and social media, for example.
Seven Steps for a Potent Freelance Sales Funnel
So what should your sales funnel look like and how should it function? That depends on you and your business.
While there is a basic sales funnel model with three essential steps (attract leads, nurture prospects, sell customers), the steps in the sales process and the details of a sales funnel are different for every business.
For freelance writers, I would suggest the following seven-step sales funnel – or some similar variation, depending on your business goals.
These seven steps give you everything you need to create a large database of leads that you regularly nurture until a few of them become your clients.
Check out these steps. Then create your sales funnel. Then watch your business grow!
1. Generate Leads – Remember, It’s a Numbers Game
The first step is to cast your lead-fishing net out into the world. At this stage, you are aiming for as large a pool of leads as you can find. Include any company, agency, publication, or other potential freelance client in your niche in your pool.
The tools you need to create a sea of leads are:
- Your blog
- Your social media sites
- Business lists
- Publication lists
- Networking events
- Business cards
- Letters of introduction emails
- Even the tried-and-true cold call
My current list of potential leads includes over 400 companies.
2. Find Prospects – Are Your Leads Potential Freelance Clients?
Out of all of the leads you round up, you need to cull out the genuine prospects. This process involves qualifying each lead.
Before you can turn leads into prospects, you’ll need to answer questions such as these:
- Do they hire freelancers or have the potential to hire them?
- Do they like your work?
- Do you like them?
- Is the kind of writing they need a good fit for you?
- Are they willing to pay decent rates?
So far, out of the 400+ leads on my list, about 100 of them are actual prospects who I am actively nurturing.
3. Nurture Prospects – Stay in Touch and Demonstrate Your Talents
After you’ve winnowed down your large list of leads into a manageable list of prospects, now you have to nurture them by staying in touch. Some ideas to do this are:
- Send them your regular blog posts
- Like and share their posts on social media
- Ask them a business question on social media
- Email or call to “check in”
The point here is not to bug or stalk them, but to let them know you are still available, to build trust, and to generate interest in your work. You might even start building a relationship.
Several years ago, I stayed in touch with a prospect for over one year, emailing her about every three months. Then one day I received an email from her. She wanted me on retainer to help with her PR writing. It turned into a lucrative four-year gig!
Keep in mind that every step you take to nurture a prospect is a demonstration of your work in action. So make sure every blog post, social media post, and email demonstrates your skill as a writer and marketer.
4. Convert Sales – You Only Need a Small Percent of Leads to Become Clients
This step is, of course, the goal of all your hard work on your sales funnel. If you have the talent to back up your self-promotion program, a small percent of the leads you’ve captured and prospects you’ve nurtured will become clients.
While most freelancers only need a few clients to have a great business, to run into a potential problem when the clients only have one or two small writing projects.
The trick to overcome this problem is to a steady flow of business is always adding new leads at the top of the funnel, and always nurturing your prospects who are in the pipeline, so that you are continually moving them toward a future sale.
5. Deliver Exceptional Work – High-Quality Writing is Your Most Powerful Sales Tool
Naturally, the best long-term sales tool you’ll ever have is the quality of the work you produce for your clients. When you produce excellent content that your clients love and that attains the results they are looking for, you will gain a great opportunity to do more work for them.
One of the reasons I’ve been freelancing successfully for so long is that I’ve had many long-term clients over the course of my career. This would never have happened if I didn’t produce high-quality content that they loved.
While getting projects is the goal of all of the hard work you’ve put into your sales funnel, it’s not the last step. Yet, many freelancers stop here.
However, you should just as diligently pursue steps six and seven as you did steps one through five.
6. Upsell Clients – Suggest Additional Projects to Good Clients
Upsell is a word you’ll see used extensively in the direct response industry. But, in fact, it’s a component of any sustainable business.
The easiest customers to get are the ones you already have. So while selling them the initial services or products they purchased, it’s smart business to always be considering what else you can sell them.
I have done this extensively during my career by suggesting additional marketing tools that my clients did not initially plan to do. Over the years, I have recommended customer success stories, white papers, industry publication articles, and other content whenever I thought that it made sense. I never make suggestions unless I think they would legitimately help a client.
Sometimes my clients decline. But many times they have said yes.
7. Get Referrals – A Special Gift from the Freelance Gods
A referral is a pure gift from the gods of freelancing. You should appreciate good referrals, because they don’t come around all that often. Your appreciation should include thanking the person who made the referral – and even looking for ways to return the favor in the future.
I recently acquired a new client through the referral of a man I had just met at a networking event. He was impressed that I was at a small breakfast for technology marketers. We exchanged emails. I sent him samples of my work. He set up a meeting for me with the head of a green building company who needed a freelance Content Marketing writer. I got the job.
In this example, I skipped directly from Step 1 (attending a networking event) to Step 5 (getting a new client).
After all the time I spend to find prospects, this new client acquisition was a miracle that I thoroughly appreciate – and I let my initial contact know it.
But when you look at the big picture, gaining this client was the direct result of working my sales funnel – because I was at the event to find new leads. In this case, one of my leads led to a very short sales cycle.
I hope this article convinced you and inspired you to set up an active Freelance Sales Funnel – to support your own long and lucrative career.