Getting Freelance Work: The Hacker Technique
If you’ve tried cold-calling to get clients, you know it’s the most painful, soul-sucking way to advertise yourself. But it doesn’t have to be.
How a Freelancer Sold Me in 5 Minutes
I once hired a freelancer based on a cold-call, but this was unlike any cold-call I’d ever gotten. You might be able to use a similar technique to make those calls far more effective.
Here’s how the phone call went:
Caller: Hi, my name is George and I just found a security hole in your server. To prove it, I just sent an email to you… impersonating you.
Me: Uhh… wha? Who are you again?
Caller: It’s OK, I’m a good guy. I’ll wait while you check your mail.
Me: Ok… Alright I got the email. Wow, that’s not good.
Caller: Yeah, don’t worry, I can fix it — I’m a security expert. Lucky for you I’m on your side; a hacker would have just p0n3d your server. You’d be a spam gateway by now, probably blacklisted too.
Me: Yikes, OK. Well I guess I should say “thanks” but this feels a little like blackmail.
Caller: Oh no, I’ll fix this one for free. In fact, I’ve just emailed you a link to an article on my own blog where I talk about how to fix it. No worries.
Me: OK, that’s cool.. I guess. Thanks?
Caller: Of course, I am a freelance consultant. I’m sure you have more security holes. I could find and fix them for you. Maybe start with 10 hours and take it from there?
Me: Sounds like I have no choice… OK.
How to Apply This to Other Kinds of Freelance Work
That’s fine for ex-hackers, but what about you? Does this apply to, say, copywriting?
Yes! It applies to all kinds of freelance work.
Let’s take the example of a freelance marketing/messaging strategist.
First troll around websites of local companies looking for companies that clearly stink at messaging. (You know that won’t be hard.)
Find a website that’s full of crap like “The leading provider of…” and “Our software enables you to get back to working on what’s important” and other trash phrases that companies shouldn’t be using. Bleach! You can do so much better.
So do it! Rewrite it. Maybe even scrape their HTML/CSS/images and edit it in-place so it’s punchy, powerful, compelling, and communicates exactly how the product solves pain.
Then proactively send it over. The outline of your pitch is:
“This is what I’m capable of after just one hour of work and knowing nothing about your business. Imagine how I could transform your marketing material with 50 hours and an in-depth understanding of your customers, your software, and how you make money.”
More Ways to Apply This Strategy
- I do a little small-business consulting work myself, and this is exactly how I get work. I just provide 15-20 quick pieces of advice I brainstorm just by perusing their website and say “If this sounds useful to you, I can do more.”
- Web designers: Refresh their colors, layout, and art without changing their text. Pick their home page, a subordinate page, a brochure, an advertisement, a data sheet, or even something simple like “About Us.” Provide two different samples so they see the possibilities. This is a lot of work, so create two or three standard templates you use for all your cold-calls, possibly based on existing portfolio work.
- Marketers: Come up with three, better one-line titles and subtitles for their home page. Revise their “features and bullets” so it’s more pain-centric. Move them from features to benefits or vice versa. Change their language to be more or less formal.
- Copyeditors: Rewrite a web page or a blog post. Rewrite a single page from a whitepaper or case study.
- Web Traffic Analysts: Create a sample report for their AdWords or SEO information and send it in. Show how they rank for various keywords and where you think you could get them. Show where their competitors rank so they see what they need to beat.
- Social Media Experts: Propose 10 subjects of blog posts they ought to write. Propose 10 topics for guest posts they should push on other blogs. Propose a one-page Twitter strategy (from a template of your own, not yet tailored to that company).
- PR: Propose 10 types of press releases you could send or types of articles you could write for them. Propose a one-page PR strategy (from a template) explaining how getting a few articles published in a few places makes all the difference. Tell them a story about a client of yours who got one article published and make 20 sales.
- Web Programmers: Give them a list of 10 things you could do to make their site more interactive like live chat, scrolling news boxes, better analytics, and A/B testing of web content and landing pages.
There are several downsides to this strategy:
- This takes real time and real work, and you have to spend that time before this potential client even knows who you are, much less signs a contract.
- They might not have the money for a consultant.
- They might take offense at your unsolicited advice.
But really, the people you’ll piss off would never be your customer anyway, so that really doesn’t matter. The main thing is your time.
So if you’re already covered up with work, there’s no need to use this time-intensive technique, but then why are you reading an article about cold-calling? :-)
Especially if you’re just starting out and have a lot of bench time, this technique is certainly worthwhile.
Because one thing’s for sure: I hired that hacker.