Seth Godin’s 7 unconventional rules for getting clients
Written by Robert Williams
When Seth Godin started Seth Godin Productions, a book packaging design consultancy, he operated out of his studio apartment in New York City. Just years later, he sold one of the first internet marketing firms in the country to Yahoo for millions. The skills he picked up during his freelance book design and internet marketing days have catapulted him into another hugely successful business: selling his own books. He’s best known for his writing on masterful relationship-building, a skill which has been the centerpiece of his career — no matter the business. If you’ve ever wondered how you can apply what you do for clients to your own business, you can learn a ton from Seth’s approach. And, if you can build relationships that are based on trust, you can follow in his footsteps towards building a highly profitable consulting business. His short and clear communication style is a great place to start. Here’s Seth’s rules for getting clients:
- Sell to an industry that’s already buying your freelance service.
Books were a natural place for Seth to start because publishers were already buying book design from outsiders on a regular basis. He didn’t have to change the way they operated to make a sale. Conversely, alot of freelancers make the mistake of trying to sell to clients who don’t value their work and are used to getting it for free. That’s a bad combination. After all, making a sale is hard enough under even the best circumstances. By focusing on an industry that has established how much they value the work you do already — you can develop expertise and assets that are not easily copied by others. “Lots of freelancers start doing this, but most give up fairly quickly. It might take three or five years before the industry starts to rely on you. Work your way up.”
- Fire bad clients with conviction.
One of Seth’s earliest clients was a massive success. Although he had helped create their success, and was entitled to royalties in his contract, the client wanted out. They became difficult to work with and Seth decided to fire them, despite a huge loss in revenue. However, shortly after the decision Seth’s team was so happy, they scurried to find new business. Not only did the company end up making more money, his team produced their best work for clients they actually loved working with. “Never become good at dealing with difficult clients.”
- Say no to being average.Almost all clients want average work. This is no surprise, since by definition, average work is all most people know. But by challenging your clients to demand the best from you even if it makes them nervous, you profit. “Your clients define you. If you’re going to be defined by your work than choose clients who will acquire work you will brag about later.”
- Begin by doing work you’re proud of, don’t wait.
Most people start their freelance career in scarcity mindset, fighting for scraps. Don’t. You have the power to do great work from the very start, if you grab a hold of it. That work will lead to more work you’re proud of and it will become a self re-enforcing cycle. “We can tell when you’re proud of your work. When you point to work that’s mediocre and say “well it’s what my client’s wanted” that doesn’t get you better clients. Focus on your reputation from day one.”
- If you’re a freelancer, freelance.
Sometimes freelancers get entrepreneur envy and start hiring other freelancers to work for them. This doesn’t scale. Managing freelancers is different from being a freelancer. You’ll get into trouble if you make your job about managing other freelancers and saving the best projects for yourself.
- Make a choice.
You can no longer wait for instructions. You must describe solutions to your clients proactively, not ask them for new tasks.You can’t allow themto define what they are buying from you — it’s your responsibility. Not taking it means you become dependent on the insight and expertise of someone else. Asking what you should do next is dangerous because the answer might be, “nothing.” Or it might be a project that’s so short-sighted it will damage your career over time.Instead say ‘here’s what you might need…’ not ‘what do you want me to do next?’This is the opposite of what most freelancers do. Most never decide what they want to be. Instead they wait until the decision gets made for them by default. This is the definition of becoming a cog in a machine. Choose for yourself what you want to do because it’s better and unique. “You don’t need more time you just need to decide.”
- Be the one and only.Once you’ve made your choice. You can no longer afford to simply compete. Find and lead a tribe of people who want you, and only you — and are willing to pay for it. Figure out how to do the best work in your field, for the right clients. Your are capable of being the best of the best.“Some people are truly great. The programmer who saves a company months. The cartoonist who draws life-changing images on the backs of business cards. The guitar player who can sit in on a recording session and change everything.These people are first class. They’re in charge. Top of their game. The best of the best. That’s the freelancer each of us is capable of being.”
Seth still calls himself a freelancer to this day. He knows the difference between an entrepreneur and a freelancer better than anyone else I’ve ever encountered. To help you get that clarity and find more clients I created a new service recently. You can check it out below.
I help underwater design agencies fix staff shortages quickly and come back up for air. I run Folyo, a private referral community of product designers, and I host Freelance, a podcast about how to work independently.
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