It sounds counter-intuitive, but the best way to win high quality clients and get more freelance consulting jobs is to try to convince them not to work with you. This thought flips the general psychology of business owners on its head.

Usually when you talk to a prospect you spend your time telling them how awesome you are. You tell them about the amazing projects you’ve done and the problems you’ve solved for past clients.

You do this all to make them believe that you are indeed the best person to complete their project. Once they’ve heard how amazing you are, clearly you’ll be the choice for their project.

Approaching your clients this way is entirely wrong. You’d be much better off to convince them that they don’t want to work with you. By using the four tactics below, you will win more freelance consulting jobs with less effort.

Someone is cheaper

The first thing you need to tell your prospects is that someone else is likely cheaper. Why don’t they hire someone overseas, or hire an intern, or get someone they already employ to do the work? I mean, you’re not cheap and they should know that out of the gate.

Good freelance consultants aren’t cheap. They’re in demand. They have limited time. They bring lots of value to their customers and that huge amount of value costs more than the average freelance consultant.

Get higher paying clients. Ilise Benun the makering mentor interview

As with the rest of the tactics, you will certainly have some people agree with you and use a cheaper alternative. This is exactly what you want. If they wanted a cheaper alternative they would have spent time trying to drill you down on pricing. Clients that start by telling you how much cheaper you can do the work don’t truly value you as the expert that you are. It’s going to take way more work to make the project go smoothly than with a client that values your expertise.

Let them go happily.

Many of your prospects will hear that you’re expensive and when you suggest going overseas, or with an intern, or having someone they already employ do the work the magic starts to happen. They’re going to tell you why none of those options work for them. They’re going to tell you why going with a higher priced option is the best choice for them.

While they tell you that paying for your higher priced services is best for them, they’re also reinforcing this belief in themselves and doing your selling for you.

Write down the reasons that a higher priced option is the best option for that client and when you send a proposal later, make sure to use their language.

The project doesn’t have enough value

Consultant says no to a freelance consulting job with no value

The second tactic you need to use is to tell them that the project doesn’t have enough value for them to make it worth their while. Due to your high prices, they’re not going to see a minimum 3X return on their investment.

Now the prospect is going to tell you exactly why it’s still valuable despite your high prices. They’ll tell you how they think that the project will net them at least 3X what you charge for doing the work.

Maybe this project by itself won’t actually yield your minimum 3X return, but they will tell you about a future plan for the business and how this project is just the first step. So while it may not pay off in three months or six months, they can’t take the next step in their growth without your work.

Not only have you uncovered a lead for a possible future project, you will also know why they feel the project is valuable in spite of your high rates. Write this information down — when you write up your proposal you can use the exact language they did when you tell them why the project is valuable to them.

Sometimes you will find a project that really isn’t valuable. When you run the numbers the client is going to not only miss the minimum 3X return on investment, it’s going to cost them money. Again this is a good thing.

When you do a project that doesn’t bring value to your client they’re left holding the bag in 3 months. They’ve spent money and only now realize that it was money poorly spent. Even if you delivered an amazing project, they’re not going to give you a great referral because they know it wasn’t a good investment.

It was time wasted in building your business.

When I encounter projects that end up having no value and convince clients of this, they’re usually surprised. They’ve often already gotten two or three quotes on the project — quotes they were willing to pay. I was the only one that showed them it was a bad business decision.

Next time they have work, you will be the first one and often the only one that they’re going to come to with the work. They’ll want you to look at it to make sure that it’s truly valuable to them and their business. When you work together to make sure it’s valuable, they’re happy to pay for the critical perspective you provided.

Something else is more valuable

Freelance consultant discussing the purpose of his prospects' project

So far you’ve figured out that despite your high rates, you’re still the best option for your prospect. You’ve tried to convince them that their project isn’t worth it for their business. On both counts, they’ve told you why you are wrong — your rates are perfect for them, and the project is valuable in spite of your high rates.

Now you get to dig a bit deeper with your prospect and find out what the other projects are on their plate. What else could they be doing with the money to push their business forward? Tell them that it’s likely something else is even more valuable and they should do that instead.

As with the previous tactic, this is where you will hear about other projects that the prospect has in play — other things you could do for them or recommend someone that could help them. You gain deeper insights into their business, which will help you serve them better.

At this point your prospect will tell you why the project you’ve been discussing is the highest value thing they can do with their funds currently. While their other projects are important, they’re not as valuable as the work you can do.

Just as I mentioned earlier, some prospects are going to realize that something else in their business is a higher priority. They may already have a few quotes from people willing to take their money, but you were the only one that showed them where the real value in their business was.

The first person they’re going to come to, and likely the only person they’re going to come to, is you when they have new work in your area of expertise. You’ve already provided significantly more value than any other consultant they’ve talked to.

Also — You’re very busy and can’t talk to them right away

Solopreneur juggling multiple freelance consulting jobs on the phone

If you emailed me right now and said you had $50K for a freelance consulting project if I was willing to talk in the next 24 hours, I’d say no.

Actually, I wouldn’t say no — I’d send you a link to my Calendly account which only allows new project calls on Tuesdays and doesn’t allow new bookings without 36 hours of advance notice.

I realize that your bank account isn’t full, and mine isn’t either, but the problem with jumping on a call whenever your prospect wants, is that it diminishes your credibility.

How busy can you be if you can take a call on a moment’s notice? Clearly not that busy.

If a prospect looks at your calendar and sees that you can’t talk for a week, or two, you are clearly in demand.

If you’re willing to say no to their money because you don’t have time for other calls, you must know what your doing — you’re busy.

A secondary benefit to limiting your call availability is that it increases your productivity. Imagine a day where you aren’t interrupted every few hours to check in with a prospect or a client. That’s a day you can get lots of high quality creative work done in. High quality creative work done quickly is what your clients pay you for and happy clients bring in more happy clients.

When you do get on the phone, it’s time to start telling your prospect all of the reasons they shouldn’t be doing their freelance consulting job with you!

Consultant Skill Checklist

How I’ve gotten more freelance consulting jobs using this strategy

In March 2016 I got an email from a prospect that wanted to talk to me about moving their membership website to a new platform. I went through these three tactics with her and she kept telling me why I was the best option for her work, why the project was valuable, and why it was the most valuable thing she could be doing with her money.

She had quotes from people charging less than 50% of my rates. She even had people ready to start that day who said they could do the work.

In spite of this, she waited weeks to get a proposal from me for a discovery project — and she did this after waiting two weeks to get on the phone to talk about the project. This discovery project cost almost as much as other people’s quotes for the whole project.

Then she happily waited three months for me to do the project — even with my high rates.

When I had my exit call with her, following the completion of the project, she told me multiple times that the conversation we had was totally different from any other she had had with her other prospects. I clearly only wanted to work on projects that were highly valuable to my clients. This made her feel 100% comfortable with any pricing I sent her because we had already decided together that it was well worth her hard earned money.

What solos often misunderstand about freelance consulting

Many of us think we start consulting when the first invoice has been paid. This isn’t true — our consulting work begins in our first interaction with a prospect.

The care we take in advising clients in the exploration phase is a direct reflection of the quality and integrity of the work we’ll be doing for them in an official capacity. If we cannot be trusted to let prospects know when a project — even involving us — isn’t worth their time, then the doubt this creates after the fact will carry over to the way current and former clients look at us in the long-term.

The value of one great client over the course of your career is worth far more than a bunch of small one-off jobs. When you establish yourself as a credible consultant, your clients won’t just pass you more work, they’ll also be willing to trust you with their friends and colleagues as well.

How smart consultant network less and get more work from existing clients

In short — show them you’re different

When you speak to your next prospect, make sure you change the conversation you’re having. Convince them that:

• there is someone else cheaper

• that the project just isn’t worth it

• some other project they’re considering doing is a better option

By doing these three things you will dig deeper into the value your prospects want for their business. You’ll send fewer estimates, pull in a steadier flow of freelance consulting jobs, and you’ll stop juggling 20 low-priced clients and work with three-to-five higher-value clients in a year.

You’ll start running a better business — like you envisioned when you started your freelance career.

Check out Curtis’ post: “The Value Pricing Mindset” to find more of his helpful insights on client management and freelance consulting jobs.

Updated 6/15/17

Curtis McHale

Curtis McHale

Curtis is a business coach and speaker. He focuses on helping businesses build effective processes for vetting ideal clients and building a business that doesn’t take every hour of every day to run.