Photo Credit: Natalie Rhea via Unsplash

Freelancing Fundamentals

I’m a big fan of my lead tracking process because I have let leads slip through the cracks.

By “lead” I mean somebody wants to pay you for freelance work. The potential project may be short- or long-term, fixed-price or hourly, one-off or ongoing, well-defined or open-ended.

By “lead tracking” I mean paying attention to how conversations about projects develop.

You have prospects who hold a project lead in one hand and cash in the other.

You want the project and the money.

By tracking leads and sending regular follow-ups, you give prospects more opportunities, not less, to give the project and cash to you.

(Of course, as self-respecting business folk we can’t explain the sales process in simple terms We have to develop a new glossary of terms to prove just how important our prospects, leads, tracking, closing, and nostril hair trimming really is.)

I prefer a more expansive and inclusive definition of “leads” because they manifest in different ways. Many people won’t tap you on the shoulder and say, “Please accept this fistful of sweaty bills in exchange for my new web content.”

Instead, he might say over a pint, “Yeah, we’re thinking about redoing our website. The old one kinda sucks. I need to get on that. Are you going to the game this weekend?”

That casual mention dropped into an ordinary conversation about ordinary things is a “lead” — at least it is in my book.

Leads aren’t always dressed up as leads.

Sometimes leads are more subtle. They masquerade as problems, regrets, or opportunities.

“The owner of the company is about to pull her hair out because she’s having to manually sort the spreadsheets with all of the order information. The spreadsheet is supposed to mirror the order forms, but somehow, that information is getting scrambled. She’s freaking out because she has been delivering the wrong products, and her customers are upset.”

Note: At no point did the speaker say, “Can we hire you to fix some problems with our shopping cart?”

Another one of my clients asked me if I knew anyone who needed his consulting company’s services.

Would I be willing to make some referrals? I was willing, and I asked if they had a one-pager I could send to introduce the company. They didn’t.

Guess who can create said one-pager for them? Yours truly.

To notice all the leads coming your way, you must pay attention. Leads are sneaky. Leads go incognito.

You don’t have to try to sell into every opportunity, but you can point out gaps. For example, I had two calls with new contacts over the past seven days. (I like to meet at least two new people each week.)

The first guy was, more or less, recruiting me to join his network of freelancers and consultants. I asked about a landing page that described all of the network’s benefits. He didn’t have one.

I followed up and started a conversation: What if I helped him write the copy?

On another call, a guy mentioned that his company has just kickstarted their content marketing efforts. I don’t plan to insinuate myself, but I will send him some of the writing I have done on the subject.

If they ever need outside help, I want to be top-of-mind. (Speaking of sales jargon, isn’t “top of mind” the worst? Imagine being perched on top of your client’s head. Awkward.)

You won’t have many leads to track unless you start noticing the ones hidden in plain view:

  • Facebook comments
  • Twitter searches based on keywords and hashtags related to your skillset
  • Events and meet ups
  • Casual remarks bookended with everyday chit-chat
  • Vague invitations in emails (“We should discuss that at some point.”)
  • Reconnecting with old clients
  • Brand new relationships
  • New LinkedIn connections (where it’s natural to introduce yourself and your work)
  • Seasonal opportunities (e.g., CPAs obviously want to promote tax prep before the filing deadline)
  • New businesses (They may still have a lot of needs.)
  • Companies that you love (Reach out to them and tell them you love what they’re doing and you’d love the chance to collaborate with them.)
  • Inquiries through your website’s contact form

All those obvious and non-obvious leads are a lot to keep up with. My brain acts, more and more often, like a piece of Swiss cheese.

So what’s a savvy freelancer to do?

Pick some tools and stop trusting your brain.

Here are the three free tools that I use to track leads:

  1. Highrise — This is my CRM solution. I enter basic information about each prospect. Then, I set up a reminder so that I remember to follow-up after, say, three months. I can also set up automated reminders to eliminate even more margin for error. With no further action or thought on my part, Highrise will deliver an email reminder to my inbox at the intervals I designate.
Highrise's automated reminders
Highrise’s automated reminders

You can try Highrise for free, and as long as your list of contacts stays below 250, you don’t have to upgrade to a paid account.

Try Highrise for free.
Try Highrise for free.

2. Trello — My use of Trello is even simpler. I have a droplane called “Leads.” I create a new card for each one. From time to time I can the list, and I’ll reach out to my contacts.

how I track leads in Trello
how I track leads in Trello

3. Inbox by Gmail — This is a free app from the Gmail team that I use to “snooze” emails. One of my clients is in the middle of a move, and she told me in a recent email that she’ll follow up in 3–4 weeks.

follow up in 3-4 weeks
follow up in 3–4 weeks

As far as I’m concerned, it is my job to follow up, not hers. I’d rather surprise clients with my responsiveness and attention to detail than be disappointed by their forgetfulness.

So what did I do? I used the Inbox app on my iPhone to schedule that email to reappear four weeks from now.

Let me repeat the most salient point: I don’t have to remember. My tools — Highrise, Trello, and Inbox — do the remembering for me.

These three apps save me all the time when I get a reminder, when I scan my Trello droplane, or when an old email reappears.

“Oh, yeah!” I think. “I’d forgotten that they wanted to talk again in November.”

Worth noting is that I have some redundancy too. I’ll add a new lead to Highrise, create a card for that person or project in Trello, and snooze the email conversation in Inbox so that it reappears on the right date.

This redundancy in lead tracking is like setting multiple alarm clocks the night before you’re supposed to catch a flight. Mistakes can be very expensive. You must wake up.

Letting leads slip through the cracks and forgetting to follow up can be very expensive. Why not use three simple free tools to track your leads?

One Final Trick

People communicate with us in dozens of ways, and I’d be the first to admit that I forget to answer text messages, Slack messages, homing pigeons, smoke signals, and Morse code.

I managed to miss two back to back meetings in one day because I scheduled them over text message and never put them into my calendar.

What I do now is take a screenshot on my phone and email the screenshot to myself. That way, when I’m clearing out my inbox, I see the screenshot and remember to add the meeting to my calendar or add the lead card to Trello.

People want to give you money.

You should do everything in your power to help them remember, yes?

I encourage you to track your chickens before they hatch. Put all those eggs in three baskets. Shoot, find your own baskets. There are a bazillion CRM solutions out there. Doesn’t matter which one you choose… pick and stick.

Your bank account will thank you.

How do you track leads? I’d love to hear from you in the Comments below.

Be honest… are you going to forget about these tools?

I have just shared the three tools I can’t live without and the trick that has saved my derrier on many occasions.

Are you going to take the time right now to set up these tools?

If not, click this link. Share your name and email address, and I’ll send you the download link for the to-go version of this article.

That way, you’ll have it later when you do make the time to implement a lead tracking system.



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