Attracting 5-, 6-, and 7-Figure Clients

Take your client service to the next level.

Published on

Around 7 minutes to read

When agencies think about their dream projects, they’re often thinking about this combination:

  1. Projects that have generous budgets
  2. Clients that trust them
  3. Work they can be proud of

All three of those outcomes get cemented long before a project officially starts.

This article is part of a 4-part series brought to you by Wix Studio about running valuable projects that grow your clients’ businesses and yours too. Wix Studio is a platform built for agencies and enterprises to create exceptional websites at scale. If you're looking for smart design capabilities and flexible dev tools, Wix Studio is the tool for you.

In this series

  1. Attracting 5-, 6-, and 7- Figure Clients
  2. Early Conversations Are Where You Shape the Work
  3. Pricing Profitable Projects
  4. My Design Contract Template

For the next 4 weeks, I’ll be writing a series of newsletters for freelancers and agency owners who want to take their work to the next level in terms of professionalism, income, and reputation. These newsletters will draw from my experience of doing client services for the last 20 years. From 2004–2012, I worked at agencies, honing my craft, and freelancing regularly on the side. From 2012–2022, I ran my own agency called SuperFriendly. In my first year, I made $416,636 working primarily by myself with 2-3 contractors to help out every once in a while. 8 years in, SuperFriendly made $3M in revenue with 1 full-time employee—me!—and a team of 70 contractors. We worked with some of the most well-known clients in the world like Nike, Google, Apple, The New York Times, ESPN, FX Networks, and more. I’ll share some of the lessons I learned along the way to help you learn how to do your version of this in your own practice, whether you’re a sole freelancer, run your own small studio of a handful of folks, or lead a big agency.

Fix your pricing problems with better positioning

Almost every inflection point in running a design business requires the same thing: more money. That’s why “how do I make more money” is a constant question that lives rent-free in the minds of freelancers and agency owners. The common answer is to raise your rates. It’s true that many professionals are undercharging for their services due to some combination of insecurity, lack of understanding of their market, and their limiting views of money.

But I see a more rampant problem. Too many freelance and agency businesses aren’t positioned well enough to even have conversations about highly-priced work. What I’ve learned is that fixing your positioning solves a lot of pricing problems.

In their quintessential book Positioning, marketing strategists Al Ries and Jack Trout advise that “positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect.”

If you wanted a new pair of running shoes, what brand would you buy? Some would say Nike. Others would say Brooks. Still others would say Saucony. No answer is wrong, or right. Each company has enough people that would think of them first to stay in business.

The reasons for naming each company are different too, and different for each person. Some would pick a company for functionality, like comfort. Others may have a preference due to fashion. Still others would pick a company strictly out of brand loyalty. Again, no answer is wrong, or right. For whatever reason, one company rises to the top of the list over others. That’s their position in the mind of their prospects.

The same is true for web design and development businesses. Where are you or your business in the mind of your prospects? When people think about who to hire to make a website for them, are you close to the top of the list for enough prospects to keep you in business? The sad truth is that many freelancers and agency owners don’t have a strong enough position with their prospects to even come to mind, much less command a high price.

Best in the world

Management researcher Jim Collins and his team studied 28 companies over 5 years to determine what made some of them great and others not-so-much. Their findings became the book Good to Great. In it, Collins identifies that all great companies have a relentless focus on one simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of three circles:

  1. What you can be the best in the world at
  2. What drives your economic engine
  3. What you are deeply passionate about

When most freelancers and agency owners start, they’re almost exclusively focused on #2: what drives their economic engine. When I first started SuperFriendly, I took on any work that paid money, any amount of money. That’s a decent survival strategy, but it doesn’t make for a good business.

From my experience both personally as well as with other owners, #1 is the most difficult. It’s also the one that goes the furthest in helping you establish your positioning. Famed art director and ad man Bill Bernbach once remarked, “The essence of positioning is sacrifice. The most difficult part is deciding what you’re not. If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you.”

Many freelancers and agencies try to describe themselves as “full service” as part of their positioning. This is a terrible idea. The biggest reason is that it’s actually driven by a desire to solve the economic engine question more than it is to establish a positioning. The logic in the mind of the freelancer/agency owner usually goes like this: “the more types of work we’re able to do, the more money we can make. The more work we turn away, the less we’ll make.”

While this is logical, it doesn’t take into account the fact that this positioning makes it more difficult for the right prospect to find you, much less hire you. As consumers, we look for specific service providers. We want a “wedding photographer,” not a “creative professional that has experience with a wide range of image making.” We crave pizza or burgers, not restaurants that contain every type of cuisine. The more services you offer, the more diluted your offering feels to your prospect. It’s like saying you provide both oil changes and pizza; it’s hard to believe, and not very appealing.

Financially, you’re incentivized to specialize more than generalize. Specialists make more than generalists. General practitioners make $130k/year on average. Neurologists make $285k/year on average. Anesthesiologists make $340k/year on average. Orthopedic surgeons make $400k/year on average. Cardiologists make $474k/year on average.

For the first 6 years, my agency SuperFriendly was a 6-figure business. We did everything digital: websites, apps, digital strategy, information architecture, design, front-end development, and back-end development. It wasn’t until we visibly started specializing in design systems in year 7 that we consistently broke $1M in revenue each year. Certainly anecdotal, but I recall a conversation with a prospect where they said to me, “You came so highly recommended that we couldn’t find anyone like you. Who else should we be talking to?”

I answered with a smirk, “No one else that I can think of.”

That’s what good positioning can do for you.

As business consultant Tim Williams teaches in his book Positioning for Professionals, “Instead of attempting to compete in the already-existing market of MP3 players, Apple created a new category with an online music service that now dominates the music industry. The strategy wasn’t just to be different, but to even look different. Apple made the color of the earphones and cord of the iPod the opposite of the rest of the industry: white. The ultimate value proposition puts you in a category where you’re the one and only player. Eventually other brands may come along and try to imitate what you’ve done, but being first in the category creates a powerful competitive advantage that is exceptionally difficult for competitors to overcome.”

Remind them that you exist

Once you work on your positioning—what you offer and, more importantly, what you don’t—you’ll be equipped to have much more valuable conversations with your prospects. In order to start conversations with them, you have to know where they hang out. Part of the beauty of narrow positioning is that it’s much easier to find this out about your audience. Prospects of a full service agency live everywhere. Prospects of a web design agency that only serves dentists in the western United States live in a very specific place (um, the western United States, for starters). These dentists probably read a handful of specific industry publications. They probably attend a handful of specific industry conferences and events. They probably all follow the same Instagram accounts and read the same blogs.

There’s a finite amount of places these dentists hang out. The best way to attract these prospects is to show up in these places constantly so that your business is the first one to come to mind when they’re ready to think about getting their websites redone. Buy ads and get articles published in the publications they read. Find your way into the speaking rosters of events they attend. Do partnerships with the Instagram accounts they follow.

Better yet: become the places your prospects visit. Instead of buying ads in the magazines they read, start a magazine for them. Instead of speaking at events they attend, throw your own events made specifically for them. Instead of doing partnerships with Instagram accounts they follow, establish your own social presence that they can’t resist. These things are more difficult to accomplish but have better returns if you can pull them off successfully.

This is all a technique that entrepreneur Daniel Priestley calls “7-11-4” in his book Oversubscribed. He says, “If we spent 7 hours together, had 11 interactions between us, and met up in 4 separate locations, we would feel a bond. It would seem like we are more friends than acquaintances… The more people you can clock up time, interactions, and locations with, the more people will see you as different, unique, and part of their tribe. [Celebrities] are merely people who have used media and technology to 7-11-4-people… The market consists of people who might buy your product. Your market are people who have been sufficiently 7-11-4-ed by you or your business brand.”

In summary:

Now they’re ready to buy from you, and buy big.

In the next post, I’ll show you how I run sales conversations to identify projects that are immensely valuable to the client and both lucrative and profitable for you—in that order.

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