Grow Your Freelance Business by Catching a Few Whales

whales, or anchor clients, help you build a successful freelance businessWhales are giant, awe-inspiring creatures that roam the oceans. Some weigh up to 200 tons—as much as 33 elephants—and are more than 100 feet long. So what do whales have to do with freelancing? And why do freelancers need them to build a successful freelance business?

There’s another kind of whale: those extra-large clients that you can count on for steady, high-paying work. In business lingo, a whale is a prospect that’s at least 10 times larger than the average client or customer. I call these anchor clients.

Transform Your Freelance Business

Like whales in nature, whales in business are usually hard to find. But they’re out there.

And once you have two of three whales on your client list, your freelance business and your income will grow and your life will be much easier. Whales transform your freelance business by giving you:

  • Steady, high-paying work
  • Referrals (word of mouth), usually to other whales.

How to Find, Catch, Feed, and Care for Whales

It takes time and effort to find whales. And once you catch them, you need to keep them through proper feeding and care.

Whales don’t jump out of the ocean and onto your desk. They aren’t looking for freelancers on freelance job sites.

You get whales by:

  • Finding and studying them
  • Offering services they need
  • Attracting them with client-focused marketing.

“Preparation is key. Identify your whale and approach with finesse. . . . You’ll have to be extremely impressive to outdo everyone else and bring the whale in as a customer,” says Wendy Connick in “What Is a Whale? How to Find Your Whale and Reel Him In.”

Finding and landing whales is a three-step process:

  1. Choose a specialty that has lots of whales
  2. Develop a prospect list of whales
  3. Attract your whales with client-focused direct emails.

Choose a “Whale-Worthy” Specialty(ies)

Attracting whales starts with becoming “whale-worthy,” says marketing guru Seth Godin in “The management of whales.” You need to “design products and services that are precisely the sort of thing that heavy users will happily use,” he says.

Become an Expert in What Whales Need

And you need to specialize in the services—and the industries—of your target whales. Because when whales hire a freelancer, they want a specialist, someone with expertise in the type of freelance work they need help with.

Choose specialties that have lots of whales. Healthcare/medical/pharma and technology are two examples of industry specialties with many clients who can afford to pay you what you’re worth.


Need help choosing or refining your specialty(ies)?

Finding Your Money-Making Specialty(ies), a free email course 


Develop a List of Whales

Once you’ve chosen a “whale-worthy” specialty(ies), develop a list of your best prospects (prospective clients) and start learning about them.

Whales are most likely to be big businesses and other big organizations, because they can pay us what we’re worth and understand the value of freelancers.

Professional associations are the easiest way to find whales (and other prospects). Membership directories let you quickly find organizations to target and give you everything you need to reach out to them: the name of the right contact person and his/her contact information.

Other ways to build your prospect list include:

  • LinkedIn
  • Leading company lists (e.g., Fortune 500)
  • Online directories in the industries you work in or want to work in.

But you’ll have to search for the right contact person, and then search more to find his/her contact information.


Need help finding whales and other ideal clients?

4 Proven Ways to Find and Reach Your Ideal Clients, a free email course 


Craft “Whale-Worthy” Direct Emails

Now you have a “whale-worthy” specialty(ies) and a list of prospects who are likely to be whales that need your services.

Show How You Meet Client Needs

Get the attention of your whales—and impress them—with client-focused emails that show how you can help clients meet their needs.

Knowledge of your industries and a few minutes of research on each prospect’s website will give you the information you need to customize each email. Write a short, targeted direct email that has:

  • A compelling, client-focused subject line.
  • A sentence showing that you understand the whale’s needs.
  • 1 or 2 sentences about your most relevant experience and how this enables you to meet the whale’s needs.
  • A link to your client-focused website (or your client-focused LinkedIn profile if you don’t have a website yet) so that the whale can easily learn more about you.
  • A call to action that clearly says what will happen next (e.g., “Should we schedule a call next week to discuss this?”).

Follow Up

If you don’t hear back from the whale, follow up about a week later—because most responses come from follow-up emails. Send a short polite email with your original email forwarded below that.


Want proven templates for and examples of direct email?

Direct Email Swipe File


Also revise your marketing messages on your website and LinkedIn profile to focus on the needs of your whales and how you meet those needs. Once your direct email captures the interest of a prospect, he/she will want to check you out before contacting you.

Feed and Care for Your Whales

Once you’ve landed a whale(s), “superpleasing” is the way to keep this(these) extra-large client(s). “Superpleasing” means giving clients outstanding service. David Maister coined the term in “Managing the Professional Services Firm.”

Here’s how to “superplease” whales:

  • Do more than expected on every project.
  • Make their professional lives easier by being professional and likeable.
  • Finish every project on time or earlier and on or under budget.
  • Communicate well and often.

Read more: How to “Supersize” Your Freelancing Without the Agony of Marketing.

Get More Word of Mouth through Whales

In nature and in business, whales are very active and communicate with others. This makes whales an excellent source for word of mouth (a.k.a. referrals)—the easiest and most effective way to build your freelance business.

“Most people tell no one. A few people tell a friend or two. But some people tell everyone. And they do it with authority. With leverage. And with persistence,” says Godin. “A whale like this is priceless.”

Getting those priceless referrals—often to other whales—takes proper feeding and care.

Succeed as a freelancer by always “superpleasing” your whales and never taking them for granted.


Learn More About Transforming Your Freelance Business

From The Mighty Marketer

Finding Your Money-Making Specialty(ies), a free email course

4 Proven Ways to Find and Reach Your Ideal Clients, a free email course

The Absolute Best Way to Attract Bigger, Better Clients

How to “Supersize” Your Freelancing Without the Agony of Marketing

Other Resources

“What Is a Whale? How to Find Your Whale and Reel Him In.”  by Wendy Connick

The management of whales, by Seth Godin