How to Be on the Right Side of the Red Velvet Rope
Usually, a red velvet rope separates VIPs from everyone else at events, openings, and clubs. But there’s another type of red velvet rope—for freelancers. It’s the part of your mindset that enables you to do work you love for your ideal clients. These are the clients that pay you what you’re worth, give you steady and interesting freelance work, and treat you right.
Instead of working for any clients that offer you freelance work, you choose which clients you allow past your red velvet rope.
Your Red Velvet Rope Policy
“Clients who are not a good fit will suck your energy dry,” says Michael Port. The marketing guru coined the term “red velvet rope policy.”
But the right clients will energize and inspire you, and boost your confidence.
“Don’t waste your valuable time working with people who aren’t your ideal clients. I promise that this never works out well. Get very clear on who you want to work with and only work with those clients. Your business will thrive when you work with the right people,” says Port in Michael Port and the Red Velvet Rope Policy. He’s the author of Book Yourself Solid: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even if You Hate Marketing and Selling.
How the Red Velvet Rope Policy Helps 3 Freelancers
Freelancers Kristin Harper, PhD, MPH, ELS, Mia DeFino, MS, ELS, and Ginny Vachon, PhD, are all thriving, thanks to their red velvet rope policies.
“The fact that I am interested in the projects that I’m working on is what brings me to my desk every day,” says Kristin, a freelance medical writer and owner of Harper Health & Science Communications, LLC. “Having control over the projects I work on, so I can make sure they are exciting to me, is one of my favorite things about being a freelancer.”
Kristin’s been freelancing since 2013. She writes clear, convincing, and competitive grant proposals, continuing medical education (CME) activities, and journal articles. Her ideal clients include pharmaceutical companies, CME companies, research institutions, and public health foundations.
Keeping her mind engaged is essential for Mia, a freelance medical and science writer. “I stay more engaged and excited about the work if it is interesting to me,” she says. Mia started her freelance business in 2016. She writes publications, manuscripts, posters, abstracts, and patient education tools for professionals and patients. Her ideal clients are CROs, pharmaceutical companies, medical communication agencies, and academic institutions.
“Medical writing for hours each day is not easy. Running your own business is not easy. If you work with energy zappers, they will take the whole operation down with them!” says Ginny, owner of Principal Medvantage Writing, LLC. A freelance medical writer and advisory board specialist since 2015, Ginny produces quality executive summaries, top-line reports, white papers, and reports. Her ideal clients are smaller companies—pharma and medical communication agencies—where she can make a difference and is valued.
How Not Having a Red Velvet Rope Policy Hurts You
Here’s the real problem with not having a red velvet rope policy.
When you take low-paying (or even higher-paying) freelance work that you don’t want to do from clients you don’t want to work with, you won’t have time to find or work with your ideal clients. You won’t do your best work. And you’ll start to resent the clients for not paying you more.
That’s why it’s much better to turn down bad freelance work—or even to fire bad clients—and spend your time looking for and working with red velvet rope clients.
“It can feel scary to let a client go with no clear plan to replace them,” says Kristin. “However, often with the time you have freed up, it’s easy to find a client that is a much better match for you.”
The Red Velvet Rope Policy for New Freelancers
If you’re a new freelancer, you won’t know which clients to allow past your red velvet rope yet. “In the very beginning, you can’t know who your ideal clients will be,” says Ginny.
But you’ll learn. Early in her freelance business, Mia worked with some low-paying clients who gave her unreasonable deadlines. “I figured out very quickly that these clients would not help me succeed because the working conditions were not supportive of my goals,” she says.
Nearly all freelancers have experiences like this. You need to work with different types of clients and on different types of freelance projects before you can identify your red velvet rope clients. And these clients are likely to change as your freelance business evolves.
“After 6 years in business, I still feel like I am learning about what types of work I enjoy the most!” says Kristin. Mia is also “continually refining what and who my ideal client is.”
Once you find your ideal clients, you may not always be able to use your red velvet rope policy yet. That’s okay. At first, getting experience that you can use to attract your ideal clients is your priority.
But you should still think about the freelance work you take and the clients you work with. Be strategic and choose freelance jobs and clients that will help you get to where you want to be.
Qualities of Red Velvet Rope-Worthy Clients
Ideal clients share some qualities. They:
- Value you
- Are nice to work with
- Give you interesting work
- Have reasonable deadlines and projects
- Pay you what you’re worth (at least the market rate for the type of freelance work you do).
“The clients I want to work with value my contributions and expertise and are willing to pay for that value I bring,” says Mia. Her ideal clients also work with her to determine the project deadlines.
Working with people who treat you right is especially important to Ginny and Kristin. “In the end it is more about the people than anything else,” says Ginny. She even does some work for one of her clients that is “less than exciting because the client is so appreciative and easy to work with.”
“From day one, I had a no-jerks rule,” says Kristin. “One of the greatest things about freelancing is that you get to decide who you work with. I’ve always made a point to work with pleasant people who value my time and expertise.” Kristin also considers how working with a client will better position her for other interesting work in the future.
Some clients are ideal in every way. But usually, there are trade-offs in working with different types of clients. For example:
- Bigger clients can pay you more, but it may take longer to get paid.
- Clients that are large bureaucracies, like colleges and universities, may give you interesting work but it takes a long time to become an approved vendor or consultant and a long time to get paid.
- Some clients may pay well and fast, but have rigid project guidelines.
- Other clients want you to be more creative or want you to manage the project (this can be good or bad, depending on your preferences).
- Clients that pay the best may have the tightest deadlines.
“I find that it is helpful to have clients with different styles,” says Mia. “For some clients I drive the project and write the document, whereas for other clients I only do the writing or editing. This helps me balance my energy and interactions with various clients to make sure that I have a mix of writing, editing, and project management.”
Where to Find Red Velvet Rope-Worthy Clients
Usually, large businesses and other large organizations make ideal clients because they know the value of freelancers and can pay us what we’re worth. Within your specialty, there may be other types of smaller red velvet rope-worthy clients.
Two key sources of ideal clients are networking, especially at conferences and meetings of professional associations, and referrals.
“I find attending professional meetings is a great source of new clients,” says Kristin. In 2018, she attended the annual meeting of the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions for the first time. “I picked up several major clients just by attending talks and chatting with the people sitting next to me—and those led to additional referrals to other great clients. I will definitely be attending that meeting again! “
Mia has also gotten ideal clients by networking in professional associations, and from referrals from current clients and colleagues. Referrals are Ginny’s main source of ideal clients.
You can also make a list of your ideal clients and reach out to them through direct email. Kristin does this. (And it’s how I’ve gotten many of my best clients.)
“I make a short list of dream clients every January—organizations I would really love to work with in the coming year. I make it a point to get in touch with each one and see if they are interested in working together,” she says. While Kristin gets many referrals to new clients from her current clients, her “dream list” helps her move her freelance business in the right direction.
How to Attract Red Velvet Rope-Worthy Clients
Having a money-making specialty with lots of demand for your services makes finding and attracting your ideal clients easier. Kristin, Mia, and Ginny, for example, are all freelance medical writers. This is a high-demand, high-paying specialty.
And you need to develop client-focused marketing to attract red velvet rope clients. It will take work to do this. But The Ultimate Guide to the Freelance Success You Deserve will help you. The guide features the 7 proven steps to effective freelance marketing, based on what works best for freelancers.
Make Room for Your Red Velvet Rope Clients
To make room for your ideal clients, you’ll have to leave some clients on the other side of your red velvet rope. This includes clients who just aren’t a good match for you and bad clients.
“Even when you realize a client is not a good match for you, it can be hard to end that relationship,” says Kristin. “This is something I really agonized about when I was starting out. The truth is that beginning and ending relationships is just a part of business, and odds are that clients won’t take your decision to end a business relationship personally.” When Kristin plans to stop working with a client, she always tries to find another freelancer to work with the client.
But there are some truly bad clients out there. And you need to fire them.
How to Screen Clients
Once you start to attract seemingly ideal clients, you need to see if they really are ideal and if they’re a good match for you. Key things to talk about are:
- Payment terms, including rush fees
- Project deadlines
- Potential for steady freelance work.
“Make sure to ask questions regarding payment terms, timelines, etc. to show whichever client you work with that you care about the quality of your work and your relationship,” says Mia.
Red velvet rope clients want freelancers who they can count on and work with regularly. Steady freelance work, rather than one-off projects, is one of the top things Kristin looks for when she’s screening clients. “Before I start working with a new client, I explain that I am interested in building long-lasting professional relationships, and I ask them about what kind of future needs they anticipate,” she says.
Many of the potential clients Mia talks to tell her that they’re looking for freelancers they can work with over the long term. “It is easier for clients and the freelancer if there is more than a one-time project relationship,” she says.
Become Irresistible to Your Ideal Clients
Once you have client-focused marketing to support your red velvet rope policy, you’ll be able to attract more steady, high-paying clients who give you work you love and treat you right.
Keep your ideal clients by making their lives easier. You do this by always delivering great work, and finding ways to do more than expected on every freelance job. “Fuel your business into the future by always doing high-quality work and building strong relationships with clients,” says Mia.
“Your goal for every client should be to become someone they need and can’t remember how they lived without,” adds Ginny.
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About Kristin, Mia, and Ginny