This Army Captain Turned Freelance Agency Owner Shares His Growth Tips For All Freelancers

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After doing his degree in communication systems engineering, Ofir Natan completed his required military service, eventually hitting the rank of Captain in the Israeli army. After leaving the army, he started a freelancer-led agency helping clients with a variety of sales and engineering tasks. 

In this Q&A feature, Ofir shares the specific growth tips he learned the hard way, and how freelancers from any background can implement them easily. 

What made you choose to build an agency with only freelancers?

Back in 2009, after my army service, I traveled to London to work as a freelance sales person and decided soon after to “cut the middleman” and start my own “agency” with a friend. I was able to scale quickly using freelance sales people, most of them I trained myself. I took a franchise and in order to meet my sales goals, I expanded to Ireland and within 3 months from leaving the comfort of my solo-sales career, I was managing 40+ independent sales people in 9 locations across Ireland.  After christmas I was able to close the booths without firing anyone (my sales people knew in advance this is a limited time project), we all made great money and had no hard feelings, we shared a common goal and were able to generate value quickly and walk away when we were done.

Years later I launched a side project in the crypto domain using freelance developers only, and now I am using my trusted network of professionals to deliver more value and become a “one-stop shop” for my startup clients – like bringing in recruiters, developers, consultants, designers, marketers on-demand. They return the favor whenever they can 🙂

You run two businesses – how do you split up your time?

Before I became a full time freelancer, I was doing consulting part-time, it was challenging. At one point I had to go down to 80% in my day job and invest that one day in customers, luckily my manager and workplace were supportive, otherwise I would have to make something up. 

At other times I was doing only early morning / lunch / late evening meetings with clients, and one day out of my weekend was dedicated to growing my side business until it became mature enough so I can fully transition.

It’s not an easy task – I had to limit my side hustle and set expectations with my clients to make sure they are not expecting availability during my work hours.

What’s the worst client experience you’ve ever had?

It was a company in the transportation domain, I put a lot of energy into the onboarding process and giving them valuable advice, then they disappeared on me. After a few weeks they said – sorry we were so busy and gave some excuses, “can we re-launch the project? BTW we implemented your advice, it saved us a lot of money and time, let’s change the scope and do a project.” I said OK, gave more time and energy, then they disappeared on me again. Them called again to ask for more free advice. I ended up spending more than 10 hours and 3 proposals and getting nothing for my time and energy.

I learned to first of all trust my intuition more regarding who I work with, limit my “sales” process to 1 hour and only go deeper after contract was signed

What’s your advice for freelancers having trouble closing clients?

  • Ask the clients why they chose not to use our services (what do you have to lose?)
  • Know your competitive landscape and where are your strengths are
  • Make sure you define your target audience and your unique value proposition
  • Closing deals is all about building trust and rapport fast – how can you improve there?
    • People don’t care about what you say about yourself, but what your previous customers say about you is critical – so get recommendations after every good project (and feedback after any project)
    • Make a presentation and practice it (depends on the type of freelancer your are)
    • Work on your portfolio
  • Think about your pricing structure – are you giving options or a yes/no proposal?

What’s your advice for freelancers dealing with difficult clients?

  • Depends on what kind of difficulty
    • If it’s scope creep – protect yourself from the get-go, pull out the scope and objective you were hired for everytime and say
      • “It’s out of the original scope or not serving our objective, I can do it but it you choose instead of what, or it’s extra”
    • If it’s non-payments, protect yourself with a down-payment or prepaid or some escrow mechanism
    • If they are being rude or not communicating well – you can be very upfront and say this is making you uncomfortable, hurting communication and affecting your ability to deliver on time and/or quality
    • Put working hours and availability hours upfront (in service agreement) to make sure you are managing your own time

What are your best strategies for maintaining mental and physical health? What’s your routine?

  • I meditate every morning, write my success plan for the day (Google Form) and do NLP work (attitude of gratitude)
  • Work out 2-3 times a week
  • Read every day – not only professional, but also about your business and landscape
  • I have 1 whole day (or 10 hours spread) for professional development and learning
  • Volunteer and mentor others – it’s a win-win for all (plus quality people and leads come from there)
  • Dedicate enough time for your family, friends, hobbies – charging your battery regularly is the only way to run this marathon
  • Be a good boss to yourself – otherwise what’s the point? 🙂

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