How an Eager Beaver, Noob Freelancer can do Customer Research


“If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it”. -Albert Einstein

Think about your Freelancer’s journey like a Goofus and Gallant cartoon strip.


The Goofus Way:

Step 1 – Publish your site. Step 2 – Post it on your social media a few times a week and wait for the offers to NOT come pouring in. (We’ve talked about this already. Stop that!) Step 3 – Wonder where the hell everyone is. (Refresh…refresh…check your inbox every 7 minutes…) Step 4 – Question where you went wrong. Hit up Google Search for a few hours to find the answer.

Though you won’t get impaled with scissors when your Goofus tactic doesn’t quite pan out, it still sucks when you don’t know where you quite went wrong.

(There can be a myriad of reasons to this, but we’re going to focus on just one for now)

The Gallant Way:

Step 1 – Get to know your customer.

Let’s stop right here.

People say this across the internet all the time, “Get to know your customer”. We’ve seen and heard of tactics where you:

  • Send an email to your users asking about their pain points
  • Use Wufoo to send out a simple questionnaire for your users to take 5 minutes (or less) to complete
  • Or go on social and look for people complaining about the problem you SOLVE and then direct message them (See #3).

But there’s a concern here: What if you don’t have any users/customers yet? Where do you go for this magical insight?


Before you even THINK about what your beautiful website will look like (on Strikingly)… The color scheme… Which images to post… You know, the ‘fun stuff’…

You need to be thinking about the driving force behind your business: Your Customers.

Yeah. You kinda forgot about them didn’t you?…

You THINK you know, but do you really?

As Rohit Deshpande, a Harvard Business School professor and former executive director of the Marketing Science Institute estimates, “80% of all customer research serves only to reinforce what companies already know, rather than testing or developing new possibilities”.

Don’t you want to do more than just regurgitate the same general and superficial copy that you saw on a Quora search?

Don’t you want to have advanced knowledge of what your customer wants, versus summarizing what’s already been talked about, to ad nauseum, in the general populus?

There’s a few ways to find out, as we mentioned above, but we’re going to be talking about one PARTICULAR method in this article.

Strap up, because you’re going in for “Hand-to-Hand combat”.


“Despite the rise in popularity of online and mobile surveys, face-to-face (in-person) interviews still remain a popular data collection method. A face-to-face interview method provides advantages over other data collection methods”. – Susan E. Wyse

We were reminded of this idea from Matt Lombardi and Robert Jorge from our roundup we did a few months back, on how successful entrepreneurs found their first 100 customers.

What did they do?

They went to meetups and conferences that were filled with people that were their potential audience. They smiled. Shook hands. Had conversations. And asked how they could help solve X problem. Then they took IMMEDIATE action.

That’s it.

That’s the big strategy.

But if the thought of walking up to a crowd of strangers sends you into this mode:


Then let’s bank on the One-on-One, shall we?

Let’s set up a scenario:

You want to be a Dog Photographer. You have a small portfolio of pictures that you’ve taken of your dog – in costumes, in creative backdrops, and more. But before you go live with this, you want to sit down with some dog lovers who’ve hired a pet or dog photographer in the past, to REALLY get into their mindset of:

  • What made the photographer, they hired, stand out from the rest they saw?
  • How did they find them?
  • What was the experience like?
  • What was the photographer’s space like? Did they have a space?
  • Did they wish the photographer did anything differently, maybe better?

So you reach out to your network (and this can be EASILY done through your Facebook network, for starters) asking if they know anyone who has hired a Dog/Pet Photographer in the past. Low and behold they come through, and you have set up a “coffee & scone” rendezvous with four friendly folk. Hazzah.


Though here is THEE MOST IMPORTANT PART of the one-on-one conversation: You have to WATCH them as they’re telling you their story.

As Susan E. Wyse states, “A face-to-face interview is no doubt going to capture verbal and non-verbal cues, but this method also affords the capture of non-verbal cues including body language, which can indicate a level of discomfort with the questions”…


“…Adversely, it can also indicate a level of enthusiasm for the topics being discussed…”.



When they are speaking, are they getting excited or is their tone becoming more of “buyer’s regret” when you mention their last photographer? Are their eyes getting wider or are they rolling their eyes – a lot? Are they using more hand gestures to describe the story?

Take a mental note on everything that they are saying (and doing) during the conversation, and then when the 30min-1hr+ long conversation is over, and they’ve left – jot down the statements (and gestures) that really stood out during the conversation, both good and bad.


Note: If your memory sucks (like mine. ahem…) think about using your phone to record the conversation so you can focus more on the conversation and your questions, and less on memorizing everything they say verbatim.​

Have 3-4 conversations with others who’ve hired a dog/pet photographer, and you’ll notice that some of the same lingo is being REPEATED.

“I love how she did X before starting the photoshoot”. “Her prices may have been more than the others, but it was well worth it because of X”. “If she would’ve done X better, I 100% would’ve bought the bigger package”.

You’ll naturally start to hear some “key phrases” over and over again. Now, you can use those phrases in your sales copy. And NOW, you’re literally speaking your CUSTOMER’S LANGUAGE.



There are, of course, other ways to get to know your potential clients. From using social media to networking events. It’s all fair game.

But if you can muster up the courage to start a conversation with a not-so-complete stranger (because you have that warm intro from a mutual friend), you will have:

  • Gathered new and advanced knowledge about your client
  • Created sales copy that directly addresses your clients pain points and needs
  • Addressed desires that the client didn’t actively even think about (now THERE’S one to blow their mind)

Bonus Video:

A few things to keep in mind when you’re conducting this customer research/informational interview.

**Conclusion: **

Let’s recap.

You’ve braved your informational interviews (and possibly made some new friends). You asked those JUICY questions that resulted in you getting a LOT of information about what your audience/client like and don’t like. You’re feeling pretty flippin’ confident about where to start with your freelance business/side hustle.

Do you realize how far ahead of the curve you are right now? Can you imagine the droves of people who are going on Quora or performing a Google search looking for, “how do I start a freelancing business?” or “what should my sales page say”?, right now?

Sure, this method requires a bit more time and a few face-to-faces, but you’ve just eliminated something significant that anyone who creates anything deals with: Doubt. Of course, you will continue to have doubt along your journey, but that ‘INITIAL doubt’ can be paralyzing to the point of inaction, and you’ve just nipped it in the bud.

You’ll be glad you performed these tasks versus jumping right in – when the payoff is clearly being able to identify and clearly target your key audience, and speaking their language so that YOU become the solution they’ve been looking for.

You. Are. Winning.