Unless you’re exceptionally lucky, you won’t be bombarded on day one of freelancing by the sound of clients knocking on your front door (unless you’ve left a job and taken a whole slew of potential clients with you – a move that will make you hugely unpopular).
So, how can you go about finding clients? You need to make potential clients aware of who you are so that they can find you or seek you out, and you also have to go looking for them or their projects. Here are thirteen methods of alerting and finding freelance clients!
1. Your website
Don’t tell me you don’t have one. Put down that chisel, leave that mammoth leg for someone else to chew and get with the century. Even the most analogue of skills needs to be promoted digitally.
A website is essential to tell the world who you are and what you can offer.
Not sure what you should put on your website? No problem. Eight Essential Features of a Freelancer’s Website will tell you all you need to know.
2. Offering a freebie
I’m not normally an advocate of freelancers working for free, but small projects that offer a concrete chance of further work can be worth considering. Do your research before offering free work or saying yes
3. Cold pitching
Make a list of companies that would have use for you skills and get in touch, preferably with a small but perfect sample of your work.
4. Phone a friend (or family member)
Widen your circle of contacts by bringing in the contacts of your friends and family. You may expect every friend or relative who knows a potential client to offer up this information the minute you declare you’re going freelance, but anecdotal evidence from freelancers suggests this isn’t the case. Freelancer forums are full of people declaring, “and then she told me she knew Steven Spielberg!”
Your friend’s friends, your family’s employers – they could all be a potential client in disguise.
5. Use social media
You don’t have to spend a fortune on an advertising campaign, but you really should have a presence on at least one of the major social media platforms. In practical terms, this means Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
If you’re not a social media user or have only used it for personal reasons, bear in mind that using it to promote your freelance business is very different, so seek out some tips, such as Ten Tips for Using Instagram for Business.
LinkedIn is social media, I hear you cry. It’s not really, though, is it? However, it is a powerful tool in your search for contacts, connections, projects and jobs, so get yourself a profile, populate it with your experience and work history, keep it updated, make connections and sign up for those job emails.
7. Online freelance marketplaces
There are many, and all have different pros and cons. Some charge you for looking for work, while others don’t – but may take such a big cut of your earnings that you’re left wondering why you bothered.
One or two will only let you look at projects but not ask questions unless you pay a higher fee. Given the semi-literate and vague nature of some project postings (‘Someone to proofread my book’; 20-page dog anecdotes book? 600-page fantasy novel? This week? This year?), this just isn’t practical.
Some sites penalise you or charge more if you don’t earn a certain amount on their platform every month, which can be expensive if you’re a part-time freelancer, have clients outside the platform or have the audacity to go on holiday or be sick. Others insist you download software so that your client can take a look at your computer screen whenever they feel like it (so much for the freedom of freelancing, eh?).
Read the small print and ensure you know exactly what your outlay will be and what earnings you will be left with.
8. Job boards and general advertising sites
There are freelance jobs boards out there and some general job boards do feature remote or freelance jobs. Advertising sites like craigslist and gumtree may feature them as well, although suitable posts can be very thin on the ground, so don’t make them your first port of call!
9. Sector sites
There are often sites specific to your sector that either focus on particular jobs or have a jobs page. If you’re a freelance writer, for instance, searching freelance writer jobs will bring up a whole host of these sites. Similar sites exist for most freelance-heavy sectors (design, videography, photography, software development, website design).
Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals or testimonials from people you’ve worked with. Even in this digital, work-from-anywhere age, there is still power in the personal recommendation of someone we know; we like to hear that someone’s good at their job from a person we trust.
11. Advertising in print (or writing!)
Where and how you advertise your services will depend a lot on the sector and scope of your freelancing. My wedding cake was made by a cake maker who had put a picture and his contact details on a postcard in a local shop window, and if cake-making is your thing, this may still work well for you. Large, ornate cakes don’t always travel well, so a lot of your trade may be local.
People also tend to look more locally for tradespeople and IT or mobile phone repair services. Freelancers, for a lot of the more physical projects are likely to be sourced nearer to home, so consider advertising in local directories, publications and papers.
12. Advertising online
If you offer digital services or submit your work digitally, then the ideal home for your advertising is online. Online directories, social media, other sites, Google – there are lots of options. Investigate them, price up the advertising campaign you would want to run and then decide what best fits your purpose and your pocket.
13. Make contact with those contacts!
If you’ve made contacts through previous employment or freelance work, don’t just forget about them or presume they have no work for you because you haven’t heard from them.
Christmas, the New Year, Easter or any other appropriate festivals are great time to touch base with previous clients or old contacts, sending them friendly season’s greetings and including a list of your services and a website link in the signature. It’s a subtle way to remind them of your existence and what you can offer.
If there’s no handy festive occasion on the horizon, what about a quick message to check on the progress of a project they were launching or the health of their new business?
Where do you find clients? Which of these methods have worked best for you? Let us know.