If there is one question I get asked ALL. THE. TIME, it's this one. How can I find freelance clients?* After all, there are about a million ways to go about it. But isn't that exactly the beauty of it? So first off: Stop stressing. If one way doesn't work, you can try another one, and find a path that resonates with you.
If you ask fifty freelancers how they got their first freelance client, I guarantee you that they will all tell you a different story. I know in the 4.5 years I've been freelancing I've tried MANY ways of finding clients - some of them successful, others less.
I've collected 8 proven ways to find freelance clients for you in the article below, and I've tried all of them!
*Seriously though, if I charged a dollar for every time I was asked this question, I wouldn't NEED to freelance anymore! 😉
So how did I find my first client?
My first paid freelance client was actually a magazine I interned for. For three months I worked my bum off (for very minimal pay!), loving every second of it, taking in everything I could. I grabbed every opportunity I got, worked long hours, and was proactive about creating new opportunities. This was obviously the best way to stand out at my internship, but I also just really, really enjoyed it.
After my internship was over, I'd proven my worth and was able to stay on as a freelancer. I made sure to show my face often and continuously pitch new articles. I ended up working for them for about two years afterward until I moved in a new direction with my business.
My second non-internship client I received was another magazine. I got it by simply being a little bit bad ass, and pitching an article idea to them. The idea was very original, but I was terrified. I had JUST graduated, had very little experience in writing long-form articles and was still a pretty shitty writer (it takes time to learn!). However, I went out and emailed anyway.
I ended up securing the job and writing an article they didn't like at all, which they then had me rewrite. In the end, they were pleased, I got paid, and I had another name to add to my online portfolio!
The experience taught me to always take the jump before you're ready. It will work out eventually. Starting as a freelancer is hard, you'll get in over your head now and then, but that's how you learn.
What should you know before you start reaching out to potential clients?
Surely, this is a topic for a whole other article, but the most important thing before any sale is: know what you're selling. What are you trying to solve for your future client? What are you really good at and why? And more importantly: why do they need this? How can it help them?
I recently hired a virtual assistant to help with my social media strategies. I ended up hiring her because she had a specific expertise. She was able to clearly tell me how she could help me and what results I could expect from it. The more (proven) expertise you have in a certain service, and the better you communicate that the more chances you have of landing a client.
How to Find Freelance Clients
Clearly, considering my path, it makes sense to first start off saying internships are a GREAT way to get your foot in the door with a company. This is the time you can get to know a company inside out, see their needs and pain points, and get familiar with their particular style and voice. This is your time to leave a great impression. Most companies are very reluctant to hire people on full-time contracts, and they are much more flexible about hiring freelancers.
Obviously, this only works if it's either a part-time internship or if you're able to take on some unpaid work experience for a few months before getting started. Also don't be shy about asking about growth opportunities during your internship interview. There's no point in wasting time for a company that's just going to replace you with intern after intern, with no actual interest in hiring you. If you do your research well, this may be a great starting point to your career as it was to mine.
Family & Friends
Sure, this may not be your dream job, nor is it ideal (it's best not to mix friendship and work I think!), but it can be a great way to get started and build a solid portfolio. It will also make you feel like both of you are doing the other a favor, so that's great. I love hiring my friends and acquaintances when I feel like they need a little hand.
But be VERY clear in your agreements if you do decide to work with or for family and friends. Now more than ever is the time to clearly outline what you'll be doing, when you'll be doing it, what results to expect, what payment to agree on, and when it should be paid. Please put this in writing also, so you always have proof to fall back on. In any case: it never hurts to let your friends and family know you've launched a new venture. They may know some people that could use your help!
And thus my ultimate freelancing secret is revealed: pitching is by far my favorite way to get clients. It's also the scariest and -dare I say- most badass way to land clients, as it's all your doing. You reach out to people and if they like it, you got yourself a new client.
So how do you pitch successfully? Be certain that you know the company, what they're doing, and that your service would really add to their business. Get all of that across in your pitch. Also, make sure you're emailing the right person. If you know them personally - that's even better. With pitching it's really a case of hit and miss. Some companies won't even reply to you, but others have been waiting for someone like you to come along.
Blogging & Guest Blogging
Remember what I said before? The more you know what your expertise is, the more you're able to sell this skill. Your blog (and other people's blogs!) is a great way to share information about your niche. By constantly sharing helpful tips and advice, people will see you're an expert in this topic, and you'll be the go-to if they're ever looking for an expert in that topic.
I've gotten a few clients through my travel blog. To be fair, if I hadn't had my travel blog, I would NOT be where I am right now, with the major clients I have (had). Make sure you have a contact page and mention there if you're open to new clients at all.
These are definitely by far my least favorite ways of getting clients, as there is heavy competition and usually very low pay. But I DO think it's a great place to start and get some experience. So sign up to Upwork, Freelancer.com, Peopleperhour, or many of the other networks out there.
I would stay away from Fiverr, unless you offer a service that is so incredibly simple you can do it in one or two minutes. I've actually never gotten any work from platforms like these because I was always too stubborn to fight over pennies. There are some tricks to being successful on platforms like these though. Read this extensive post which I found to be super helpful.
You want people to see how qualified you are, so they will hire you right? If you're not into blogging (as a freelancer you SHOULD be), a great way to get your knowledge and expertise across is by being very active in Facebook groups in your niche.
A lot of bloggers have their own Facebook groups. Or you can simply search for "Facebook group + your niche/target audience". If you're doing accounting, it might be great to join some accounting groups.
But it ALSO might be great to join groups with your target demographic, let's say small business owners. They will undoubtedly have questions that you can answer for them. Keep this non-spammy. Answer the question. Give, give, and then ask. If people like your answer they will check you out themselves. You can also add a simple, "I actually run an accounting agency, you're always free to email me and I'd be happy to take a further look for you." Only do this AFTER helping people, you don't want to come across as Spammy McSpamface.
**NEWS** I have my OWN Facebook Group which has been an amazing way for digital nomads to connect and even find clients! I have hired over 10 people from the group!
HOW did people run business back in the days without social media and all the free advertisement? I wonder?! I'd probably have been bankrupt after two weeks! If you're a social media nerd, you'll love using it to promote yourself. In this day and age, EVERYONE is a personal brand, so as a freelancer it is really silly to not be on at least on ONE platform. Like I said, you don't need to be on all of them (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, Snapchat), just pick one or two that you like.
And then? You add value. Make sure to tweet advice that your perfect client would be looking for. Share articles that would help your clients on Facebook (not just your own!). Participate in Twitter chats. Maybe make advice videos on Youtube. Start giving advice in Instagram posts with a specific hashtag: the possibilities really are endless!
Social media is all about engagement, so make sure you spend most of your time connecting with other people, helping them, sharing their stuff. The more you connect to other people (in a genuine way!), the more other people will get to know you and the awesome services you offer! You can also use social media to do paid advertising, but I've personally never tried this.
Ugh. Networking, right? If it requires pants and a bra, I'm not doing it. (Though to be fair, a networking event that requires you to come without either would be... questionable). I regularly go to networking events, probably at least once or twice a month, depending on my location. With blogging, there's always something going on. The trick is to stop seeing them as networking events, and they suddenly become a lot more bearable. Go there to have a fun night, meet some new people, have some chats about your shared interest... a.k.a. have fun!
I usually go there to meet friends and happen to end up talking to new people anyway. This is how I met my biggest client: by simply ending up chatting about random non-work related stuff. A few weeks later they were looking for someone exactly like me. They remembered the fun chat we had and asked me to take on the work. Getting work from getting drunk with random strangers? Yes please! 😉
I actually get most of my clients through referrals. I've found it really is who you know, not what you know, in most cases. That's why it's very important to go to networking events and make sure people start to know your name and face. This is probably how I find most my clients nowadays, and even how a major multinational started working with me (can you believe that?!). So invest in your contacts! (I didn't want to make this a separate tip, so I've included it under the networking bit because that's how you'll find your contacts!)
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Milou is the founder of Female Digital Nomads, runs two other travel blogs (Dutch: Explorista.nl, English: Explorista.net), AND a marketing agency called Explorista Media. If she's not working, she's traveling, but she prefers to combine the two. Dutch by passport, world citizen by heart, and American by accent (no one knows how that happened).