There are so many questions I get from new and struggling freelancers every day, but one of the most common is, “how can I find clients?”
Finding freelance clients---particularly that first client---is a big step. It’s such a challenge to get your first few clients: most clients don’t want to hire you unless you have experience, but you can only get experience in your industry if you have clients!
You know you need to get your first client so you can start building your portfolio… but how do you go about doing it? How do you actually get freelance clients?
If you're wondering how to get clients, you're in luck! Today we're covering the topic in-depth.
First, you need to ask yourself 3 big questions:
- What kind of freelancing work do you want to do? Be as specific as possible. If you want to be a freelance writer, what kind of writing do you want to do? What specific topics do you want to cover? This will enable you to more clearly identify what your freelance business and services are all about so you can more effectively market your business.
- Who is your ideal client? Again, get as specific as possible. If you could work with any business or publication, what would it be? What would your partnership and working relationship look like? Why do you want to work with this person, and why should they want to work with you?
- Where does your ideal client hang out? If you’re going to go out and find your first client, you’re probably going to have ZERO response if you just flail around and hope that they’ll see you. Nope: you need to actually identify exactly where they spend their time (think in-person networking events, social media platforms, etc.), and then you need to go to those places. And once you’re in those places, you’ll need to identify where within those places your ideal client hangs out. For example, perhaps you know your ideal client is on LinkedIn… but then you need to dive deeper and pinpoint in which LinkedIn groups they hang out. Get as close to the source as you can!
After you’ve gone over those questions, you’ll have defined what your freelance business is all about and the direction you would ideally like to go in. You’ll even be able to know at this point which places you should do the majority of your marketing. That is a big step! You’ve been able to sift through the tough stuff so that you’re now able to connect directly with people who fit your ideal client persona.
So: what’s next? Even though you’re now hanging out where your ideal client hangs out, you probably won’t have much success if you just reach out to that person and tell them they should hire you. That’s not really much of a strategy for getting freelance clients. Cold-calling rarely works, and to be honest it doesn’t feel that great to do it, either.
Instead, I tell my students to build relationships with potential clients. Don’t think of it as “marketing” or “selling”---think of it instead as a relationship-building process.
We’ll get into this in more detail in Pitching Clients 101, but if you want the basics, here is a sample day-by-day breakdown for how you can go about getting that first client so you can start building your portfolio and set your freelancing business up for success:
Day 1: Set your social media accounts up on the social media platforms that your ideal client uses.
If you’re already using that social media platform, you’re ahead of the game! But even if you already use it, you might want to optimize that social media profile (for example, linking to your freelance services webpage in your bio, or using a more professional headshot as your profile photo, etc.). Small tweaks go a long way.
Day 2: Find and follow at least a dozen people who fit your ideal client persona.
This could take some searching, but you can find them by checking out who follows accounts that your ideal client would likely follow, or by searching particular hashtags that you think they use, for example. The more people you can find who fit your ideal client persona, the better.
Pro tip: many clients will be more likely to hire someone who lives geographically nearby. If you can find people who fit your ideal client persona and who also live in your city, that will greatly increase your chance that something will come of the connection and you'll be able to get freelance clients out of it... and start making money freelancing.
Day 3: Go to those communities where your ideal client is.
Your ideal client hangs out on Twitter? Great! Now you need to find where exactly they are on Twitter.
Is there a Twitter chat they participate in each week? Start joining in on the conversation!
Try to find at least three communities within your social media platform where your ideal client hangs out so that you expand your reach (even better, you might find that you start recognizing the same people in different groups. That’s good for you because they’ll start recognizing and remembering you better, too).
Find the communities WITHIN social media platforms where your ideal client hangs out. #socialtip via @Saganlives
Days 4---7: Be helpful and provide value.
Don’t push your services onto people! That’s not the point here. The purpose is to connect with your ideal client in a real, genuine, and meaningful way. If you provide value, they will come and find you and connect with you further. Be helpful in this stage. Answer questions with thoughtful responses that these people can make good use of.
Day 8: Connect with individuals directly.
This is a great time to start building one-on-one relationships. Follow up with the people whose questions you answered during the previous four days, and ask them how things are going, or if they had any other questions.
Now is a really good time to also send them a link to a blog post you wrote which goes into greater detail about your answer to one of their questions. Doing this is a wonderful way to get on people’s radar and show them that you care about them.
Day 9 and beyond:
Continue to keep doing what you’re doing (participating regularly in communities where your ideal client is, providing value, and connecting one-on-one to follow-up with people)… and start mentioning your own services occasionally. Don’t overdo it with promoting your services, but make sure that people know you are available for helping them on a professional level. Over time, you will start getting freelance clients coming to you!
Providing value and being helpful showcases your expertise and legitimacy. #freelancetip
Why does this strategy work?
One of the primary benefits of this kind of long-term relationship-building strategy is that it legitimizes you.
When you show up again and again where your ideal client is, they will start to recognize you and realize that you know what you’re talking about. They’ll be interested in learning more about what you do, and when they implement your suggestions and those suggestions work, it will confirm your expertise.
Will every person you connect with become a client? No. Far from it. However, even if not everyone becomes a client right away, they may become a client later on down the road. Or they will very likely let other people know about you and recommend you to other people in need of your services.
Don’t discount the long game of relationship-building! Sometimes it yields immediate results, but even when it doesn’t, what it WILL do is build your client base over time to be sustainable… and you’ll be recognized in your industry as someone who can be trusted.
Want more concrete strategies for how to get freelance clients with confidence (even if you're an introvert or feel uncomfortable with "selling")?
Join Pitching Clients 101! You’ll get lessons which teach you exactly how to create custom strategies that WORK for your unique business.