Given the current economic climate, you may be considering starting up a freelance gig. There’s no denying that times are hard, to say the least: the International Labour Organization expects the COVID-19 pandemic to wipe out the labor equivalent of 195 million full-time workers around the world.
If your job security is shaky and you have a honed skill set, freelancing may be a great option for you. Or, perhaps your office shut its doors a couple of months ago, but you kept your job. In this case, you’ve been taking part in the biggest work-from-home experiment ever. If you’ve enjoyed the benefits of working remotely, perhaps you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and now realize you have what it takes to freelance from home.
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Whatever your reasoning for starting a freelance business, I’m going to help you find your first clients. I went rogue and left the traditional 9-to-5 over five years ago, and like everybody else who makes a big life change, I wish I knew then what I know now.
So, here are some things I’ve learned throughout my freelancing experience that will get you off to a really strong start:
Lay the groundwork
There’s some important groundwork you need to do before you start looking for clients, and that starts with making your online presence look as professional as possible. Doing so will help increase your credibility, even if you’re just starting out.
You’ll want to make sure you have the following in place:
You don’t need an incredibly fancy website to begin with, because you can tweak it as you go. To start, you just need a space where you can outline your credentials, value proposition, services and a portfolio of your work.
I would strongly recommend getting your own domain name, because you’ll be able to get a professional email address with it, i.e. [email protected]. It looks much more professional and less spammy when you’re reaching out to potential clients over email, than say, [email protected]. Additionally, your own domain will help you build your brand and authority online over time.
Optimize your LinkedIn profile
LinkedIn is much more than just an online resume. It’s a place where you can network and where potential clients can find you. Flesh out your page with your credentials and write a compelling “About” section.
Include keywords in your headline that describe what you do, i.e., “SEO Consultant” or “Graphic Designer” so that when potential clients search for these terms, they’ll be able to find you. Add services to your “Business Info” section, and tick the box that says, “I’m available to work remotely” to let potential clients know you’re ready to go.
Personally, I tend to avoid popular freelancing platforms and instead use the following options to find clients:
Instead of applying for gigs on freelance platforms, use that precious time to build genuine connections within your industry. Once you’ve established these relationships, you can get advice for breaking into the industry and ask your connections if they’d be open to discussing your services.
Alternatively, find other freelancers that provide similar services as you and ask if they know of any relevant Slack or social media groups that you can get involved in. Fellow freelancers know the struggle, and many will be happy to help. Many freelancers get referrals this way or are able to pick up extra work from busy freelancers who have too much on their plates.
Niche job sites
Throughout my experience, I’ve had great experiences with niche job sites for freelance writers and content marketers. I’ve bagged long-term, well-paid gigs from the likes of ProBlogger and BloggingPro. If you’re a design or photography freelancer, for example, you’ll need to find the equivalent for your industry. A quick Google search should suffice, ie., “job sites for freelance web developers.”
Speaking of Googling, you can also try search strings, such as “We’re hiring” + “freelance web developer” to find companies looking to hire somebody like you.
Cold emailing potential clients is hard work and it’s difficult to get a response. But, it does work if you’re able to write intriguing emails and pitch your services well.
In the past, I’ve reached out to companies that follow me on Twitter. The email subject line “Quick Question” makes people curious enough to open the email. Then, I simply thank them for following me on Twitter as my introduction and ask them if they’d like to talk more about what I do. I’ve gotten some good leads this way.
Naturally, there are other places you can go to find lists of companies to reach out to. You can find the top-rated companies in your area at review sites like Yelp, or in your niche at specific industry-related review sites, such as G2.
If you need to get some experience under your belt, or quite frankly some cash, apply for agency work. You can find agencies on regular job boards, such as Indeed or LinkedIn’s job search. However, try to limit the amount of work you do for agencies. Getting your own clients is how you’re going to grow your freelance business and earn maximum profits.
Pitching your services
If you want to start freelancing, you’re going to have to get really good at putting yourself out there quickly. As a modest, ambiverted, tea-drinking British person, it felt rather odd to me to do so at first. But, if you want to be a success, you have to learn how to pitch your services.
Prove your value
The best thing you can do when you’re just starting out is to figure out what makes you different from other freelancers in your industry. What is your unique value proposition? Share this information alongside your credentials and samples of your work.
For me, I figured out that plenty of people can write decently, long-form blog posts for B2B tech and SaaS companies. However, what I bring to the table is the ability to make posts easy to read and entertaining, which isn’t as common in the spaces I work in with B2B/SaaS topics. So, this value proposition is conveyed all over my homepage.
You can do the same, being sure to emphasize your value in any conversation with potential clients over the phone, via email, etc. Know your worth and know what you bring to the table. It will help you win clients and price your services correctly.
It’s worth experimenting with different techniques for winning clients, especially if you’re struggling to gain traction at the beginning of your freelance journey.
One option is to offer a mini version of your services for free. In some cases, you will find companies that are just looking for a freebie. However, in others, you’ll be able to show potential clients how amazing you are at what you do and turn the experience into a long-term relationship.
Furthermore, I was listening to Neil Patel and Eric Siu’s Marketing School podcast recently, and Neil suggested another great idea: find startups that have recently received an investment through a web search or using a tool, such as Crunchbase. That way you know they have the desire and funds to grow their business. Then, analyze what those companies are doing in terms of your area of expertise. Reach out to each company explaining what they’re not getting right and how you can help them do better. Interesting, huh?
I hope these tips helped to set you on the right path to finding and winning your first freelance clients. Remember that if you receive a few “nos” along the way to dust yourself off and keep trying. Then, once you start getting great clients, the trick is to rinse and repeat. In other words, if one particular method or channel works well for you, do more of the same because it just makes sense. And if a method/channel becomes stagnant, it’s time to try something different.