Starting off a career as a freelancer – whether you work in web design, web development or content writing – is not easy.
One of the most challenging parts of freelancing is figuring out how to get a client in the first place. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are… sometimes it’s really hard to establish yourself in a crowded marketplace.
However, if you have a well-defined strategy, you might find that landing your first client is far easier than you imagined. After that, it’s simply a matter of keeping them happy and finding more. I’ve put together my top five tips for you to achieve this result.
1. Build and maintain a website
As a freelancer, you obviously need to put yourself out there. This means having your work and services easily found online.
Unless your first client comes to you from a personal recommendation, they’re going to find you through a search engine like Google. Check out this A-Z guide to building your own website and start one today, if you don’t already have one.
Your website should let visitors know about your services and skills, as well as showcase your work and achievements. It should also be in a constant evolution – that means regularly updating your portfolio, maintaining a blog, and adding to your ‘testimonials’ section.
Aim to be personable yet professional when writing your website’s copy. Treat yourself as the marketable product that you are – your website should be full of positive, passionate and perceptive information.
On the subject of blogs, make sure that your blog has a clearly defined purpose and direction. There’s no point in writing meandering blogs about the nice walk that you took through the park the other day. You are trying to get hired as a professional for a particular service, and your blog should demonstrate your focus on and knowledge of this niche.
Maintain a professional-looking portfolio to show that you know how to convert client’s ideas into high-quality projects. You can create one using a dedicated portfolio site such as hire an illustrator that’s independent to your website. If you don’t have anything to showcase yet, do the next best thing and add a downloadable resume to your website.
2. Network like crazy
Often when it comes to forging your way as a freelancer, you need to make friends to become influential. Talk to successful freelancers in the same industry or niche as you, and ask them how they got started. Send them emails, if you don’t know them personally, and politely request their tips for how to find clients. Chances are, they’ll remember what it’s like to be in your shoes and be happy to help out.
If you’re wondering how to find these successful freelancers, try searching for some of the more successful freelancer’s portfolios/sites. While you’re there, check out their client list and do a little independent brainstorming exercise. By this, I mean sitting down with a piece of paper and asking yourself the following questions:
- Why did that client hire that particular freelancer?
- How did they make initial contact with that freelancer?
- Is is possible they still need work from another freelancer offering a similar service?
If the answer to the last question is a yes, you can always start following the client on Twitter, connect with them on LinkedIn or simply reach out to them via email to let them know you are a freelance professional who admires their work greatly and would like to be associated with their company.
You’d be surprised how effective this simple tactic is when it comes to broadening your network and gaining new contacts in your address book. Obviously, when you email anybody in ‘freelancer mode’ you should include an email signature linking to your website, portfolio and relevant social media accounts. Chances are, if you spark the person’s curiosity, they’ll check it out.
Also aim to participate in live Twitter chats or networking events both online and offline. These events will help you gain more visibility in your community.
3. Update your LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn is one of the best ways to find new clients as a freelancer. Since recruiters often look for freelance professionals on LinkedIn, it’s a goldmine of opportunities.
Dedicate an afternoon or weekend to making sure that your profile is up-to-date and polished. Ensure that you have selected the option that states ‘open to new opportunities’. Add any relevant information or uploads to your profile that you feel may help you attract new clients.
Don’t forget to add a good profile picture, a career objective or skill summary, and feature endorsements from others in your network.
Use your existing contacts, such as fellow classmates, employees, and other freelancers in the same field to increase your network (both online and offline). The ‘people you may know’ feature on LinkedIn is a great way to find potential clients and collaborators. You can also check out your competition’s connections.
4. Collaborate with others
Whether your collaboration takes the form of guest blogging or posting on another website, or building up your portfolio by doing some free work for a friend or sibling, do what you can to get your name out there and your work published… in exchange for testimonials and referrals.
Guest posting may not pay your bills but it may grab the notice of potential clients, particularly if you write for a website with a lot of authority and traffic. Ensure that the quality of your guest post is high and reflects your expert knowledge of a particular niche area.
Since the quality is more vital than the quantity, be sure to include infographics, images, videos and illustrations to make your content extra relevant and engaging. This will encourage people to see your content (and by extension, your freelance services) as valuable.
While you might be wondering why, if your aim is to be seen as valuable, you would work for free for a friend or sibling, but working for free initially can be quite a clever strategy in your freelance career. That’s because what you see as ‘free’ other people see as a ‘favor’. And people return favors.
For example, if you knock up a logo for a friend who can’t afford to hire somebody to do it (and you do a great job), their success becomes your success as every time they receive a compliment on it, they’re likely to mention you by name. If someone is happy with your work, they will nearly always be happy to spread the word about who’s responsible, plus you can boost your portfolio.
There are also a myriad of ways in which to combine the networking I talked about earlier with the notion of working for free to generate maximum freelance opportunities for you. Let’s say you email the content lead for a digital brand to politely (and humbly) point out that you noticed a few typos in a recent blog post. They’ll most likely be grateful and thank you for your attention to detail. With the initial contact already taken care of, you could use this opportunity to write a follow-up email saying that you’re looking to intern or volunteer for a business like theirs while you get your freelance business going.
Collaborating with established brands and other professionals is one of the smartest things you can do as a freelancer in the early stages of your career.
5. Be active on social media
This doesn’t just mean Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It means niche-specific social media platforms that are used by professionals in your field of expertise.
For example, if you are a designer, then set up a profile on Behance. If you are a developer, use GitHub. If you are a videographer, utilize Vimeo. And so forth.
Update your profiles on relevant social media accounts and showcase your best work to your targeted social media audience. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and play to them. 99% of the time, clients are not going to fall into your lap. They will contact you through third-party sites or through a friend or through your website.
Make sure you are putting your best foot forward in this digitally accessible world of ours and treat social media platforms as a kind of virtual business card.
You also might want to join any relevant professional organisations (like AIGA for designers) and associations (like the Freelancers Union) to meet even more industry peers and learn how others have found their success.
Finding your first client as a freelancer doesn’t have to be a daunting process: all you need to do is approach it with a collaborative and open attitude, and a clear sense of your goals and objectives.
Talk to as many people as possible – you never know where your next client is going to come from. Think about what you’d like your potential clients and customers to see and put it front and center on your website. Identify the types of clients you’d like to work for and research how they usually go about finding contractors.
In the beginning, aim for just a handful of clients. If you maintain a positive attitude and a community-minded approach to building your business, you’ll have more than a dozen before you know it.
Guest Author: Lucy is a WordPress Developer and a passionate Blogger. She is associated with WebsiteSetup.org. and handles a team of experienced WordPress developers. She is fond of writing WordPress tutorials and loves to share her knowledge with other bloggers.