One of the toughest things about freelancing is getting clients. Whether you’re just starting a freelance business, or looking to grow your existing client base, download our Free eBook, The Freelancer’s Roadmap.
Some days, the life of a freelancer can feel like you’re spending more time client-hunting than actually working. Time is money, and you owe it to yourself to use it wisely.
However, you don’t have to resort to spending money on advertising campaigns or being overly “sales-y” (which can come off as desperate). There are other, easier ways to get clients—and instead of you searching for them, they’ll come to you. Below are my top 11 strategies.
1. Word of Mouth
This is probably the best way to land clients without doing any work to get them. When someone recommends you to a person they know, it means a lot more than a polished resume.
People trust personal recommendations more than a portfolio, killer resume/LinkedIn profile, or blog. It all comes down to that age-old saying: “It’s not what you know, but who.”
So, do good work, and get referred to others. People who own their own business probably know others who do, too. And those connections just may need a new website, video editing, new logo, etc.
Also—don’t disregard family and friends. Starting out by doing work for a family member is nothing to be ashamed of. Money is money. Experience is experience. And you need both.
Key takeaway: It’s not what you know, but who. And when you do good work for others, you’re bound to get recommended.
2. Have a clear, up-to-date portfolio—and market it
A good portfolio is practically non-negotiable. However, it is important to note that having a site won’t guarantee that people will come to it. To attract potential freelance clients, you need to market it.
One way to do this is by utilizing searchable portfolio sites, like:
Another way is to blog (which we’ll get to next).
And don’t disappoint when they get there!
– Have work samples and/or case studies
– Get testimonials from previous clients
– Make sure your contact info is easy to locate
Key takeaway: Don’t just make a nice portfolio to showcase your work; promote it, too.
3. Blog (or more simply—create content)
Add a blog to your portfolio or online resume. It’s done wonders for my project, LearnToCodeWithMe.
But before you dive in head-first into the world of blogging, it’s important to know your market.
Writing about topics relevant to the field you want to work in gives you a chance to demonstrate your expertise. There is an art to this.
Here’s a quick example: You are a WordPress web designer/developer. You may think it makes sense to write WordPress “how-to” articles. These articles are super helpful…but only to those wanting to learn WordPress themselves, not those interested in paying you to build a site for them!
Instead, write articles that will appeal to the people you want to work for and be more likely to lead into a sale. For instance, post an article about how making a website responsive can generate X increase in sales. That’ll catch the right people’s attention, and will be more likely to get you a new gig.
Key takeaway: Blogging is another way to passively market yourself and your services. But make sure to write about topics that’ll appeal to your target client.
4. Write (or create content) for *others*
When you create content for others, you put yourself in front of more eyeballs (including those of potential clients!).
The most common form of this is guest writing. However, creating content for other sites/publications doesn’t have to be writing. It could be:
– Videos (with your name in the credits)
– Images (taking photographs for a particular post/guide, with a link to your site beneath)
While in general, the more people you get in front of, the better, it’s also who you’re getting in front of. Quality is more important than quantity. Here, quality means an audience comprised of people who can use your expertise.
Key takeaway: Creating content for others gets you in front of more people, meaning more potential clients.
5. Keep your LinkedIn up to date
Recruiters and other types of hiring managers search on LinkedIn to hire. (They even have an entire tool for that exact purpose.)
Moreover, LinkedIn profiles tend to show up high in search results when people Google your name (which almost every recruiter/employer does).
Having an outdated, dusty LinkedIn won’t make you stand out among the rest. Make sure to:
– Include a summary that addresses your most important and relevant skills and achievements
– Keep your experience and skills updated
– Add relevant work of yours in the LinkedIn “work samples” area.
– Have a crisp looking profile photo.
– Go above and beyond by adding recommendations from former employers/people you have worked with.
Key takeaway: Recruiters and others making hiring decisions look at LinkedIn. Make a memorable first impression by keeping yours updated and polished.
6. Keep other, industry-relevant social media accounts up to date
These days, there are social media sites catering to a variety of specific industries, especially freelance-oriented fields. Depending on your expertise, there most likely is a platform for you.
To name a few:
– For developers – GitHub
– For designers – Dribbble and Behance
– For photographers – Flickr and Photo Critique
– For videographers – Vimeo
Like with LinkedIn, maintain an updated profile with relevant work samples.
Key takeaway: Hang out on the social networks where potential employers are looking for talent. Plus, you can network with peers to gain insights and connections.
7. Network in person
Attend conferences and local Meetups. Go to happy hours. And make sure to bring some business cards!
Meeting face-to-face is always more memorable—there’s that in-person connection you can’t get online.
Attend events and conferences that are relevant to your interests. Or, maybe more importantly, ones that are relevant to the interests of your potential clients (e.g. if you’re a graphic designer, going to local business owner meetups).
For more on the best freelancer-specific events, look here.
Key takeaway: Even with all our technological advancements, nothing compares to face-to-face networking.
8. Start coworking
Coworking is like another form of in-person networking. The main difference is that you typically go to a coworking space on the daily, or at least semi-regularly.
Coworking spaces are buildings or large rooms used by groups of entrepreneurs/small business owners/freelancers. They’re ideal for getting work done (especially freelance work) in a collaborative environment
Plus, a coworking space is a great place to make friends, because being a freelancer can get lonely. (It’s not like your typical office life, where you are surrounded by coworkers by no choice of your own.) Network with others, collaborate, and get your own work done.
Key takeaway: Coworking has many benefits, including networking with others who could need your services.
9. Speak at events/conferences
One step up from attending events is speaking at them. The best kinds of events/conferences to speak at are ones where audience members may need your services.
For instance, you are a web designer. These days, every business should have a website (made easy by companies like Brandcast – who offer a killer end-to-end web design platform for professional designers) so speaking at a conference for business owners will get quite a few potential clients to remember your name. And if you give a talk about the importance of good website design in business, outlining all benefits it can bring (longer time on site, increased visitor engagement, more sales, etc.), you’ll demonstrate your value even further.
Of course, when it comes to landing speaking gigs, you have to start small. But as you build up credibility as an amazing speaker, it’s even possible to get paid to speak at events. Promote your brand, get new clients, and get paid for it? Sounds too good to be true.
Key takeaway: Speaking engagements strengthen you as an expert in your field. They also provide the opportunity to get in front of new potential clients.
10. Network online
Nowadays you don’t have to be face-to-face to network. You can now attend conferences virtually.
– For developers – hack.summit
– For internet business folks – 1 Day Business Breakthrough
– For online creative business owners – Maker Mentors
More than online conferences or events, there are industry-specific forums you can partake in.
– Quora – a bunch of different questions you can answer, showing your knowledge on the topic
– Freelancers Union Hives – requires a membership with Freelancers Union, but is a great place to discuss the ins and outs of freelancing
– LinkedIn groups – for instance, Photography Business & Marketing or Freelance Graphic and Web Designers
– Relevant subreddits – like r/webdev or r/freelancewriters
– GrowthHackers – for the marketing-minded
– Relevant Facebook groups – like this WordPress one or this user experience group
Participate in forums that are relevant to you and your expertise. Offer insights, recommendations, and connect with others.
Key takeaway: Even if you live in a remote area, there is no excuse not to connect with others in your field.
11. Position yourself as an expert
There are ways you can establish you as an expert in your field that goes beyond the standard blog (which it seems like everyone has, these days).
For instance, you can write an eBook. The fact is anyone can publish a book on Amazon or on their own using a platform like Gumroad…but not everyone knows that.
Aside from showing your expertise on the topic at hand, writing an eBook gives you a reason to do speaking engagements or interviews—because you can talk about your new book!
However, if you’re not much of a writer, you can do other things to position yourself as an expert, such as:
– Create an online course—on your own
– Build another kind of information product—like a package of goodies (videos, files, etc.)
– Mentor newbies to the field online or in person (you can do this either on your own or via a structured program)
Beyond solidifying yourself as an expert on the given topic, eBooks and information products are another way to generate a little extra revenue.
Key takeaway: Create material that goes beyond the blog post. Teach others through eBooks and other kinds of information products. Take Ryan Robinson‘s example, and you can even make a little extra money while at it.
In the end, it’s all about relationship building
Landing new clients doesn’t have to be a daunting activity that eats up hours of precious time—and you don’t have to be pushy or spend money on advertising either.
When it comes down to it, getting work as a freelancer is all about building relationships (online or offline) and demonstrating your value and expertise. Use these methods of passive promotion and you just might start each day with a couple more emails in your inbox.
Whether you want to start generating freelance income while you keep your day job, or you’re ready to get serious about growing your existing client base, download our free eBook, The Freelancer’s Roadmap.