One of the most daunting things about going freelance is the prospect of not being able to find any clients who want to hire you. Getting your first freelance clients gives you a big confidence boost and really helps to set you up for the first few months of freelancing.
Even when you’ve been doing it for months (or years), taking on a new project and working with new freelance clients is always exciting. Being able to find potential clients is a vital skill to make sure you can earn enough money to make freelancing a viable career. But where do you find your first freelance clients, and how do you keep the momentum going once you’re established?
Use your existing contacts
If you’re a blogger, you’ll no doubt already have a huge list of contacts without having really thought about it. All the brands you’ve collaborated with, all the PRs you’ve worked with, all the people you’ve met at events, and even other bloggers – they’re all fantastic connections.
Make sure you’re following them on social media, make key people aware of your new freelance status and use your contacts to find new opportunities. Sometimes this might be directly with the brand/person themselves, or it might be that they know of an opportunity through someone else. It really is all about who you know!
Even if you’re not a blogger, you can still make use of your existing contacts. Keep in touch with old colleagues, people from your industry or people you’ve met at networking events. As much as I dislike using Linkedin, it can be really handy for this sort of thing.
Ask family and friends for referrals
When I first started freelancing, probably around half of my new freelance clients came from referrals through family and friends. Ask around and you’ll be surprised by how many people know someone who knows someone who needs your services. Whether it’s a friend of a friend who’s set up a new venture or your parents’ neighbour who needs extra help with their business, these can be great stepping stones.
It’s never nice working for free (or for less than you should be charging), but when you first start out it’s sometimes necessary in order to build up your portfolio. Referrals through family and friends (or family and friends themselves, if they have businesses that need your services) are great for this, but make sure you clearly outline what you’re going to do so they don’t take advantage of your free/cheap services. Once you have a bit more experience, don’t be afraid to raise your rates – this is your full-time job after all, not just a wee favour for your mum’s friend!
Apply for freelance jobs
Just because a job is freelance, doesn’t mean it can’t be advertised in the traditional way. Keep an eye on job websites or local groups for freelance positions – I have a browse through sites like Creative Scotland, Creative Edinburgh and ProBlogger every couple of weeks. Sometimes jobs advertised in this way are “proper” part-time positions, whilst others are more flexible freelance positions where you have more say over pay/hours etc. Either way, it’s always worth getting in touch to see if it’s something you could fit into your freelance schedule before taking it to the interview stage.
Advertise for freelance clients
It might sound obvious, but don’t forget to actually advertise your services and let people know you’re taking on new freelance clients! Make sure your website is up to date (including information about your services and previous/current work), then get out there. Networking events work really well for some people, but personally I prefer to do my networking online (as I’ve talked about previously), so social media comes in really handy for advertising my services.
Tweet that you’re looking for new clients, create a Facebook advert to promote your freelance business, update your Linkedin status… the list goes on! If you have good previous experience and a strong online presence, people are likely to get in touch with you if you let them know you’re available. Try to make the most of SEO and create a niche for yourself as people will also come across you on Google.
Pitch your ideas
If you’re feeling super confident you might want to start pitching from the get-go, but personally I felt like I wanted to have some experience under my belt before I began pitching to companies I really wanted to work with. In fact, I’m still working on feeling properly confident doing this!
To pitch successfully, you need to have something to back up your ideas. Gather together as much information as you can about your previous projects, including stats and specific examples of what you’ve achieved. This doesn’t necessarily have to be large-scale achievements (especially if you’re just starting out), but you need to show that you know exactly what you’re doing and prove that work you’ve done for your previous clients has had a positive impact on their business.
I’d recommend putting together a “pitching pack” which you can then tailor to each individual pitch. Create a document with your logo and branding, and include the details mentioned above along with why you want to work with this particular client and how you could use your services to improve their business. Also include an outline of your rates, timescales involved and any other relevant details. I think pitches work best when you have a personal connection with the business (even if this is just having exchanged a few Tweets with each other previously), so make your email nice and chatty and not too pushy, but be able to follow it up with a professional document which will impress any potential freelance clients.
Don’t let knockbacks put you off, it’s usually not personal! Many small businesses simply don’t have the budget to hire someone, even if they really want to work with you, so don’t feel too disheartened. It’s good to make a connection anyway, as if they’re looking for someone in the future they’re likely to remember your pitch and approach you again.
So, those are a few of the best ways I’ve found for finding new freelance clients, especially if you’ve just started freelancing. The common theme amongst all of them is that it’s important to make connections with people. I’ve found that the majority of my freelance work has come through people I know or people I have previously worked with, or even people I’ve just chatted to on social media. Be nice, chat to everyone and get involved in the community surrounding your industry and you’ll be able to get your foot in the door no problem!
Have you got any tips for finding your first freelance clients?