3 Tips for Finding Your First Freelance Clients
The question that I get asked the most by people who are interested in freelancing or have just started is how I find clients. The truth is that I don’t find clients, they find me. Here are some tips and actionable to-do’s that you can get started with today to help clients find you too!
Tell the world
I know that it can be a big step to put yourself out there and tell everyone that you’re freelancing; sharing it with the world makes it real, and that can be scary. But however scary it may be, telling people that you are a freelancer who is available for work is the first thing you need to do.
Two quick ways that you can do that today are to put it in your social media bios, and share an announcement post. Something as simple as “freelance designer (developer/writer/illustrator/whatever you want to do) in your bio makes a big difference. You can even say “DM or email me to work together” or something similar that lets people know that you’re open for new projects.
Since people are often more likely to see a post and THEN visit your profile, creating and share an announcement post telling people what you’re doing, the type of projects you’d like to work on, and how they can get in touch with you is a great way to reach more potential clients. Think about the clients that you’d like to work with and where they hang out online and post there. LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are probably your best bet so I suggest starting there, but there might be other platforms that are more relevant for your ideal client so don’t forget those.
This might seem like an obvious tip, but most people don’t do this, and then wonder why nobody knows that they’re available for work! Own what you do, be proud of it, and shout it from the mountain tops!
Update your social media bios
Share an announcement post
Whenever people ask me where my clients come from the answer is always the same: word of mouth. Sure, I have a few clients who find my content online, or found my studio on Google or whatever, but the vast majority of clients were referred from someone I know or a previous client, have worked with me before on something, or know me in person. It really is about who you know, so making strong connections is the key to finding clients.
The first way to do this, especially if you are looking for local clients, is to do the old networking thang. Attend events in your local area and start chatting to people while you’re there. Most events will have time set aside for networking, so make the most of that time and focus on making real connections. This isn’t about meeting as many people as possible in the space of 30 minutes – it’s not a race – but think quality over quantity. Have real conversations with people and actually be interested in what they have to say. You never know who that person might now, when they might pop into your life or where that conversation might lead.
Note: Don’t just attend events within your industry. Sure, I go to a lot of design events and have met loads of great connections there, but I’ve also been to business events, meetups on random topics, workshops at my bank with other small business owners, and a whole range of other events. Like I said before, you never know who you might meet and where that might lead!
Another way to make connections is online. A good portion of clients are overseas and that comes from the online connections that I make and engage with regularly. Follow interesting people and join relevant Facebook groups or Facebook communities, and once you’ve done that, start, join and engage in conversations with people. Make connections and maintain them as much as you can. These online connections can be just as valuable, if not more, as the local ones, so don’t forget about them! Plus, you can do it in your PJs in the comfort of your own home, so if you’re an introvert like me, this is the best thing ever!
Search for local events coming up and grab a ticket! (Then make sure you go!)
Find interesting people in your industry or niche to follow and engage in their content
Look for Facebook groups or Slack communities that you can join to meet people!
Share your work
Maybe you’ve done some work at school or university, or for your mums’ friend’s daughter’s dog already so it’s time to share that with the world. Don’t stress right now about having a full-fledged, top-of-the-line portfolio website right now, just use what you’ve got on the platforms you already have and start there. If one project has five images, spread those babies out and make the most out of the projects that you already have while you work on making more.
Keep in mind that your portfolio is as strong as its weakest piece, so don’t share work that you’re not proud of and amped to show. You’ll also attract what you put out there, so if you want to be doing UX design, but all of your portfolio is print editorial, guess what type of work you’ll get inquiries about. Think quality over quantity – it’s better to have a couple of really great projects that you’re super proud of and are the type of work that you’d like to keep doing, than loads of average work that you don’t want to do.
If you don’t have any relevant previous projects that you can share, it’s time to get to work! Start some self-initiated work that is similar to the type of work you’d like to be doing, and get it out there! If you’re struggling with where to start, there are some instagram challenges like #Homwork or #GoodTypeTuesdays (both lettering challenges) that give you prompts for pieces, or take a look at something like Briefbox which provides fake briefs for you to work on as if they were real client projects!
While you’re making this self-initiated work, or as you’re putting your projects together to share, think about documenting your work in progress too! People love to see what you’re up to, and it shows that you’re actively creating and working on your freelancing career. Whether you do that through Instagram or Facebook stories, Snapchat, studio vlogs, or any other mode of documentation, get snapping!
Select any relevant previous work that you have and get sharing!
Search for challenges or briefs in your niche that you can work on
Start documenting your work in progress.
Notice that none of these tips include any cringey sales tactics or spammy behaviour. There are a lot of other techniques to getting your first clients that can be a bit more aggressive, and if that’s your vibe then go for it! I’m all about forming organic relationships and providing a lot of value though, so these are the tips that have worked for me and fit with my values and the way I want to run my business.
Now that the inquiries are hopefully starting to roll in, you can nail the client call, get them on board and deliver some amazing work that will help you get your next client!
I’m going to do another post in the future about how to keep these clients and get more referrals, so keep an eye out for that, but in the meantime, I hope that this helps you get your first clients and if you have any questions about any of these, please leave a comment below or tweet me – I’m more than happy to help!