Freelancing is a rollercoaster of a ride. One minute you’re bursting at the seams with client leads and projects, and the next, it’s nothing but the sound of crickets in your inbox.
Those lulls in business can seem like the impending death of a freelance career — but figuring out how to get clients might feel as painful as death by 1,000 cuts. What’s to say about finding enough of the right clients – those that pay fairly and on time and have realistic and reasonable expectations for your work.
Flip the script because going to work for someone else is not the answer. And there are probably 1,000 great ways to go about building a customer base.
No need to get overwhelmed, though. Let’s get you started with 10 solid methods for how to find new clients and how to get more clients when you’re going freelance.
Use LinkedIn’s Content Search Feature
I know, I know. But hear me out. LinkedIn isn’t all inspirational career posts that end with “Do you agree?” It can be a goldmine for new business opportunities.
There are plenty of great clients looking for freelancers on LinkedIn. So many know that LinkedIn is launching a service in the fall of 2021 à la Fiverr and Upwork to help freelancers find work.
This gives you a clue about how businesses are using LinkedIn today: they’re open to hiring freelance talent more and more.
Just give the content search feature a whirl, searching by keywords. For example, if you type “freelance graphic designer” into the search bar, then select “jobs,” you’ll see all the public posts with those keywords.
You can filter posts by date, company, and job type — that option, in particular, might appeal to you because “contract” (as in short-term) is an option.
Now, try the “posts” filter. Again, you’ll see loads of posts by people who are hiring freelancers. You can even add a filter by industry to see what comes up in your niche.
This method may require playing around with keyword variations and some patience. Still, if you’re interested in cracking the code of how to find clients online, LinkedIn is finally welcoming to unemployable types like you (and me).
Try Guest Blogging
Not only is guest blogging a great way to build your authority, but it’s also a great way to snag new freelance clients.
To get started with guest blogging, make a list of the publications your ideal clients read and pitch those.
Be sure to adhere to each publication’s pitching and submitting guidelines before you start. After all, the quickest way to get your pitch ignored is not to pay attention to the instructions. Type “[publication name] contributor guidelines” into Google, and you should be able to locate them quickly.
Guest blogging can be a challenge, so if you plan on pitching multiple publications, create a tracking sheet that helps keep you organized — and so you don’t accidentally pitch the same idea to a company twice.
Keep in mind that client inquiries won’t likely be rolling in the second your post goes live. You have to make sure it gets in front of the right eyes.
- Include it in your email newsletter if you have one.
- Post it on social media.
- Share the link to any networking groups you’re in. (Community guidelines permitting, of course.)
- Check out this list of blogs and websites that accept guest posts and get to writing!
Be sure to check out our article on guest blogging for more on how to write for popular blogs and score high-value clients.
Connect With Previous Employers or Clients
If you’re wondering where to find clients, sometimes it’s right in front of your face — or at least in your contacts.
Past professional relationships are potent, often untapped resources for new business — particularly if they were a high-quality client, boss, or co-worker you enjoyed working with. They may not become a client of yours, but they may be willing to make connections for you.
Depending on the nature of your relationship, how to approach a request like this will vary.
If you’re contacting someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, send them a note explaining what you do and who for. If this particular person isn’t an ideal client, be sure to tell them what type of client you’re looking for in detail.
This template may give you inspiration on how to start your message:
Hi [Name here],
I hope you’re well! Since working at [place of work] together, I’m a [insert title] who works primarily with [type of client] for [period]. I’m always looking for referrals or new connections, and I was wondering if there was anyone you may be able to connect me with that might need my services? I would greatly appreciate it.
If you’re asking someone you’ve kept in touch with if they have any connections, try wording your message like this:
Hi [Name here],
I have a few openings for new ongoing clients or projects, and I wondered if anyone could connect me with someone that might need a [job title]? If there’s anything I can help you with—whether it be making an introduction or in the form of [job function], please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Asking for a referral is a delicate art, so be respectful of the person’s time and resources. If they are unable to help you, at the very least, they know you’re searching, which can also work in your favor down the line if something pops up.
Tap Current Clients
It might seem counterintuitive to ask someone you’re currently engaged with to help you get more clients, but it can be a smart move with the right person and under the right circumstances.
First off, consider your relationship with the client. Is it brand new and untested, or have you been working with this person for a while?
While it won’t necessarily bode well to ask a new client to refer you, a good long-term client can be an excellent resource. If you have developed a close working relationship over time where you’ve proved your value and built trust, it will be an easier, more natural request.
Because you’re likely in touch with this client regularly, look for opportunities to mention that you have some bandwidth available to take on new clients. Be sure to time your request well — you don’t want to say you’re looking for more work when you’re on an important deadline for your client.
Instead, wait until you’re about to wrap up the current project to mention your availability. You might be pleasantly surprised with both a referral for new business and more work from your existing client, who didn’t realize you had space in your schedule.
Reach Out to Friends and Family
There’s an adage about not mixing business with family and friends, but it’s been my experience that my freelance business is often best promoted by those who know and love me. Plus, it answers that eternal question of how to get clients for a new business.
The key is to articulate what you do clearly, the value you provide, and who you do it for or would like to do it for. After all, you’ll want to be introduced in a professional capacity, not how your nearest and dearest might describe you.
Don’t have an elevator pitch?
Here are four quick questions to answer:
- What do you do or offer?
- What problem do you solve?
- Who do you do it for?
- What makes you unique?
From there, you can craft a sentence or two for your loved ones to pass along to their networks.
So, for example, if you’re a content creator who primarily writes copy for websites, and small businesses are your sweet spot, your elevator pitch might look something like this:
I’m a content creator who writes copy that helps small businesses express themselves authentically, stand out from the crowd, and thrive in our digital-first world.
By making it clear what you do, your people will be able to sing your praises when someone they know needs someone who does what you do.
Show Up on Social Media
Here’s a fun social media fact from Hootsuite:
“The world’s social media users will spend a total of 3.7 trillion hours on social media in 2021 – equivalent to more than 420 million years of combined human existence.”
Depending on when you read this article, you can imagine it only goes up from there.
With so many eyeballs on social media, it follows that it’s not just for posting what you had for breakfast or the latest adorable thing your pet has done. It’s a powerful tool for making authentic connections through shared interests, values, and pursuits.
The keyword there is authentic. Follow people and businesses that you have an interest in and admiration for their work. Comment on their posts and consistently show up to support what they’re doing. That way, you build rapport and get on their radar. When an opportunity arises, you’re there to step up and offer your assistance.
Keep in mind that leveraging social media for building a customer base is a long-ball strategy. Whether you’re posting information, conversing in a Facebook or LinkedIn group, participating in a Clubhouse conversation, or engaging in a Twitter chat, you’re building a reputation. So, be helpful and consistent.
Finally, remember each new connection deserves your attention — and gratitude. Respond to every comment on your posts. Send a custom “thank you” message to a new follower. How to find clients online stops being a mystery when you show up politely, authentically, and most of all, ready to be of service.
Join a Freelance Marketplace
Gig platforms like Fiverr and Upwork get a bum rap. They have the reputation of being all about low-paying, churn-and-burn jobs.
But that’s an outdated notion. The truth is there are millions of individuals and brands worldwide who turn to reputable marketplaces to find new talent. Moreover, they’re willing to pay a fair price for valuable work.
The trick is to market your services properly, so you stand out from the crowd. A few pro tips include:
- Write a crisp, engaging description of your services — and get it proofread!
- Create a good-looking image for your gig that follows the platform’s guidelines.
- Use keyword tags.
- Include a short video of you describing your services.
- Cultivate great reviews by communicating promptly, delivering what’s promised, and never missing a deadline.
From newbies who aren’t sure how to get clients for a new business to seasoned pros, gig platforms can provide an excellent opportunity to beef up your workload, either temporarily or as a full-time business-generating machine.
Here’s more on the best freelancer sites to jumpstart your career.
Go to a Conference (or Two)
You might think that you can’t afford to go to a business conference, but I’d say that you can’t afford not to.
While investing in yourself might feel like a stretch, it’s worthwhile on a lot of levels. An industry conference is a fantastic way to learn, network, and get a creative boost from your peers. It gives you multiple opportunities to connect with people who would be interested in your freelance services — whether it’s an in-person conference or online.
But that’s not the only kind of conference you can consider: there are many that are geared for freelancers.
That lull in your business?
Take the opportunity to learn new skills and get support around building your workload. And while you’re at it, talk to your fellow freelancers. You might just find your quest of finding clients is simpler when you team up with someone in a complementary field (i.e., a web developer if you’re a photographer).
Knock on Doors (Real and Virtual)
The phrase “cold calling” may strike fear in your heart, and I get it. The word “cold” says it all: done wrong, it’s an uninspired, impersonal quest that likely ends up with a door slammed in your face.
Switch that around and remember, you have a valuable service to provide. More people deserve to know about you.
So, do your homework. Learn about the people and businesses you’re targeting. Craft a custom pitch that shows you understand their pain points and challenges. Let them know how you might be of service.
Then, figure out how best to deliver your message. You might show up in person, or you can connect via email or a DM.
The best gig I ever got came from writing a heartfelt email to a business leader I greatly admired.
I worked up my confidence and mentioned I’d taken his online course and knew his style well. So, if he ever needed a content contributor, I’d be thrilled to help.
This led to an ongoing two-year gig that has significantly expanded my business and skill set in ways I could have never imagined.
See? Cold calling works. Just be sure to figure out what’s in it for the client — not what’s in it for you.
Get Creative With Your Client Search
With freelancing, you never know where you’ll find your next client or project. As you know by now, this type of career doesn’t play by the customary job search rules.
There are tons of ways to find quality clients, and finding non-traditional ways to do so may pay off more than you think. Stop stressing about how to get clients and start having some fun with your outreach. And always keep in mind that you’re providing a valuable service to others by letting them know how you can help their business grow.
Want more advice and tips on how to run your business better? Tune in to the latest episode of the Unemployable podcast and subscribe to the Unemployable newsletter.