Ask a room full of seasoned and successful freelancers where they get most of their clients and they’ll have the same answer: referrals.
Referrals are awesome for sooooo many reasons and you’ll be riding the referral train at some point in your career, but what about when you’re first starting out? Where do you find clients?
Let people know you’re available. 🗓️
Do people know you’re available for hire? Are you telling your friends and family? Are you sharing that fact on social media? Do you have a website shouting your services?
People can’t hire you if they don’t know you’re available.
Let people know what you’re available for. 🎨
I’ve known a lot of freelancers that have told me they’re available (and actively looking) for work, but guess what they didn’t tell me? They didn’t tell me what sort of work they were available to do.
Let’s say you “make websites.” Great. But what does that mean I can hire you to do? Graphic design, basic template tweaks, CSS, custom database calls? The whole shebang? Do you want to find other web developers to sub-contract for or do you want to deal with “end clients”?
Communicate clearly what type of service(s) you offer and who your target audience is.
Make it easy for people to hire you. 🚦
How do I hire you to do some work for me? Do I fill out a form on your website? Do I call you and leave a voicemail? Fire a flare into the night sky?
You’ve let people know you’re available for hire and you’ve helped them understand clearly what it is you do, but are you telling your potential customer what the next step is to work with you?
If it’s hard to get in touch with you (i.e. can’t find a phone number or any contact info on your website), people won’t hire you. If it’s unclear what to expect when working with you, people will be leery.
Communicate clearly how someone can work with you. (i.e. “CLICK HERE for a free estimate.” Or “Schedule a time on my calendar to talk”).
Shake the bushes. 🌴
There’s no escaping it. Part of finding those initial clients means getting out from behind your monitor and meeting people. Making contact — I know that’s easier said than done during a global pandemic…
You don’t have to be great at sales, or even a type-A personality. You just have to be willing to network and let people know that you’re available to help with their projects. But where should you look?
The funny thing about new clients is that you never know where the next one is coming from. When you’re first starting, it takes a while to sort out some of the marketing details like selecting your ideal client type, but you still need to be proactive. While you’re trying to figure out who your target market is, be in as many places as possible.
Industry conferences (virtual or IRL) are a great place to start. You’ll have a chance to meet other people in your space in a casual, social setting. You’re pretty much guaranteed to meet fellow colleagues and peers. It may sound like this is just mingling with your competition (and to some degree that’s true), but you’ll pick up a lot of information. You just might even connect with someone who is looking for help.
If attending a conference in the immediate future is not an option, you can still get involved online. There are opportunities to help around every corner, and you never know when contributing to a support forum or Quora question might lead to your next gig. Even if you’re not participating in a specific project, you can still jump in on some of the online conversations on forums or social media.
Don’t forget about your local community and the different opportunities you can find right in your own backyard. “But where?” you ask.
Joining your local Chamber of Commerce is a great way to meet local business leaders. Toastmasters is another solid option that will not only help you make connections but improve your public speaking skills to boot — that’s something you can put to good use at the next conference, right? You can also go to meetup.com and look to see if there are groups where you’d be likely to meet potential customers or colleagues.
I interviewed Brett Cohen of Emagine Digital Agency about how he landed his first few clients and here’s what he had to say.
You can do this! 💪
Based on my experience, here’s what I can tell you about landing your first few clients:
It’s stressful and can shake your confidence. Be prepared to hear “no thanks” a fair amount. There will be times when you might find yourself questioning the whole idea of becoming a freelancer and the thought of a steady paycheck sounds like a dream come true.
You’re not alone in having those thoughts. It comes with the territory of working for yourself. But(!) if you stay the course, work hard, self-promote, and talk to as many people as possible, sooner than later you’ll start landing clients. Your confidence will grow, and that will result in landing even more clients. A beautiful cycle!
Before you know it, you’ll be turning away business, raising your rates, and helping new freelancers get started yourself.
In tomorrow’s lesson, we’ll discuss the importance of communication.