How to get freelance clients (seven ideas that work in 2022)

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March 19, 2021
5 minute read

You have the talent and skill to make your living as a freelancer. You’ve set up your home office, figured out your rates, and printed some killer business cards. But, it turns out the hardest part of being self-employed is actually finding freelance clients. Good news: There are many approachable and practical ways to get your name out there and bring in the work.

Start with who you know

Sitting around waiting for clients is one of the major mistakes that freelancers make. The best way to start looking for clients is to take stock of the people you already know. You probably don’t realize it, but you already have a group of potential clients. Family, friends, old classmates, former business acquaintances, these are all people who could need your freelance services or can introduce you to others that do.

Family and friends

Get the word out! Tell your family and friends you are embarking on a freelance career. Ask them if they need any writing, designing, web development, or whatever your speciality is. And ask them to tell their friends and business connections you are available.

Unless you tell them you are on the lookout for freelance work, how could you have known that the production plant your cousin manages hires freelance packaging designers, or that your neighbor’s investment advisor needs help developing their new website? Best of all, your friends and family can vouch for your dedication and trustworthiness. Before you know it, the number of people who know you are freelancing has grown exponentially.

Former colleagues and bosses

Let former co-workers know you are looking for freelance work and ask them to pass on your name. And don’t forget to reach out to your old boss—especially if you had a good relationship with them. Ask if they know of any opportunities, or if they have advice for finding clients in your field. They might even hire you on the spot for a project once they know you are freelancing. After all–you are familiar with their business, which cuts down on briefing time, and they already know how great you are.

This is also a good reminder to never burn your bridges. A recommendation from a former boss can get your name in front of decision-makers and lead to high-quality freelance work.

Don’t forget about the other people in your life

Your hairdresser runs their own business, so why not ask if they need someone to design their appointment cards? When your plumber is installing your backwater valve, mention what you do for a living. He just might need help editing the blogs on his website. You never know where you freelance clients can pop up.

You are hiring these people for their expertise, so tell them about yours. Just think about all the people you come in contact with, like dentists, accountants, and car mechanics. You’ll never know if they need your services unless you ask. And even if they don’t need to get freelance work done right now, they may know someone who does.

Ask for recommendations

Once you have done work for anyone, ask them to recommend you to their contacts. Word-of-mouth recommendations are gold! Potential freelance clients value first-hand accounts from people they know and trust.

Have a portfolio ready to go

Take the time now to create a stunning portfolio of your work so it will be ready the moment you hear about a good lead or want to apply for a freelance job. Make sure it can be accessed easily by clients either through an online link to your website or by emailing a PDF. You could also have a supply of pre-printed packages ready to send out by courier or mail.

Constantly update your portfolio with your best work, and make sure it can be easily tailored to meet the needs of each client.

What to include in your portfolio

Be clear about what you do: Instead of using a general term like "Freelance Writer", be more specific if you can by using titles like "Speechwriter" or "Marketing Copywriter." Make it easy to revise your portfolio to match the requirements of the specific freelancing job.

Include your best work: This is your chance to shine! Showcase samples that are relevant to the project you are applying for, but also highlight your best work. Briefly describe how you obtained the successful results. If you are just starting out and don’t have a lot of work to show, create some great work on your own to show off what you can do and get freelance clients.

Add testimonials from satisfied freelance clients: Ask your clients for a one-or-two sentence review of your work. Gently guide them to supply what you want to highlight, i.e. ask them to comment on your ability to meet deadlines and stay within budget.

Attach your latest resume: Some businesses need a resume on file when they hire freelancers, but whether they do or not, an up-to-date resume gives clients a quick snapshot of your qualifications and background. Plus, any full-time positions you have had in the past boost your experience and expertise in the eyes of prospective clients.

Keep a collection of case studies: Sometimes a client wants to know more than just what you did—they want to know how you did it. Get into the habit of writing up a quick case study after you finish a job. That way you’ll always have the perfect example to drop into your portfolio. Make if brief, but include the challenge, the services you provided, the process you went through, and the successful results.

Keep your contact information up to date: The whole idea is to get prospective clients to contact you for work, so make it as easy as possible for them to find you!

Use your social media

When clients are looking for freelancers, social media is one of the first tools they often reach for. It just makes sense. It’s fast, easy, and free, and they can access it from anywhere. That’s why it’s important to make the best of the social media platforms you use.

LinkedIn: Build business connections

Since LinkedIn was specifically created for business and employment connections, take the time to create an impressive profile and keep it up to date. Not only do recruiters and Human Resources professionals use LinkedIn to search for both full-time and freelance talent, LinkedIn profiles usually show up near the top when your name is searched. So if a client is checking you out for a freelance gig, it can help you make that stellar first impression.

LinkedIn also offers you the choice to post articles and comments, so you can keep your name top-of-mind. You can also use it to search out any connections you might have at companies or organizations you’d like to freelance for. A valuable contact can give you insider information on how to get work, or even help you get your portfolio in front of the right person.

Facebook: Let friends know you are freelancing

It seems pretty basic, but just letting your Facebook friends know you are freelancing widens your circle of contacts and can lead to new clients and great projects. You can also post interesting work you have done, or provide links to compelling articles to show how plugged in you are.

There also might be a Facebook group you can join where people in your industry share tips and best practices, or your neighborhood might have a community group where you can promote your skills to local businesses. In addition, the choice to join a Facebook alumni group can help you find out where your classmates have landed, and see if you can help each other out with job prospects.

But beware! If you are looking for freelance work make sure your Facebook page doesn’t contain any embarrassing or objectionable material. Many clients scan social media before hiring freelancers. Don’t let a careless remark or risqué photo prevent you from getting a great job.

Instagram: Where a picture can be worth a thousand words

If you work in a visual field—such as graphic design, photography, or as a web designer—Instagram is a fantastic way to showcase your work. You can also use Instagram to post other interesting projects that show off your creativity and originality, which you don’t always get to use to the fullest in your work assignments. And don’t forget to use hashtags so lots of people will find your posts.

Twitter: Follow the right people

Twitter is another good way to build connections. Follow people and companies you’d like to work for to gain valuable knowledge about their business. This will come in handy when applying for freelance work. And by commenting on the topics they tweet about, you could end up on their radar and have the chance to tell them what you can do for them. You can also follow other freelancers in your industry to build relationships that could lead to referrals.

Get out there and network

Networking is all about building relationships that can lead to work. But when it's time to get freelance clients, where do you start?

Social gatherings

As a freelancer, you should always have your freelance hat at the ready wherever you are. You never know when you might bump into a potential client. It’s a delicate art however, to bring up the fact that you are a freelancer without coming off as too pushy. But if you are at a party and the conversation turns to work, it would be natural to mention you are a freelancer and are always on the lookout for new clients.

Sometimes just mentioning what you do will put the idea in someone’s head and they will think of you the next time they need your services. Above all, make sure the situation is appropriate. A funeral is not the place to be handing out business cards.

Special networking events

It’s always okay to talk about what you do for a living at special networking events. Find out if there’s an organization in your industry that hosts in-person events where clients and freelancers get together. Face-to-face meetings are always more memorable than meeting a client online.

It’s also a good idea to check out your local business association. There might be members who need a freelancer to create marketing materials for their business or develop a website for them. Find out if there are any events you can attend, or even consider joining. Being self-employed can be a bit lonely, so joining a business association or industry group could be good for your social life!

Join a co-working space

Because renting an office can be so expensive, some small business owners and freelancers find a group of people to share office space with. Besides saving money on rent, and sharing equipment like printers, you have a built-in networking situation. You can refer clients to each other and help each other expand your network of contacts.

Connect with other freelancers in your field

You don’t have to think of other freelancers as the competition. Offer to take on the extra work of a busy freelancer colleague. And when you are overloaded and can’t take on more work yourself, you can still stay valuable to your client by saving the day and recommending another great freelancer. It’s also a good idea to form alliances with freelancers in a related field. Forming a connection with a web developer who can recommend you when a client needs someone to design web pages could bring in some great gigs, and vice versa.

You could even link up with other freelancers to offer a more comprehensive solution to a client, such as a writer-designer team that can tackle both the content and look of an annual report.

Networking with other freelancers is also a great way to learn the tricks of the trade. Most people are quite willing to share best practices and offer solutions based on their experience. Stay in touch with classmates and former co-workers who are in the same industry as you. Ask for advice and learn as much as you can from others. Knowledge is power!

Set yourself up as an expert

You want to get noticed. You also want people to know about your outstanding freelancing skills and expertise, especially if you work in a niche area. So try to set yourself up as an expert in your field.

Speak at events: Speaking at business conferences is a great way to show off your expertise, as well as win an opportunity to network with a new group of potential clients. You have special skills that a business audience would be interested in, whether it is building an e-commerce website, or editing technical information.

Be a mentor: If you have been working in your field for some time, volunteer to mentor up-and-coming graphic designers, editors, or whatever your field of expertise. Colleges and community centers often have mentorship programs. If you really enjoy teaching others, you could even consider becoming an instructor. It will help enhance your reputation, as well as make you feel good about sharing your knowledge.

Start a blog: You have first-hand knowledge of the trends, hot topics, and interesting developments in your field of work, so why not share your insight with others? If you can write an informative and entertaining blog, you can set yourself apart as a leader in your field. Make sure you write about topics you think potential clients would find useful, and explain how you can help them as a freelancer.

Dive in further: Is there a trade magazine or other industry publication or website that you could contribute to? If you are not a writer, hire a freelance editor to help you out. There are also services like MailChimp that can help you create a regular e-newsletter to send out to existing and potential clients.

But don’t stop there. You could develop an online course in your area of expertise, self-publish an informative book or e-book, or start a podcast. It’s always good to have a project on the go to work on in your downtime.

Take a freelance website out for a spin

They do cost money, but freelance websites shouldn’t be ignored for finding work. In fact, some companies use only these platforms for finding the freelance talent they need.

But before you take the plunge and sign up, make sure you completely understand the fee structure, as this can vary from website to website. Also, find out if there is an exclusivity policy, which means you can only work for their clients through their platform, even if the client wants to work with you after you leave the website.

If you are a graphic designer or writer, there are specific websites that deal with freelance jobs in your industry, but all the large freelance websites offer projects in many areas. Here are four popular websites to check out:

Upwork

This freelance website is probably the most well-known. It says it posts 8,000 new jobs every day and is the largest network of freelancers in the world. It also prides itself on finding a good fit for freelancers and employers thanks to its sophisticated algorithms.

It’s free to join Upwork, but you’ll pay a sliding service fee of 20% to 5% of your billings, depending on the amount of work you do for the client. It’s important to note that those charges are in effect for as long as you work on freelance jobs with that client.

SolidGigs

This is different from other freelance websites. Instead of listing your services for clients to see, it reviews websites, freelance job boards, and work ads to find the best freelance positions, and then sends you daily updates and weekly emails listing the opportunities specifically suited to your freelancing skills.

It not only takes the time-consuming toil of searching through job listings off your hands, it also has a pretty low fee of only $19 a month. If you find at least $500 a month in work from SolidGigs, that’s less than 4% of your earnings. You can also try your first month for $2.

FlexJobs

As its name suggests, this website caters to other kinds of “flexible” jobs besides freelance assignments, such as remote full-time and part-time positions and jobs with flexible schedules. Its claim to fame is the fact that it thoroughly researches each job posting to ensure good clients and accurate job requirements.

Besides partnering with a variety of companies, FlexJobs has a team of researchers that digs through employer sites, industry blogs, and freelance job boards to find good freelance work. You’ll have to pay a membership fee of $14.95 a month, but there are discounted fees if you sign up for three months or a year, as well as a trial week for $6.95.

Freelancer

Freelancer has high-profile clients and more than 1,800 freelance categories, but it also has a complicated fee system. Even though it’s free to sign up and create a profile, you can only bid on six projects per month. If you want to bid on more you have to pay a fee, or sign up for a monthly membership, which can range from $1.10 to $89.95.

There’s also a 10% introduction fee for projects, a 10% contest fee if you win a bid, and a 20% fee if you are hired for additional work by the same client. There is a Preferred Freelancer Program however, which gives you access to more high-paying projects with a fee of only 15%.

There’s an app for that

It turns out there are even some apps that can help you find freelance work. There is one called Shapr that works like a dating app. Instead of finding true love, it connects you with people who can help you in your freelance career. Based on information from your profile, they use a machine-learning algorithm to suggest 15 people to meet each day. These range from potential clients, to fellow freelancers offering tips, to others that can inspire you as you build your business. You just swipe through the people and they let you know when there is a match.

Keep learning and improving your pitch

One of the best ways to get freelance clients is to keep getting better at what you do. Seek out feedback from clients, colleagues, and experts. Take courses. Read about your field, as well as how to market your skills. Learn all you can, and then learn some more.

Do your research

If there is a company you respect and would love to freelance for, find out who to contact for the type of work you do, and reach out. Cold calling is always hard, but you never know what you can achieve unless you try. Send out an email explaining why you want to work with them, and what you can do for them. Let them know you understand their business and have some great ideas for making it even better. They will see you’ve done your homework and have really thought hard about how your specific expertise can help them.

How to refine your email pitch

  • Keep it short.
  • Tell them who you are and what you do, and how you can help with solutions for their business.
  • Include a link to your portfolio, which of course you have tailored specifically for the client.
  • Add in a testimonial from a similar type of client, if you have one.
  • Prompt a follow-up meeting by ending with a friendly statement like, “Let’s schedule a call in the next few weeks to discuss how I can help your company meet its goals.”
  • If you don’t hear back in a few weeks, send a quick email to check in to see if they received your email and would be available for a call.
  • Don’t give up, but don’t be a stalker either. Think of valid excuses for emailing them, like, “I just wanted to let you know I will be on vacation from Monday to Friday next week, but I’m available any time the week after if you’d like to learn more about my freelance services and what I can do for you."

Getting freelance clients is really about forming relationships

You don’t need to be a marketing expert, or spend tons of money on ads and promotional material to get freelance clients. The best way to bring in your freelancing income is by reaching as many people as you can, and then forming relationships with the people who could be interested in working with you.

Whether you reach out to family and friends, go to in-person networking events, join a freelance website, or try your hand at cold-calling, think about how you can best demonstrate your skills and expertise, and show potential clients how you can solve problems and help them reach their goals.

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