Finding clients and marketing your freelance business… it’s the biggest struggle for most freelancers.
If you’re just getting started then chances are you have no idea how to find new clients or get your name out there in front of the right people.
While the task of finding clients and marketing your freelance business can seem daunting, it’s not all that difficult. The clients are there, you just have to develop the right plan, figure out what works for you, and stick with it.
In this post I’ll share how to find your first client, how to turn completed work into referrals, I’ll give you some marketing ideas, and more! So if you’re ready to build a steady client base, then you should continue reading!
In this article:
First: define your target market
The first step to finding clients and getting your name out there is to define your target market. Who is it you’re trying to target? Know who your audience is in relation to your freelance goals. Then tailor your branding and promotions to them.
You can define your market by what type of clients you’d like to work with or what type of work you enjoy doing the most.
If you don’t know who you want your target market to be, work as a generalist. Find work in your area of expertise and figure out what you like the most. Then narrow your focus down to that. Again, that can be based on the kind of client you like working with or the type of work you like to do more of.
Second: set attainable goals and deadlines
You may have some pretty big aspirations, but, in order to get anything accomplished, you need to break your goals up into manageable tasks and create deadlines for them.
When will you start marketing your freelance business? Will you have some sort of promotion over the holidays? If so, when does it need to be finished in order for you to prepare its launch? Consider this kind of stuff and write it down in your tasks.
When you’re creating tasks for yourself, try your best to write them down with as much detail as possible. Instead of writing “find more client work,” try something like:
- Email five local (niche) businesses (e.g. print shops, photographers, restaurants, etc.)
- Find ten local business websites that aren’t mobile friendly, then reach out and educate them about my services.
- Search for any design firms that work with the type of clients I’d like, introduce myself, and inquire if they have any occasional run-off I can help with.
Doing this will also help with your productivity, because you won’t feel so daunted with a clearly actionable task as opposed to a vague one. Then, once you accomplish more tasks, you’re more optimistic about the goals ahead that you’ve yet to complete.
Finding your first client
Ideally clients should be coming to you, but, in order to get to that point, you’ll need to have a solid work process, quality work examples, and some case studies published to your website. With this information readily available, a client should know what to expect, and if you optimize your website to convert these prospective clients, it’s only a matter of time before you start getting a steady stream of work.
However, until then, you have to do most of the foot work. Clients aren’t going to know you exist unless you start getting your services and work examples out there in front of them.
The very first place to start is to reach out to your family, friends, past employers, past school instructors, and any other important people in your life, and tell them about what it is you’re doing. Let them be your first referrers! You’ll need their support, and the more people who know about your freelance business, the better chance you’ll have at getting a lead.
I’m starting a freelance career, and I’m looking for businesses that are in need of a new logo or website. If you know of anyone who’s in need of those services, let me know — I’d love to introduce myself!
Now that you have some word of mouth making its way around, you’ll want to make contact with some potential clients that you’d like to work with. This can be a local shop in your area, design firms across the country, or really any business in the world.
Before you make contact with these clients, you first need to understand who they are as a business, and if possible, find the contact name and email of the person that would most likely have the influence to hire you. In a small company this would be the owner, and in a larger company this may be someone else like a marketing director. Try to find out who it is you should contact from the client’s website, or call the business directly to inquire about this information.
Review a potential client’s online presence and see if there’s any value you could bring to the table. Could you build them a more effective website? Are there any opportunities they’re missing out on? How can you make their business better with your services? Use this to your advantage when introducing yourself.
Compile a list of these potential contacts who you’d like to work with, then start cold calling or emailing them one by one.
If you’re contacting a number of clients for potential work, never do a mass email, because it’s easy to tell a boilerplate message from one that’s personally written.
This doesn’t mean you can’t start a message from the same base, but tailor each email specifically for the client you’re reaching out to. Address the contact by their name, and be sure you don’t talk too much about yourself. Share with them your interest in them and how you can help.
Here’s a generalized introductory email you’re free to pick from:
Hi [Client name],
I hope all is well. My name is Ben Matthews and I’m a freelance graphic designer in London.
I specialize in logo design, t-shirt design, and website design. If you’d like, you can read more about me on my about page. [Here’s where you can be specific with your services in relation to how you can help.]
I’m contacting you to determine whether you have any occasional or ongoing need for the services I provide above.
You can view some of my work here:
[Link to your portfolio, dribbble, or list one–two links that are relevant to the type of work you’d be doing for them.]
If you’d like to chat further or have any questions for me, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Thanks for your time!
All the best,
That example would be great for introducing yourself, but, if you’re looking for a hard sale, then you’re going to want to go into some specifics about what it is you can provide them. Find out where their site lacks and/or explain to them how you can make them more money.
Once you finally have your first client lead, now’s your chance to land the job and start making some money! Along the way you can refine your sales process so you will complete projects faster, generate more leads with your completed work, and build an effective portfolio.
Freelance marketing ideas
Getting your name out there can be tricky no matter where you’re at in your freelance career. It’s how you’ll continue to find work, drive traffic to your site, and, as a result, it’s how you make your money.
The first step to marketing your freelance business is to find a way to appeal to your target market and attract them. Devise a marketing plan that will achieve this goal.
The possibilities for marketing your freelance business are endless. It’s an opportunity to let your creativity shine through, and to help get you get started, below is a list of some well-known freelance marketing ideas. Take these ideas and try telling your target market what it is you do and why they should hire you!
Word of mouth
For me personally and for many other freelancers, word of mouth is where it’s at. Nothing is more effective than a family member, friend, or past client personally recommending your name and services.
Let your family and friends know what it is you’re doing and contact influential people in your life to let them know you’re available for freelance work. School instructors or previous employers are also a great place to start. Make sure you tell your friends even if they aren’t influential; you never know where a valuable connection might be made.
Use your network and your network’s network to your advantage. You could also offer free consultations for referrals, or even set up a finders fee (10% of the project’s earning after taxes.)
Many clients are in need of your services more than once, and, chances are, they know other businesses, so market to your current and past clients. Get in touch from time to time and remind your clients that you have some availability for work and that you’d love to help out with anything. If they don’t need your services at that time, ask if they know of someone else who could benefit from your services.
In person: Attend events with like-minded people, or, even better, go to a client industry event. You can make so many connections by floating around the room and introducing yourself. Just be sure you have your elevator pitch and business card ready!
Charity is another great “in” with social circles that makes you feel good in the process. Do some pro-bono work for a charity, sponsor a social event, offer a seminar, speak at an event, or join your local chamber of commerce. Getting involved in your community is a great way to get some positive reputation behind your name in your town.
Online: Aside from social media, helping others on forums and commenting on blog posts is a great way to be visible online. Doing these will draw people back to your site and can be the easiest way to get more traffic. Then, let your website convert these views into something more.
Getting your name out there doesn’t always have to happen by word of mouth; it can also be done through various branded materials or advertisements. For example:
- Car signage
- Local Facebook ads or Google Adsense
- Listing your business and services on directory sites
- Sending holiday cards to clients
- Offering free consultations
- Offering branded office supplies at events
Become an expert
While you’re sending emails and making other connections, use whatever free time you have to contribute something of value to your prospective clients or audience.
- Guest post on an established blog that has your target audience.
- Write a tutorial explaining how to accomplish something that others might find useful.
- Teach a workshop or maybe set up a presentation to give to a high school or college class.
- Judge at competitions or trade shows that are related to your field.
- Share everything you know! Go on forums and answer some questions or reply to blog comments.
- Write an ebook or report and promote it to your target audience.
Sharing your expertise and thoughts is one of the best ways you can drive traffic back to your site. When you’re starting to get some traffic flowing in, that’s when your site should convert the views into paying client and/or product sales. I hope your calls-to-action are in place!
Cold-email potential clients
Networking events are few and far between in my hometown. Besides that, I can be quite an introvert at times. As a result, I’ve found cold-emailing to be a great way for me to reach out to the clients I want to work with. As a result, my entire client base is spread across the world!
Use Google and search for the type of business you’d like to produce work for, find out how you can improve their business and profits, and reach out to them.
You may need to email 10–15 potential clients every week until one follows-through. Again, you’ll have to do a lot of foot work to get off the ground. Then after completing projects, turn those into referrals and marketing materials (portfolio pieces, case studies, Dribbble shots, etc.)
When you’re sending out these emails, start by introducing yourself and your services specific to their needs. Then get right to the point — Explain to them why you’re reaching out. After that, share your links to your work that can directly relate to their needs (e.g. a specific type of website design, mobile website designs you’ve done, or a specific style of illustration.) Finally, ask if they have any questions for you and close the email.
Being listed in Google’s search results and other online directories can generate some leads for you without your having to do anything other than filling out some basic contact information.
Create accounts on the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), guest post on blogs, and create your own content. Being in more than one place and being more visible helps tremendously in getting your name out. You’d be surprised at the amount of traffic and number of followers and leads you’ll get when you have your name on a wide array of sites across the web.
It’s also important that you search optimize your website, so you appear more in search results. Here are some helpful SEO tips to keep in mind:
- Have well-written and unique content on your website, with a focus around a few primary keywords or keyword phrases.
- Build a network of back-links — these are the incoming links from other websites. The more links you can get to your website, the better.
- Use a focused keyword or your business name (your name and title) on every page of your website. This could be in the content itself, or in the page title.
- Create fresh content. It adds relevancy to your website in the eyes of the search engines.
- When creating links in your content, be sure to use keyword phrases. In other words, try not to use, “click here.”
- Search engines like organic, natural content. Do not fill a page with a bunch of keywords. Search engines will see this and will actually penalize you.
Make sure your website is easy to read and use. This will help influence link building and your popularity this improving your ranking.
Like I mentioned above, nothing is more effective than having someone personally recommend your name and services. Referrals are vital for freelancers, and the best part is, they aren’t hard to get!
First off, as long as you provide good customer service and quality work, then clients will talk about you and others will share what you’ve created.
So how do you get referrals? You just ask!
Here’s what I do: with every completed project, I include in my email a link to a feedback form.
At the end of every project I like to get feedback on how the project went for you and how I can improve my services with a simple survey. This is completely optional and can be filled out at your earliest convenience. You can fill out this feedback survey here. I’d really appreciate it!
I use a simple Wufoo form to deliver these type of forms. It makes it easy and convenient for my clients, and the results are sent directly to my inbox.
In this feedback form, I include a section for referrals:
Referrals are very important to me and my business, so I hope you’ll keep me in mind. Do you happen to know of any other small business or person that could use my services?
Again, all you have to do is ask. Either the client does have someone they can refer, or they don’t. However, they’ll always keep your name in mind if something does come along and you did provide a good service.
Stick to it
You can never stop marketing your freelance business. The only time you should stop marketing is when you’re ready to give-up. Nothing will make you an overnight success, so be patient, and stick with it!
As long as you stay consistent and are always getting your name out in front of your target audience in some way, you’re successfully marketing yourself.
How’d I do?
I hope you got something good out of this long-form post, and I hope you actually use this information to land some clients.
If you enjoyed this article, please let me know by sharing it and leaving a comment below.
Anything to add? I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading this far and I wish you all the best!