Ask A Freelancer #5: Finding New Clients

From time to time I get emails asking for advice about freelance matters. I hope that by publishing these inquiries and my response I can do a better service to my blog readers than just responding one email at a time. Plus, those of you who may have input on the matter that I didn’t think of can chime in with a comment! If there’s a question you have or a subject you’d like to get an opinion on, please contact me!

This week we’ve got a short question, but I don’t know if the answer can be so cut and dry…

Question

Hi Liz!

I’d love to get any advice you have about getting started as a freelancer how you find those first few clients . . .

– Desperately Seeking Clients

Answer

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A while back, I wrote an article called, Ditching your 9to5 to be Freelance & Fancy Free which goes over some tips for getting things off the ground.. and finding new clients is mentioned, but I’ll try to explore this subject a little further as it something you will always be working on, no matter how long you’re in business. Of course as time goes on and you build your brand and name recognition, It get a lot easier, but you never want to stop marketing yourself!

Spread the word

Of course you’ve told your other design friends that your making the freelance switch, but don’t stop there! Tell your neighbor, your mailman, your barista – tell everyone you talk to that you are starting your own business, give them a business card – give them your elevator speech – make sure they understand what services you offer, cause even if they do not need to hire you – chances are that if you are likable and memorable, they will pass your information along next time they’re at a business lunch and someone says “I need to find a graphic designer!”

Invest in your Online Presence

I have a good portion of new clients who have found me via an internet search. Google has become today’s phone book! When looking for a service it is increasingly rare for someone to turn to the yellow pages, they’re more likely to type in a search query and see what results they get for their area.

Now, I know you can make the argument that I am biased on this subject (being in the business of web design,) but I sincerely believe that investing in your business online presence is one of your most valuable marketing tools in today’s world!

Now, this doesn’t mean that a hefty web design budget is going to equate to new customers banging down your door! Things like your companies website, blog, Facebook or Twitter account are simply tools, the real marketing comes with how those tools allow you to reach out to your audience and help them find you! This could mean you writing a blog about your freelance experience to connect yourself with your community and establish your name in the industry or it may be creating a simple one-page site to let a terrified homeowners with a busted water pipe know that you have a 24 hour phone line and are there to help them day and night with their plumbing needs.

Deliver the Goods

Word of mouth marketing has been my #1 route to new clients. Getting a referral to a business from someone you know and trust holds a lot more weight than any well designed ad or smartly marketed campaign. However, this type of marketing isn’t something you can buy, you have to earn it. Each of your clients has the potential to become an advocate for your business. If they get a valuable service from you and feel good about the experience of working with you, they are going to tell this story to others, and a good story is something people will remember!

Come to Them

When you’re starting out you sometimes have to go find the work, instead of it coming to you.

Job boards: You can find work via job boards like FreelanceSwitch Job Board, FreshWebJobs, Krop, AuthenticJobs. There is a ton of great job boards out there that cater to all different types of freelance work. Here prospective clients will post the details of the project they need completed and some may even give budget details while others may ask for you to contact them with your rates. Of course, these boards can be very competitive since so many people are after the same job.

Agencies: If you live in a metropolitan area, there is very likely to be a creative placement agency in your neighborhood. These agencies work as the middle men for large companies looking to work with freelancers (similar to a temp agency.) With an agency you can find jobs that may be long term contract work, or a short and fast project.

A perk of agency work is that they handle much of the business end, billing, client relations, etc. You show up and do the work needed, so it’s a lot more like having a regular job. It can be valuable since you’re able to get experience in a variety of different industries and types of businesses.

What’s your advice?

These are some of the things that have been valuable to me; but what about you? Do you do any cold-calling? Do you find work off Job boards?

Am I missing something? Do you have experience with a similar situation and would like to share how you handled things? Leave a comment and tell us about it!


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3 Comments

  1. Word of mouth is almost 100% of my business, so that is going to be huge!
    Also, get known for being good at something specific. Are you a web designer? logos/identity? find something you are really good at, and focus on it. There are TONS of generalists out there, my personal opinion is that it is far more profitable to find a niche ;)

    • Talk to family and friends- let them all know you are available for work.
    • You MUST have a website, and make sure you sign ALL of your emails with your url and signature.
    • Do some favor projects for friends (or work for pro-bono clients) that allow you some creative freedom and will build your portfolio.
    • Blog, comment on blogs and be active online
    • Write tutorials, or give away content for free online

    hope that helps!

  2. I would say word of mouth and my blog have been the two sources of my freelance work. Other than that It never hurts to ask your current clients if they know anyone else that needs your services as well.

    I also know that local design agencys sometimes refer smaller jobs to freelancers as well – so having contact with them helps as well.

  3. I have a lot of friends online (msn messenger) who I converse with and I sometimes get referred work. I knew this guy at my past job and he was working on a travel agency. This man would pass out his business card to EVERYONE, denied or not he was handing out his cards.

    Right now I feel rather shy about walking up to strangers and handing out business cards…but it would be simple giving them out to personal friends first and foremost. Anyone that can offer advice to shed that ray of shyness would be of great help to me. ;)

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