A Beginner's Guide To Finding Freelance Work

Where can I find clients for my freelance business?

This is a question all freelancers face from time to time. But it's a question that's most difficult to answer when you're just starting out. As a new freelancer, you have no track record of finding clients.

That's why when you first launch your freelance business, it can seem like successful freelancers know a secret you don't. They've worked out how to get clients, and you have no idea where to start.

In this article, I'll show you a range of approaches you can take to find your first freelance client. I recommend giving all of them a try, even if that means stepping outside your comfort zone. The wider you cast your net, the more likely you are to make a catch.

What You Need Before You Can Find Freelance Clients

There are a couple of things you need to set up before you start reaching out to potential to clients:

  • An idea of the services you offer. For example, are you a web designer, an architect, a copywriter, or a marketing consultant? If you're unsure of what you should offer, we'll look at how to choose your niche in a future article.
  • Samples of your work. In industry speak, this is called a portfolio. You need a portfolio to show clients what you're capable of. You may have a portfolio of work from your time as a student or from work you've done on a voluntary basis. Otherwise, you'll need to create a portfolio of mock projects.
  • Endorsements of your work. You can collect these testimonials from a teacher or from an organization you've worked with on a voluntary basis. Testimonials aren't as vital as a portfolio, but they're a big help when you're looking for your first client.
  • A platform. Here, you'll display your services, portfolio, and endorsements. Many freelancers have their own website for this. Alternatively, you can register with online directories that allow freelancers to promote their services.

How to Find Freelance Clients

Now that you're set up with a platform displaying your services, portfolio, and testimonials, you're ready to start looking for clients. Let's take a look at how to find your first freelance client.

1. Tap Your Network

Ask established freelancers how they get clients, and they'll probably tell you that referrals are the key. But you're just starting out. You haven't yet worked with any clients. Referrals can't be any help to you, can they?

Actually, you can get referrals having never worked for anyone.

The people you already know - your friends and family and your business contacts - are your biggest asset in your search for your first freelance client.

When I re-launched my freelance writing business back in 2011, I got my first two big contracts by reaching out to family, friends, and acquaintances via email.

I recommend writing to your friends and family, letting them know about your new business venture. You don't have to push the fact that you're searching for clients. In fact, it's best not to try to sell anything. Instead, ask for feedback on your website (or platform), and politely mention that you'd like to be put in touch with anyone who might need your services.

I can't promise that you'll find a client this way, but there's a good chance that you will.

2. Browse Job Boards

What if you draw a blank from your network?
At that point it's time to go online to start looking for jobs.

Head to Google and search for "freelance jobs [your job title]". For example, "freelance jobs web designer" or "freelance jobs copywriter." In most instances, this will bring up job boards with work opportunities in your profession.

Job boards are helpful when you're just starting out, because there's a low barrier to entry. However, the lack of gatekeepers means the jobs are typically under-paid. Use job boards to find work, collect testimonials, and put together samples for your portfolio. But be aware that if you want to fulfill your earning potential, you'll have to climb the food chain.

Tip: Don't only look at freelance jobs. You can (and should) also check out full-time positions that would make the most of your skills. When you find work that matches your skillset, you can drop them a line to ask if they've considered working with a freelancer.

Some job boards you might check out

oDesk Job Board

3. Work Your Phone

Cold calling isn't easy, and even the thought of making a cold call leaves many freelancers with knots of fear in their stomachs.

But when you're starting with nothing, it can be an effective strategy for picking lucrative contracts. Just ask Sarah Maurer or Peter Bowerman, both of whom built full-time freelance careers in one of the most competitive freelance fields - writing. All off the back of cold calling.

4. Get Social

As you've probably worked out by now, finding clients is essentially about talking to people. The more people you talk to, the more potential clients you'll connect with.

Social networks - such as LinkedIn and Twitter - make it easier than ever to reach out and make new contacts. Here are two quick wins when you're looking for clients on social media:

  • Use Twitter's Advanced Search Tool to find people looking for freelancers with your skills. You can even narrow down your search to find potential clients near where you live and work.
  • To meet new folks on LinkedIn, join LinkedIn groups. Open networking groups are the fastest way to grow your network of connections. Take time to message each new connection you make. It's only by talking to them that you'll find out if they need your services.

Over to You

If you're reading this as an established freelancer, and you're willing to share, please tell us: how did you find your first clients? Let's fill the comments with encouraging stories for freelancers who are just starting out.

Alternatively, if you're a new freelancer still looking for clients, what are some of the biggest challenges you've faced?

Written by David Masters

David Masters helps businesses find their sweet spot of creativity, productivity and making money. He's been earning his bread as an online business writer since 2008.

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