Right now, perhaps more than ever, people are considering whether it’s time to start that freelance business they’ve always dreamed of.
If you’re one of those people, welcome – and I salute you! It’s daunting to be your own boss. Running your own freelance business is exciting and scary, fulfilling and exhausting, and pretty much amazing. At least, that has been my experience.
I ramped up my freelance business to full-time within six months, and I was billing over six figures in less than a year. When I look back, I can contribute my success to a variety of factors—from a tolerance for caffeine and sleepless nights to stick-to-itiveness and good karma.
But one particular thing, more than others, allowed me to launch my business and to keep growing it today. That one thing is this: knowing how to find good clients.
5 Ways to Find Good Freelance Clients
The path to success looks different for every freelancer or solopreneur. Below I’m going to share with you what worked for me. In case you’re wondering, I’m a freelance writer and SEO consultant. Here I am:
1. Tap your existing network
There’s a reason every freelance article you read brings up networking: it works. My professional network was a HUGE client referral source for me when I started my business, and continues to generate new clients for me today.
Fortunately, because I had spent my corporate career in marketing, I had built up a decent reputation within my existing network for being good at SEO, as well as reliable, professional, and fun to work with. People trusted that I knew what I was doing, and they enjoyed working with me. Those are two very helpful attributes to have when you start asking for referrals from your network.
Which is exactly what I did.
I reached out to people I had worked closely with in the past, who knew what I could do, and had large networks of their own — hopefully consisting of people they could refer me to. Three of these individuals became paying clients right off the bat, and one turned into an ongoing referral source.
Networking isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. It’s a two-way street. I continue networking today, usually by sending referrals to other people’s businesses, or sometimes a thank you gift.
Positive word of mouth has been hugely helpful for the SEO side of my business. For the writing gigs, I had to become a bit more creative. I’ll talk about that in the following steps.
2. Build your portfolio
As I mentioned, I had effectively made a name for myself as an online marketer and content strategist. The same couldn’t be said for my writing.
Sure, I had penned a few blog posts for my companies over the years, as part of my role as a content manager. But I certainly didn’t have enough to constitute a portfolio.
As you might expect, potential clients looking for a freelance writer really want to see a portfolio. In most cases, it’s more important than having a resume.
So, I got to work creating my portfolio. I pulled together some blog posts and landing pages I had written for the companies I worked at to show my B2B experience. I created a blog, MakeMineMickey.com, about my favorite place in the world (Disneyland) and added those articles to show another, more playful side to my writing.
I became a contributor to Search Engine Journal. There, I write about SEO and online marketing (seeding referrals for that side of my business):
I also wrote a few guest posts completely for free, just so I could have a few more articles that were longer-form and covered different industries.
I linked to all of these articles from my website, and selected examples to share whenever I reached out to potential clients.
Then, once I had paying clients, I added their articles to my portfolio. Today, I’m constantly updating my portfolio with the writing I’ve done for clients.
3. Apply on job boards
Many companies search for freelancers in the same places they hire full-time employees, like Indeed and ZipRecruiter. There are also specialized job boards designed to help connect freelancers with paying work.
Keep in mind that you will be competing against a crowd and odds are that you will lose more bids than you win.
Once you accept this reality, it is up to you to determine what makes sense for your time and effort. For me, it’s been worthwhile to spend a few minutes each day browsing these, because for every 15 applications I send, I get one “yes” who pays well and becomes a steady client.
In addition, many companies use job boards to source inexpensive labor. Fortunately, these companies are easy enough to avoid — once you learn their lingo. To help you out, I’ll share a few examples right now. From my experience, the below are almost always a tell-tale sign of an undesirable client:
- Promises designed to appeal to your ego vs. your wallet (“make a name for yourself and get free promotion”)
- Phrases like “perfect for a college student”
- Several paragraphs dedicated to discussing how amazing, growth-oriented, and/or groundbreaking their startup is
4. Join freelance networking groups
I relied a lot on my existing network to grow my business. Whether your network is large or small, you can always benefit from growing it.
This is where freelance networking groups come in. You could join a professional membership organization. There are also more informal options, like a local meetup or online forum. I was lucky to have one of the writers I know invite me to join her networking group when I shared with her that I was transitioning to freelance life.
These groups are vital for freelancers. They provide the peer support we no longer get from an office and they are perfect for bouncing off ideas, venting our frustrations, and celebrating wins.
Your freelance networking group can also be an excellent referral source. Many freelancers receive leads that they don’t have the availability or interest to take on. When that happens, who do you think they share those leads with? You guessed it — their network.
Being part of a freelance networking group, formal or informal, opens you up to opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Plus, you get to spread the good karma around by sharing your own leads with the group. It’s a win-win!
5. Keep an open mind
Clients can come from anywhere, including the places you least expect. Just like having a good reputation builds word of mouth, it can also turn a casual conversation into a paid gig. Be open when you meet people, and always keep your ear tuned to the ground for opportunities.
I’ve found clients through Nextdoor, the neighborhood website. I’ve also won a client after winning a raffle at a nonprofit fundraiser. The gift basket was so great, it piqued my interest to learn more about the company. When I looked them up, I found some glaring technical SEO errors. I reached out, expressing my excitement about the gift basket and explaining the errors. A few weeks later, we were working together.
I’ve talked a lot about the importance of growing your network. In addition to connecting with peers for support (and potential referrals), it’s also a smart idea to connect with people whose work is complementary to yours.
For example, designers, copywriters, developers, and SEOs may all end up working together on a website redesign project. If you’re a designer, knowing a few of these other freelancers can be mutually beneficial. You can refer them to your clients, and they can refer you to theirs.
The great thing about this kind of referral is that you a) get the client (obviously) and b) you get to work with someone you already like or trust. You’re not being brought in to work with a random person; you already know one of the other freelancers. Plus, this kind of referral makes you both look good. Clients love when freelancers can help them find resources they can trust.
Ready, set, freelance!
Now that you know what worked for me, it’s time to find out what works for you. Try these methods, and see which ones bring you your favorite clients.
Do fantastic work for those clients, and they’ll start referring you to their own friends, colleagues, and broader network.
After reading this (thank you, by the way, for coming along for the ride), reach out to someone in your network and pitch your services. Create your portfolio. Apply to a job. Take action now.
The world needs more freelancers! Shouldn’t you be one of them?
Learn more about running your own freelance business:
- How to Build Your Freelance Website [Step-by-Step Guide]
- Entrepreneur Insights: How to Juggle Multiple Clients and Work Types
- Top Tools I Use to Keep My Freelance Business Up and Running
Amelia Willson is a freelance writer, content marketer and SEO strategist who helps businesses succeed online. A graduate of Wellesley College with a degree in English, she landed on a career in marketing where she spends her days trying to crack the code of Google’s mighty algorithm and blogging for various online publications. When she’s not busy working, you can find her running around Austin, Texas, with her dog Rockefeller or blogging about Disneyland.