The best way to find clients as a new freelancer

A woman using a laptop to work from home.
(Image credit: Shutterstock - fizkes)

If you’re a freelancer without any clients, you don’t have a viable business, so it’s important to find and keep clients. That’s especially true if you’re new to self-employment and trying to build your enterprise.

If you’re new it can seem even more daunting, too, so you’ve got to work all the angles if you want to find new clients, keep them coming back and grow your stature within your industry.

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And, if you want to build a diverse portfolio, then there are certainly lots of angles to work. We’ve covered seven of them here, and you’ll have more chance of freelance success if you use these methods to find clients. They’re not just valuable strategies for new freelancers, either – experienced freelancers can always learn a thing or two.

The freelance help doesn’t stop there. If you want to get your elevator pitch right before you bid for new business, look no further, and read our guidance on avoiding the biggest freelance mistakes.

Let your old colleagues know 

Don’t keep it quiet if you’re leaving a job to embark on a career in self-employment. If you’ve got a good relationship with your managers and colleagues, let them know that you’re leaving and make sure to keep things amicable.

It might just seem polite, but this method can easily lead to valuable clients for any new freelancer. Your previous peers will know about your talents and that you’re trustworthy, and if they need the services that you offer, they’re more likely to come to you than anyone else.

It’s not just about getting commissions from your previous employer. If you let people know that you’re starting up as a freelancer, they can mention you to their contacts, which could lead to more clients – and it enables you to practice your elevator pitch with people you trust.

Tell your family and friends, too 

Don’t be modest regarding your family and friends, either. Let them all know that you’re leaving a job to give self-employment a go and give them a run-down on your skillset if they’re not exactly sure what you do.

Those people are already your biggest fans, and they’ll rave about you to anyone who they think might need your services. That could easily lead to new customers.

Rely on freelance job sites 

Freelance job sites like Upwork, Fiverr and Freelancer don’t always have the best reputation among experienced freelancers, but those people are in a luxurious position where they can benefit from higher prices, a well-earned reputation and lots of repeat business.

New freelancers don’t necessarily get those privileges and, if you find yourself in that position, don’t write off those freelance marketplaces. If you’re willing to accept a wider range of work at potentially lower rates, they can be a great way to start making money and building a portfolio.

You will have to be aware of scammers on these sites, though, and you’ll often have to bid against other freelancers for jobs. And while this can be time-consuming and frustrating, especially when other people land jobs ahead of you, it’s a good option if you’ve not yet established a reputation.

Bear in mind, too, that there are also lots of good opportunities on these sites, even if you’ve got to sift through poorer offers to find them – and that you can leave these sites behind once you’ve been freelancing for a while.

Go straight to potential clients 

If you’ve moved into a freelance business while remaining in a familiar industry, you’re likely to know which companies are big players.

Once you’ve got a list of relevant businesses, you can head to their websites and see which job vacancies they’ve got listed. You might not want to apply, but that could indicate the departments where they need help right now.

If you could use your skills to help that business, you should head to the company pages or LinkedIn to find relevant contacts and email those people to offer your services. They might say no, or they might jump at the chance to get some temporary help – but, either way, you’ve got to give yourself that chance.

You could even approach those relevant contacts if their business isn’t advertising for new positions. You never know when someone might want to hire a freelancer to alleviate some workplace pressure.

Maintain an online presence 

New freelancers must stand out from a crowd of more established names, and one of the best ways to do that is to create and build a strong online presence.

You should have a clear, modern and eye-catching website that features an up-to-date portfolio and straightforward contact details, and make sure that all of your relevant social media profiles are busy, engaging and positive. For most people that’ll include LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook but, depending on your industry, you might also want to maintain Instagram and Pinterest pages too.

Visit networking events

Social media is great for attracting potential clients from the internet, but it often can’t compete with relationships you can build in real life. And when you’re a new freelancer who needs to establish those connections, that can be critical.

Attend networking events that are relevant to your industry and region – the former because you can meet people who will often need your services, and the latter because you never know when local businesses could require your expertise.

You could even think about generic business events in your town or city if you want to cast your net wider, and it’s always a good idea to print some business cards and walk the floor at trade shows. It’s also worth making friends at co-working spaces – those relationships may start out socially, but they can easily develop into work opportunities further down the line.

Perfect pitching

Before you head out to networking drinks or a trade show, make sure your elevator pitch is ready to go.

If you can confidently reel off the reasons why someone should hire you within ninety seconds, then you’re going to impress potential clients – and that will hopefully lead to repeat business.

Practice your email pitches, too, and make sure that you can confidently express your skills, history and areas of expertise and how you can help a potential customer solve their problems. Be polite, be concise, and use a spell-checker.

When it comes to spoken or written pitches, link up with professional contacts to get their opinions before you start sending pitches out – because it’s always good to get a second opinion.

How to work from home: everything you need for remote working.

Mike has worked as a technology journalist for more than a decade and has written for most of the UK’s big technology titles alongside numerous global outlets. He loves PCs, laptops and any new hardware, and covers everything from the latest business trends to high-end gaming gear.