Running a successful freelance business means wearing a lot of hats.
One of those hats is being the head of sales. If reading that made your palms sweat a bit, please know you’re not alone.
I remember when I hit “publish” on my first freelance website. I kept refreshing my email inbox throughout the day to see how many client inquiries I would receive on the first day. The final count at the end of the day was a big zero. After reaching out to compare notes with a few of my freelancing friends, I realized this wasn’t uncommon.
While launching a website that clearly outlines your services is important, it can’t be your only form of marketing. Publishing your website is only the beginning.
Working inside your business while putting yourself out there to attract new freelance clients can be tricky, but it’s important to become comfortable in promoting your work early on.
How to attract freelance client work when you first start freelancing
It’s a good thing self-promotion doesn’t have to be icky! Let’s talk about how to market your services in a way that’s aligned with your values and allows you to start where you are now.
Utilize your existing contacts
Once you start freelancing, let people know about your new venture! While you can post your announcement on various social media channels, it’s best to take the time to personally reach out to people in your network through email, phone, or video calls.
You can start by connecting with people you’ve worked with in the past, recently met at a networking event, or other professionals working in your industry. You never know who knows someone who may be in need of your services.
When drafting your email, add in some personal details (“I heard you recently got engaged, congrats!”) or personalize it by reflecting on how you met (“It was great meeting you last April at the conference.”).
After introducing your freelance business, you can briefly explain what services you offer, what kinds of clients you want to work with, where they can see examples of your work (a link to the portfolio page on your website works well), and that you’re open to referrals.
Also, go out of your way to ask them how they are enjoying their current position and if there’s any way you can support and encourage them on their career path. It’s always a good idea to end your emails and conversations with an opportunity for you to give back.
Make connections with brands you admire
You don’t have to wait until work comes to you. Instead, be proactive and reach out to brands you would love to work with. This starts by identifying employees you’re able to build relationships with.
Although cold pitching works on occasion, I highly recommend interacting with key people within the organization. You can start by connecting with them on social media by showing a genuine interest in what they post and over time you can naturally transition the conversation over to email.
Some employees may have their own side projects like a blog, side hustle, or something else entirely different. Showing an interest in what they’re creating outside of work is another great way to connect on a more personal level.
If there’s a way to collaborate with them, offer up your skills, or connect them with someone in your network who can help, you’ll make a great lasting impression.
If you want to contact the brand’s PR, marketing, or communications team directly, here are some simple email templates you can customize and use to get on their radar.
Make connections with other freelancers
One of the greatest areas of business you can focus on when you’re starting your freelance business is creating meaningful connections with other freelancers in your industry. You can meet other freelancers through social media, networking events, and even quick Google searches.
“But wait, aren’t they technically my competitors?”, you may be asking yourself. Not necessarily. While you may be in the same industry, they might:
Have a different area of focus
Have experience working with an industry outside of your expertise
Have a different internal process or creative process for their work
This puts you in the unique position to be a potential referral partner for them. With more freelance experience comes more client leads, meaning freelancers can become more selective with who they work with. This is great news for you because after connecting with other senior freelancers, you could become a recommended referral for their overflow work.
Personal recommendations are influential in freelancing since word-of-mouth marketing is powerful. A natural way to bring it up in conversation is asking the freelancer, “What does your ideal client look like? What kind of projects would you like to work on? I’ll keep an eye out and send anything that fits your description your way.” Then you can offer up who your ideal client is and what projects you want to work on so they can return the favor.
I also recommend creating a referral circle of other freelancers in your industry so you all can pass along client leads if they don’t fit your area of expertise, are below your budget, or your calendar is full.
I have a group of three junior freelance copywriters and content creators I regularly refer work to when it doesn’t fit my schedule, budget, or industry of choice. It helps the freelancers get client work they’re interested in, build their own portfolio, and helps me keep a great relationship with incoming client leads because I’m taking care of them.
Create a useful product to market your freelance skills
Another way to be proactive with your freelance marketing is by creating digital products on your area of expertise. Products not only generate side income but they also showcase your authority and credibility in the industry.
Choose your product topic wisely. You’ll want to choose something you have experience in and directly relates to a freelance service you offer. Before choosing your topic, ask yourself these questions:
Is this topic something my ideal audience is interested in learning about?
Has my ideal audience already expressed an interest in learning about this topic?
What product format would work best for this topic? (Ex: eBook, course, etc.)
Products can be used as a way to qualify new freelance client leads, too. If a potential client is interested in your industry, they can work through your product and reach out to you directly if they need additional help within your area of expertise. Through your product, they may also realize it’s time to outsource a specific part of their business. Win, win!
How to retain your first freelance clients
Constantly having to attract new freelance clients and operating from a place of hustle is exhausting and not sustainable.
Put your energy into creating an incredible all-around client experience so you have a balance of new projects coming in and ongoing work– the best kind of combination. It takes time to build this up, but being intentional about your client experience early in the process will help you retain your best freelance clients.
Listen to your freelance clients
Listening is one of the most important skills you need to run a successful freelance business. It’s important to actively listen to what your client needs in order for them to feel comfortable and confident during the project.
Sometimes your freelance clients don’t know exactly what they need, so listen for the root of their pain point and create options that satisfy and solve it.
When you actively listen, you create better expectations for yourself and your client so everyone is on the same page. This open communication will help you build a smooth client process.
One way I set client expectations is through an introductory call before I send a quote. I find it easier to pull out what the client really wants and their overall project expectations over the phone as opposed to over emails. Experiment for yourself and see what onboarding process works best for your freelance business.
Don’t undervalue your freelance work
Undervaluing your work not only hurts your bottom line but it also cheapens your industry as a whole. Instead, be aware of what others charge and the true value of the services you’re offering.
You want to attract the kinds of freelance clients who respect and value your work, not those who want cheap services. To help you better price your services, we have an in-depth article on pricing your freelance offerings in this Tradecraft issue.
Hit deadlines and exceed client expectations
Under promise, over deliver. We’ve heard that phrase so many times in the service industry, but it still rings true.
When you’re creating timelines with your clients, make sure you are leaving enough wiggle room in your calendar so you feel comfortable with your deadlines. If you aren’t sure you’ll be able to make a specific client deadline, be honest about it upfront. It’s much better than being late on delivering the work or sacrificing the quality because of the timing.
Exceeding client expectations goes far beyond just hitting your deadlines. Some freelancers do this by offering client gifts, adding extra value to their service, or offering strategic advice on their upcoming projects. Get creative!
Work WITH your freelance clients rather than just FOR them
Approach your new freelance client projects from a collaborative mindset. It’s important for you and the client to both have a voice in the project.
Without a collaboration, your vision for the project could overtake theirs, leaving you to work on a deliverable that doesn’t fit your client’s needs. On the other hand, if you don’t have a voice in the project, you aren’t able to give it a clear direction. Your freelance clients are paying you for your expertise so it’s important to be vocal in the process, too.
Experiment with attracting and retaining new freelance clients
Just because something worked for someone else doesn’t mean you’ll have the same results. The best way to learn what works for your freelance business is by putting these lessons into action.
This week, I’m challenging you to do one of the following:
Email a contact from your network announcing your freelance business launch
Reach out to a brand you admire to offer your freelance services
Jump on a phone or video call with another freelancer to swap tips
After you do, tell us how it went in the comment section below! I want to hear about it.