Finding work as a freelancer can be a frightening prospect, especially if you're starting off. Nor do you ever really get to the point where you have "enough" clients and can stop putting hustling; some clients are repeat clients, some are one-off, and new clients onboard while old clients leave. To keep your client base robust and continuously have a steady income stream, you've got to have game, and you've got to be in the game with a smart strategy that covers multiple client sourcing channels.
When you look at other freelancers, you may see these glamorous independent folk who never have to go looking for work; work comes looking for them. That's not really how it works behind the scenes, though.
Behind the scenes, these people are going out looking for clients, making pitches, offering proposals. You need to be doing the same.
If you don't have the network or contacts to approach clients directly with a pitch, then make use of sites like UpWork, Guru, Fiverr, and even the gigs section of Craigslist. All of these sites list freelance work on a long-term or short-term contract basis.
UpWork and Guru let you bid competitively to win jobs against other freelancers; which can often lead to multiple repeat contracts with the same customer if they like your work, not to mention building a reputation with strong ratings, reviews, and referrals. If you're wondering how to get your first clients, this can be a great place to start.
The downside is many of these sites charge a fee from your earnings, as well as payment processing fees. What they offer in exchange, though, is protection against clients taking your work and dashing without payment.
One way to find clients is to let people know you're out there, and this means building your presence on social media both as a professional for hire and as an expert in your field. Use your social media channels to both promote and showcase your work and to speak on topics relevant to your concentration to engage followers and potential customers. At the very least you should be using:
Depending on your industry, it's also possible to find clever ways to make use of platforms such as Snapchat. It's also a good idea to have a website that shows more detailed examples of your work as well as comprehensive information on how to hire you.
The whole networking concept may feel a little old school, but if it isn't broke, don't fix it. If you want to find clients as a freelancer, you can do worse than having a few people who know a few people.
Get to know other professionals in your industry not as competition, but as peers. Talk shop, trade tips, help each other out. You never know when one of them might do you a solid if a client is looking for a particular type of work they don't do, but they know you, and they know you're available for precisely that kind of gig.
Let's face it, people are cheap, and they want to try before they buy as an assurance that they'll be getting their money's worth. You have bills to pay, but you'll have to do some free labor. The important thing is not to take on client projects for no charge and make sure that non-billable work still has ROI.
See, we're not talking about doing client work for free. We're talking about creating a platform for yourself in which you provide expertise and insight for free. That's still unpaid labor, but it's the effort that pays off in building your following and providing a demonstrable body of knowledge you can point clients to when convincing them you're worth the money.
This labor can involve blog posts breaking down topics in your industry, webinars, free e-books, free sample files of creative content, free apps. It depends on your areas of expertise. This sort of material is called a "magnet," because it attracts potential paying customers.
One of the best ways to get your magnet content out there is to build a mailing list. Having a newsletter lets your potential customers follow you with no effort at all. Use your magnet content to get people to sign up by offering it as an incentive, then keep yourself fresh in your audience's mind by sending out periodic newsletters with new content.
People are still cheap. And some people won't pay even if you show value in the work produced unless your price is substantially lower than the nearest competitor. Figure out what services you can offer in volume at a discount, then run promotions where possibly you get less per gig, but you're making more through sheer volume.
All of these client building strategies tie together and complement each other and help you find clients as a freelancer. Use them wisely, and you'll have a vast client base in no time.