How to Find Freelance Clients - Part One

by Debbie Dragon on 12 May 2009 13 comments
Photo: birdfreak.com

With the number of people getting laid off increasing daily, it's no wonder why more people are looking at freelancing or self employment options to make ends meet.  Once you hang your “open for business” sign, the hard part begins! Finding clients to pay you for your products or services can be the most challenging aspect of starting and running a business. After all, without clients buying what you have to offer, you certainly can't remain in business for long.

Getting your first client will accomplish a few things for you, business-wise. First, you'll of course have a client who is paying you, which is necessary for earning a profit and is the life blood of all businesses. Second, that first client can very well open the door to many other clients, through referrals and word of mouth; and can even turn into long term, consistent work – even if you thought it was a one-time project. Once you're ready to start your freelance business, what steps do you need to take to find your first client – and then every client after that?

Regardless of the type of freelancing you do, the process of getting your first client is similar across all industries, and will require focus and discipline on your part to make it happen!

Prepare to Prove Yourself: As a new freelancer, hanging your “open for business” sign isn't enough to prove you are capable of providing high quality work. Prospective clients are weary of new business owners, and many will prefer to work with experienced freelancers in your industry. How do you prove your abilities if you've just started out?

Previous Work Experience: Before you decided to go-it-alone, chances are you were employed by another business at some point in time. Perhaps you are still employed, and are looking to freelance on a moonlighting basis until your business takes off and profits. Either way, think back to any work you have done for your employer which is an example of your abilities. If you are looking for freelance writing clients, you can probably dig up a letter or manual that you worked on for your employer. As long as it isn't confidential information, you can probably use this type of writing as initial samples for prospective clients. If you are a freelance graphic design or web developer, anything related to your line of work that was completed for an employer may very well be sufficient to prove your abilities in the field.

Do Some Volunteer Work: If you don't have anything suitable to use as samples to show your ability to do the work, consider volunteering to help a nonprofit organization. Create a website, develop logos or graphics, or write marketing materials at no charge; in exchange for using the item(s) you create as samples of your work.

Build a Portfolio: Many new freelancers, particularly those in the creative industries, feel trapped in a catch 22 when it comes to building a portfolio! How can you have a portfolio if you haven't had any clients, yet? On the other hand, who is going to hire a writer, artist, or web designer without seeing a portfolio of your best work? The solution is to get to work creating a portfolio that shows off what you can do – and keep adding to your portfolio as you develop more samples. For individuals who haven't had any clients yet, it's an opportunity to come up with your own creative pieces to include. For example, you will need business cards, a web site, and other items for your business – you may as well start your portfolio out with the creative pieces you'll need to start and run your own business. Whatever your area of expertise is, do the work and include in the portfolio. Proving your ability is essential for clients to trust in your services and have confidence to hire you. As a new freelancer, you won't have testimonials of happy clients to back up your own claims of expertise, so your best option is to have samples of work you've completed ready to show off whenever you have the opportunity to communicate with a prospective client.

Once you have samples and/or a portfolio ready to go – where do you start finding prospective clients?  We'll discuss this in "How to Find Freelance Clients: Part Two".

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Guest's picture
Luckson Munanagisha

i really want to be a boss of my own

Guest's picture

Thanks so much for the topic - I was beginning to think there weren't any freelancers left! Even in this economy it's hard to find people who know what they're talking about when it comes to running their own business.

I'm still working for "the man" but I'd like to have my own graphic design/web design business eventually. This article says things I think I already knew but I needed to hear them again to kick-start myself into action!

Thanks again and I look forward to Part 2!

Guest's picture
rich97

Nice article. Currently I'm doing all of those things (I'm still building my portfolio which is why no URL).

Looking forward to part two. How many parts have you got planned out?

Debbie Dragon's picture

Hi Rich,

 This article has 3 parts so far, loaded and ready to go over the next couple of days.  I have some other freelance related article ideas that I think I will work on shortly.  In the meantime, keep an eye on Tisha Tolar's blog here at Wisebread - I heard she is thinking about running a series about marketing a freelance/small business (on a budget) which should help you find clients as well.

Good luck with the business!

 

Debbie

Guest's picture

I've been running an online stationery and graphic business for the past 3 years from my home office. I have two children and love the idea of working like this long after they are full time students. But finding clients isn't always easy... I'm hoping to create a constant stream of design work to reach a full time income, looking forward to your advice in part 2!

Guest's picture
Guest

god bless your for having a go-getter attitude, but if you're going to try to attract professional clients with this column, at least get your grammar and usage correct! Maybe a friend could proof-read your work...

Guest's picture
Coco

...Maybe a friend could proofread your comments....

Guest's picture

Thanks for the article.

I am currently building a portfolio even though I haven't got any clients yet. I'm doing this by working on some personal projects to showcase. So that could be one way for new freelancers to build a portfolio. Just develop some domains and include them in your portfolio.

Guest's picture

I agree! This is just the same when hunting for a job. You need to market yourself. You need to show some of the works that you did from the past. And you have to show all your credentials to find clients.

Guest's picture
DwightBarbour

It's a fast and easy way to start a consulting business. For a flat percentage of what you invoice, you are provided a back office service. This service limits your liability (yipee!) and minimizes your paperwork (yipee!). For this fixed rate they provide the legal, accounting, reimbursements, collections, and benefits management (medical, dental, 401k), etc.

Other names for this service are: umbrella company, passthru, portable w-2.

Guest's picture

I agree! This is just the same when hunting for a job.

Guest's picture
Ilya

You can also look for a job opportunities at the freelance-leads.com websites. It has about 700 IT jobs added daily.

Guest's picture

Great advice. Marketing for yourself is essential when it comes to doing freelance.