How do I get freelancer clients?
Finding clients is critical to success for all freelancers, and here I share my 10 top tips for ensuring that your client pipeline is always topped up or at least looking healthy, writes Julia Kermode, founder of independent work champion iWork.
Before I reveal my top 10 on how to get clients as a self-employed freelancer, firstly some important context.
Many people end up freelancing by accident, often following a change in job circumstances such as redundancy, or a career break for whatever reason.
Golden rule to win new business if you're self-employed: MAKE SURE YOU MAXIMISE EVERYTHING
Sometimes when people start out freelancing they don’t even really know what freelancing is -- they just start by accepting pieces of work from past colleagues and as this grows, they find themselves in business!
Of course this random approach to finding clients isn’t necessarily a long term strategy, and certainly not a reliable one. But the point to bear in mind and repeat yourself with the following top 10 is this -- always maximise every opportunity that comes your way, as you never know what else it could lead to!
1. Do some traditional networking
Going to networking events can be really useful in gaining new business as a freelancer, and also to increase your confidence in talking to strangers about what you do.
Prepare in advance a couple of sentences that outline how you want to summarise what you do, and the key points to follow-up with.
You don’t have to recite it (which would sound wooden), but having an idea of what to say avoids panic or awkward silences. Also, it can help to think of potential anecdotes or topics you could talk to strangers about away from your self-employed business but that can potentially link back to your freelance venture or offering, or hold some relevance to your independent work, e.g. a popular TV show, sport, or something going on with your favourite celebrity.
Keep in mind, it can be nerve-wracking to turn up at an event on your own. But don’t forget the lots of other people attending are in exactly the same situation as you and have also turned up alone. There is so much potential at these events so don’t give nerves too much of a stage.
Remember, you have nothing to lose by simply approaching people and saying “Mind if I join you?” They are very unlikely to reject your approach based on the nature of the event. If the conversation doesn’t then flow, just excuse yourself and move on. This all sounds very easy doesn’t it?! You have to be brave, give it a go and push yourself out of your comfort zone!
2. Social media and network yourself online
This is obvious to freelancers, and creative-types are probably already doing some social media activity anyway.
The key is not to be overtly salesy in what you post. Never forget -- people buy from people and they will always prefer a more authentic, human approach.
Also, it’s important to make sure you are posting in the places where your clients are likely to be. It’s surprising how many freelancers don’t stop to think about this! For example, if you are a freelance PA then LinkedIn might be more useful for you than Facebook, whereas if you are a food business then Instagram might be your best option.
3. Explore local community networking
Don’t under-estimate the power of networking locally, just as you go about your day-to-day life.
For example, talking to other people when you’re doing school drop-offs can be fantastic opportunities to make them aware of what you do. Again, I'd caution against being too salesy. It’s more about just using openings to grow your business and if others in the school drop-off group know what you do, then they could become future referrers (or 'brand ambassadors') for you!
Remember that your friends could be good sources of clients, so make sure they know what it is that you actually do. Also, there are lots of good local online networks full of opportunities. For example, Facebook communities, local interest groups and websites like nextdoor.co.uk have really taken off in recent years. These are all goldmines of potential clients if you take a gentle approach. Your freelance business might also need suppliers and the providers of service related to your core offering, so getting involved with them too on these platforms can help spread the word, locally, about your venture.
4. Pitch, pitch, pitch (pitch)
Lots of people worry about pitching but it doesn’t have to be high pressure situation like you see on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den!
In fact, business reality TV shows have been very unhelpful in how people perceive pitching. In real life, ‘pitching’ can be little more than a case of you telling people semi-succinctly how you can work with them.
More pro-actively, you could contact potential clients in order to let them know what services you provide – if you don’t tell them, how will they ever know?! This approach can be particularly beneficial if there are companies located near you that you would like to work with, because businesses often like to support their own local community.
Another aspect to pitching is responding to adverts when clients are looking for people to do particular projects for them. It’s likely you will then be in competition with other freelancers who are also pitching their services, so you will want to ensure yours stands out from the crowd. There are so many different ways that you can do that, and it doesn’t have to be expensive -- just whatever it takes to make your pitch memorable. There are lots of websites which connect clients with freelancers (and vice versa), and these can also be a great place to advertise your services.
5. Ask for feedback
You should always ask for feedback as a freelancer whenever a potential client declines your services. It’s surprising how many self-employd people don’t do this when they are unsuccessful, but the information you get back can be gold dust!
For example, it might just be a question of timing and perhaps your client has needed to delay the project – if you know this, then you can schedule a reminder to get in touch when the timing is right in the future!
Or it could be that someone else at the client business is now responsible for the project, in which case just ask to be introduced to them so you can build a relationship directly. There could be any number of reasons for a client to say ‘no’ to your self-employed services, but unless you ask then you can’t adjust accordingly. So don’t be afraid, ALWAYS get feedback and factor it in to where you go next to turn that ‘no’ into a ‘yes.’
6. Woo dream clients
Follow people that you would love to work with on social media, get to know them in a gentle way and all the time, very subtly warm them up to becoming future clients of yours!
If they don’t become future clients but they like you, and engage with you, then they could end up referring you to other potential clients. This sort of thing really does happen time and time again, and you never know where a connection might lead you.
7. Look for referrals from clients
This tends to happen organically when past clients recommend you to others within their networks who are looking for a similar service.
We do this all the time as consumers -- whenever we are looking to buy something significant we tend to ask friends and colleagues for recommendations. Well it’s the exactly the same principle here.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I see posts on social media asking for recommendations on a huge range of things, ranging from a kettle to the best kayaking weekend away!
Of course, for freelancers, the key to getting referrals coming your way ( or 'testimonials') is to always leave things on a positive note with your clients whenever your work comes to an end. That might not be easy to do in all situations but it really can pay dividends.
8. Collaborate with other freelancers
As a freelancer you might find yourself in various online networks for freelancers, there are lots out there to choose from!
These are a fantastic source of collaborators that can in turn become a source of future clients for you. For example, if you are a social media coach, do you know freelancers that can design websites for clients that are looking for that service, or vice versa?
Once a client is working with a freelancer who they like, they will often ask if the freelancer knows anyone good who can do another job for them, e.g. design a leaflet, copywrite their website, search engine optimise their new landing page etc! Some freelancers work together to create a package of services consisting of their respective specialisms which they sell to clients as one comprehensive offering. Consider if such a collaboration might work for you.
9. Keep in touch with previous clients with short n’ sweet ‘hellos’
Once you’ve finished working with your clients, don’t make the mistake of disappearing off into the sunset and never communicating with them again as you never know when they might have future work for you!
Some freelancers send their past clients a short keeping in touch-type email or newsletter, say once a month. If you left things on good terms they will be interested in your successes so may want to hear about the amazing work you are doing for your current clients.
Also it’s a great opportunity to make past clients aware of new services that you have added to your offering. This type of communication doesn’t need to be very long or detailed, in fact a ‘short and sweet’ approach is often better! The point is to keep in touch, and keep it light. When they do want something, you’ll be at the forefront of their mind (and not long-forgotten), even if your last commission from them was many moons ago!
10. Constantly maintain awareness
Clients can get lost at any time, even partway through a project as their needs may change at a whim.
As a supplier to clients, you need to be constantly nurturing potential clients so that you don’t end up with a gap and panic pitching for work!
There are lots of different ways that you can do this, and the main thing is to prioritise doing tasks regularly each week, even if they are quite small tasks. You need to keep it manageable otherwise you just won’t get round to some of this stuff. Lots of self-employed people use digital tools to set reminders to help them stay on top of these small but significant things.
Golden rule if you're self-employed and now actively winning business: DO WHAT MATTERS MOST
Lastly, here's one final piece of advice when you do manage to get a client or two on board. Make sure you only do the activities that actually bring results, otherwise it’s a waste of time! Evaluate what works for you, be brave and drop the rest.