How in the heck do you find your first clients?
This is the question that runs the mind of every prospective freelancer. Freelancing has a lot of scary parts – legalization, taxes, accounting, etc. but on the top of the list is always how do I find (and maintain) clients to support my business. Well, it’s a process you’re going to have to tweak and repeat until you get to your sweet spot. Getting started does not have to be nearly as difficult as it seems.
It may take a while to land those clients that lead to a six-figure income but you can definitely get started now with finding (and landing) the clients that help you grow your first portfolio and walk through bigger doors in the future.
Below you’ll find three types of people and businesses to reach out to and I’ve included a FREE download of three sample editable pitches to send and land those clients.
Find your first client by … shouting it from the mountain tops
I was a guest of a webinar summit around this time last year where the topic of the day was :::drum roll, please::: freelancing!
Naturally, we all talked about how we found our first few clients and the common answer is that we found those clients through word of mouth. Yep, word of mouth. We didn’t find them through Craigslist or Upwork or Facebook Ads, not to knock those though, but we found them simply by telling people what we were doing.
I worked on little projects here and there but I got my first major client at a Christmas party. It went something like this.
::: Prospective Client finds me at the eggnog bowl :::
Prospective Client: Hey, your Mom told me that you are building websites and I’m looking to have one build for my new business, are you available?
Me: Yes! I’d love to talk about your project. Let me have your best contact so I can reach out to you tomorrow.
::: Me, sends email to schedule first meeting after the eggnog wears off.:::
It was a really simple lead to client conversion process because they knew me, trusted me (aka didn’t need a massive body of work to choose me), and could run me down if needed (and vice versa).
A lot of freelancers share a story like this. Tell all the people in your cirlces what journey you’ve stepped into and work (and good vibes) will start coming your way. If they are not ready for you, ask them to support you by sharing your new journey with others in their circles.
It might be scary/hard to share this kind of information but it’s the first step to establishing your new brand as a freelancer and making freelancing real for you.
Find your first client by … helping helpful people
Nonprofits have it pretty hard. They have big passions and tiny budgets. Oftentimes they are the perfect venue for your first projects. Not because they need a lower caliber of work but because they can’t pay for everything they need and still support the people they aim to serve.
And there are ways to serve those people without being in the field or working full-time at the non-profit.
If you approach them with an offer to build their website or write grant proposals and why it would be beneficial you can often work out doing things on a slower timeline than a full-paying customer (note: working for a non-profit does not always mean working for free) would expect. You get to do some on the job continued education. You learn how to work with stakeholders, how to work inside an established brand, and how to work with other creatives on a project. And they get a new, fancier thing that brings in more supporters aka more money.
It may eventually lead to you having a more permanent seat at the table as a paid contractor or employee. Or it may just end up as your service to the world.
Find your first client by … trading services with influencers
In every field, there are rockstars. Those people with backstories that you really admire and would love to recreate a piece of their successes in your own life.
You don’t have to stay on the outside looking in, put yourself in front of them in a meaningful way. Like, comment, and share their content. Buy their products. These are great ways to let them know you appreciate them but there’s nothing better than writing them a letter (aka email) or approaching them at a conference and saying I love what you do → here’s how I used it → how can I help?
Let’s be clear, when you approach the nonprofit, I’m suggesting you come to them with a plan to fix a problem. A problem that they already know they have. When it comes to approaching influencers, I’m not asking you to try to solve their problems (however, if they mentioned one that you can solve, definitely approach them with that) I’m asking you to ask if you can help them in some way in exchange for soaking up some of their business know how.
You may join their team temporarily and create social media graphics in exchange for some free coaching. Or they might not like using interns and free labor (tons of legal consequences if done improperly) and instead offer to bring you onto the team at a paid rate.
Or they are just not ready for you, now you’re on their radar and they can refer you when someone they know is looking for someone who does what you do.
Finding freelance clients is all about putting yourself out there. When you’re getting started that means making personal connections. If you’re going to be afraid to put yourself out there – you’re going to hinder your own success before you even get started.
So which one are you going to try today?