As a freelancer, at least 25% of my time –- usually much more! –- is spent trolling for new clients. Because freelancing tends to be a boom-or-bust sort of business, it’s wise to look for new clients even when you have a full workload.
Take me, for instance. Right now, I have one steady, excellent client whose assignments pay the bills and then some. But I know from experience that having just one client isn’t a fabulous idea. Even if chances are slim to none that this client will drop me in the next few months, I’m still on the lookout for new clients to help boost my income and make me less nervous about my freelancing life.
(On that note, if you’re in the market for a freelancer, feel free to give me a shout!)
So whether you’re a freelancer just starting out with no clients to your name, or your queue is full of work to do, you should always keep searching for your next (or first!) great client. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
Luckily, in the online world, there are plenty of excellent ways to find excellent clients. Here are just five of the most effective:
1. Cold Calling
I’ve yet to meet the freelancer who actually enjoys cold calling, but it is, nonetheless, one of the most effective ways to start your career as a freelancer –- or to fill in the gaps if your other business-gathering methods aren’t working.
Peter Bowerman of The Well-Fed Writer is known for being an advocate of cold calling. Bowerman, who has had many readers and students land their first clients through cold calling, notes that it’s mostly a numbers game. If you call 500 to 1,000 businesses, you’re bound to land some work with which to launch your freelancing career.
Of course, cold calling, like any other marketing technique, is mostly about targeting the right market. When you cold call, you want to be sure your list is full of companies who can actually afford to pay for a freelance writer. But as long as you put together a good list of companies to call and stay persistent, you’re bound to land at least some work.
- 11 Tips to Help You Get New Clients Through Cold Calling – AWAI Online
- Cold Calling 461 – Cold Call Madness
- Cold Calling to Find Clients – Yikes! – The Savvy Freelancer
- Freelancing 911: Turn Your Business Around With Cold Calls – Freelance Switch
2. Set Up a Lead-Generating Website
Many freelancers have had a great deal of success with a lead-generating website. Carol Tice of the Make a Living Writing Blog is known for leveraging her personal website to land clients in the business world. This post from her blog gives links to 10 freelance writers’ websites that successfully attract new clients.
Setting up a website with the right blend of good design, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and work samples takes time. But the good thing about this marketing technique is that once you get it going, you don’t have nearly as much work to do. Just wait for the potential clients to contact you!
- The Ten Commandments of an Awesome Lead-Generating Website – KISSmetrics
- What to Put On Your Writer Website if You’re a Newbie – Make a Living Writing
- 25 Beautiful Freelancer Portfolio Sites – Vandelay Design
3. Check Out High-Quality Job Boards
There’s a reason I include the modifier “high-quality” in this suggestion. There are literally thousands of job sites and boards out there for freelancers. The problem is that 99% of them are junk.
Many sites are full of startup businesses and shady SEO operations looking for cheap content –- like penny-a-word cheap. (Remember, don’t ever, ever, EVER write for a penny a word, or do other freelance work for an equivalent crappy rate!)
That doesn’t mean you should rule out job boards entirely. You should just be more selective about which job boards you shop. Also, learn to pick out good clients before you even fill out an application.
Typically, good clients will include a full job description, will be upfront about their ability to pay a decent rate and will ask for clips, a portfolio or some other sample of your work. (You really don’t want to work with a client who doesn’t care what your work is actually like!)
Some sites, like Elance, are a mixed bag. I started out on Elance making a terrible rate, and it left a bad enough taste in my mouth that I’ll never go back. That said, I know that some freelancers who are choosy about the jobs they bid on do make a good living landing clients primarily on Elance. If you can get good jobs there, more power to you!
4. Mail Your Materials
In the Internet age, it may seem like traditional snail mail marketing is outdated. But it can actually be a great way to get in front of potential clients who are inundated with emails on a daily basis.
I’m actually in the middle of putting together my first direct mail campaign, in an effort to land some new business writing clients. Chris Marlow of The Copywriters’ Coach is taking me through her step-by-step direct mail marketing process, so I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes in a couple of months.
Direct mail isn’t just a good option for marketing writing services. It can be a good option for freelancers in any number of industries. If you’re not a whiz at stringing words together, you may need to find assistance from a writer to put together a long-form direct mail letter. But direct mail can be an excellent way to create recognition, generate leads and connect with potential clients.
- Want More Copywriting Clients? Here’s a Surprising Way to Find Them – Copyblogger
- Case Study – Win New Web Design Clients Through Direct Mail – SitePoint
- 12 Brilliant Direct Marketing Pieces You Have to See – Design Shack
5. Partner Up
One excellent way to land more freelancing work, regardless of your industry, is to team up with another freelancer or set of freelancers.
This looks different for different people. For instance, Peter Bowerman is part of a team of local freelance copywriters who get together regularly to support one another’s businesses. Sometimes they team up on paid advertisements, or one member may even hand a project over to another when they’re too busy to take it.
This arrangement works well because even though the group is made up of all copywriters, they specialize in different niches and don’t typically overlap when competing to get clients.
Another way you can team up is to join with a freelancer whose specialty is complementary to your own. A classic team of this type is the Web writer and Web designer team. If you can offer your services as a complete package, rather than just offering the services you yourself can provide, you’ll be more likely to land clients, who don’t want to deal with the hassle of managing both a writer and a designer.
While designer/writer teams are the most common, you could pair just about any useful combination of freelance skills to land more clients. When you team up, you can split the marketing burden, share one another’s contacts and even split the cost of marketing campaigns.
- The Definitive Guide to Creating Your Own Freelancing A-Team – Freelance Folder
- Why Writers and Designers Need Each Other – Design Mag
These are just five excellent ways to find new clients, but they’re certainly not your only options. You can also try in-person networking, social media, public speaking, email marketing and more.
Freelancers, chime in in the comments section. How have YOU had success finding new clients?
Abby Hayes is a freelance blogger and copywriter who writes about personal finances for Dough Roller. She loves detailed budgets, dark chocolate and fat Victorian novels.