This post is part of Hubstaff’s freelancing month 2017, where we feature insights by experienced freelancers about how they get clients, manage their workload, and more. Be sure to check out the rest of our freelancing month posts when you’re done with this one!
Getting clients is hard. Whether you’re just starting out on your freelance journey or you’ve been at it for decades, it’s one of the most difficult parts of living this lifestyle. Landing clients is at the core of freelancing success—if you’re not successfully pitching clients, you’re not making money.
The pressure’s on.
There’s a lot of contradictory information out there, and many different schools of thought when it comes to getting more clients. Fortunately for you, there are also quite a few generally accepted best practices.
I’ve put those best practices—along with my own experiences over years of freelancing—together for you here. The rest of this article will show you all of the best ways to land more clients and be successful as a freelancer.
Let’s get started!
Get your name out there with social media
If a potential client has heard of you before you pitch them, you’re going to be at a huge advantage. Name recognition can be very powerful when it comes to getting freelance clients. And social media is one of the best ways to build that recognition.
Every industry has its own favorite networks when it comes to social media. Search online or talk to colleagues to get an idea of which social media outlets your industry uses most. Then set up a profile and start interacting.
If you’re unsure where to begin, I suggest creating or improving your LinkedIn profile.
LinkedIn: the professional social media juggernaut
According to LinkedIn, the network had 433 million users in 2016. And since this platform caters to making business connections, it’s a great way to uncover new clients.
Want to build a fantastic freelance LinkedIn profile?
Here are some tips:
Start by filling out your profile completely
Start with a professional headshot. Find a photographer in your area who specializes in headshots, and use one that fits your industry. Some industries—like development—tend to be more casual, while others are more formal (banking comes to mind).
Make sure to add your complete job history, and regularly update it. Add all of your relevant skills, and make sure to add new ones as you learn new things.
Be very clear about your strengths and how you’re different than your competition. Don’t be too general about your skill set—clients appreciate freelancers with niche specialities. Without including specifics, recruiters and potential clients won’t get a clear picture of what you offer.
Add some credibility with LinkedIn recommendations
Recommendations are much like references on a résumé. Instead of a potential employer calling one your references, they can see an instant snapshot of what a past employer thought of you.
How do you get LinkedIn recommendations? Just reach out to your network and ask a few people to write a brief recommendation of your past performance. Click on the menu (three dots) in the upper-right corner of a connection’s profile, and click Request a recommendation.
Or if you’ve just completed a job and everything was successful, ask the manager if they wouldn’t mind writing a recommendation for you.
Expand your network by becoming a LinkedIn All-Star
LinkedIn rates every profile on a scale ranging from Beginner to All-Star. Users with All-Star status are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through the platform.
How do you become a LinkedIn All-Star?
You’ll need a profile photo, industry, location, a current position with description, at least two past positions, education details, at least three listed skills, and at least 50 connections. This sounds like a lot, but it’s definitely doable.
To raise my own status from Expert to All-Star, I added a professional photo, reached out for more contacts, linked a business page to my personal page, and added some blog posts. Because I’m a remote copywriter, I connected with local ad agencies, digital marketing firms, and local recruiters. All of these groups need freelancers.
While becoming a LinkedIn All-Star doesn’t directly affect your chances of landing more clients, all of the things that you need to do to get that status will help.
Sign up for LinkedIn Profinder
Profinder is LinkedIn’s little-known freelance marketplace. I was asked to be part of the pilot program a few years ago, and I’ve received several jobs from this service. You receive alerts when a potential job meets your requirements, but you’ll have to be quick to submit a proposal—Profinder only sends five bids to the client for review.
Your first 10 proposals are free. After that, you’ll need a LinkedIn Premium Business subscription. This will run you $59.99 per month, or $47.99 per month when you pay annually.
Let recruiters know you’re looking
Want to stand out to recruiters looking for freelancers? Make sure your profile shows that you’re available! (Don’t worry, though; LinkedIn does its best not to share this information with your current employer.)
From the Jobs tab, click Update career interests (or head to the Career Interests page) and make sure the Let recruiters know you’re open option it switched to On.
The more detail you can add on this screen, the better. LinkedIn is getting better at matching freelancers with potential jobs, and more information will help even more.
We cover a number of other LinkedIn tips in our guide to professional networking, so be sure to check that, too.
Use other social networks, too
LinkedIn is the most established network for making professional connections, but that doesn’t mean other social networks can’t be helpful, too.
Facebook groups can be great for making connections
Join groups of your peers or groups with potential clients. Offer your expertise, join conversations, and read responses. Build a good rapport with peers, and they could send you a potential client. If you gain a good reputation, you could get yourself a lot of work this way.
Check out Julia May’s article for more tips on using Facebook to further your freelance career.
Use Twitter for positioning
Twitter is great for positioning yourself as an expert. Sharing valuable information is the name of the game here. When people start following you, you establish a good name for yourself, and, as I mentioned earlier, name recognition is very valuable.
Using hashtags related to your field can help people find you. For example, I may use #remotecopywriting. And searching for hashtags like #jobs and #jobsearch can bring you to people looking to hire.
You can also use Twitter to find relevant potential clients.
Google+ isn’t dead
Although Google+ isn’t nearly as popular as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, it does have its uses.
I found Google+ to be a great forum for posting blogs, gaining followers, and driving potential clients to my website. Like the other networks, it’s great for connecting with people and sharing content. And because there are—contrary to popular belief—millions of active users, there are plenty of opportunities to be found.
Guest blogging isn’t just for SEO
While it’s usually mentioned as an SEO tactic, guest blogging can have huge value for freelancers.
For example, I was approached by a parenting blog with a large following to write a guest blog for them. In return, they linked to my website, which drove traffic to me and created new business in the process. Although I wasn’t paid for my blog, I was given free reign on what I could include within the topic, so I was able to weave in another client and link to their site as well.
In the end, guest blogging can give you new clients, create a new piece for your portfolio, and win you points with current clients. That’s a lot of value for a few hours of your time.
Build a portfolio to show off what you can do
Clients want to see what you can do. And a great portfolio is the best way to do that.
Think of an online portfolio as your best case studies all contained in one area. This is especially valuable for creatives like advertisers, writers, and designers, but a good portfolio can lend credibility to freelancers in any field.
Here are some steps to help you make the best freelance portfolio:
Add as much of your best work as you can
If you’ve been in the industry a long time and don’t have all of your work digitized, spend some time scanning in your best projects. Make sure they’re high-quality scans that look great.
And make sure to only include your best pieces. Don’t post anything that’s not absolutely top-notch, and make sure not to post anything that previous employers wouldn’t want you to. If you’re not sure, just ask.
Choose a good portfolio host
Find a reputable portfolio host that fits your personality and work style. When I was looking for a portfolio company, I ran a Google search on the best portfolio companies for copywriters. I came across this list, and went on each of these sites to explore the features. I finally settled on Journo Portfolio.
The pricing is fair and the user interface is extremely easy to use. (Plus, Josh, the owner, is very accommodating and great at answering questions. I wanted my company logo to show up on the site, and he was able to make it happen.)
Use your portfolio as a pitching tool
A great portfolio can be a useful tool in client meetings. When I meet with a new client, I bring along my laptop and walk the client through my past assignments. Clients instantly see the quality of my work.
And it can save you time. One large company I’m working for wanted me to take a writing test, but decided to skip it after seeing my portfolio.
Boost your credibility with a professional website
Our 2017 freelancing trends study found that freelancers with their own websites get paid more than freelancers without them. And not just a little bit—they get paid 65% more. That’s a big deal. With how easy it is to build your own professional website, there’s no excuse not to.
WordPress, SquareSpace, Weebly, Yola, and Wix are just a few of the options that you can use. No matter which one you decide on, make sure to include these key factors for building a great freelance website:
Include your skills upfront
Don’t be afraid to be specific. It’s better to say you’re a master of three solid skills than decently good at 100 more general ones. Try to position yourself as the go-to freelancer for these specific skills. As I mentioned before, niching down can position you as an expert.
Put yourself in a client’s shoes. You may be searching through several freelancers and websites. A few testimonials from past clients about your work and work style speak volumes to a potential client.
Add case studies and/or a link to your portfolio
Depending on your industry, it may make sense to include case studies showcasing some of your key client work. Make sure to include a case study highlighting each area of your expertise. If you have an online portfolio that’s not hosted on your website, make sure to include a prominent link.
Spend time on your About page
Everyone wants to work with someone they can connect with. Adding some personal details can help set you apart from your competitors. Communicating to potential clients that you’re genuine will give you a boost.
Include social media links
Make sure to add links to your social media accounts that are set up for your business. Most businesses will search for you on LinkedIn, but offering this link directly from your website is an easy way for a client to access you.
You can also consider a link directly to your résumé or job history on LinkedIn. You want your website to answer as many potential client questions as possible. Make it as easy as possible for them to find any information they might be looking for.
Make your contact info prominent
Your contact information needs to be easy to find on your website. Since clients only spend minutes doing searches, you don’t want to lose them with poor website navigation. It should only take a few seconds from landing on your site to finding the contact page.
A great way to continue to draw new clients to your website is by writing blogs on a regular basis. Even if you’re not a writer, everyone can write about what they know and offer useful information to potential clients.
(But if you’re going to blog, make sure to do it regularly—a blog that hasn’t been updated in six months isn’t going to look good.)
Set the right prices for your services
Pricing your freelance services is always difficult. You don’t want to bid too high and lose clients consistently. You also don’t want to bid too low and work for nothing. Finding a balance is crucial.
Here are some things to consider when pricing your freelance work:
Remember that your expertise is valuable
How long have you been doing what you have been doing? If the answer is not very long, you may have to charge less until you build up a list of projects. On the other hand, if you are a seasoned professional, you can charge at a higher price point.
Hubstaff’s Global Freelancing Trends survey showed that around five years of experience is usually when you can start charging significantly more. Here are the average rate charged by developers, based on their experience:
But that depends on many factors, including your field. The average freelancing rates in different fields vary, so keep that in mind.
Don’t be afraid to charge what your time is worth, though. It’s easy to assume no one wants to pay you very much—but you never know until you ask.
Talk to peers or industry experts
When I started freelancing, I had no idea what to charge. I talked to my co-workers who hired freelancers on a regular basis and asked what these freelancers are paid. I also attended networking events and asked these same questions.
Eventually, you’ll start to get a feel for what people in your field get paid. You don’t have to stick to that pricing formula, but it can provide a good guide on where to start.
You can charge hourly or per project
Most freelancers have the option of billing by the hour or on a by-project basis.
In my own freelancing, some clients pay by the hour, some pay per project, and one requires a consistent 10 hours a week, so I’m a part-time employee for this client.
You can be flexible in terms of how you receive payment, but make sure you take everything into consideration. For example, if it’s by project, is one project going to require more research than the next? Will there be several rounds of revisions? Will this project require a lot of meetings or lengthy conference calls.
Tom Ewer has a great blog post about how to set freelance rates. When you’re ready to figure out how much to charge, give it a read.
Get more clients by offering great customer service
Customer service can be a deal-breaker. If you provide excellent customer service to your clients and potential clients, you’re going to immediately be bumped ahead of other freelancers who don’t. It takes some extra effort, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Here are some ways to provider great customer service as a freelancer:
It pays to respond to potential clients as fast as you can.
If a job is coming from a recruiter or straight from a client, you want to call or them email back right away. I don’t know how many times a client has told me, “Wow, thanks so much for getting back to me.”
Even if you decide the job is not for you, call back. Explain exactly what you are looking for and how you can help. Clients will appreciate the honesty and you could be called in the future for a job that meets your needs and the clients. This has happened to me, and the resulting job worked out even better than the first offer.
Find creative ways to win your clients
If you really want an assignment, think like the client.
Here’s an example. I once responded to an ad for a remote copywriter placed by a digital marketer. I knew I’d enjoy this assignment, but also that it would receive a ton of responses. My competition would be high.
I read that the client was actually located a few towns over from me and sent him a pitch. I included the fact that, since we were so close, we could meet up in person first and then going forward occasionally to go over projects. This won me the client.
He said he appreciated the fact that we could meet face-to-face as it was easier to go over lengthy or complex assignments. He also said this wasn’t something he considered and thanked me for the suggestion.
For every pitch you send, try to find a way to stand out by better meeting the client’s needs.
Make invoicing easy
Ask your clients early on how they like to receive invoices.
Be flexible—if they prefer to be billed monthly, bill them monthly. If they prefer to send payment via PayPal, set up a PayPal account. If they want a detailed account of your time spent, use a time tracker to send reports.
No one wants to spend more time on payroll, so make it easy to get that process done as smoothly as possible. Invoicing software for freelancers can help a lot.
Go above and beyond
Trust me: taking the time to find and win clients over time is time-consuming. The more long-term clients you can take on, the better. Anything you can to do provide great service will make clients more likely to stick with you.
For example, one of my clients is in manufacturing. I subscribe to a couple email newsletters within his industry. If I see a good topic for a blog, I’ll send him a link and ask if he wants to write about it in the future. It saves him time trying to come up with topics and keeps him informed on what’s going on within his industry.
Get more clients with more pitches
If you pitch more clients, you’re going to get more clients. Finding leads for freelancers isn’t always easy, but if you know where to look, you can make the process much more efficient.
Take advantage of networking associations or clubs
Find local professional networking chapters and attend their events. Even if these events are freelancer-focused, you may meet a potential new client or two. [Is this supposed to be “aren’t”?]
Even groups that you might not expect can be helpful in finding freelance clients. I belong to a local women’s group that holds networking events. People in this group are always looking for new writers, making it a great place for me to find potential clients.
Always have your business card ready
It sounds odd to always be thinking of business in social settings, but you never know who may need your services. I’ve been at several parties where mentioning what I did has brought me new business.
It’s a key tenet of good professional networking: always have your business card with you, and have a short elevator pitch ready. You don’t need to always be pitching, but if the opportunity comes up, you should be ready.
Check freelance marketplaces and job sites
I suggest using free sites as much as possible. But you should also try one or two that charge a fee and sign up for the shortest duration possible. You’ll soon learn which job sites land you the freelance jobs you’re looking for.
Some of these sites can be full of freelancers that work for almost nothing. Don’t be tempted to drop your rates down to a few dollars an hour just to get a job. It’s not a sustainable way to make a living. I recommend FlexJobs, Indeed, Hubstaff Talent, Thumbtack, LinkedIn Profinder, and Alignable.
Start cold emailing
While I’ve never used this method, many freelancers have found this to be a very effective way of getting clients. It’s always easier to land a freelance gig when you know the person you’re pitching, but that doesn’t mean a cold contact won’t work.
Do your research: if you can create some sort of personal connection, you’ll be much more likely to succeed. Did you go to the same college? Do you regularly read this person’s blog? Do they volunteer somewhere that you’ve also volunteered?
The biggest thing to remember is that the email should be about the client and not about you.
For more advice on this topic, check out our definitive guide to getting clients with cold email.
Choose your words wisely to close more deals
Even though your specialty may not be writing, you’ll want to craft your messages correctly to potential clients via your website, portfolio, guest blogs, etc. You only have a few minutes at most to get that job over your competition, and your copy or words can make the difference.
Focus on solving a problem
Explain how you can solve your client’s problem. Figure out what the top two or three issues are with clients in your area of expertise and explain how you can fix these issues with your skills.
Focus on each type of client
If you are trying to attract two or more different types of clients, craft your website and other copy to both markets. One type of client may want one result, while another is looking for something totally different. A good way to showcase that you are an expert in both areas is blogging.
Consider creating one blog post once a month for the one client type and a second blog post catering to the other client type another time of month. On your website, you could have two sections with copy written for each client audience.
Focus on a client’s language
When you spend years within an industry or discipline, sometimes your language becomes super technical. Your language may not make sense to a client who knows they need your skills, but doesn’t quite understand what they need in particular. Use words and phrases that explain what you do and examples to illustrate how your process solves problems.
Focus on the connection
You want to make that connection. This is a tip I learned from a recruiter. (On a side note, if you haven’t had an industry expert review your website or résumé lately, I strongly recommend it.) This recruiter noticed I had worked in several industries but never used the client’s names within my résumé.
I changed this around to showcase which companies were current and past clients of mine. This landed me an interview with a new client, as one of my past clients was one of his current clients on a different facet of the company. Again, I was able to make that personal connection.
In other words, be personable, approachable, and memorable. Your words can make the difference between getting a job or not.
What’s worked for you?
Every freelancer wants the same thing: more clients, which equals more income. If you stay ahead of the competition with these simple tips, you will outbid, win new clients, and quickly build up your client base.
Do you use any of these tips? If so, which ones work best for you? If there are others that have worked for you in the past, please share your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to hear what’s helped you as a freelancer.