I Need Clients. N-O-W.
“Shayna, how do you find your clients?”
Every single freelancer I’ve ever met, from the ones who just started to the big-league consultants, has, at some point, asked me that same question.
That is, unless I beat them to it.
While it’s obvious, it’s still kind of weird to say out loud that we’re all looking for new business all the time. Even the fully-booked freelancers, the ones who have all-star client rosters and drop-dead portfolios, find themselves needing clients. That’s what makes a freelancer a freelancer — having these jobs.
While it’s a need that your business is based on, and it’s something we as freelancers think about all the time, sometimes looking for clients is urgent business.
Recently, I found myself in this position. I had just finished a massive, all-consuming project for a big-time startup with super-tight deadlines and a lot of late night emails and early morning meetings. With a preplanned ten-day trip abroad right in the middle of this, I found myself working all the time to finish the project on schedule.
When my final version was approved, it was the best feeling in the world — until I realized,
Shit. What now?
There’s little as anxiety-inducing as realizing that you don’t have a ton going on right now — but luckily, we have a few tried-and-true ideas for how to get you back into it.
The super obvious, highly effective way
Marketing yourself as a freelancer is tricky, because while you want to look like you’re fully booked, you also need to constantly be bringing in clients. If your marketing is too effective, when you need clients, no one will know – and then you’re in a pickle.
If you’re thinking to yourself, ugh, it would be soOo embarrassing to post this on Facebook!, you’re right. Don’t do that — it takes away from your brand and undermines from your whole marketing plan.
Instead, ask people you trust for referrals.
What I’ve found most effective is to reach out to fellow freelancers, both in my field and outside. As a copywriter, I have a handful of designers and developers who I’m happy to refer clients to, so when it comes time to return the favor, they’re quick to reciprocate. Having this network also helps because it means that there will come a time when you won’t even have to ask — your friends will like working with you so much, they’ll always push to bring you in on their projects.
Once you’ve chatted up your freelance friends, reach out to full-timers who work at companies that could use your services. It’s possible and not unlikely that they have projects they could a helping hand with, or they have friends/colleagues looking for freelancers to work with.
Your non-freelance friends and family also have networks you can use! Don’t be afraid to mention your business and what you’re looking to do. The people in your life are your biggest cheerleaders, and most want to see you with big money in the bank. That’s what friends are for.
This is basically the modern version of ask and ye shall receive.
The less obvious but also very effective way
For every freelancer looking for clients, there’s ten potential clients looking for freelancers. This is how websites like Upwork came to exist.
Upwork, however, is a trap, built to pit freelancers against each other in the Who Can Work Faster And Charge Less Olympics.
What does work, though, is applying for jobs through networking websites. Searching ‘freelance XXXX’ on LinkedIn Jobs, checking out Angelist, or even looking on Reddit’s numerous freelance subreddits for advice within your freelance community.
The ‘kind of a long shot but worth a try’ way
If you have some extra time on your hands, invest in the long game.
Make a big spreadsheet of the clients you’d like to work with, and once you have this all laid out, start emailing. Introduce yourself and what you do, and ask how they’d feel about having coffee with you.
It’s not easy, and it’s not going to show immediate results. When our Head of Product, Ran Segall, tried this when he was looking for a design internship, it took him sixty tries — but, at the end, he landed a life-changing internship in Mexico.
Working like this is how I landed my second client ever, a client who has referred numerous clients to me since and has become one of my dearest friends/biggest fan.
At the very least, even if your dream client isn’t hiring, now you have a foot in the door for future projects, or for people in that client’s network.
You can’t expect people to like or trust you unless they know you exist. Consider this time investing in future you.
Preventing this from happening again
Being in freelance emergency mode is pretty traumatizing, and once is more than enough.
How do you keep it from happening again?
Have a stellar reputation When your clients enjoy working with you, they’re happy both to work with you again and to refer you to their friends. So, before you send that sassy email or decide that deadline is flexible, this client is more than this one project: they might be the one to bring you that huge moneymaker.
ABN: Always Be Networking Even if you’re fully booked, keep a waiting list going. Never turn down meeting someone, and always actively pursue opportunities.
Personally, I have a spreadsheet with all of the people in my industry whom I’ve met and talked to about work. The spreadsheet is split into ‘partners’ and ‘potential,’ partners being designers and developers I can team up with in the future and potential being people who might hire me themselves. In this spreadsheet, I have sections for name, company/field, how we met, who introduced us, and what our communication status is. The spreadsheet is color-coded for hired, didn’t work out/not going to happen, and in the works. When I’m ready to introduce new clients, I check out this spreadsheet and get moving on my in the works section.
Let’s get into it
If you got to the end of this post and thought to yourself, man, I have a lot of work to do!, then we’re able to help.
Check out our *free* marketing email class for help getting started with setting up your freelance marketing plan and learning how to make clients fall in love with you.
Shayna is the Head of Friendship at The nuSchool, doing all things blog/community/biz dev/happy. She's a freelance copywriter working in art and design, and has two dogs named Chuck and Alma.
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