“How do I find clients?”
While many established freelancers tend to run into problems like client overload and scope creep, the question above has to be one of the most asked in all of freelancing—likely because by nature, there are more freelancers seeking work than those looking to manage it.
While the process of “getting clients” is of a broad nature and will receive continuous coverage here on the Bidsketch blog, today I wanted to address the fundamentals of landing clients in a reasonable time-span.
If you’re a new freelancer looking to finally secure some paying gigs, or if you’re experienced and just in a bit of a lull and could use a few more clients, get ready to jot a few things down.
Today we’ll run-through some proven strategies for landing work that do not involve selling your dignity for $5 on Fiverr.com…so let’s get to it!
The 4-Step Method for Getting in Front of Clients
The #1 way to get more freelance work is through referrals… but if you don’t have enough clients for this to be an option then you need to get in front of new clients.
Simple, follow this 4-step thought process to understand who your ideal clients are, where they might spend time looking to solve their problem (they should actively be looking), and how you can get on their radar:
- My specific customer is someone with this problem: _________.
- My prospective customer spends time researching the problem / solutions in these 3 places:
- One way I can break in to one of the places above: _________.
- My persuasive pitch in an email to them: __________.
Getting to know the locations mentioned in step #2 can take some time, but getting deeply involved in your industry is a must if you want to be a successful freelancer, and it’s a great way to make connections as well.
While we won’t be able to tackle each location available to grab clients in a single post, today we’ll be laying the foundation for future posts and other client acquisition strategies. That said, let’s discuss the (by far) most popular tactic for getting new clients, go over how you can actually persuade those few clients who do hit your website to buy what you’re selling, and discuss a creative way you can team up to secure high-quality gigs.
The Power of Writing (Even for Non-Writers)
You already know my stance on blogging / content marketing for clients if you read our Freelance Marketing 101 guide—I love this strategy and think it is one of the best client acquisition tactics available.
I’m not the only one: in a recent thread on Reddit’s r/Freelance, when asked about marketing for their businesses, most users upvoted answers that related to blogging and encouraging referrals:
Why does it work so well?
Blogging, in particular guest blogging for other popular sites, allows you to get in front of the right people via content that they are actively looking for.
You may recall the examples I mentioned from established freelancers who have used guest posting to land clients, such as this amazing case study from Demian:
Last year one single blog post on Copyblogger generated more business for me than [my other efforts] combined… I found myself on the phone or in email exchanges with CEOs and founders for companies like Hubspot, KISSmetrics, Treehouse and Stripes39. In fact, I routinely turned down work as a freelancer because the demand was so high.
— Demian Farnworth, copywriter
Where to target: A big mistake that many freelancers make (as I noted in this post) is that they create content for the wrong audience—if you’re looking to get clients, one of the worst places you can guest post would be FreelanceSwitch, because only other freelancers read the site!
As Demian shows above, targeting a writing / copywriting blog like Copyblogger was perfect for promoting his copywriting services: people who need copywriting advice are reading the site, and some are glad to pay to have it done for them.
(Remember step #2 on getting in front of customers: “My prospective customer spends time researching the problem / solutions in these 3 places…”)
Fact is, teaching what you know to an interested audience not only gets you in front of the right people, but it also justifies your services by giving you the opportunity to showcase what you know.
Lastly, writing posts on your own blog, while taking a bit longer than the immediate results of a big guest post, is definitely a tactic you should consider in the long run—putting your best content on your own site essentially creates a ‘client magnet’ that draws in interested parties with information, and seals the deal by showcasing how you’re the person with the skills to put it into place.
Whether you’re a designer, developer, writing or marketing person, a simple Google query of ‘best [your industry] blogs’ will often do the trick.
Selling Yourself the Smart Way
Oftentimes, client acquisition isn’t working out because you just aren’t selling yourself the right way.
After all, as Han Solo taught us, you’ve got to be able to “sell” the abilities of the Millennium Falcon before you can convince anyone to hire you.
I’ve already explained before why you should stick with a specialty and charge more, rather than diversify and earn less, but what’s a more general approach to improving your value proposition to prospective clients?
The answer really lies in your ability to create a great narrative, and don’t worry—we’re not talking about telling made up stories here.
The ‘narrative’ you craft simply needs to have a beginning, middle, and end, and when structured properly on your site, it guides people along a path to a conclusion that reads, “I must hire this person!”
Here’s how to create a great on-site narrative…
- Judge a book by it’s cover: If you specialize in websites for bands, does your site clearly communicate that as soon as it loads? I remember a local design team with just that specialty, and they were called ‘Amps 2 11’ and had an amp sitting squarely at the top of their homepage—perfect!
- Captivate or die: If an ‘off the shelf’ book doesn’t capture my attention in the first few chapters, I’m done with it (books like that don’t have the brand power of a Harry Potter novel). Similarly, your site needs to clearly spell out why clients should be interested within 5-seconds of them hitting the page. The easiest way? According to this Eyetrack III study, a big, bold, beautiful headline is the only way to go—headlines are the most read pieces of content on any webpage.
- Who holds the solutions? (Hint: it’s you): The top of your website copy should contain no hint of technical jargon or industry terms—it’s all about selling solutions and speaking to your potential clients in their language. Identify what actually keeps them up at night (ex: Lost sales on an eCommerce site due to a confusing design) and create copy that explains how you are going to create the solution—saying you’ll take their design from ‘drab to fab’ won’ get you anywhere.
- Ask them to do something!: Why do so many freelance sites refuse to do this? After reading plenty of copy on why you are their savior, you need to have a simple call-to-action that let’s clients overcome ‘analysis paralysis’ and actually take action to get a hold of you. Even a simple “Click here to set up a free consultation” is a lot better than expecting people to navigate back up to the top of your page to find your contact form!
- Overcome final objections: Around your call to action, it’s best to have some social proof to sway any last minute objections that clients may have about your services. Using client testimonials goes a long way in proving to people that you mean business and have every intention of delivering the promises they’ve read along the way.
Now that you have a high converting homepage, you can worry about placing other important elements like your portfolio and personal projects. Without creating this problem-solution scenario first, however, you’ll risk losing a lot of clients who won’t understand what you are offering and who don’t want to navigate through a portfolio to see if your services are a fit.
Once you’ve ready for the proposal stage, check out this list of proposal templates to help quickly you sell your service the smart way. Whether you’ve got a simple sales proposal to send off, or need a persuasive SEO proposal template, we’ve got you covered.
Using the “Remora Method”
The Remora is that little fish you’ve seen on the Discovery channel that cleans off other larger animals like sharks as they navigate through the ocean. The term, coined by James Clear, sums up a way that you could be generating more freelance clients—by offering to pair up your services with big, established businesses.
I used this exact strategy when I was doing local SEO back in the day—before I had built up an established client base and blog to create a more “magnetic” business, I would team up with local web designers and explain how they might include me in their services for interested customers.
Simply put, if you can…
- Find a business that your product or service can help
- Partner with that business and share the profits
…you can put this method into action without much trouble.
The pitch I used focused on what these web design companies were getting out of the deal—they could charge more for complete packages that included search engine optimization, I would handle the work, and this newly packaged price would net them an overall increase from customers who chose it.
Finally, Are Job Boards Worth Your Time?
In a word, no… but there are a few exceptions.
Generally speaking, freelance boards are international, and because of this, rates are often abysmally low due to the willingness of some workers to take on jobs below the rates expected in the first world (there’s nothing wrong with that, but that is how the game is played on those general job boards).
If you are going to use a job board, you should really check out specialty boards that aim to provide freelancers with jobs that pay well, such as…
- 99u Freelance Jobs
Why are boards like these the exception?
Due to their exclusive nature (generally only available to certain workers and only in certain fields), they attract prospects who need quality work done and who are willing to pay to make it happen.
People on Freelance.com want to outsource the entire development of some crackpot social networking venture to the cheapest option available, but folks on the Problogger Job Board (as another example) need quality writers to fuel their content marketing efforts, and are often willing to pay the $100+ per article rates that good freelance writers should be demanding.
What other tactics (outside of referrals and those mentioned here) have you used successfully to pick up more clients?
Share your tips by leaving a comment below!