Have you decided to give freelancing a try? Congratulations!
At this point, you’re probably feeling really eager to get started, and perhaps a bit apprehensive about your decision to freelance. This is totally normal. The best thing you can do to reassure yourself and get the ball rolling is to land your first client.
Confidence in yourself and your skills is one of the fundamental elements that will determine your success as a freelancer, and landing your first client will help you gain confidence quickly.
Once you go through the motions of finding and bringing on your first few clients, you’ll be able to repeat and refine your process, making it much easier to approach going forward.
For landing that first contract, here are the 6 steps you’ll want to take:
1. Define the services you’re offering.
Alright, alright, I know I said we were going to focus on actually getting your first client, but before you can even start looking for clients, you have to know what it is you’re trying to selling them.
A lot of freelancers get caught in the pitfall of not being able to articulate exactly what it is they offer. You might think, “Well, I’m a developer, so I’ll just put myself out there and see if anyone has development needs. Should be straightforward.”
There are two major issues with this train of thought:
1) Having an extremely vague definition of the needs of the client that you’re trying to solve means that the client may not recognize that it is a need they have.
Let’s say you do front-end web development. As a prospective client, I may know that I need my website redesigned, but I may not know if you specialize in front-end or back-end development, if I should find a designer instead, if I should hire internally, etc. If you explicitly state that you offer front-end web development work, the client will much more readily recognize that you might be a good fit for the project.
2) Having a vague definition of the services you offer (“I do web development,” “I’m a marketer”) means that you’re setting yourself up for a lot more competition. After all, there are thousands of developers and marketers out there -- why should a company hire you out of all of those choices?
Let’s say, as a prospective client, I know that I need help increasing the leads I generate through my landing pages. If you tell me that you’re a marketer, I may think, “Perhaps he could help, but I’ll have to find out if he specializes in conversion optimization and whether he’s done similar work in the past.” Now I have lots of investigating to do for absolutely no reason!
If, on the other hand, you present yourself to me as a conversion optimization expert from the start, it’s suddenly a lot easier for me to see you as the right fit for this project -- after all, your expertise is in exactly the area I need!
If your client is looking for one specific thing, it doesn’t matter if you have other skills on top of those. Stick with what’s relevant to them. You can always mention other areas where you could help down the line, but your best bet for landing a client will be to design your explanation of your services around exactly what they’re looking for.
Before you start looking for clients, first decide what your most monetizable skills are. To do this, you’ll have to find the intersection between your skills and client needs -- that’s your sweet spot and the market you’ll want to go after. It doesn’t have to be so niche that it’s limiting, but find a way to set yourself apart from a good portion of the other freelancers in your industry.
2. Create a website for your freelance business.
Now that you’ve defined the services you’ll be offering, it’s time to build your website. Whether you use your own name, or come up with a unique name for your company, you’ll want to own a domain that represents your business.
Why is it so important to have a website as a freelancer?
Your website will serve as your hub for your business, allowing visitors to learn about the services you offer, view case studies and testimonials from previous clients, and find out how to contact you, all in one place. If a prospective client is looking to get in touch with you, you should be making it extremely easy for them to do so. Otherwise you’re losing out on potential business!
Your website is where the majority of your leads and people referring leads to you will go to learn more about you. It should be one of the top results when someone searches for your name on Google.
My website ranks #1 in a Google search for my name.
You can see that my personal website comes up first in a Google search for my name, which allows me the benefit of customizing what people see in the description of my services, and directing the majority of my search traffic to my own page.
Go ahead and use a service like GoDaddy or 1&1 to purchase your own domain name and start setting up your website. Make sure you include clear information about what services you offer, and an easy way to get in touch with you!
3. Tap your network.
The number one question I get as a freelancer is where I find my clients. It’s what everyone wants to know. After all, if there were some secret strategy that I could reveal that would allow you to just snap your fingers and sign clients, you’d probably want in on that too, right?
Here’s the secret. Talk to people who know and trust you.
When looking for clients, you should always, always start with your network. Why? Because these are the people who will vouch for you. Is there a better way to start a conversation with a prospective client than to hear them say, “You came highly recommended from this person that *I* know and trust?” No! There isn’t!
Compare this to applying for freelance gigs through a website with millions of freelancers, dozens of whom are applying for the same gigs as you are. Having someone vouch for you all but eliminates the competition.
Great, so how the heck do you leverage your network, as the saying goes?
Get coffee. Talking with people face to face is the best way to get your message through, because you’ll have their undivided attention for a short time. (The next best thing would be hopping on a phone call.)
Explain to them exactly what services you’re planning to offer as a freelancer. Mention your experience in those areas. Naturally, you shouldn’t be treating this as a job interview. Your goal is not to impress them -- in theory, this should be someone who already knows you and your skills fairly well, like a former manager or co-worker. Your goal is to get on their radar, so next time they come across someone looking for help optimizing their landing pages, they know exactly who to recommend.
If you have ties with someone who has a lot of connections in your industry, it’s probably a good idea to reach out to them. If it’s someone you don’t feel comfortable requesting 1:1 time with, send them a personal email or message to ask them to keep you in mind.
You can also leverage groups you belong to in order to get the word out about services you’re offering. Do you belong to a former company’s alumni group on Facebook? An alumni listserv from your college? A LinkedIn group of professionals in your industry? These are all people in your extended network -- get the word out to them!
4. Share on social media.
Once you’ve gotten the word out to your professional network, be sure to also share the news of your freelancing business with friends and family! It’s natural to think that your professional network will be the most valuable for you in terms of referrals, but you’d be surprised how many people outside your industry know someone (or know someone who knows someone... you know how these things go) who’s looking for help in your area.
You should get the word out to as many people as possible! Just make sure you’re being respectful in your approach -- one or two posts per social network should be enough to share what you’re looking for and maybe a link to your website or portfolio. Of course, if you put together case studies when you wrap up client projects, that’s great content to share as well.
5. Start a blog in your niche.
Another great way to get traffic to your website and get attention from prospective clients is to start blogging about your topic of expertise. Think of it as doing content marketing for your personal brand.
By developing relevant, useful, and interesting content around your niche, you help companies who are looking to hire a freelancer see you as a thought leader and trust your expertise.
Blogging also allows you to develop a whole backlog of content that you can share on Twitter and LinkedIn, and use to rank in search results for terms that are relevant to the services you offer.
6. Attend industry events.
Lastly, now that you’ve spread the word about your freelance business to your immediate and extended networks, you’ll want to start meeting new people to continue expanding your network even further.
Start keeping an eye out for events that cater to your ideal client. For example, if you’re going after small tech startups, or large e-commerce businesses, or authors -- whatever your target audience, figure out where, when, and why these folks meet up. What organizations do they belong to? What recurring events do they attend? What challenges do they discuss together? Just having this information at your disposal will already be useful in pitching your services to your audience.
Choose a few events to attend, and do some networking yourself. Have face-to-face conversations with your target persona. Who knows -- you might just land a client right then and there!
How did you find your first freelance client? Any tips for your fellow freelancers on getting the word out? Share in the comments!