“If you build it, they will come.” This line from the classic movie “Field of Dreams” guides the main character Ray Kinsella to construct a regulation baseball field on his Iowa cornfield. When that’s done, Shoeless Joe Jackson and his teammates will come to play. Is that a solid premise for how to get freelance clients — build your business, and clients will come? The answer lies in a critical word in the title of the referenced film: “dreams.” It’s a fantasy!
Rather than sit back, swing into action. How can you reel in clients as a freelancer? Here are the top ten things you can do, taken from my own experience and counsel of other sources in the know.
1. Do the upfront, pre-pursuit work
Plan hard and plan well. Then, you’ll have information and intelligence well thought out, at your fingertips, on the tip of your tongue, and in clear view. It all makes for a great impression — and a great impression goes a long way when you want to get freelance clients.
I call this “establishing your infrastructure.” It’s imperative and consists of many moving parts, such as:
- Update and polish your resume to highlight your freelancer status, skills, and savvy.
- Choose a name for your business, be it simply your own or a creative one that captures what you do.
- Inventory your top skills and interests; if needed, broaden your skills to align with those most in demand.
- Amass samples of your work. Put links to them on your resume and sales promo; create a portfolio or thumb drive to share with potential clients.
- Consider establishing a website. Update often and link, link, link.
- Set your rate schedule and the basis(es) for payment, e.g., hourly, daily, project
- Know your competition and market. Start researching and never stop.
- Target your ideal clients and define why what you offer is distinctive and desired.
2. Talk it up
Freelancing is not for the faint of heart. Learn to sell yourself and your goods/services.
I heard someone refer to this ongoing step as “shameless self-promotion.” Devise an elevator pitch and update it as needed. Then get the word out to your friends, family, neighbors, accountant, financial advisors, clergy/churchgoers, former classmates, people of influence, and the world! Keep going. Let former employers and colleagues know you’re available to jump in on projects as needed; also, ask for leads they may have for you to check out.
3. Link up, over and out on LinkedIn
If you’re not on LinkedIn, get to it stat! It’s the gold standard for business visibility, getting jobs, client opportunities, and just about everything in the global work community. And it keeps on growing.
There’s so much to do on this site to further your freelance book of business and get freelance clients, starting with creating a stellar profile. If you already have one, position it to fit your freelance role. There’s so much more, such as:
- Build your network by inviting people to connect with you. Form a sizable professional platform and stay in touch with your connections to your mutual advantage.
- Take an active role in your LinkedIn feed by reading postings, commenting, sharing, and re-sharing. Post your own content and videos.
- Develop your LinkedIn business page and populate it appropriately.
- Join groups that align with your interests, industry(ies), and goals. When accepted as a member, check activities, share information, and network like mad. Don’t see a group that is right for you? Start your own.
- Use polls to engage your network and gather opinions about an issue. This is a great way to deepen relationships!
- Publish content pertinent to your freelance practice. Network with those who “like” or comment and send to connections separately.
- Take LinkedIn-sponsored courses, and post tidbits of what you’ve learned.
- Attend events sponsored by LinkedIn, and share snippets and comments.
4. Establish your professional presence on social media
Establish your freelance business presence on social media to expand your contacts and cultivate leads.
Put your business hat on and never take it off when on this path — keep your screen names, photos, graphics, and postings appropriate and relevant to your freelance goals. Clean up or remove anything that potential clients may deem objectionable and stay the course. Or, keep your personal profile completely separate from your professional one.
Facebook, now Meta, for example, can be a lot more than “friending” for a freelancer with a business, but everything must pass the litmus test. To use this tool to your freelance advantage, see “Facebook for Business: Everything You Need to Know” and “How to Use Facebook for Business: 25 Facebook Marketing Tips and Tricks.” Twitter is another excellent resource for expanding visibility and potentially landing leads, opportunities, and clients; use it strategically and judiciously with the caveats mentioned. The same applies to Instagram and Pinterest for networking too. Establish a proper business presence and then create, post and expand your community.
5. Network actively to get freelance clients
Join networking groups, both in-person and virtually. Attend sessions, but don’t just stand on the sidelines. Play an active role. Meet and greet, make meaningful exchanges, and adhere to that all-important principle — listen and then comment judiciously. Volunteer for committees and assignments. Take leadership roles, spearhead initiatives, and run for office. Make your presence, your expertise, and your objectives known. Have your freelance business card at the ready and use it abundantly.
I’ve attended monthly meetings sponsored by Rockstar Connect, which is a nationwide group. An organization comprising business owners is BNI. Members pay annual fees to participate and attend monthly meetings, which include planned presentations and culminate in a round of business referrals keyed to members’ interests.
6. Join trade associations
Do the research to locate the best groups. One may be Freelancers Union. The welcome message on its website is: “Freelancers are driving the economy. Let’s act like it.” The group has a number of initiatives underway to try to safeguard those who make their living this way; it also offers medical and other insurance and various valuable resources for freelancers and their families.
Attend events, populate the blog site, network with members in allied fields, and refer them when you can. Find other groups. There are tons of them, some of which may have a database for leads and gigs. Look into civic organizations too.
7. Register with nice recruiting agencies
Seek out organizations that specialize in freelance gigs or those that offer freelance or temporary adjunct to full-time employment. Creative Circle, for example, is a great resource for creative, marketing, and digital-focused freelancers. Register on the site. It’s a process but well worth the work. You will be vetted, and once you pass the screening and requirements, you will receive email notifications about jobs that dovetail with your qualifications. Apply to those that interest you. If the client chooses you, Creative Circle handles the details, from connecting you to setting up the assignment on your space on the firm’s portal to paying you.
8. Up your client base on Meetup
Network with potential clients and collaborators alike by joining professional associations and Meetup groups.
Founded in 2002, Meetup serves as a platform for in-person and virtual events. Organizers form groups along the lines of their interests and then sponsor activities. Members join these groups and then register to attend events. Bounce around the site for groups that may serve as an incubator for your freelance business. If you don’t see any, form a group of your own. For more information, see “How to Use Meetup.com to Grow Your Freelance Business” and “Top 7 Ways to Use Meetup.com to Promote Your Business.”
9. Leverage your success
Let’s say you receive rave reviews from a freelance client for a project you complete. Express your gratitude for the opportunity and suggest a quick debriefing. Afterward, make it known that you are available for more. Ideally, while you worked with this client, you noticed additional ways you could help by filling gaps or providing solutions for the clients’ other wants and needs. Suggest them — cross-sell and upsell. Offer to submit a proposal as a means to embed yourself as a valued, trusted partner. If this assignment appears to be a one-off, ask for referrals for your services. After all, success begets success.
10. Collaborate and coopt
Are freelancers in your field competitors? At times, you may need to go up against them to vie for projects. But sometimes you may benefit by working together. For example, you may come across an opportunity that is too large and too complex for your skills and your timeline. Another freelancer may come to the rescue by sharing the work, lending expertise that is outside your sweet spot and helping to bring the assignment in on time. It may make the difference between getting a freelance client and not. Similarly, you may benefit by developing subcontracting arrangements with freelancers. Learn more about this in “As a Freelancer, How Do You Collaborate?”
Once you build a thriving freelance business, will clients make their own way to you? It’s possible, but my recommendation is to work hard to turn your (field of) dreams into a reality. Take these top 10 tips from someone who has wrestled with this question and done the work.
What methods have worked for you when it comes to developing and expanding your freelance client base? Let us know.