Taking the plunge and becoming a freelancer is a really exciting, life changing moment. You’re finally in charge of your own schedule, you’re not constantly being chased for work and you get a sense of freedom that no 9-5 job could ever provide.
Quitting your job can be a stressful time too. No one ever said running a small business would be easy and you’re now responsible for so much more, from sales and account management to financials and taxes.
Securing your first client will be one of your first major challenges. You probably don’t have an established presence in the industry and most businesses will deem it too big a risk to invest their hard earned cash in your services.
With patience and hard work, however, you can get there. Below we’ll cover some creative ways to secure your very first freelance client and get that all-important contract signed.
Work For Free (And Develop Your Case Studies)
If you’re just getting started as a freelancer, you’re probably not going to have too many historical campaigns, clients or projects to call back on. The issue here is, most people aren’t going to trust a brand new freelancer, with no social proof, to service their business effectively.
You need case studies. A handful of examples of your work that you can provide to leads during the sales process. Maybe even some positive testimonials too.
The answer here is, work for free. You could reach out to local businesses in your area that need a new website, offer to write content for a charity website that needs some marketing support, ask to manage the social media profiles of a friend’s business.
There are definitely opportunities out there for you, if you look hard enough. Just offer up your time and expertise for free (or at a heavily reduced price) and not only will you build a portfolio of work to showcase, but you’ll also have some positive references from trusted business owners in the community.
When I was starting out, I contacted the local church and offered to update their website for free. I’m an SEO and certainly no website designer, but I knew I could provide value and anything would be an upgrade on their outdated, slow website that looked like it hadn’t been touched since 2007.
Consider Freelance Platforms
Freelance platforms like Upwork and PeoplePerHour are not to be frowned upon. These platforms are now very well established and contain a whole host of freelance talent (so it’s a competitive marketplace) but they also have clients that are actively seeking a specialist to invest in.
There is serious potential to build a full-time income using these platforms. The best thing is, you don’t need to work hard to find your leads. These platforms are brimming with potential clients looking for an expert just like you. Lead generation is taken care of for you.
You’ll need to establish your profile and build up some positive feedback before you’re able to create a steady stream of income, but trust in the process. You may need to underpromise and overdeliver for your first few projects to generate those all-important positive reviews but once your profile is trusted, there is so much work you can pitch for.
Don’t sleep on Fiverr either. It’s no longer a place for people to sell low-quality services for $5. You can now sell full monthly retainers on Fiverr and build relationships that result in long-term contracts. Just deliver good work, brand your deliverables and be patient when you’re waiting for those first orders to come in.
Put Out Your Best Content For Free
While you may not have a backlog of clients to shout about, there’s nothing stopping you from showing off your expertise. Developing a strong personal brand is absolutely essential if you want to build trust and it costs very little to get started.
Starting off with the obvious, you need to be in the places your clients are communicating. We’re talking about the major social media platforms; Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram etc. Maybe Tik Tok too if you’re the creative type.
It’s one thing to simply be active on these platforms but it’s another thing entirely to really engage and grow your community. That’s why you should put out your best advice, tips and guides for free.
You could create a q&a style podcast where local businesses send you questions related to your specialism. You could build longform guides on your website that talk through an element of your work, step-by-step. The possibilities are endless.
Once you’ve created this high-level content, don’t forget to promote it. Cut down your content into more digestible snippets to share across your social platforms. Really maximise every piece of content you create and consider which audiences you think it would benefit.
Ranking for informational keywords is another really valuable tactic to consider. Find out what questions or long-tail keywords people are searching for related to your service. Then create detailed blog posts that answer these questions or solve a problem. The more specific the better, we want to target the search terms that the big established brands are overlooking.
If your website is constantly showing up when a potential client is researching your service, when it comes to the point that they’re actually ready to outsource that work it will be your name that they look for first. You’ve already proven yourself.
Attend Local Business Groups And Conferences
Online marketing isn’t the only way to get your name out there. In-person meetups and local conferences are the ideal places to build relationships in your area. If you really know your stuff, you could even offer to speak at one of the local conferences near you, just check meetup.com to see what’s nearby.
Ideally you want to find groups where you can be one of the few specialists from your industry. For example, as an SEO it wouldn’t be smart for me to attend an SEO themed conference (if I’m looking for sales). 90% of the audience is going to be SEO professionals. More general small business meetups or an ecommerce business group, however, has real potential.
Remember not to go too hard on the sales pitch. And don’t feel delivering your own talk is the only option either. You can simply start a handful of conversations with interesting people and see where it takes you. Free advice is always going to be appreciated.
Pushing your name locally is never a bad idea and before you know it you’ll become known as the expert for your particular service/specialism. Word of mouth is powerful stuff.
If you’ve just launched a brand new website design business, pitching a generic service for every industry, CMS and business type out there probably isn’t the best approach. There’s just too much competition. Instead, work on finding your niche.
Maybe you develop a design service that’s specific to a CMS, like Shopify. Or you can take it even further and instead of targeting all the local businesses in your city, you become the go-to web designer for local law firms and develop a bespoke service just for this niche.
By going narrow you instantly become more relevant to your audience. You can build up very particular skills that add value to your target customers and you’ll have much more chance of ranking on Google for ‘law firm web design in XXX’ than you will for ‘web design in XXX’.
Cold Contact 1,000 Leads, But Offer Value
This is the roll your sleeves up and get to work approach. If you contact enough local businesses and pitch your services in a valuable and engaging way, you will get a yes eventually.
For example, you could spend 10 minutes conducting a quick SEO video audit of a website (pointing out flaws and opportunities) before spending another 10 minutes cleaning up the video and sending it to the business owner. That’s 20 minutes of work. There are 480 minutes in 8 hours. That means you can get through 24 of these audits per day and 720 in a month.
It’s not easy and it’s purely a numbers game. That said, the process works and if you’re willing to put the work in, you’re guaranteed to get that first yes eventually.
To increase your chances here, it’s important to offer some form of value. Don’t just send a boring email template to a huge list of businesses who are probably going to report your email as spam.
A video walkthrough of a company’s website, social media profiles, advertising campaign or whatever it is you’d like to deliver for them is a great way to provide instant value. A lead can watch your video whenever they get a few minutes spare so you’re not wasting their time with a cold call either.
Hopefully, this article provided some inspiration and some fresh ideas to help you secure those first few contracts. Any combination of the above tactics could really help you establish your new business and get some initial income rolling in. Good luck!
About the Author: Lewis Chaffey is a digital marketer and SEO specialist based in Bristol. You can reach him at LewisChaffey.co.uk.