Millions of people are getting into business these days. And it makes perfect sense to start your own business or freelance career in a time where the whole world moves towards a project-based gig economy. However, you need to somehow get your first client as a freelancer to turn your idea into an actual business. That’s where many new freelancers struggle. So, I’ve put together this list of 15 ways to get your first client as a new freelancer to help you push through that crucial stage.
Offline Strategies To Get Your First Client
I’m dividing this list into online and offline strategies. Some of them might overlap slightly, though. The reason I’m starting out with offline strategies is that in most cases they work better for getting your freelance business off the ground. Keep in mind that everybody is trying to exploit the same places and opportunities online. You can easily bypass this competition by just playing on a different field.
We will start with the most overlooked and most uncommon approach to get your first client right away. And that’s exactly why I’m putting this one first. When I did some research online, there was only one website in the Top 10 Google results mentioning this approach. Apparently this is a hidden gem, so be prepared!
#1 Find problems in your social circle that you can solve immediately
Every business has its foundation in solving problems. Not necessarily problems in the usual sense, but just “things that need to be done”. For example, your immediate issue is to find your first client, and I intend to solve this problem by writing this blog post.
Now, to apply this to your own business, here’s how to go about it:
- Be clear about what you can help others with. What problems can you solve? A freelance web designer might overhaul an outdated web site. A freelance designer could create a new logo or new business cards for a client with outdated material. You get the idea. Be sure to think in needs instead of what you want to do. Don’t force a website on somebody who doesn’t need one. But help somebody fix their outdated one to improve their business!
- This ties in directly with step 1. Now that you’re clear about how to surface clients that would actually benefit from one of your services, it’s time to actually surface them. Go through your Facebook friends list, think about personal connections you have, places you visit, services and businesses you use yourself. You might come up with some specific prospects who would hire you if only they knew about your service.
- Contact these prospects in a very personable way. Let them know about your new freelance service and that you’ve noticed you might help them out with [insert the specific problem here].
Quick story from my own business
When I launched a webdesign business back in the day, I did exactly this. Within 4 hours I had my first webdesign gig. And the person that hired me was actually very happy. She had known for a while that her website was a pain and that it didn’t shed the best light on her business. She just didn’t have the time to find anybody to solve this problem for her. Well, here I was, acquiring my first 4-figure job for a completely new business.
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#2 Offer risk-free guarantees
Especially when just starting out and trying to get your first client, this method might be the magic key for you. Even more so when it’s used together with the problem-solving strategy from above.
The idea is that you tell prospective clients that they will only have to pay you if they like the result. I’m aware that this strategy doesn’t work with all freelance occupations, like those who involve any production cost on your end, for example. However, for the most part you will totally be able to offer this deal.
The reason why you want to do this is simple: you’re trying to find your first client which means you have no track record to prove your worth. You’d have to work for free anyway to create some sample work and build your portfolio. That’s what every freelancer needs to do in the beginning. However, you might as well try to get paid for building your portfolio.
Let’s create a sample scenario: You as a new photographer offer to do a photo shooting with a happy couple and agree upon a fee of $400, supported by your risk-free guarantee. This means the couple will only have to pay the price if they like your work. You should make sure, of course, that your work IS great! Then, you’ll have proven your worth before they had to blindly commit to your service. If you meet their expectations (or exceed them), they will keep the photos and pay you as expected.
Congratulations, you just got your first customer!
#3 Get your first client through referrals
While word of mouth is bringing in referrals automatically after you’ve completed some projects, there’s also a way to actively ask for referrals. This is how it works:
Let people know about your new service or business and tell them what you do and who would benefit from your service. This step is crucial since most people don’t take that step in their own thought process to connect the dots. They hear you say that you “make design stuff” and think this:
Ok, I don’t need any design stuff now. If anyone asks me if I knew someone who does design stuff, I’ll keep you in mind.
That’s not what you want. You want to clearly explain to them “I design all kinds of things, like invitation cards for weddings, business cards for self-employed people and much more.”
After talking to enough people, you will almost certainly get a few responses like this:
That’s so good to know! My friend Julia is just planning her wedding. I’m sure she would be happy to talk to you! Can I give her your number?
You could quickly get your first client with this tip alone. Just make sure to be specific with your information about what you do.
#4 Collaborate with freelancers in related fields
You can create strong leverage by helping each other out. In my wedding business back in the day, I offered to organize and execute the complete entertainment package for the day. Of course, brides and grooms also need photographers, videographers, catering, invitation cards, dresses and suits and much more.
I teamed up with several partners of each field. Whenever someone booked my service, I asked them if they needed something else, and I would help them out with great recommendations so they wouldn’t need to rely on cold information from the internet (solving another problem on the fly).
Over time, some of these partners also sent their customers to me. That’s the power of leveraging a team. I’ve sent many more jobs to my team than I got back. However, this is not a quid pro quo type of collaboration. If you can help a fellow freelancer get a job, then you’ve done something great! Don’t be the one who always wants the exact payback. Be the one who solves EVERYBODY’s problems, also those of your fellow freelancers. It will pay off in reputation.
#5 Collaborate with freelancers in the same field
When I launched my freelance DJ business years ago, I used this technique to get my first 3 gigs. Here’s how I did it:
I researched who the great DJs in my area were (meaning they were the most present, not necessarily the technically most skilled). Then I contacted them and told them that I’m about to become a DJ myself. I then asked them if we could meet so I’d be able to ask some questions. After all, they were the pros in the field, and I wanted to do my job as best as I could.
All of them agreed to meet and grab a coffee or even invited me to their homes. Sometimes, in other fields, I’ve also booked a lesson with those local pros, or a paid consulting or something. It’s 100x worth the effort if you can get your foot in the door that way. Now, here’s the trick:
You have to be prepared to make a professional impression. Have your website ready, have some great material (video, graphics, whatever applies to your field) to show when the time is right. Then ask for feedback during your meeting.
Usually, if you’re already producing professional results (just not in public), then the door is open for collaboration.
Now you ask them what the best way to initially get jobs would be according to their experience. Most likely, they will give you specific names to contact or specific ideas that work for your case. And sometimes, they will call you themselves a few days or weeks later because they stumbled upon something that would be the best fit for your first job. They might just not be able to do it themselves because budget is too low or because they have other things scheduled.
#6 Meet with local agencies
This expands on #5. Remember being in business is all about solving problems. Another problem you can solve is one that agencies have.
Imagine a PR agency which plans and executes holistic marketing campaigns for big companies. This agency needs people who can perform every task on the way, from planning to designing the different components to organizational and administrative tasks.
That’s their problem. Believe it or not, but no matter how big and professional a company is, there comes a time when they need help because they’re short on people for a specific job. Their in-house specialists might be sick at home, or they have too many projects to manage at once.
This is where you come in. If the agency knows about you, they will probably outsource something to you someday. You never know when it’s going to happen, but it will happen. So, be the one who has the foot in the door. Then you’ll be the one who gets the job.
#7 Spy on your competition
This is a technique that can help you get your first client without any external help. Visit the websites of your local competitors (you should be aware of who they are for future targeted networking). On their website, they usually showcase their own credits, past clients, portfolios etc.
Check all these different resources and take notes who their past customers are. You should not go out and contact them, trying to steal them. That probably won’t work anyway if they were happy with the other freelancer’s work.
You should take this list as an inspiration and idea machine. Most certainly, you’ll find a few ideas in terms of potential clients (or client fields) that you haven’t thought of yourself.
Then, it’s just a question of research. Find as many other companies within that same field and see if one of those could be your potential first client.
#8 Get your first client through network or business events
There are countless networking events going on almost everywhere. Every city in my wider area (~70 miles) organizes a monthly “creative night”. It’s an informal gathering where people from the wide field of creative industries come together, talk, get to know each other and connect.
These events are a great way to build your related network (as described in #4). Make sure to get your name out there and be at the forefront of your colleagues and future partners. The legwork is necessary in the beginning but it will pay off once you (and nobody else) are the one everybody calls.
Here are some great ways to find networking events in your area:
- Ask your fellow freelancers. They probably know about these events.
- Meetup.com – a website and app for organizing networking events and casual meet-ups all over the world.
- Eventbrite.com – a service that finds all kinds of events happening within your reach. You can use their filters to find the events you’re looking for.
#9 Find partners and potential clients at co-working spaces
You might have noticed a pattern by now. Your business success in the beginning has a lot to do with your presence among fellow freelancers. This is much more important for sustaining your career than a quick first customer.
Your network will work in your favor day in and day out – and you’ll work in its favor. One quick client can also get the ball rolling, but the stream could also dry out before it actually begins to flow.
Co-working spaces, therefore, are another great way to meet freelancers, chat, connect, learn about their experiences, struggles and ideas, all while having a good time. Check out co-working offices in your area. You can usually book them per hour. Give it a try and see how it feels. The goal always is to get yourself connected!
Online Strategies To Get Your First Client
Now that we’ve covered many options to leverage your regional potential, let’s take a look at some online strategies. The good thing is that the internet opens up the whole world for you. You can find clients all over the globe.
On the other hand, approaching new clients online requires a lot more effort in terms of building trust. You won’t have the same face-to-face advantage to convince with your personality. It’s much more about data – who has the best credentials, the most experience, the best price, etc.
However, there are ways to make the online world work for you. You can find your first client or two on the internet as well. Let’s dive in!
#10 Share your new project or business on social media
Check out what my friend Sydney did when she and her husband launched their photo booth rental business Fotogenic:
There you have a perfect example of leveraging your connections. Sydney isn’t trying to only talk to people who might BE their customers. She uses her whole Facebook friends list to spread the message among THEIR relevant connections, too. It’s like instantly creating your own mini sales force.
Let your social connections know about your new business. They might just be the ones who find your first customers for you. Of course, this strategy isn’t exclusive to Facebook. You can leverage every social platform that’s available to you.
#11 Become an expert in online communities
Here’s another way to leverage Facebook & Co. All major social networks have niche groups for every field you could possibly think of. You can use these groups to position yourself as an expert and naturally become a great resource to hire in the eyes of your target audience.
Look at what Drew DuBoff (virtual assistant at Create & Go) replies when someone asks about his recommendations to find clients for a new VA business:
You position yourself as an expert by giving the best, most helpful and most elaborate answers to as many questions as possible. That’s how you build trust in an anonymous online world.
I’ve found this idea on Ramit Sethi’s website, and I love the approach so much that I mention it here. It relies on a strategy that I love to utilize myself. With Craigslist, the highly successful technique called Framing (which is often used in negotiations works in your favor. Here’s how:
Craigslist suffers from a bad reputation. The site presents lots of shady offers from lots of shady people. That’s a good thing for you, though! It doesn’t get any easier to present yourself as the best resource anyone could hire for a specific job.
By writing a thoughtful message to prospective companies on Craigslist, you’ll immediately stand out from the crowd. Just by acting professionally! This way, you could find some of your first clients and even start long-term partnerships or collaborations.
#13 Freelancing sites
There are many freelance job sites on the internet where you can offer your services. Be aware, though, that it’s not predictable in the beginning how quickly you’ll see first results – or if you will ever see any results.
I’m including these freelancing sites on this list because they are very popular. However, with all the cheap competition from developing countries, it’s hard to rely on these sites for sustainable business success. I’d just say that you try some of them out and make your own experiences. Here are some of the most popular freelancer sites:
#14 Run ads to a dedicated landing page
Online advertising might be the weapon of choice to jumpstart your new business. If you have a great product or service to offer and a great landing page to present it in the best possible way, then your ad money could be invested well.
It’s crucial, however, to set up very specific targeting for your ads. Otherwise, you might just attract random people that won’t be interested in your offer, no matter how good it is.
If you want to give online advertising a shot and see if it can bring in your first customers, then I would recommend you test both Google Ads and Facebook Ads. You’ll need to go through the initial trial-and-error stage to find out how both sites respond to your offer.
The way to utilize LinkedIn to find customers is by first creating a profile that looks professional on all ends. Put in as much effort as you can to make the best possible impression on your prospective clients.
You should add your business as a new company and put a comprehensive description behind it. Emphasize what you can do for your customers. Show them that you think from their perspective and understand what’s important to them.
Moreover, try to get some recommendations on there as it will help you boost your credibility and social proof. Then, it’s just a matter of reaching out and adjusting according to feedback. You should absolutely be able to get your first customer from LinkedIn if you utilize the full potential of LinkedIn’s features. Simply stick to it to the point where you get your first positive response!
Final Words: Get Your First Client As A Freelancer
Overcoming the initial no-clients stage is crucial for a business to become sustainable. After all, if your business doesn’t create revenue, it’s not a business. It’s a hobby!
However, every strategy on this list can get you your first client (and hundreds more). The simple trick is to stick to the process until it works. So, here’s what I’d recommend you do now:
- Check the list again and find the two strategies that you want to start with.
- Check out this article on How To Prepare For Freelancing so you’ll be covered in all the important aspects of your business.
- Commit to these two strategies and make them work. You will inevitably get your first client with any one of the strategies. The only reason why it wouldn’t work for you is if you quit before you see any results.
- Which strategies on this list are the ones you want to implement? Do you have any further questions about them? Let me know in the comments!
- Download the free From Idea To Income Blueprint to get some more advanced insights on how to create a profitable business idea from scratch and turn it into an income-producing business.
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