You’ve started freelancing and you love how things are going so far. Now you’re looking to find more freelance clients and skyrocket your freelancing business but you’re sure where to begin. Don’t you wish you could spend your time getting better at your work, instead of worrying about how to find more clients? Before you start spending your hard-earned money on ads or ‘hard-selling’ your friends, here are 6 ways you can find more clients:
1. Word Of Mouth Referrals
If you’ve been reading our Expert Interviews Series, you’ll realize that many of them credit Word-Of-Mouth as one of the most powerful ways to get new clients. As the adage goes: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”
Generally, buyers are looking to reduce their risk. One way they do that is by asking for personal recommendations from people they trust. If you are the first person being recommended, you can be sure that you have a much higher chance of getting the work.
In fact, the biggest project that I got in my first year was from a recommendation. And that was the project that really gave me the confidence to pursue a full-time career in my field. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth, it can open doors and continue to drive sustainable growth for your business. The key here is that you need to make it a habit of asking for referrals.
Here’s a sample referral script:
“Hey [IInsert Name] I just wanted to say thank you for giving us the opportunity to add value to you.
If you enjoyed the experience as much as we did, could you do me a favour? Would you happen to know anyone struggling to [Insert problem you solve]? I’d really appreciate if you could introduce them to me.
In our line of work, personal referrals from satisfied clients are the lifeblood of our business and this will go a long way for us! Don’t hesitate to reply if you need anything else from me to make this happen.
Thanks in advance!“
It’d also be good if you already have a referral script prepared so the client doesn’t have to do any guesswork.
Takeaway: Do great work for others, and remember to ask them to recommend you. Have a referral script to make things easier for you and them.
2. Instagram Marketing
Instagram has 600 million active monthly users and continues to grow rapidly. You can get some projects from Instagram depending on your profession, especially if it’s something visual-related.
But you have to be strategic. I have friends who have lots of followers but they have never made a single cent from it. It’s either because they don’t know how to monetize or they have the wrong type of followers. Here’s what you’ll want to try:
Identify relevant hashtags
First, you need a strategy to get followers. Identify the relevant hashtags to your business, which you can do by looking at your competitors or look for complementary businesses. What do I mean by complementary businesses?
Let’s take me for example. I am an animator that does motion graphics animation, but instead of going for that hashtag, I can go for complimentary hashtags like #graphicdesign or #logodesign or #illustrations. These tend to get more searches.
Complementary hashtags can allow you to find new followers that your competitors don’t. Once you have a list of hashtags, use it in your posts. This makes you more visible to your ideal customer.
Building a following
The next step is to gain the followers so you appear more credible. Again, you want to make sure you have the right followers to keep your engagement level high. Here’s how.
Search for these relevant hashtags on Instagram, and click on the posts. These posts usually have a lot of followers. Click on the “Followers” tab and these are basically people interested in your direct/complementary industry. Then go through their profile using this process:
Find your favorite photo, like, and leave a proper comment on it. I encourage you to follow them for a higher follow-back rate.
You want to build proper relationships with your followers so that can potentially become a community in the long run, and not just get followers for just the numbers.
Posting your process
At a start, you shouldn’t focus on getting the perfect post all the time. That requires too much time and effort. Instead, use it as a way to document your process.
Just started working on a project? Post your sketches, or work-in-progress. Instagram can be used as a visual journal, and people love seeing snippets of the start, the middle, and the end of a creative piece of work. That journey is a form of storytelling, which in your case, would be ‘storyselling’.
Takeaway: Start documenting your journey with Instagram, you will never know who chance upon it and engage your service. For me, whenever I see a really creative gif on Instagram, I reach out to that person to see how we can work together. That person could be you!
3. Networking Sessions
Networking sessions are events where business professionals meetup to share about their business and find potential collaborators or leads.
There are a lot of networking sessions out there, but I will just talk about the one that worked for me. My first networking event was called BNI (Business Networking International) and it was in many ways the launch-pad of my business. Unlike other networking sessions, where it is open and free for all, BNI is a structured networking session. This means everything is more organized and effective. Note that I am no longer in BNI as of now and have no affiliation with them, I am recommending it based on my own personal positive experience.
I won’t go into too much detail here as you can find out more on their website, but they follow a givers’ gain mentality and they are encouraged to give referrals and selling through their members, instead of selling to the members. This means that my job at the networking session is not to sell to these members directly (because nobody likes that anyway), but rather to educate them on how I sell my services and let them know who I am looking for so that they can refer them to me. In return, you do the same for them and help them keep a look out for what kind of customers they are looking for.
This is great when you first start out. You are essentially tapping on the other members who are likely more established and credible and have a wider network, to sell your services. If you just started your creative career, I would encourage you to try this method as it worked for me. You don’t have to go to BNI in particular, there are plenty of other networking events or meetup groups on sites like Meetup.com, Eventbrite, Peatix. Just keep an eye out for one with the kind of people you want to get in front of.
The only caveat is that you might need to interact with crowds and people in general. My tip is to try not to think that you’re trying to sell someone, always be interested in what the person you’re meeting has to say and educate or make a connection where appropriate. If you add value to people first, it’s likely you’ll get help when you need it. Just remember to connect to them on Linkedin to stay in touch!
Paid networking events tend to have more qualified leads, but depending on your trade, it may not be worth it.
I paid about $1300 per year for mine. In my case, a single project brings more profit than that, hence it was worth it for me. For me, I got my first project as a visitor and that paid for the whole year’s membership! If you’re just starting out and cash flow is an issue, try to pick free or low-cost events where the context of it would imply that qualified leads would be attending – think business owners and middle-management in larger corporations. Typically these are the people you want to get in front of as they likely have the budget/need for the services you offer.
Takeaway: If you prefer to do business face-to-face, definitely give networking sessions a shot. It helps you to build your local reputation. If you are from a small country or city like Singapore, word travels fast, so avoid being obnoxious and do great work!
4. Portfolio and Case Studies
Having a good portfolio or some proof of work is necessary for people to engage you. By portfolio, I mean having a digital website or presence with your collection of work. Having a portfolio site makes it easier for your connections to refer your work to others as it’s a hub for your body of work. You can choose to build a portfolio on your own website, such as WordPress, Wix, Dropr, Squarespace, etc. Nowadays, if you’re not on the web, you don’t exist. The thing is that you’ll need to find ways to then drive traffic to it assuming your referral engine doesn’t work too well.
If you’re just starting out, you could try uploading your work to the portfolio sites below:
When putting your work online, try to add watermark or something indicative that the work was made by yourself to dissuade others from taking it without crediting you. However, it’s not something you can always avoid, just remember that people are buying your expertise and individualism as well. Try not to get too hung up if someone else claims credit for your work and continue to keep producing.
If you are a videographer or a motion designer, try to create a showreel as well! A showreel is a mixed-up portfolio video that’s normally around 60 to 90s that showcase highlights of your past works.
Remember to include your website, contact details, case studies and testimonials in your portfolio site as well!
Takeaway: Your portfolio can make or break the deals that you get. Keep this in mind when doing projects, always try to create quality work, if not for your client, do it for yourself. Once you have a great portfolio, remember to market it by putting it on many different sites, and protect it by having a watermark.
Linkedin is one website you’ll that you have to get on to increase your reach to business professionals. Here’s why:
a) The people living on Linkedin, are potential clients, not just designers
Unlike platforms like Dribbble or Behance, where mostly designers and creatives gather, Linkedin is made up of professionals from all levels of business. If you have visibility here in search, you’ll likely get work from qualified prospects.
Here are some simple Linkedin tips that you can use right away:
- Add a summary to your profile, be sure to include your portfolio link, strongest skills, names of some big clients if you have, and any achievements
- Add your best works in the “work samples” segment of your profile
- Have a professional profile photo that reflects who you are. You don’t need to be wearing a suit, but don’t let it look like you took the photo with a crappy webcam
- Add recommendations from your clients, friends, or employers that you have worked with
That way, if someone ever searches for a ‘second opinion’ of you online with your name, boom, they’ll get your very well-curated Linkedin profile with sterling recommendations and proof of your quality work.
b) You can get discovered if you optimize correctly
Local searches tend to bring the most relevant professionals. By creating a complete profile, adding your work, posting content in groups and updating your page, there is a higher chance of you getting discovered.
Say if you’re a Digital Marketer based in Singapore, if you have a higher Klout Score, you’ll be more likely to turn up when I search for that on Linkedin. Not just to recruiters, but to prospective clients.
Takeaway: Even if you are not a business professional, the people who hire you might be one, and they’ll be impressed if you have a polished Linkedin profile. It’ll make it easier for them to get approvals and get you hired for work.
6. Your Alma Mater
I graduated from a Polytechnic, and the funny thing is that they’ve been my biggest client so far. Most schools are supportive of their Alumni because it makes for good stories and Public Relations (PR). You’d want your students to succeed too, right? Especially if it brings in more students from nervous parents.
If your school has an Alumni Entrepreneur Programme, where they support alumni entrepreneurs, find out how they can help you. Most of the Polytechnics and Universities (in Singapore at least) have programs that support their alumni entrepreneurs in the form of Incubation, or sometimes even a cash grant.
It took me about a year with about 5 rounds of pitches for me to finally get accepted into the incubator in my Alma Mater. It may not be for everyone, but the effort has paid off in many ways: getting an office space at a subsidized rate, a cash grant as well as recurring work from the school itself.
The incubation co-working space that I am working in now is filled with great people with mighty ambitions. It’s a fantastic way to find new people that you can work with and a great source of motivation where everyone is going through similar challenges of entrepreneurship with you. I’ve gotten clients not only from the faculties but also from co-inhabitants at our co-working space, not to mention they are an awesome bunch to hang out with!
If you’re just starting out, ask your lecturers or course managers if they have any projects that you can work on based on your skills. One of my very first video projects was for NP Co-Op, an entity in my school. This first job really kickstarted the rest of my work as an impressive portfolio piece!
Takeaway: If you’ve graduated recently, ask your school if they have any entrepreneurship programs to support you. Do good work for your school and tap on the connections you make to drive consistent business
Final Take Away:
After all has been said and done, these are all still tactics that require effort and time. Start with a plan and take massive action to start seeing the fruits of your labor! Remember to continuously learn and upgrade your skill sets along the way as well. If you have any other questions, discuss them in the comments below!