A guide to finding clients as a freelancer

article cover image

There’s much more to the world of work than first meets the eye, especially as a freelancer. Not only do you technically have to become your own boss – which is of course a big selling point – but you also have to find, manage and maintain your own clients. But where do you find them? How do you decide who to reach out to, and how? To help ease the nerves, we’ve rounded up some useful advice to get you started.

What do we mean by freelance clients?

Freelance clients can come in many forms. A client could be:

  • A single person
  • A studio
  • An agency
  • A publication
  • A company or brand
  • A charity or social organisation

Your first clients can help you build the foundations of your professional portfolio. These are the clients who give you real-world experience and projects that you can then show to future clients. These may not be big brands to start with, but they will often lead to higher-paying, higher-calibre clients.

First clients can also turn into long-lasting connections and lead to repeat work, becoming the bread and butter that sets your freelance career in motion, and ultimately, help pay your bills.

Who do you want to work with?

With so many different potential clients out there, how do you know who to reach out to?

Having an overarching goal or objective can help with this. Ask yourself what kind of work you want to make, or who you want to make it for. Knowing this and keeping it in mind will help you focus your ambitions. It will also help you find and target clients who align with your interests and values.

😍 Write a list of people or companies you’d love to work with

What are your favourite people, brands or companies? Create a list of dream clients, and don’t hold back! For instance, if you’re an illustrator, this could be a particular publication you admire.

🧠 Note down areas of interest and do some research

What are you truly passionate about? Jot down all the areas that inspire you – this could be anything from climate activism to interior design or music. Then, take the time to research potential clients working in each of those specialisms.

🤝 Who might benefit from your skills?

Have a penchant for print design? Clued-up on all things coding? No matter your skillset, chances are there will be someone out there who will benefit from your expertise. Note down your skills, the services you offer and what sets you apart. Then consider who you’ll be able to help.

For example, if you’re passionate about identity design, consider approaching a local business without a logo. Or if you’re looking to build a digital design portfolio, talk to a friend of a friend about redesigning their website.

How to find and attract clients

Once you have an idea of the kinds of clients you’re interested in working with, it’s time to put the word out. Here are a few starting points…

📲 Let your immediate circle know

A crucial part of going freelance is simply telling people about it! This could be word-of-mouth, but also a chance to put your social channels to good use. Consider posting an update on your social media accounts to update your network on your new venture. It’s also worth dropping a message to your friends and family – your first client could be closer to home than you might think!

👋 Reach out to former employers

It’s easy to forget about old jobs or past contacts, but by letting them know you’ve gone freelance, or even suggesting catching up, this could open up a whole range of doors. After all, there’s always going to be someone who needs help with something. Many places also keep a roster or spreadsheet of freelancers on hand, so getting on their radar will mean your name is always in the mix.

💬 Ask other freelancers

You can learn so much from others, so why not reach out to others in the field or someone you look up to? This is a great way of soaking up some advice and wisdom. Some freelancers will also often recommend fellow colleagues in their network to their clients if they’re unable to take on new work.

🧹 Brush up on your online presence

From updating your portfolio to brushing up on your online presence, you’ll want to be prepared in case a potential client knocks on your door.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to get yourself out there online – through a website, social media channel or portfolio. Having a readily available, easy-to-access link or destination to send to potential clients gives you the best shot of landing work.

For more tips on how to build a portfolio, head to this article for some trusty advice. And if you’re keen to share your work on social media, then there’s some top quality information in this article, explaining how to create shareable content that can double your chances of getting noticed.

🗂 Set yourself some personal projects

You get the work that you do, so it’s a good idea to make the kind of work that you want to be commissioned for. That’s where personal work can help, especially if you’re looking to attract a certain kind of client but don’t yet have a body of relevant projects.

Plus, even if you’re not getting paid for it right now, personal work can lead to paid work, especially if a client is inspired by an unfiltered personal project.

🧑‍💻 Have a look online

Freelance opportunities are often posted online, so it’s worth staying connected. You could consider joining freelance communities or groups where industry people network, communicate and share freelancing gigs. It’s also worth having a look at:

  • Industry-specific job boards
  • Social media
  • Facebook or WhatsApp groups

🎉 Attend industry and networking events

You can find good events (both offline and online) by signing up to your favourite media and brand newsletters, following communities on social media and event platforms like Eventbrite or The Dots to find opportunities that suit you. Head here to read more tips on this.

How to reach out to clients

Sometimes, a client will reach out to you directly, but often you’ll have to reach out and introduce yourself, particularly if you’re just starting out. There are many ways of doing this:

You just need to find the right method for you, your needs, your discipline and the situation. Here are some universal tips to keep in mind…

👋 Remember to be friendly, polite and curious

Show an interest in the client’s past work, and share some of your work that feels relevant to them. You could also mention your turnaround time and availability. Being freelance is also a great chance to explore your hobbies and genuine interests as avenues for making new work, so consider reaching out to potential clients that embody these interests.

When meeting in person – which, of course, isn’t always possible – the same friendly demeanour applies. Sometimes, this can help build a better relationship than if you were to send an email.

📨 Send physical or virtual mailers

If you’re a visual maker, then why not send physical mailers out to potential clients. You could also set up a newsletter for clients to sign up to, sharing updates and reminders of your work every few months. This can help spark interest, but make sure it’s relevant and not too often!

🗣 Keep the conversation going

Above all, you want to build long-standing relationships. So if a client contacts you, be sure to reply in good time and make it personal; the sooner the better – as the fresher you are in their memory, the more likely they’ll be to prioritise you.

Social media is also a great way to follow up with someone after a networking event, for example. Most events will be documented online, so you could scan through tweets, images and hashtags to find people, add them, follow them and send a message to introduce yourself. More handy tips on networking can be read here.

🔗 Keep in touch

Finding clients is one thing, but you’ll want to make sure that you maintain the relationship, especially if they might be able to offer you more work in the future. So once you’ve started a relationship with a client, our advice would be to invest in your clients like you would a friend!

While regular lunches or dinners, for most, aren’t going to be affordable there are other low-cost ways of keeping the conversation going. By actively sharing, liking and commenting on digital posts shows that you support them in some way.

Stay resilient and persevere!

You can’t predict what’s going to happen in any stage of life, let alone the freelance industry. So don’t give up if you’re not getting the responses you expected – you don’t know what’s happening on the other side.

📧 Stick to the three message rule

If people don’t reply, don’t take anything too personally and, above anything, make sure to be politely persistent. Remember that people can just get busy, and you can’t let their lack of an instant response be a deterrent to your plans.

And, don’t give up after one unanswered email; keep to the “three message” rule instead. Timing can be everything. And, if they still don’t reply, put them on a separate contact list and set reminders to follow up in six months’ time.

🌊 Ride out the freelance lull

You may already be aware of the dreaded freelance lull, which is an inevitable period for the self-employed – and it happens to just about everyone. But, if this happens to you, remind yourself that it’s not a reflection of your work or talents. Try to save a month’s rent to ease anxiety, for example, and stick to a routine, get creative with a personal project, or take the time off! It’s not worth freaking out over, as it will always sort itself out.

Know that freelancing can be a beautiful thing once you’re in the swing of it – especially once you start getting in regular work and forming meaningful connections with people. Work can become a significant part of your life, so you might as well enjoy it and make friends along the way!

Written by Creative Lives in Progress