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Freelancing can be a great way to make money, but landing your first client can be a challenge. We reached out to successful freelancers to get their ideas and suggestions for others who want to get started.
As of 2019, 57 million Americans were freelancing (source). With millions of employees temporarily or permanently losing jobs in 2020, those numbers are almost certain to increase.
While freelancing can be an excellent way to make money part-time or full-time, many people who are interested in freelancing are held back by not knowing how to land their first client. After all, getting started is usually the hardest part.
If you’ve considered freelancing or tried it and failed to find clients, this article will provide twenty different ideas that you can use to get that first client onboard. Once you have even a single client, you’ll feel empowered to continue moving forward and continue growing your business.
Don’t worry about how you’ll find enough work to earn a full-time income. For now, just focus on landing that first (or next) client.
Not sure what service to provide? See our list of 25 services you can offer as a freelancer.
How to Land Your First Client as a Freelancer
1. Focus on a Specific Niche
One of the best ways to stand out is to specialize your services and focus on a particular niche.
Andrew Herrig from The Wealthy Nickel said, “If you’re looking to land your first client as a new freelancer, I think one of the best things you can do is niche down and target people only within your sphere of influence and area of expertise.
“This is a little bit counter-intuitive, and most new freelancers I see will go after anyone and everyone just to land their first client. However, by choosing a niche, you are making yourself more of an authority to potential clients, and you are also gearing your message specifically toward their pain points. It is better to reach a small, targeted audience with an extremely relevant message than a broad audience with a weak message.
“For example, I started running Facebook ads for my wife, who is a real estate agent. As I experimented, I gained more knowledge specific to the real estate industry and what works best, which allowed me to offer those same services to other real estate agents. I could talk to them specifically about open house ads, or coming soon listing ads and give performance statistics, which resonated with them much more than if I was just a generic “Facebook ad manager”.
“As a new freelancer, being a big fish in a small pond can help you find more clients in a shorter amount of time by helping you stand out against all of the other generalists marketing your same skillset.”
While specializing in a particular industry, like real estate, is one option, another option is to take a focused approach in terms of how you are finding clients. Baidhurya Mani, a course creation expert from Sell Courses Online said, “When I was starting out, I found most of my first 25 clients from a single Facebook Group. I designed my services around this online platform called
Teachable and so, I joined their official FB Group where I would spend quite a bit of time answering other users’ questions. This helped me position myself as a Teachable expert and as a result, a lot of clients would just reach out on their own asking for help.”
2. Don’t Get Discouraged
Building a freelance business takes time. You may have to approach many potential clients before you land your first one. That can seem discouraging, but it’s not out of the ordinary. Those who have success likely had to work through the same setbacks.
Mark from Financial Pilgrimage said, “Freelance recruiting is a tough business to crack given the high bar to build trust with a client. This advice applies to freelance recruiting but also to many other side hustles.
“My advice is to be prepared to hear the word “no” often.
“Whenever anyone asks me how to get a client as a freelance recruiter, my advice is to contact 100 potential clients and be prepared to get less than 10 responses, maybe 2 or 3 serious inquiries, and land one client if you’re lucky. If you get your mindset right upfront about negative responses it will help motivate you to keep moving forward. After all, as a freelance recruiter, it only takes one great client to make a lot of money.”
Nick Bennett, a PPC service provider at Growmeo said, “Follow up and be persistent. Rarely will you ever close a client on the first call. Timing plays a big role in this. You may have initially emailed or called someone who may be genuinely interested in your service, but it was simply a bad time for them. Following up on that initial outreach will greatly improve your odds of earning new clients.”
3. Create the Right Mindset
Along the same lines as the previous point, you need to have the right mindset in order to have success in the early stages of freelancing.
Michael Leonard, a freelance content writer, writing coach, and consultant from Inspire Your Success said, “The best tip I can offer is to have a clear goal for your business and work on creating the mindset to achieve that goal before anything else. Do everything you can to think, act, and FEEL as if you already have that goal accomplished.
“The sooner you can get your mind on board with what you want to achieve, the sooner you will find success as a freelancer. This will make the entire process easier to take action, learn new skills, and put yourself out there.
“Also, with the right mindset, you’ll be okay with the inevitable rejection that writing and entrepreneurship can bring. With a winning mindset, you can reframe failures, learn from everything, and keep going until you hit your freelancing goals.”
4. Leverage Your Blog
Your blog can be an invaluable marketing tool. Starting and maintaining a blog requires time and effort, but it can result in more clients and higher rates.
Tom Crowe, an SEO consultant from Tom Crowe Digital said, “My biggest tip for freelancers looking to land their first few clients is to write blog content that offers insightful tips and ideas to your target audience. The more niche the target audience the better, and the trick is to write content that offers real value and gets shared in the industry.
“This is a tactic I pursued when I started out, I found a common problem that clients faced where I could offer advice, wrote a very comprehensive article, shared it on specialist Facebook groups and forums, and acquired a steady stream of inquiries for the next 6-8 months as a result.”
In addition to a blog, your website can also be a home for your portfolio. Freelance writer Nikola Roza said, “Create a simple portfolio site, built on self-hosted WordPress (because it’s more professional), with 5-10 of your best writing samples. Then, when you email cold pitch for work you can show them your samples, instead of telling how awesome your writing is. This will instantly set you apart from most other would-be freelancer bloggers.”
Melody from The Course Consultant said, “Create a portfolio and a marketing plan that highlights the solution you bring to your customers. Make sure to use social proof and testimonials, even if it’s from a previous employer or beta tester client.”
For a step-by-step guide to starting your blog, see our article How to Start a Blog.
5. Create a “Hire Me” Page
Your website should also have a “hire me” page, or at least a page that lists the specific services that you offer. And, of course, make it as easy as possible for people to contact you if they want to get more information.
Clint Proctor, a freelance writer from Wallet Wise Guy said, “One of the best things that freelancers who want to land their first client can do is to create a “Hire Me” page. A “Hire Me” page is like the new resume for gig economy workers. It’s a place for you to briefly explain your knowledge and experience, before including samples or links to work that you’re most proud of (even if it’s work that you weren’t paid for).
“Once you have your page up and running, you can link to it when you reach out to business owners or editors. That way you can keep your pitch short and sweet rather than trying to stuff all of the details about your qualifications and experience into your email.
“To build a top-notch “Hire Me” page, you’ll want to keep it brief (only include your best work) professional (this isn’t the place to share too many personal details), and up to date (gradually replace older work with fresh samples from current clients).”
6. Write for Other Blogs
While writing for your own blog is a great way to grow your business, writing for other blogs can drastically increase your exposure. The articles that you write will be seen by different people who won’t know about you. You can demonstrate your expertise and readers may turn to you when they need to hire someone.
Freelance writer Elna Cain said, “One way that has worked for me in landing clients online is through guest posting. Over the years as a freelance writer, I try to guest post on various sites as a way to stay relevant and get in front of my ideal clients.
“Guest posting means writing a blog post for another blog and having an author bio with links to your business on that post. One such guest post caught the eye of a huge brand and they contacted me on my Facebook page, and ended up hiring me for content writing. To find sites to write for, Google a topic and the phrase, write for us.”
7. Pitch Your Services
Getting a new service-related business off the ground requires you to be proactive. Don’t sit back and wait for opportunities to find you. Identify the types of clients that you can help and pitch your services.
Sarah Sharkey, a freelance writer from AdventurousAdulting.com said, “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Pitching yourself can be uncomfortable at first and you’ll likely hear the word ‘no’ quite a bit — but that’s all a part of the process. Seek potential clients that could truly benefit from your service and just keep pitching. It will get easier with time. And the feeling of landing your first client is worth the effort!”
Freelance writer Samantha Warren said, “If you’re having trouble landing clients, it could be because of your pitch. Make sure your pitch is short and concise. If you’re pitching a job listing, double-check to make sure you’re including all the details the potential client asked for.
“End your pitch by asking a question. For example, you could say, ‘Would you like me to send over a sample blog post to get the ball rolling?’ By asking a question, you increase your chances of getting a response. And if you don’t get a reply, keep following up until you do.”
8. Prove Yourself
Sometimes you may need to demonstrate the quality of work that you’re capable of. There are a few different ways you can do this.
Alene Laney, a freelance writer from Pennies to Paradise said, “Write a bunch of stellar spec content. It’s great practice and you’ll be able to show potential clients what you can do.
“Find a website you’d like to write for and take a good look at how the content is presented – tone, headings, links, sourcing, keywords, length, and so on. Studied well enough, you’ll get a sense for the website’s editorial requirements and you can write articles to emulate that. If you can do the job, that’s all that matters.”
Carol Tice, a freelance writer and writing-business coach from Make a Living Writing said, “If I were looking to find first clients today, I’d think about every business and charity I patronize. Everyone needs help right now! Look at their websites, and think about ways you could help them with a freelance project.
“First projects can be pro bono to get samples, as long as your client is sworn to secrecy that you were unpaid, and is willing to refer and recommend you if they like your work. Make sure everyone you know is aware of the freelance skill you have, and who your ideal client is, so they can keep an eye out for you.”
Isaac Hammelburger, a digital marketer from SearchPros said, “Starting off is always the hardest part. What’s important is to get your name out there. One tip is to provide free service, by providing your services for free you’re able to meet new people and they will be able to recommend you to other people that are willing to pay you.
“With this free service, you will be able to create your online portfolio with feedback, people will see your well-created portfolio and great feedback and think highly of you. These testimonials will help market you and then you’ll be able to advertise yourself with sufficient backing. Be aggressive when you advertise yourself, be confident with the experience you’ve gained, and show people that they are getting their money’s worth.”
9. Start Local
When it comes to freelancing and finding clients, most advice tends to be involve things that are done online. But focusing on your local area can also be an effective approach.
SEO and PPC consultant Matt Tutt said, “This might sound like strange advice for someone looking for their first paid client as a freelancer, but I’d really recommend starting small and focusing on the local area, and even on charities and non-profits. Those are the kinds of businesses that may require assistance from a freelancer, albeit either on a free basis or at a low cost. By assisting them you can start to build up a portfolio of work, and as they’re local it will likely lead to them referring you to other (better-paying) businesses in the local area.
“This is something I’ve done before, providing my digital marketing consultancy services to local charities which has allowed me to pick up a great reference and has lead to other paid work with companies in the same city.
“One benefit of the above is that as you’re local, you can go and visit them and have more of a face-to-face connection, allowing you to build up a better relationship with them and to have more trust – important for when you’re getting into a new business relationship from a cold position.”
10. Get a Testimonial
Many potential clients will want to see references or testimonials. That means that you need to make an effort to secure some strong testimonials that will help you to land clients.
Biron Clark, a former freelance copywriter and current career coach at Career Sidekick said, “The best way to gain traction when starting out as a freelancer is to get one great result for a client, get a testimonial, and build a case study showing what you accomplished for them.
“You can leverage this to get more clients after, but the key is to get that one great result for one person as quickly as possible.
“It’s okay to offer a discounted service in order to get that first client on board.
“Ask friends/colleagues if they know anyone who needs the type of work you offer. Mention that you’re just starting and are willing to offer a deep discount in exchange for a testimonial.
“I did this myself as a freelance copywriter. Before beginning on Upwork, I used my network to find a small business owner who needed their website homepage rewritten.
“I completed the project, got a great testimonial, and pasted it into my Upwork profile. That way, despite having no reviews yet on Upwork and being completely new to the platform, I was able to show proof of past successes.”
PR consultant Paul Chittenden said, “When I first started, I had the luxury of having a second income. I reached out to my network and offered to help three businesses develop a PR strategy and land some major media hits at no charge. The only cost to them was that if I helped their business, they would provide a testimonial.
“Three of the five companies I contacted accepted the offer. My first paying client was the result of having these testimonials in hand. Not everyone wants to do free work, so you can offer your services at a discounted rate in exchange for testimonials in the beginning as I’ve seen many other consultants do successfully.”
11. Take it Slow
Avoid the temptation to feel like you need to grow your business instantly. There are some significant advantages to growing slowly.
Tom Blake, a content writer from This Online World said, “My main tip for freelancers looking to grow their business is to start out by working on the side. Taking the plunge into full-time freelancing can help accelerate your business. However, this also comes with a lot of risk.
“Personally, I worked a 9-5 job for 2 years while slowly building up my blog and network of freelance clients. When I decided to make the switch to full-time, I had savings in the bank in case things went poorly and already had some monthly freelance income I could rely on. Mitigating risk is important for your business and sanity, so don’t be afraid to take things a bit slow!”
12. Make Use of Social Networks
Social networks can provide a great way to reach out to people and get more exposure for the services that you offer.
Michelle from FrugalityandFreedom.com, a virtual assistant and social media manager, said, “I got my first clients as a virtual assistant through networking on social media, especially through Facebook. I did this by publicly announcing to Facebook contacts about my new career direction and the virtual assistant services I offer.
“I created a Facebook page for my VA business and linked this as a workplace on my personal profile. I also joined plenty of relevant Facebook groups where potential clients were found (eg. digital nomads, digital marketing and other business networking groups). I was active in responding to queries and discussions with group members, creating visibility and a good reputation for helpfulness and know-how.”
Emma Geiser, a freelance writer from Nurse FERN said, “Join Facebook groups where your ideal client hangs out. I received an email from my first writing client the same day I posted in the Fincon Community that I was new and available. It can be terrifying to put yourself out there, but also effective.”
Cyrus Vanover, a freelance copywriter who runs Frugal Budgeter said, “The best way I have found to attract and land clients is through LinkedIn. You can generate inbound leads by optimizing your profile with keywords and posting something related to the industry you serve five days a week, Monday through Friday. Be sure to use hashtags when you post to make sure as many people as possible see your posts. When people in the industry you serve see you posting frequently, they will perceive you as being an expert. You will most likely be the person they contact when they need a freelancer who specializes in your services. Posting doesn’t take long each day. It just takes a few minutes to find something newsworthy. Also, posts should be very short. Most people scan LinkedIn and don’t want to read a long post.”
Shawna Newman, a freelance digital marketer and SEO from Skipblast said, “As a new freelancer, the best way to find new clients is to find out where your ideal clients hang out and do their hiring. As a freelance writer, that means joining job posting Facebook groups like the Cult of Copy group and more niche-specific groups. For instance, if your specialty is gardening then it’s a good idea to look for a Facebook group of gardening bloggers because there’s a good chance some of those bloggers need help.”
Sam Hawrylack from How to FIRE said, “Facebook has been a lucrative source for my freelancing ventures. I offer blog writing, virtual assistance, and project management with a focus in the finance industry. I connected with a large majority of my clientele via Facebook groups by participating in discussions and pitching my services (when solicited).
“Do some research into quality Facebook groups within your niche. These are often private groups with reputable admins that focus on a specific type of freelancing. Once you join, introduce yourself to the group including the services you offer (without pitching them). Participate in discussions frequently, offering advice and feedback to other members. When someone posts a job opportunity, read the entire post and follow the directions exactly. Be thorough and customize your pitch to the specific job requirements. Taking that extra time will make all the difference in standing out as a star candidate.”
Becky Beach, a freelance designer at Mom Beach said, “When I was looking for freelance work, I found many clients on LinkedIn. I would connect to business owners and then send a note saying I was looking for design work. I was able to get my first freelance gig by doing this tactic. Nowadays, I still use LinkedIn and also use Facebook to land clients online.”
13. Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile
Simply having a LinkedIn profile can help, but if you want to maximize the results you get with the platform, you should optimize your profile.
Chhavi Agarwal, a freelance writer from Mrs Daaku Studio said, “When I started out as a B2B freelance writer for marketing companies, LinkedIn was my best shot. So, I took the time to optimize each and every part of the profile. In about 3-4 weeks, I saw people reaching out to me for work.
“You want to use general keywords in the description and experience. For example, if you are a writer, use keywords like B2B writer, blog writer, blog writing, article writing, SEO optimized, etc. Things that hiring managers are looking for.
“If possible, add in your service website and talk about the work you have done till now and how you can help. You should also ask for a few recommendations – it adds the necessary social proof hiring managers are always looking for.
“Remember, your aim is to get your profile in the top search results for the desired word. This word is basically what a business owner or hiring manager would start with.
“It could be – freelance writer, copywriter, B2B writer, logo designer, app developer, etc.”
14. Leverage Your Contacts
Many freelancers land their first client through their own personal network. Be sure to talk to your family, friends, neighbors, and anyone else in your social circles about the services that you offer.
Jackie Lam, a freelance writer from Hey Freelancer said, “Reach out to your existing network. The first few gigs I received as a freelancer came by way of referrals. My friend hooked me up with a copyediting job for an arts magazine. Another connected me to a friend who designed websites and had me draft copy for beauty and tech sites. Another pal — and reader of my then-blog Cheapsters — was an editor for Cat Fancy’s online publication, and asked if I wanted to write articles on how cat parents could save money.
“You can put the word out that you’re available to freelance doing X. It can be as simple as sending out a quick email, posting something on LinkedIn or social media. Don’t get caught up in perfection or being “good enough.” Just start where you’re at, with what you have.”
Sarah Li Cain, a content marketing creator from Beyond the Dollar said, “Ask your network – both professional and personal. Don’t be afraid of asking and make sure to send a link to your website and specifically what you’re looking for in terms of work. You’d be surprised at how many people will refer you to leads because they want to see you succeed.”
Bridget Sielicki, a freelance writer from The Freelancing Mama said, “When I was just starting out as a freelance writer, I had the best success in networking with people who I knew personally. Many of my first clients were college friends who needed writing help in their professional career fields, but I also found work through word of mouth with my friends and neighbors. Casually mentioning it at a friend’s party and a backyard barbecue landed me several jobs. If you do good work, the news spreads. Don’t be shy about promoting your new career on LinkedIn, and let people know when they ask, What do you do? Personal connections are a great way to make a lasting impression and get repeat clients.”
Swati Chalumuri, a freelance writer at Hear Me Folks said, “Getting the first freelance client is often the hardest because you’re stepping into unknown territory, but it doesn’t have to be that way! I
suggest starting with your network first. Let people know on Facebook and Twitter what type of work you’re doing. You never know what family member, friend, or coworker is working at a company that needs a copywriter, video editor, graphic designer, or web designer. To find out, you need to ask. Put yourself out there and your first client may come sooner than you think.”
15. Use Craigslist
It may not be the most glamorous way to promote your services, but Craigslist can be extremely effective, and it doesn’t require much of your time.
Photographer Jermaine Amado said, “My best tip to landing your first clients is placing an ad on Craigslist. That’s how I started my photography business. Most of my clients, in the beginning, were from Craigslist.
“Do some pricing research to see what others are charging on there and compare your work to theirs. This way you gauge what your value is on Craigslist.
“This might rub some people the wrong way, but if you are starting out and you don’t have a big portfolio, then you will have to undercut the competition in the beginning. You need clients and a great price is a way to win them. Once you build up your portfolio, you should give yourself a little raise.”
16. Continue to Grow Your Network
The better connected you are, the more work will naturally flow your way. Networking should always be a priority for anyone growing a service-related business.
Laura Gariepy, a freelance writer from Everyday By The Lake said, “Focus on growing your network and cultivating relationships. People do business with those that they know, like, and trust, so you need to build rapport with your prospective clients. To do this, consistently show up online so people start to recognize and remember you. Share information about yourself. Offer useful tips and tricks. Engage with other people’s social media posts. And, advertise that you’re open for business. This approach can take time. But, the beauty of it is you’re continuously planting seeds. You’re setting yourself up for your first client and beyond.”
17. Connect with Other Freelancers
While you’re building your network, it can be extremely helpful to connect with other freelancers. Growing these connections with other freelancers can help you to find new opportunities by word of mouth, and others may refer clients to you when they’re not able to do the work themselves.
Ryan Scollon, a digital marketing freelancer said, “A great way to land your first client is to speak to other freelancers who offer the same service as you. I know it sounds crazy, reaching out to your competitors. But the freelance community can be very welcoming and freelancers who are doing well and are too busy to take on new work are usually happy to refer work on or use you as a white-label service. This allows them to take a small cut of the earnings and pass on the work to you. While this may not be a great solution for a long term plan, it allows you to gain experience and pay the bills.”
18. Use a Freelance Platform
Sites like Upwork, Freelancer.com, and Fiverr often get a bad reputation. While it’s true that many jobs on these platforms lead to below-average rates, these platforms can be excellent resources for getting your first experience.
Freelance blogger Josh Patoka from Money Buffalo said, “Don’t be afraid to start on freelancer platforms like Upwork to gain experience but build a network at the same time.
“I began freelance writing as a hobby to earn extra income and it’s now my full-time income. I never planned on writing for a living.
“As I didn’t know where to start, I started applying for gigs on Upwork. My first gig was writing a review of the bank I use. The positive rating helped me land more gigs and improve my speed and knowledge at the same time. In time, I could increase my rate.
“Only apply for openings where the client has a verified payment method to avoid scams. In the meantime, I started a personal blog that let me network with others in my industry. Those connections led to eventual positions with higher-paying clients.
“Word-of-mouth referrals have been the best but if you’re starting from scratch, be humble and accept lower-paying assignments (like Upwork) to gain confidence and improve your skills.”
19. Start with an Agency
Working through an agency is another way to gain some experience, even if you won’t earn a lot of money for that work. It may allow you to get the experience that you need to be able to land higher-paying gigs on your own.
Ryan Luke, a freelance SEO writer from Arrest Your Debt said, “The best way to land clients is to connect with an established agency in your niche. I started out working for a publishing company that paid me in pennies but it connected me with customers. After showing the quality of articles I could write, people started hiring me independently. Use a company or influencer to connect you with people until you establish your client base.”
20. Provide Immense Value
To land your first client, you may need to make the offer extremely enticing to overcome the fact that you don’t have experience. You could do this by offering a low price or by throwing in other things that other freelancers might not offer.
Presentation designer Adrienne Johnston said, “My single best tip for new freelancers looking for their first client is to offer and provide immense value. That may be in the form of offering lower initial rates or going above and beyond the initial scope, but for that first client, don’t be afraid to pull out all the stops.
“By lowering your rates, you reduce the risk for the client in working with you, as an unknown quantity. You also reduce their expectations, so doing a little more can go a long way to impressing them. The first presentation I designed was 25 slides for $20 with a $5 tip. Today I charge $1,250 for a 25 slide presentation.
“The value that first official client can bring to you through positive reviews/social proof, agreeing to be in your portfolio, and referrals can be significant. Even better, most clients are also willing to pay you as your rates increase because they know the value they are receiving from your skills and dependability. It’s easier for them to grow with you than to try to spend time and money trying to find another less expensive freelancer.”
As you can see, there are a lot of different ways to land your first client as a new freelancer. If you’ve been wanting to start your own business, don’t let the challenge of finding your first client stop you. It may take some time, but with the right approach, you’re sure to find your first client if you stick with it. And once you get a little momentum, you’re likely to see a lot of growth.
If you’re looking for some guidance with growing your own freelance business, be sure to check out Skillshare. Skillshare members get access to thousands of online courses and you’ll find courses that will help you to build a variety of different businesses including freelance writing, photography, graphic design, and much more. Best of all, you can get free access for two months, which is plenty of time to complete a few courses and get your business off the ground.