One of the huge differences between a salaried worker and a freelancer is that freelancers need to always be looking for work. Freelance work consists of projects with a limited duration. Prospecting – the process of researching and landing gigs – is an ongoing effort that needs to happen even when you have those gigs. You can never stop marketing and prospecting.
To follow up on my article on building a prospecting pipeline, what I’ve included here are places to look for prospects and opportunities, so you can begin building connections for your pipeline or just find clients. I also share my impressions and recommendations for each method.
A subsidiary of Communication Arts Magazine, Creative Hotlist is a job listing site and an online portfolio site. You can post your work, and also search for projects and job listings. Use search terms including freelance, contract, remote.
My experience: Many job listings are posted by freelance agencies. To land these projects, you need to join the agency or work through it instead of connecting directly with the client.
Among online job listing services, Upwork is probably one of the more stand-up options in terms of how it works. It serves all types of independent contractors, from design to legal pros. Freelancers can join free or pay for premium memberships, and respond to project listings with proposals. Billing and payments are handled through Upwork. When you quote a project, Upwork adds a percentage to your fee to the client — this is based on a tiered percentage — and deducts it from your payment. You receive your quoted fee in full.
My experience: A large percentage of project listings on Upwork have unrealistically low budgets. For example, I found this listing in the Graphic Design category: Hello I am looking for high quality professional e book covers for kindle. I will publishing in romance category and would like covers that scream professionalism! I am looking to pay no more than $5 per cover but will be ordering covers very frequently. I look forward to hearing from you!* The job lister determines the value of a project, in most cases and, in most cases, drastically undervalues the job, as you can see from this example. The key is to find budgets that you can work with.
Keep your LinkedIn profile updated. You should refresh it monthly, at least. Join groups that target your ideal clients. For example, if you are a copywriter, you should join groups made up of businesses and organizations that need copywriting. If you are a children’s book illustrator, join groups made up of publishing industry pros and self-published writers. Once you determine your target audience and have created a description of your ideal client, simply look for those groups, join, and get active in them.
My experience: I’ve been referred many times on LinkedIn, and acquired some very lucrative design projects via the groups I joined. My advice is to be active regularly. Don’t simply hit and run.
Face-to-face meet-ups, networking events, trade shows and conferences are a great way to develop relationships with potential clients. This is especially true if you volunteer to help with an event or set up your own meet-up. Also consider joining a service club and your local chamber of commerce.
My experience: You’re likely to become known and trusted quickly when working directly with people. I’ve had greater success with networking and volunteering when it comes to attracting clients than on social media. If you’re an introvert like me, I have some proven networking tips for you here.
The Artists Market
Published annually, The Artists Market is a directory of places where you can sell your art and creative services. Photographers, writers, graphic designers and illustrators can look up potential clients, descriptions and contact information to build a mailing list. The web site offers affordable (about $20.00 USD/year) subscriptions to its market listings. The web site is free to use with book purchase (coupon code required). You can purchase mailing lists, or do the work of compiling lists yourself.
My experience: Unlike the subscription services, Adbase and Yodelist (both offer subscriptions at around $99.00/month), the listings on Artists Market often do not include accurate email addresses or specific contact names. They are also not updated as often. When using the web site, I do additional research to find names and emails of the people I need to connect with.
People You Know
Among your colleagues, friends, and family are referral opportunities. The people you know know people who need your services. It does no harm to utilize your acquaintances to find new freelance opportunities. Just ask them. “Hey, I’ just started my freelance business! It there someone you’ve done business with who could use my services? Here’s my business card.”
My experience: Be very specific about what you are looking for. On occasion I’ve mentioned to friends that I’m looking for new clients and have gotten responses along the line of, ”Oh! I know Starbucks is hiring. I saw a sign in their window.” Right.
If you have existing or former clients, do not hesitate to ask for referrals from them. Just like your colleagues, friends and family, they have colleagues, friends and family. If you’ve done excellent work for them, you have a firm basis for asking.
My experience: Over 60% of my clients have been referred. When you do excellent work and provide a comfortable experience, your clients will refer you.
10 Proven Networking Strategies for Introverts (and Everyone Else)
Where have you found clients? Share your experiences in the comments below.