How Do I Land My First Freelance Client?

Landing your first freelance client will make you feel like a million bucks. Maybe you’ll even jump for joy. But it isn’t that easy, and in a space where the market for freelance work is saturated, you’ll want to ensure that your work stands above the rest. But how does one do such a thing?

Getting over the hill and landing your first freelance client – however big or small the job – will require honing your skills, understanding your market, and utilizing all available resources to break into it. After that, providing your work is good; you’ll only continue to grow and land more work.

Most freelancers will have a very particular set of skills that they hone and craft over some time before bringing them to the market. As a new freelancer or someone considering a career in freelancing, you’ll want to figure out what your niche will be.

What Am I Good At?

You’d be surprised at how marketable your skills are. Maybe, at the moment, you’re a passionate graphic designer, doing cartoons and posting them on Instagram. Maybe you’ve had a few commissions, but nothing crazy. Or, maybe you’re a writer with a politics blog or a lifestyle blog. Knowing what you’re good at and how to turn that passion project into a viable business is always a good first step.

Establishing a niche will set you apart from your competition. Go back and review your content. What parts of your content over the years stood out for you? Which piece could you sell to a magazine or online news site? Which drawing/design would look good on a billboard or poster for your favorite brand?

Once you’ve figured out what you bring to the table, you next need to consider marketing your skills. Marketing is always the most difficult and rewarding part of landing jobs as a freelancer.

Understanding The Market

Researching and gaining an understanding of the market you’re entering is a huge first step in the process of obtaining your first big job. You need to look at your skillset and say, “Okay, where do I fit into the market?” – this will allow you to get a foothold much faster and allow you to take a humble look at the vast ocean of opportunity and narrow it down to an achievable goal.

Marketing Yourself is Key

Sure, you’re just a beginner in the freelancing world, but your skillset makes you valuable to any company wishing to hire a freelancer. It’s all about how you market yourself. You’re not just a freelance copywriter. You’re a lifestyle enthusiast with a fifty-page blog as your portfolio, pulling in 100 weekly views. Or, you’re a graphic designer who has sold 500 stickers with your designs at comic conventions over the last 12 months. Or, you’ve helped design your local Legion’s website and Facebook page, growing their online presence and bringing in X extra monthly dollars by increasing their reach locally.

If you don’t have any existing clientele to draw testimonials, start doing one or two projects for free. Design a flyer for a local music festival. Offer to take over (or establish) your favorite local business’s social media presence or design a website for free. While it’s certainly true that you shouldn’t work for free, this only comes once you have the credibility to back up your dollar value. Given that you don’t even have a dollar value yet, it makes sense to give away your time for a little while to build up that ‘street cred.’  

The experience you gain from these free gigs can be marketable to bigger clientele if you package them correctly. Here are a few key things you’ll need to bring your skillset to a larger audience.

Company Website 

Designing (or paying someone else to design) your website is one of the first steps for a new freelancer. You’ll want somewhere central to point your potential clientele to. A site that’s intuitive and easy to use and works on mobile devices and desktop computers. 

Complete with testimonials and/or images of your finished work. Aside from your pitch letters or emails, this site will likely be your first real impression left on a new client. Design it well.

Establish a Social Media Presence

You may have already done this, but if not, establish a basic social media presence on Facebook and Instagram if it fits your business model. Most graphic designers will have both an Instagram and Facebook page. However, copywriters may only establish a Facebook page – whatever suits your business.

This page may also be the first thing new clients look at when hiring. Social media is how we connect with the rest of the world, it may be how you will glean the bulk of your clientele. Ensure your social media presence is clean and only showcases your best work.

Build a LinkedIn Page

While LinkedIn could be seen as a thing of the past, thanks to the advent of other social media pages and the progression of business marketing, having a LinkedIn page is still an important piece of the marketing puzzle. LinkedIn is one of the places where higher-profile businesses looking to hire new talent recruit from. Having an updated and established LinkedIn page is a great way to connect with your first big client.

Word of Mouth is Still King  

Despite the huge advantages given to you as a freelancer by an interconnected world, word-of-mouth marketing still reigns supreme. Building a local network is critical to building a global network. Everyone must start somewhere, and establishing a well-connected local network of people willing to hire you or give you work when you’re building a portfolio is invaluable.

Suddenly, you’ve gone from designing your local Legion’s website and keeping up with their social media to designing and maintaining the social media presence of all of the Legions in your county or region. All because someone talked to someone at another Legion and showed them your work, and hey, Presto! Ten or twenty new client queries overnight.

Building up your base clientele with word of mouth is one of your strongest marketing tools. Similarly, creating basic posters for your business and sticking them up around town or creating business cards is a great way to market yourself.

Decide Pricing & Draw Up Contracts

Freelancers generally get paid in two ways: hourly rates and lump sums. As you’re self-employed, you can choose how you’d like to get paid – although it is beneficial to offer both options to clients, depending on what makes sense given the scope of the task. An hourly rate might be more applicable to jobs where many tasks won’t take you very long but are longer-term overall. In contrast, a lump sum might be more applicable to short-term jobs. Either way, doing the math and having the ability to offer clients both pricing options will open you up to more opportunities. But be prepared to be flexible.

Another good business practice is to draw up single-use and longer-term contracts that you will present to your potential clients during negotiations about work. Many templates are easily found online for this, but having a signed and dated contract – even for short-term work – is critical to getting paid and establishing yourself as a self-employed business person.

Identify Where To Find Clientele 

After you’ve done the hard work of building up a reputation locally and building a website, and incorporating some of those testimonials – if you’re ready to take your work global and land those higher-paying clients, you need to understand where to find them!

Now, this highly depends on what your niche is. But, identifying clientele hotspots is a great way to break into the international freelancer market. There are many different avenues that you can use, thanks to the power of the internet. Third-party websites are a great way to find work. Sites like Upwork allow you to set your price range and skillset and search for jobs within those parameters. Apart from relying on previous clientele, Upwork and other such websites allow your clients to leave testimonials there.

You may find that Upwork and other such sites will take a commission off your pricing – Upwork takes your taxes off what you’re paid automatically, as well as their fee of around 5-20%.

Shameless plug – You can also use FreelanceLeads 🙂

Establish Prospective Clients

This prospective clientele base can be a global audience, or you could opt to start state-wide or nationally – the great thing about online or remote-based freelance work is that you’re not tied to a specific location unless you want to be. 

Draw up a chart of your ideal client – everything from location to business model to your contract’s longevity. Then, build a prospective clientele spreadsheet using various work search tools like Upwork and others. This spreadsheet should include contact information like emails and phone numbers.

Start Contacting Prospective Clientele

Your prospective clientele may have an established contact procedure listed on their ad or website – follow this protocol if it’s there. Reviewing your clientele’s ads and/or website/social media gives you a feel for what type of client you’re dealing with. Are they open to phone calls, or are they more business-oriented and prefer emails? Try contacting them via email first. Set the tone of the email in a friendly, approachable manner. Establish your interest in the offered position and make a brief pitch in such a way that would make them excited to reach out to you.

Put yourself in your prospective client’s shoes. Would you want to reach out to you after reading that email?

Set Up A First Meeting

Getting that initial response back will likely set your heart racing. This is it. The opportunity you’ve worked for! Let’s say the prospective client agrees to meet with you – hooray! Congrats! This meeting could be over Zoom or in person.

After working out the particulars, such as time and date, prepare for this meeting like it were a job interview – because that’s exactly what it is. Dress well. Arrive early. Review all of your research on this client. Ask questions and maintain the same enthusiasm that drove you to apply for the position in the first place.

Eventually, your meeting will conclude with agreeing upon a price for your work. This may be the most difficult part of any negotiation. As a freelancer, this is not necessarily a contract-based job. It could be a one-time gig for a lump sum. Here are a few tips on dealing with this part of the interview.

  • Do not undersell yourself! While agreeing on a lower price to get the job can be tempting, you cannot undersell your value. The client sees value in your work. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.
  • Ask them what they think would be a reasonable price for the work they’re offering. Let them set the initial benchmark. You should also have come prepared with your pricing – to provide a benchmark of your own. It’s likely that the client already knows your pricing (whether they’re singular or varied, depending on the job type).  Don’t make your enthusiasm for the job all about the money, but getting paid fairly for your work is critical to running your own business.
  • Get it in writing. Once you agree on a price – even for a one-time job – ensure you get it in writing. Signed and dated once you’ve agreed upon your deliverables as a freelancer and your client has agreed upon a price. Whether you’re getting paid in-stages or in full at the end of the job, always get it in writing.

    This doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re finding work through Upwork or other online job sites, as they have protections for freelancers and clients built into the platform.
  • Once you’ve gotten the job and it’s all signed, thank your new client for taking you on and establish a next contact date going forward, whether you’ll be emailing them tomorrow or in a week with updates and project details, establishing that first post-interview contact is essential for clear communication.

In Conclusion

As a freelancer, particularly as a remote worker, you have innumerable opportunities for growth in your chosen. Using skill-building/learning websites like Skillshare allows you to teach yourself new and marketable skills to bolster your capabilities and take on bigger, better-paying contracts.

The online working marketplace is a never-ending garden of opportunity providing maximum freedom and growth potential within a given field. Start getting paid – and paid well – for your skills. The great thing about freelance jobs is that there’s always another one out there. Find the ones that suit you best. Being a freelancer, you’re not necessarily tied down to one company – depending on your workload – you could have multiple clientele simultaneously, allowing for multiple revenue streams. But you have to start somewhere; landing your first paid gig will only lead to bigger and better things.