How to Find Clients as a Freelancer: 19 Smart Tactics
March 15, 2023
Most marketing advice for freelancers you find online is garbage. By garbage, I mean it stinks, it’s mostly worthless, and you shouldn’t touch it.
The “advice” consists of platitudes, which are neither actionable nor helpful: Are you wondering how to find clients as a freelancer? Be persistent. Create great web content. Have a strong web presence.
Freelancers deserve better, so I wrote this post which covers real ways to find clients.
You can think of it as the greatest hits from my 14+ years of freelancing. I have consistently earned six figures as a freelancer, and believe it or not, the difference between a perpetual feeling of stuck-ness and life-changing freelance income is disciplined simplicity.
When freelancers try to do all the client-getting things, we end up doing none of them particularly well. So read to the end, take note of 1 or 2 strategies that will enable you to play to your strengths, and go really, really deep with those.
Let’s have some fun.
(This post has a ton of juicy tactics; if you'd like to quickly navigate to a specific section, use the Table of Contents below.)
Start your freelance marketing with people you already know. Duh.
At World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon, I once heard marketing expert and Duct Tape Marketingauthor John Jantsch explain the Know-Like-Trust progression in marketing. The gist was that before people will entrust freelance projects to you, they’ve got to know you exist.
Thankfully, you’ve already got a network of friends, family, former colleagues and bosses, and other relationships and loose connections.
Some of my earliest freelance clients were an old roommate who paid me to write his band’s bio, a local entrepreneur whom I met through a mutual acquaintance, and a small bank that enlisted my help through my last employer, a marketing agency.
Notice the common thread: existing relationships. If you’re not sure how to find freelance work, start with them.
When you can’t afford more formal freelance advertising, you can get potential clients through word-of-mouth advertising.
To ramp up your referral process, use the simplest word of mouth strategy there is: Telling people that you’re a freelancer, and that you’re on the hunt for projects.
Never underestimate how much people will care if you give them the chance!
Here are practical steps I recommend:
Write and send not 1 but 3 separate emails to the people who already know, like, and trust you:
Life Update email – What have you been up to?
Professional Update email – What have you been up to professionally the last 2-5 years?
Current Focus email – What freelance projects are you most interested in?
We all like hearing from people we care about, and emails gives more detail, color, and narrative than we typically get from the odd social post we happen to see.
If you want examples of these 3 emails, and the rest of my free Freelance Business Launch Plan and checklist, put your email address in below, then check your inbox.
Assemble your freelance portfolio in 7 days or less.
One of the first bits of pushback I get from freelancers goes something like this:
“Well, I see the sense in starting with people I know, but I’m going to wait until I have more to show them. How am I supposed to advertise myself without an online portfolio?”
This seems like a reasonable objection until you realize that, for new-ish freelancers, developing a portfolio you can share is a chicken-and-egg scenario. How can you get client work until you have a portfolio, and how can you get a portfolio until you have clients?
Let me save you all the confusion and spinning wheels in two ways:
Don’t underestimate the Halo Effect. If people know, like, and trust you, they’ll assume you’re good at the work itself. To believe that Greg is a great guy and that he’s utterly incompetent just causes too much cognitive dissonance. So bank on your likeability while you optimize your portfolio.
You don’t have to have paying clients to build a portfolio. You’re a freelance copywriter? Perfect. Pick a brand you love and rewrite their copy. Throw in sample headlines, micro copy, calls to action, all the goodies. You’re an identity designer? Cool. Create a new brand from scratch. Death Cat Biscuit Co. coming to a derelict strip mall near you.
And if you’ve already got a portfolio spread like grenade fragments across 2 computers, 6 profiles, and 50 folders, then set a timer for 45 minutes and get to work:
Make an incomplete list of past clients.
Remember which 5-8 projects you’re still proud of.
Create a new GDrive or Dropbox folder where you can dump stuff—e.g., “Online Portfolio 20XX”—and create child folders for each project.
Gather raw material from the far corners of the earth and add it to the appropriate folder.
Write a blurb for the first project and cover basic project details: who, what, when, where, why, project deliverables, obstacles overcome, key outcomes.
Write 1 blurb a day until you have one for each project, and Voila! You’ll have a portfolio to share, using a single link. Obviously, a Work or Past Projects section would be better, or even a beautiful PDF or sizzle reel (for filmmakers).
Just don’t let perfectionism trip you up. The perfect portfolio doesn’t get you freelance projects. Consistent marketing gets you the conversations, and occasionally, your portfolio may help you win a project.
Fact: Most of my prospects have never asked me for a portfolio!
That said, I have cracked the code on the do’s and don’ts of a freelance portfolio, and you’re welcome to use my free portfolio planner to gather your thoughts, list the right projects, and assemble your minimum viable portfolio in less than a week.
Worry less about how to find clients as a freelancer and more about your target audience and key differentiators.
Any seasoned freelancer will tell you that friends, family, and word of mouth can only get you so far. Eventually, you need to pick a target audience, ideally one that is, to use legendary copywriter Gary Halbert’s term, a “starving crowd.”
Your marketing will end up being an ice cream truck in the Arctic tundra unless you know them inside and out and clearly define how you solve their problems and create value for them. You might have heard some of the marketing lingo related to this: unique selling proposition (USP), unique value proposition (UVP), or positioning statement.
The key is to pick a horizontal specialization (i.e, which industry your target clients are in), and vertical specialization (i.e., how you help them, especially specific outcomes). Draw a circle around both, and that’s your niche.
Want to see an example? Here’s filmmaker PJ Acceturo’s value proposition:
“With a background of 10+ years shooting commercials for brands like National Geographic, Red Bull and Toyota, I don’t approach Mastermind videos like standard event recap videos. These videos are high energy, high impact, and drive people to your call to action. I’ve created mastermind videos for some of the best programs in the country and I’d love to speak with you about taking your video to the next level.”
In that one short statement, PJ squeezes in 5 key differentiators:
10+ years of experience
Collaboration with big brands (National Geographic, Red Bull, Toyota)
Unique approach / distinctive style (“I don’t approach Mastermind videos like standard event recap videos,” “high energy, high impact”)
Focus on conversion (“drive people to your call to action”)
Social proof (“I’ve created mastermind videos for some of the best programs in the country”)
You know you’ve got a solid value proposition when you make yourself the easy, obvious choice for a specific target audience—in PJ’s case, leaders of high-end mastermind groups.
Here are 3 steps for pinpointing your key differentiators:
Set a timer for 15 minutes and try to come up with at least 30 different ways you create value and meaning for clients—everything from your background, education, and experience to your creative skills, results for past clients, and “secret sauce.”
Set a new timer for 5 minutes and force yourself to pick your top 10, based on which differentiators are most valuable to your freelance clients.
Take a crack at writing your USP by filling in this template: “I help [whom you help] do [what you help with] so that [what result(s) you help get] unlike [customer alternatives] because of [your differentiators].”
Go deep with a single freelance marketplace, if you absolutely must.
Your USP, value proposition, or positioning statement—again, it doesn’t really matter what you call it—will help you stand out, if you cruise job boards for projects or set up a profiles on freelance marketplaces, such as Upwork or Fiverr.
That said, here’s where my spiky point of view is going to kick in. I have never gotten a single project from a freelance marketplace, nor do I recommend this strategy for 3 reasons:
These marketplaces take a cut of your earning.
They “own” and mediate your relationship with your clients.
They tend to attract price-sensitive clients looking to pay bottom dollar.
To build the most sustainable and profitable freelance business, you want “private” clients, meaning relationships that you control and own, not ones that are tied to the terms and conditions of a platform that can boot you off for any reason at any time.
Evan Fisher of Freelance MVP is very bullish on Upwork. On his Youtube channel, he shares tons of Upwork profile marketing tips.
And, honestly, if I didn’t live in the United States or another wealthy English-speaking country, then I’d leverage any strategy available to me for finding freelance clients, especially value-focused business owners with bigger budgets.
Here are some tips to help you get the best results on the best freelancing marketplaces:
Go deep with that marketplace, instead of going wide and shallow with several.
Optimize your profile. The specific tricks and best practices vary from freelancing platform to the next, so do a quick Google search (for example: "how to optimize Upwork profile"), find several experts with a strong track record on your chosen platform (meaning, high earning!), synthesize their tips into a complete checklist, and crush through your checklist, item by item.
Don’t stop there: Keep experimenting with new ways to maximize your exposure and drive people to view your profile. The freelancers who are really successful with attracting the best clients on these marketplaces put significant effort into learning the algorithm and gaming it. Keywords matter. Reviews matter. How attractive your “offers” are matters. You get the picture.
Create a GSheet and save the URLs for specific searches in it. For example, on Upwork, you may typically go through 5-10 steps to see what new web copywriting job postings have popped up. By saving those weird-looking search URLs, you can run your searches in less than 10 minutes each morning. Efficiency for the win!
Carve out 20 to 30 minutes for prospecting every single day. I cannot stress this enough. Focus on effort goals, not outcome goals. Freelancers who win long term form what I call a “Morning Marketing Habit.”
Where to find freelance work is a constant challenge for any freelancer, no matter where we live. With that in mind, I’d recommend that you don’t put all of your marketing eggs in the job board and freelance marketplace basket.
Run multiple lead-gen strategies at once. Diversify!
For example, you may want to add social media to your mix.
Use social media, or rather use one social platform, really, really well.
My advice for freelancing marketing on social platforms is very similar to what I just shared for marketplaces: Focus. Pick 1 and go deep, deep, deep with it. Less is more.
It’s very rare to encounter a freelancer who is on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Behance, Dribbble, and TikTok, and doing a stellar job with all of them.
No, what you end up with is a meh milktoast presence on each platform because there are only so many hours in the day.
You can’t show up everywhere, publish consistently, grow your following, and generate project leads.
That said, potential clients frequent ALL of those channels. You can use any of them to get in front of those prospects.
So pick a single social platform, and use it really, really well.
I’m most active on LinkedIn, so I’ll share recommendations for it, knowing that the advice has broader application.
How do freelancers get clients from LinkedIn? The key is consistency.
Here are steps for using LinkedIn as a freelancer, strategically:
Optimize your profile and keep your LinkedIn presence as a whole up-to-date. Key elements worth refreshing are your headshot, banner image, headline, clickable profile link, hashtags (if you’re using Creator mode), Featured links, About section, and experience “blurbs.”
Treat your profile as a sales page by speaking directly to your target audience, mentioning the problems you help them solve and outcomes you deliver, and telling people whose curiosity is piqued the best way to get in touch.
Make a list of 100 brands, companies, or people in your target audience, add them to a lead tracker in a GSheet, and proactively start relationships with them by sending 10-15 connection requests per day.
Grow the traffic you send to your profile in 3 ways: 1) sending those connection requests, 2) publishing your own posts or content, and 3) leaving meaningful comments on posts from other people who have a similar target audience.
For your own content, start with 1 post each week, and as you get into the rhythm of it, increase your commitment to 3 to 5 posts per week. More posts equals more of what content marketing expert Justin Welsh calls “little workers” out there capturing attention for you.
Make offers. That’s right, for every 5 or 6 posts about problems you help clients solve, you can and should put out a clear, unmistakable offer to work with you.
Here’s an offer from writer and coach Grace Lancer’s to show what I mean:
“Ask yourself how it would feel if, in 30 days time, you had a completely unique and different, yet targeted and specific 4-figure offer, that's ready & waiting to be sold to clients who are ready to pay YOU £££ and work with YOU specifically for the results that only YOUR services provide💥🏆🧨💸”
Whether you leverage LinkedIn for marketing like I do or start a YouTube Channel, the goal is to show up consistently where your dream clients already hang out, market yourself as a freelancer who is solving painful, expensive problems, and get freelance clients by being hard to miss.
It’s shockingly easy to lose sight of that goal as you watch other people drop slick videos and beautifully designed posts and have posts go viral with little more than a smirk and a flick of the wrist.
Remember, you’re there to grow your business, not your vanity.
You do that by connecting with the right people through consistent effort, becoming a recognized authority through helpful posts, and inviting people in your target audience to get in touch via email or DM when they’re ready for help.
One final word on consistently creating new content:
If you’re newer to online writing, I’d recommend Justin Welsh’s The LinkedIn OS course (my affiliate link) or his “sequel” course, The Content OS (my affiliate link). I wasn’t even 15 minutes into The LinkedIn OS before I thought, “Holy crap, this is good. Already worth it.” Strongly recommended.
Focus on one form of content marketing at first (and avoid spreading yourself too thin).
Speaking of content, what makes a good LinkedIn carousel is different from what makes a good Instagram carousel. The same goes for TikTok shorts versus YouTube shorts.
The freelancers who truly move the needle with content marketing are the ones who learn the conventions and expectations of each individual platform.
You can know what you’re talking about, have clients who love you, and create mediocre content.
How do I know? That was me for years.
I was Mr. Smartypants who produced decent blog posts and social content on topics that were too far removed from the ones that would attract clients and help to get me paid. Oops.
Here’s how to avoid my mistakes and win with content marketing:
I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but commit to one form of content marketing instead of spreading yourself thin—for example, guest blogging, launching a podcast, sending a regular email newsletter, or writing a book and promoting it.
If you decide to write guest posts for other blogs, target only those blogs that 1) serve your target audience, or 2) have high domain authority (DA) that makes a backlink highly desirable. (If you have no idea what DA is, then it’s safe to assume good posts aren’t a good tactic for you.)
Think of your website as a funnel with a big end where traffic goes in and a narrow end where freelance project leads come out. The best explanation for this I’ve read came from Harry Dry at Marketing Examples: “1) Create value on other platforms. 2) Transfer this value to your own platform. 3) Store value with your email list.”
Use lead magnets and freebies on your website to capture people’s email addresses. Those email subscribers are, as Harry puts it, “gold bars in the bank.” One fool-proof lead magnet is a checklist based on a successful project. What has worked well for past clients? How would you distill the steps or best practices to fit on a one page? Killer case studies prove your results.
Once potential clients subscribe via getting a freebie, send them 5-7 emails in a nurture sequence to kickstart that know-like-trust progression I mentioned. ConvertKit is my go-to email service provider. I prefer ConvertKit over MailChimp because ConvertKit’s dashboard makes it super easy for non-technical freelancers like me to create forms for capturing emails and then to automatically put new subscribers in a nurture sequence. You canget started with ConvertKit for free (my affiliate link).
Look at your email analytics to see which subscribers have opened most or all of the emails in your nurture sequence. Email them one by one: “Hi So-and-So, I just wanted to say thanks for subscribing to my emails. Do you have any headaches I can help with?”
One last thing before we move on: Spend 50% of your time creating content, and 50% of your time promoting it.
Your content marketing will never produce leads for you if no one sees it.
Some quick Google searches will reveal 1) the best online watering holes where your dream clients convene, and 2) the best way to restructure your content to honor the rules of those watering holes and become a valuable part of that community—e.g., Hacker News, Reddit, industry-specific forums, Slack channels, Facebook groups, and so on.
Client outreach can be the fastest and most direct route to new freelance clients.
Think about it: You don’t have to waste time wondering how to advertise freelance services or approach potential freelance clients. You don’t have to master inbound marketing.
Instead, you go directly to clients and knock on their digital door, so to speak.
Email is still one of the best channels for outreach.
Let’s talk about a cold outreach process for connecting with potential clients, which I learned from Gina Horkey.
The 10-10-10 Prospecting Process is simple. You send outreach emails or messages to 10 new people every week. You research 10 new people to contact. You follow up with or “touch” 10 people you already contacted.
Here’s what the marketing workflow looks like, day to day:
To kick things off during Week 1, you research 20 prospects to contact, and contact 10 of them. (Note: Researching prospects is easier if you have already picked a niche, so if you haven’t yet, listen to Episode 006 on the Freelance Cake podcast.)
Pro Tip: If you work 5 days a week, then reach out to 2 prospects per day. Don't worry about what time you send the email or message.
In Week 2, you’ll contact the remaining 10 prospects (2 prospects per day) you already researched, and you’ll research 10 new people that you will contact next week. And don’t forget the third leg of your outreach stool: You’ll follow up with 10 you contacted in Week 2.
In Week 3, you contact the 10 people researched in Week 2. You’ll research 10 new people to contact in Week 4. You follow up with 10 you contacted in Week 3.
You keep following up until you’ve shown up on each person’s radar at least 10 times, and you can certainly look outside email and get creative with that follow-up. For example, you can mail handwritten notes, respond to tweets, comment on their LinkedIn posts, or even leave an Amazon review for that one prospect’s book.
I’d encourage you to think about this as a process for building client relationships, and not getting in touch out of the blue to pitch your services.
We’ve all received horrible, generic cold outreach emails. I’m talking about the boilerplate ones with “Dear Sir or Madam.” The ones with your name misspelled. The ones that make it clear the sender knows nothing about you and has no qualms about spamming thousands of people.
You’re going to send thoughtful, personalized emails, and track what happens with each one so that you can zero in on the right combination of subject line, email content, and call to action.
If you want a cheat sheet for the 10-10-10 Prospecting Process you can reference later, put in your email address below, and I’ll send you the PDF.
Networking powered by sincerity works.
Whether you become a fixture at a local co-working space, attend industry-specific conferences, or join a business network of people who pass around leads, getting freelance clients is all about forming relationships.
Some freelancers don’t get enough projects simply because their network of potential referral partners is too small. They don’t know enough people who can recommend them.
The solution? Proactively connect with more cool people who can recommend you. I recommend the 30 in 30 approach 2D motion designer Austin Saylor shared with me when I interviewed him in 2021.
The magic of this approach is its simplicity: You methodically expand your network by connecting with business owners and other freelancers in your field—people you admire.
Did you catch that?
What you’re doing is reaching out and being genuine. That’s why this approach resonates with me. The old school version of networking with mile-a-minute elevator pitches and shoving business cards into people’s hands always made me feel a tad bit ill.
Here are the steps for 30 in 30 Approach:
Make a list of 30 freelancers, consultants, agencies, or other potential collaborators whose work you admire—people you haven’t talked to before.
Add them all to a GSheet or CRM like Pipedrive. (I promise you, you won’t remember all of them, so you need a way to track who you like and why and when you last spoke with them.)
Email 1 new person a day for 30 days. Start with, “I’m reaching out because….” Then, give them a compliment. Or, mention a cool post or project they put out. Don’t ask for anything. Just tell them you’ll see them on Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, or wherever they hang out most often.
Keep in touch by checking in every 3 months or so. Shoot them a text or DM. Ask them if they’re working on anything exciting. Share a few updates about yourself. Be a fan. Be a friend.
The goal isn’t to get freelance projects right away. This is a long-term play where you’re making a habit of reaching out to new people and staying connected.
In fact, you may find it helpful to stop thinking about “clients” and “projects” and “work” and “repeat business” and instead think about nurturing mutually beneficial relationships, both new and old.
If you keep in touch, opportunities to share project leads or collaborate will emerge organically. Austin Saylor made $206,775 in 2021. The 30 for 30 approach has worked for him, and it can work for you.
Funny enough, I just received an outreach email like this from a freelancer named Tim. He opened with this sentence: “Since I started following you a few months ago, I’ve been hugely impressed by your work.”
Do you think I want to keep reaching and see what else he has to say? Heck yeah!
Networking powered by sincerity works.
Seek out collaborations with other experts in your space.
Much of my early growth came through strategic partnerships. That’s a fancy-sounding phrase, so let me clarify. I partnered with other freelancers, and we tag-teamed projects.
For example, a couple of local guys named Nate and Jon had started a design studio. They focused on branding, website, and some photography and film work sprinkled in. Neither one of them was a writer, yet many of their big projects needed writing.
We were colleagues, not competitors, so why wouldn’t we share clients?
As you organize marketing partnerships like this with industry experts, you can handle the money side of things in various ways:
They send a referral to you, and you promise to do the same if and when you can.
They send a referral to you, and you pay them a referral commission, sales commission, or finder’s fee. These different terms all have the same meaning and ramification: They did your marketing for you, so you give them a cut of the project fee you charge the client.
They subcontract you to deliver a piece of a project. They manage the project, and you have limited interaction with the client. The client pays them, and they pay you.
You go after big projects together, and as the conversation with a potential client progresses, you simply explain that you work together but have separate business entities. (This has become very common.)
A handful of strategic partners and collaborators can generate more work than you can handle with very little marketing effort on your part required to land the deals.
How do you get some of these collaborations in the works?
Use the 30 in 30 Approach in the previous section.
Word to the wise: Whether you’re collaborating with freelancers or agencies, I recommend that you have a clear and thorough agreement in place.
Establish yourself as an expert by learning on purpose then sharing what you learn.
After all the tactical, brass tacks marketing advice I’ve shared, the freelance tips I’m about to share may be a stretch for some of you.
Many of us don’t feel like experts. In fact, imposter syndrome causes many of us to feel like frauds.
Maybe you don’t speak at conferences or have the impressive client-base with famous companies and household names. Maybe your personal brand is nonexistent and struggle to get clients to come to you (right now).
Fine. We all have to start somewhere.
My advice would be to care more about what you can teach someone else, not how little you know compared to other freelancers or industry experts.
To be an expert, you only have to be one lesson ahead.
Here are three things you can do to begin learning on purpose and demonstrating your expertise:
Turn a past project into a case study. What would you repeat? What would you do differently next time? What key lessons would you share? You can strengthen your positioning by showing completed projects and your own ability to improve over time.
Create tutorials or tear-downs. Don’t have a deep portfolio yet? No problem. A freelance writer could find a random piece of copywriting and explain specific edits for making it better. A designer could find a random logo and explain elements that work and others that don’t. You can strengthen your positioning by sharing your point of view and passing on tips or best practices that seem obvious to you. (Believe me, they won’t be obvious to your potential clients.)
Put together a 20-minute workshop. Speaking gigs boost your credibility, but if you don’t like being up on stage, then reframe this “talk” or “keynote” as an informal conversation or training where you’re going to share 10 fixes or tips. After creating 1 case study, tutorial, or teardown, you’ll already have plenty of material. 10 tips times 2 minutes per tip equals 20 minutes. Voila!
These fixes or tips morph into project opportunities when you make them available to other people.
With that in mind, reach out to whoever is responsible for events or programming at your local entrepreneur center or business networking group, and offer to show up and teach this workshop.
You can also share them one at a time on your social platform of choice. It doesn’t matter how many times they have been shared before. Someone out there really needs to hear them from you.
Get more reviews and feedback the easy way.
Anytime I read an Amazon review, I think, “I’m glad someone took the time to write this.” Then, I think, “I certainly don’t want to spend my time writing these.”
Most people, your previous clients included, don’t enjoy writing reviews, and even though they want to help you out, your tentative requests for reviews (“Hey, would you mind….?”) will still saddle them with an unappealing task.
There’s an easier and frankly better way to get proof of your capabilities and results from past clients, and it’s a marketing strategy that’s so obvious it almost doesn’t qualify as one.
Ask them if they’d mind taking 3 minutes to fill out a feedback form.
As subtle and silly as this reframing may sound, it is very effective. You’ll get more testimonials if you make it easy for clients to send them by 1) asking them to answer questions instead of writing, and 2) creating the testimonial yourself from their answers.
One of my coaching clients, Ezekiel Rochat at Rocship.com helped me move FreelanceCake.com over to Webflow, and at the end of the project, he put a big smile on my face when he used my process on me, his client.
Here’s the email he sent me:
Here are the questions I use in my form (which Ezekiel also used in his):
What's your name?
What's the name of your company?
What was the problem you hired Balernum for?
What happened after you hired Balernum? What were the results?
What in particular did you like about working with Balernum?
Can you think of two or three other benefits of working with us?
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
And lastly, how likely would you recommend us to a friend?
Which tool you use for the short questionnaire doesn’t matter. Typeform, Jotform, or a free Google Form all work equally well.
Once you stitch together the testimonial based on their responses, you can follow up with them to say thank you and ask permission to use the testimonial.
You also ask them to do you one final favor and publish the review on your Google Maps Listing.
Create a freelance website you’re proud of, quickly, without overthinking it.
Let’s just dive straight into some no-nonsense recommendations for a freelance website.
To build a website, you need a domain name, and this need opens Pandora’s box. Freelancers spend way too much time agonizing over the decision between a personal brand (meaning, using your own name for the business) or a different brand, such as Rad Kitten Cuddles Creative Co™.
Can I be blunt? This is a six-or-half-dozen scenario.
A cool brand name isn’t going to provide that much lift for your freelance business, and using your name isn’t going to hurt you. You have much more to gain by deciding quickly and getting a website up quickly than by landing on “the perfect name,” which doesn’t exist anyway.
Besides, brands come and go. You can always change your mind later.
As a freelancer, I’ve had multiple brand names (Bright Newt, Wunderbar, Balernum), and though I still use the name Balernum for my LLC, I now do my consulting as Austin L. Church. (Including my middle initial helps to differentiate me from all the churches in Austin, Texas.)
So the goal is to pick a simple, readable domain name, register it, set up a strong website, and showcase your services.
Later, you’ll want to update and optimize your website, so pick one of the best content management systems (CMS). I recommend using either WordPress and thepremium DIVI theme from Elegant Themes (affiliate link) or using Webflow. AustinLChurch.com is built on WordPress, and FreelanceCake.com is built on Webflow.
Note: I don’t recommend Wix or Squarespace for the simple reason that all of my freelance coaching clients who start with those platforms eventually want something more robust. They move over to WordPress or Webflow.
Now for the real tiger trap: content. What do you actually put on your freelance website?
Start with just the homepage. Get it live. Add more pages with more content later!
Here's the 1-page content strategy or framework I recommend to my coaching clients so they don’t overthink this step:
Hero section. Lead with your value proposition and a strong call to action.
Problem section. Open with a catchy, pain-focused subheader, then go into a brief narrative centered on client pain points and desires.
Agitation section. Highlight common problems clients make when trying to solve the problem—e.g., hiring cheap copywriters or translators and regretting it later)
Solution section. Explain the more value-conscious approach to getting better results much faster, built around your key differentiators and 3-5 step process.
(Optional section): Benefits Call-Outs. Give some airplay to 2-3 key benefits based on your differentiators—e.g., typo- and embarrassment-free copywriting.
Past Clients. Include a brag bar of client logos for social proof if you’ve got them.
Juicy Offer section. Explain how your freelance services benefit your clients and what a typical engagement looks like. Bonus points if you include a bold promise.
Testimonials. Use 3 testimonials side by side if you’ve got them or a slider if you’ve got more than than 3.
(Optional section): Case Study Call-Out. Introduce a successful project with a short paragraph and cross-link to the full long-form case study.
Short Bio. Add something short and punchy to show your personality. Here’s an example template:
My name is _________________ and I believe that [KEY BELIEF] (OR: I believe that doing [KEY ACTION]) is __________________ (key? instrumental? a must?) to/for ________________ (success/overcoming X/achieving X) in __________________________ (this and/or that endeavor).
Call to Action. Tell people what you want them to do—for example, “Book a 20-minute discovery call to tell me what you’d like to see happen.”
Portfolio. Link out to your projects or even a GDoc until you build out a dedicated portfolio section on your website. Check out the screenshot from Erin Balsa at Haus of Bold below.
Footer. Add social badges, especially LinkedIn, and use Termageddon for terms and conditions.
If you want to grab my more detailed 1-page content strategy tutorial, along with my freelance website cheat sheet, put in your email address, and I’ll send you both PDFs.
Seek out a freelance mentor who can hand you golden suitcases.
In May 2009, a veteran freelance copywriter and agency owner named Andrew Gordon was glancing through my portfolio. Precious baby freelancer I was, I had printed it out.
Andrew asked me what I charged. I told him $40 an hour.
He asked if he could give me some advice, and when I said yes, he told me to raise my rates to $75 an hour, effectively immediately. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be taken seriously in larger markets like Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.
Potential clients wouldn’t look at my “reasonable,” or comparatively low, rates and think, “Great! More work for less money.” No, they’d take my rates as a signal of my inexperience, lack of confidence, or low skill level.
Andrew made me realize that, if I were too cheap, the clients I really wanted wouldn’t even consider me. Pricing is branding. Pricing is positioning. You won’t command Rolex respect at Timex prices.
I now refer to that lesson as “The Golden Suitcase” because Andrew’s advice, and the higher prices I charged as a result, made me an extra $100,000 at least in my early years of freelancing.
Mentorship can happen through conversations with more experienced creative professionals like Andrew, through books, online courses, and podcasts, and through a more formal coaching relationship with an industry expert who has had a successful freelance career.
You want to learn from someone who has been there and done it.
How have they gotten clients? How have they upgraded their mindset? How have they learned to be good with pricing and manage money well? How have they earned six figures and, more importantly, kept more of that money? How have they found work-life harmony?
When in doubt, reach out to a coach or mentor. Ask for advice.
Stay active in relevant communities
Freelancing has come a long way since I started in April 2009.
There are tons of online communities and forums for every freelance niche. You can find valuable threads (and heated debates) on Quora, Reddit, and Slack. Some channels are public, like Leapers, and others are paid and private, like Workfrom.
You’ve got no shortage of choices. You can find pockets of collegial freelancers on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can find really good freelance education on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. You can share your work on portfolio sites like Behance, Dribbble, and DeviantArt.
The opportunity is the risk, though. Skating through multiple channels and communities without really digging in to a particular one.
My advice would be to pick 1 or 2 relevant communities, and set a few guidelines like these for yourself:
Show up often. Daily is best.
Be helpful in all your interactions. When someone asks a question you can answer, share what you know for free. Avoid being combative or picking fights. Being “right” won’t get you clients.
Take your answers to fellow members and turn them into more “public” posts on your social platform of choice. Score!
Build your network by asking other members to connect on a Zoom call.
Ask for help.
Freelance communities are a good place to make friends and get gigs, and the persistent and caring bird gets the worm.
When in doubt, focus on these 6 quick wins.
Freelancing is all about leverage, getting better results with less effort, and some of the best ways to find clients involve noticing the opportunities you may already have.
1. Follow up with people you already know.
If you’ve already notched a few projects, or you’ve been in the freelance game for years, you’re overlooking people who could send your projects or refer potential clients. With that in mind, here are 5 steps for drumming up new freelance gigs:
Look at your invoices, proposals, and discovery call appointments and list out all your past opportunities.
Follow up with the people who DIDN’T pick you: “I’ve been meaning to follow up and ask, ‘How did that project go?’”
Take a closer look at the proposals sent to people who did pick you and notice what they DIDN’T buy. Follow up and ask, “Have you put any more thought into that messaging project we discussed?”
As for clients who bought the whole shebang, what would you do next for them if you could do anything? Follow up and ask, “Have you ever considered [your idea here]? I was thinking about our project this morning, and based on my experience, the next step would be....”
Now that you’ve got that client list, you’ve got an email list. Write about 1 trend you’ve noticed, 1 lesson you’ve learned, and 1 trick or tactic that’s working right now. Wait a week and deliver that value in a simple, plain-text email newsletter.
2. Ask for introductions.
The request can be casual: “I really value our relationship, and it makes sense that you’d know other people I might like too. Can you think of one or two people I should connect with?” 10 people in your existing network will be willing to introduce you to someone interesting, and you can use their LinkedIn profiles to pinpoint specific people who are of particular interest to you.
3. Schedule strategic quarterly check-ins with clients you've already got.
And when I say quarterly review, I would say: “Let's catch up for 30 minutes. I’d love to hear what’s going on with you and your business.”
And I would ask four questions:
“What's going well?”
“What isn't going well?”
“Is there anything that I or we can do better?”
“And then, what's on the horizon for you?”
That last question, maybe they bring up a trade show, something like:
“Oh! We've got this new product.”
“We're gonna need new product copy.”
“We're gonna need new keyword research.”
“We're gonna need new landing pages.”
And then the most natural question you can ask if needs do come up, is so simple: “Do you want help with that?”
4. Find a strategic partner.
A key marketing strategy of mine for the past 4 years has been Other People’s Audiences. Is there a friend or client you've already got who could put you in front of their audience? Could they give you a shout-out on Twitter or in an email newsletter? Could they go old school and mail a letter introducing you to all their best clients? Could you teach a how-to workshop that they promote to their audience? Could you be a guest on their podcast?
Ask yourself this question: “Who else already has the client I want but would not stand to lose anything if we were to develop a relationship?”
5. Create a dream clients list.
Several years ago, I finally went after outdoor brands. I’ve always loved being outdoors, and with LinkedIn making it obvious who the founders, CEOs, and CMOs were, I was able to reach out to them directly and start conversations.
Suchi, a B2B and B2C Content Writer, told me in a LinkedIn message: “I really want to use my writing skills to help an important, urgent cause.” Why wouldn’t Suchi peruse the B Corp directory, find cool companies whose cause made her weak in the knees, and reach out and say hi?
A freelance writer and brand strategist named Chelsea wrote this in the email she sent me: “What gets me excited is working exclusively with travel/hospitality brands with a strong ESG mandate.”
What type of work gets you excited? There’s literally nothing stopping you from doing the following:
Start looking for businesses and brands you’d love to work with.
Create a list of 50 to 100 dream clients in that space.
Use LinkedIn to find the decision-makers, usually the founder or CEO at startups, or someone in marketing leadership at small to medium-sized businesses. (Pro Tip: You can sign up for a free LinkedIn Sales Navigatortrial and use the advanced search criteria to find those decision-makers quickly.”)
Save all the names and contact info in a Dream Clients spreadsheet. (Or use the lead tracker template below.)
Reach out to 2 to 3 of them per week.
Put in 5 to 10 “touches” before giving up on the relationship.
6. Track leads in a spreadsheet.
When I track leads in a spreadsheet, they don’t fall through the cracks. And when I look at that spreadsheet every Monday, I remember to follow up with potential clients. And when I remember to follow up at least 5 times, I win more projects. The answers is always yes until you get a clear no.
If you don’t currently make a regular habit of adding leads to a spreadsheet or CRM and doing your follow-ups once per week, then make a copy of this lead tracker template and get started.
Want my single best tip for long-term success? Here goes…
With all this talk of how to get more freelance work, your head might be spinning. Let me see if I can curb any overwhelm.
Have an “always be marketing” mindset, and build a morning marketing habit to support it.
If you really want to thrive on this path and have life-changing freelance income, then you’ve got to set aside 30 minutes a day to knock out one or two marketing tasks.
We’ve already covered several of the best and fastest ways to get clients outside of freelance marketplaces. However, all the best, smartest advice in the world can’t help you if you simply stop marketing when you get busy.
You’ll never get freelance clients to come to you if you’re not consistent. The marketing strategy or marketing activities you pick matter less than the consistency.
Consistency trumps everything in marketing.
Don’t worry so much about how to get more clients or how you market without being annoying. You’ll learn the best practices through doing. You’ll gain confidence through doing.
Instead, make a simple plan to keep you on track: what 1 or 2 strategies will you try?. Then, focus on your minimum viable marketing: the daily input of 30 minutes of effort that will eventually produce the results you want.
A final word of advice before we move on: If you struggle with making the habit stick, keep lowering the commitment until it does.
Keep improving by getting 1% better each day.
Every day as a freelancer presents the opportunity to become 1% better. Every day can make us smarter if we let it. This is especially true for marketing and finding clients, so here are specific ways I’ve made a more deliberate practice of improvement over the last 14 years:
Always be improving whichever social profile you use most. I’ve changed something on my LinkedIn profile 500 times, maybe 1,000. Make a tweak, then see if that nudges results in the right direction.
Pick learning objectives. You found your way to this post because you want to know how to market yourself as a freelancer. What will your focus be next month, maybe strong positioning? Instead of foraging on a dozen topics, go deeper with one at a time.
Read relevant books. Social posts and other content snacks are fine sprinkled throughout the day, but it’s hard to beat a whole book for true business nutrition. For example, David C. Baker’s The Business of Expertise is a must-read for every freelancer.
Sure, listen to podcasts to learn more—mine and Millo’s Freelance to Founder are worth a listen—but a headphone-free walk may be the better bet for breakthrough. When was the last time you went for a walk just to think about a problem you were trying to solve? Get your body moving, and your mind will follow.
Refine, adapt, and optimize current strategies. What’s working? What isn’t? What insights do your results reveal? If you were to think of yourself as a scientist in a laboratory, what does your next experiment need to be?
The best freelancers set their sights on hitting singles and doubles, not homeruns, and make many, many small adjustments. That continual, incremental improvement will eventually produce a business you really love.
Avoid these 7 mistakes freelancers make when trying to find clients.
When I got laid off from my job at a marketing agency on a Friday, I had no idea that freelancing would be not just a stop-gap solution but my long-term career path.
You could fill a fleet of dump trucks with all the mistakes I’ve made, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll share only 7 of them here:
Don’t stop marketing just because you get busy. You always have time for what’s most important, and if you stop trying to find new clients, you will regret it. You’ll get to the end of all your client work, look at your bone-dry pipeline, and think, “Crap.”
Don’t mistake silence for lack of interest. Most clients ignore your emails and proposals not because they don’t like you or hired someone else or canceled the project but because they’re busy. Other priorities have superseded whatever projects the two of you were discussing. Keep following up, and assume the answer is yes until you get a clear no.
Don’t assume past clients will reach out if they need help with anything. It’s your responsibility to follow up with them. Without a CRM or lead tracker spreadsheet, plus a weekly cadence for reconnecting with old clients, you will forget to follow up with them. By reaching out to every client every 3 months, at minimum, you’ll make your freelance growth so much easier.
Don’t stay a generalist forever. I spent 6 years being that “handyman creative” who could do all sorts of different stuff, from setting up websites to writing web copy to managing teams. But you know what? After I niched down, my marketing became so much easier. I knew whom I wanted to serve and why they should care. I didn’t list skills like a fast food menu but put 2-3 juicy offers in front of them. Yep, easier.
Don’t let imposter syndrome make your decisions. All the most talented freelancers I know have imposter syndrome. All of them. It’s not going to disappear with a POP! like that red devil in old cartoons. It may always be there pointing out everything you don’t know. You can turn down the volume by asking yourself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” And, “What would I do if I didn’t feel like a fraud?”
Don’t give discounts just because a client asks. A potential client may say your price is “too high.” They may claim they could do it themselves or find cheaper help elsewhere. They may tell you a tear-your-heart-out story to justify a meager budget. Regardless, if they want to pay a price lower than the price you gave, then you can shrink the project scope accordingly. But remember that you’re in no way obligated to give them the same amount of work at a discount. You don’t run a charity, and you don’t offer coupons, capiche?
Don’t assume you dislike sales. If that “destroy objections and never take no for an answer” approach to sales was ever effective for selling freelance services, it certainly isn’t effective now. Once you start taking a more consultative approach to sales, you can look forward to discovery sessions and sales calls. Your job is to listen and bring clarity, not pitch. If you’re not a fit, you don’t waste people’s time, and if you are a fit, that will become obvious to both parties.
Now, what are you actually going to commit to doing to get clients?
Alright, my freelance friends, we made it to the end of an epic post. Now that you know how to find clients as a freelancer, which of the market strategies are you going to run with?
We’re not talking about a magical, mystical process here. We’re talking about regularly spreading the word about the problems you help to solve and giving people a chance to care about your juicy freelance offers.
Our goal is predictable income, which comes from a surplus of project leads, which in turn come from consistent marketing.
I’ve been amazed at how much freelancers who are self-proclaimed “bad marketers” can accomplish once they create a simple 1-page marketing plan and commit to a morning marketing habit.
Whether or not you’re already confident in your ability to find clients, I sincerely hope you will choose yourself, market yourself, and create life-changing freelance income for yourself.
You don’t need lots of clients, just need happy clients. So track those leads and keep in touch!
My earlier offer still stands. You’re welcome to follow my Freelance Business Launch Plan, which includes a checklist, if you know you tend to overthink things.
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About the Author, Austin L. Church
Austin L. Church is a writer, brand consultant, and freelance coach. He started freelancing in 2009 after finishing his M.A. in Literature and getting laid off from a marketing agency. Freelancing led to mobile apps (Bright Newt), a tech startup (Closeup.fm), a children's book (Grabbling), and a branding studio (Balernum). Austin loves teaching freelancers and consultants how to stack up specific advantages for more income, free time, and fun. He and his wife live with their three children in Knoxville, Tennessee.