Some may have landed one client but are unsure how to get the next. Some may have never landed any freelance work but they’re considering jumping in and want to have all their ducks in a row before starting.
Once again there is a ton of crazy and distracting information out there on the internet. Many blog posts advocate a bunch of shit that just doesn’t matter. Supposedly “helpful” articles on finding freelance work tell you to do a bunch of things like network, create a Google my Business page, write guest posts, lurk on Twitter, one even going so far as to say “be on social” … um… OK.
So sitting on the couch in sweats, half-watching Netflix, eating Doritos, and mindlessly scrolling Insta will bring you more clients? WTF?
No way. These things are just shiny distractions. If you spend your time following all of these “busy things” to feel like you’re working, but they aren’t worthwhile, well then you’re going to get frustrated and give up quickly.
Here’s the thing. There’s plenty of freelance work out there, you just have to find it. And it doesn’t come from doing a bunch of random things, but instead from having a clear focus. When you make finding freelance work (and only that) your guiding light, what you should be doing becomes clear.
Go where your clients are and figure out what type of freelance work they need. Then you can serve them.
There are two main ways to go after clients. Using freelance platforms or finding clients yourself and cold pitching them.
Platforms that offer freelance work
The majority of people focus on where to find freelance jobs, versus going out and creating a job for themselves, so I’ll discuss that first. Many start out on platforms and then work on figuring out how to get freelance clients on their own later.
There are numerous online sites out there that try to connect freelancers and clients. Upwork, Freelancer.com, and Fiverr are some of the most well-known names, although there are many others as well.
I’m not going to spend a ton of time detailing each site because a) you can check them out yourself and b) I don’t actually encourage my readers to use big platforms like these — at least not for long.
Why? Well because sites like these are reactive, not proactive. While they do condense a bunch of freelance work in one place, you’re essentially waiting for a client to post a need, then competing with a bunch of other people to fill that need.
How the platforms work in a nutshell
A client needs some work done so they post a job description. Freelancers from all over the world see that job and those who feel they are qualified to submit a proposal bidding for the job. Usually, the platforms charge a small fee for each proposal that you send to try and ensure that people take the time and only apply for things they’re qualified for vs. spamming the internet at large.
This doesn’t always work. People can get pretty desperate for freelance work on these platforms. It’s not uncommon to see someone whose job description says “SEO expert” competing for a $15 one-off job editing a blog post. It can be a zoo out there!
The client reviews all the proposals they get, picks one out of a hat, and hires that person. Sometimes, the client never hires anyone. This is really common as a lot of people don’t know how to use the platform, forget they created the posting, are too nervous and don’t feel like they know enough to hire someone, or are scared about giving a “stranger on the internet” access to whatever company systems they need fixed, etc.
Does this process sound familiar at all? It sounds exactly like job hunting right? You send your proposal (resume) off into the dark hole of the freelancing platform (HR department) and hope like hell you hear back.
Most of the time … you don’t.
As I said, it’s really reactive and not proactive so I don’t love it. That being said it can be a good place to get your feet wet and build up your confidence by finding and landing a few small freelance jobs if you’re nervous starting out.
Some quick things to keep in mind when you’re trying to find freelance work on a freelancing platform:
Most of your competition sucks
It can be discouraging to see 50+ proposals for a job before you even submit yours. A lot of people get scared of the competition and give up before they start. They look at the numbers and decide to not even send a proposal. Keep in mind that most of the competition for freelance work sucks. The majority of people are sending crappy copy + paste proposals. It’s very possible to win a job with lots of applicants – even if they’re priced lower than you – by sending a good proposal.
A lot of the freelance work posted is a one-time gig
Not always, but many times, clients are looking for a quick one-time project. I’ve hired hundreds of freelancers over the years for my business and for clients – mostly on Upwork. While we do hire people for ongoing contracts, 75% of the time we need something done once e.g. “add registered trademark symbol to our logo” or “build this About page in static HTML.” If you’re looking to build an ongoing relationship with a client, it is possible, but it can take some work if you’re not in a field that lends itself to steady ongoing work (like customer service does).
There is a cost involved with being on the platform
The freelancing platform does take a cut of your pay. That’s how they make their money. At the time of this writing, Upwork takes 20% of your first $500 billed with a client. After you pass the $500 mark with the same client, it drops down to 10%. Still, 10% of your hard-earned money is a helluva lot compared to the 2-3% most payment processors charge if you are invoicing clients directly.
So how do you find freelance work if not on a platform?
I’ve mentioned that there is a ton of competition on these platforms and that you’re stuck in a position of waiting around for someone to choose you. Added to that you’re giving away 10-20% of your pay so why not put yourself in a situation where there is 0 competition and you get to keep far more of your paycheck.?
Sound good? OK, that means you have to figure out how to get freelance clients on your own.
How to go get your own freelance clients
Going out to find your own freelance clients is a game-changer. It puts you in a proactive headspace. You’re not sitting around and hoping that someone magically picks you out of a giant pool of freelancers. You’re going out and showing them that you can solve their problem and telling them why they should work with you.
Finding a freelance job vs. creating one
The above might sound nuts to you if you’re just starting out. I get it. I didn’t understand what this meant and staying on a platform seemed safer. So let me give you a clear, real-world example using a situation I’m in right now. I want to invite you inside my head as a busy “business owner” so you can see how you can provide miracle services to your future clients.
One of my clients needs a rockstar executive assistant. Well, “we” do. This person will mostly work with me, although in a larger sense the organization as well. We need someone who is up for whatever, a right-hand man or woman who will report to me and manage anything that I or the CEO throw his/her way. One moment this might be sitting in on a high-level meeting taking notes and creating action items out of the things discussed. Then, they’ll ensure the action items get put into Asana cards and assigned to the right team member.
The next moment they may be tasked with finding and ordering Christmas gifts from a variety of online stores and ensuring they get shipped correctly to our team spread out across 6 continents.
After that, I also need them to check in with the Customer Success team supervisor to ensure she has everything she needs to conduct performance reviews with the team (we do this every 6 months). This might mean creating new forms for team members that have come on since the last reviews and deleting any forms for people who have since left the company.
Seriously, I need this person to become my right hand. I’d put that in the job description title if it would make sense.
But here’s the thing … while I know I need this person, I’m tired just thinking about finding them. I’ve already got an Asana list a mile long, so where am I going to find the time to write up the job post, let alone review all the candidates that come in? Even when I find the right person, I essentially have to do a brain dump, getting everything out of my head and into theirs (when will we just be able to plug in like Neo in the Matrix?).
I’ll have to train them on how things are done and hope like hell they really are up for handling anything. Ugh, that reminds me, I haven’t even factored in all the time I’ll spend interviewing a bunch of applicants… yeah, I can’t do this right now, *changes date on Asana card to a month out*
This is the scattered thought process of so many small business owners. We have a need, but we don’t prioritize filling that need for weeks or months because of the many urgent day-to-day things on our plate.
When you can show up to the right person, magically drop into their inbox, and solve their problem, you will have made yourself invaluable.
Thinking about the example above: If an awesome virtual assistant showed up in my inbox with a great pitch, showing me examples of how s/he has managed all kinds of work before, knew a little bit about my company and probable needs, and offered to help me out, I’d jump at the opportunity to learn more.
Even though some things can’t be eliminated completely, (I’d still have to train and offload a ton of knowledge to them), this person has saved me a TON of work. I don’t have to do the job posting, review candidates, interview them, etc. I can have an interview with this candidate who has already shown themselves to be proactive and if they’re a good fit, hop right into the training and onboarding.
To take it a step further, if this person really is a rockstar assistant, they’ll make it easy for me, showing up with their own systems for getting knowledge out of my head and onto their plate. They’ll consistently be looking out for ways that we can increase our efficiency, creating new ways of streamlining Asana projects, templates we use for meeting notes and agendas/the works. This person won’t be passive, waiting for me to tell them what to do, but instead jump right in, creating their job (and job security) as they go by learning as much as they can about the company and becoming invaluable to us.
Can you see the difference here? Between hoping and waiting for a client to notice you versus jumping up and waving, “Hey! Over here! You need me and I’m here to help!”
Getting freelance clients that are high-quality must be part of your strategy to find freelance work
Now that you’ve seen how to get inside the mind of a client looking to offload some freelance work, and before we talk about where to find these people, I want to urge you to keep this in mind. I attribute much of my success in finding freelance work to going after clients that are high-quality. This is what allowed me to earn $94,858.24 in my first year of freelancing and pass the 6-figure mark in year two and never look back.
Everyone will have their own definition of what a high-quality client is to them. Some people only consider high-quality in terms of money. The client pays a lot so they place that at the top of their list of what is important. It doesn’t matter if the client is a horrible person and the company does terrible work, some freelancers value the paycheck above all else.
I don’t value money above all else. I’d worked at a few too many soul-sucking jobs so I chose to value working with good people. You know what? Turns out I got rich anyway.
For me, there were two important qualities I looked for in clients and I’ll suggest that you start with them, while also developing others that are unique to you.
1) Their business is doing something that fits with your values
Some people are able to sell their souls for money. I’ve never been able to. If a client’s business/product/service is harmful, toxic, or dishonest, I’m not able to get behind it no matter what price point they offer. Here’s an example. For me, as a personal value, I think it’s really important to spend a lot of time offline and be very mindful when I am online and to use the time wisely.
I wouldn’t be able to work with a company that had come up with some new (unnecessary) social media app designed to keep the consumer mindlessly scrolling so they can make bank off of people checking out of life while using their app.
Understanding your values and what you will and won’t do is very important so that you can then go out and find clients that DO align with your values. If there is misalignment, the money might seem nice at first but you’ll soon find yourself in hell.
2) From what you’ve read and seen online, they seem credible, honest, and like a person/company with integrity and character
When you’re doing your research into the company/person before reaching out to see if they have freelance work, you’ll start to develop an idea of who they are and what they’re about.
Does their character match with the kind of person you’d want to work with?
You won’t always be able to tell this but you can typically get a feeling. The feeling CAN be wrong once you’ve begun working with them but by understanding why you wanted to work with them in the first place, your gut will quickly tell you, “Oooops, misjudged this, let’s get out.”
I had this happen once. I began working with a company that — on the outside — was all about inspiring people to live better lives. They helped readers with getting their financial lives in order, goal setting, and personal development, and they provided a ton of general information and resources for people to improve their lives.
Now, this was a place I wanted to work! Or so I thought. Once on the inside it was apparent that that was all outward facing. Inside, the company culture was toxic, leadership haphazard, and employees were discouraged from doing the exact things that readers were encouraged to do — like start a side hustle to earn extra money to live a better life.
Weird right? But because I knew exactly why I wanted to work for the company:
“I want to be involved in a place that is super inspiring, works hard to change people’s lives, is positive and uplifting, has a team of amazing and kind people committed to doing good things in the world.”
my gut told me:
“This place is fake and sucks and you do not belong here!”
So where do you find these high-quality clients?
Well on the internet of course! Other articles will mention networking events but come on? You’re running an online business here — actually going to in-person networking events is seriously old school.
Not that it should be dismissed altogether. You CAN meet people this way but I don’t recommend it as a staple plan of yours to find new clients. Take me for example, I’m currently writing this from Ecuador while my entire client base is in the USA. Networking in person is not going to work for me.
There are also freak things that come up like the fricking global pandemic. Who knew!? If you were dependent on in-person events to drum up new business, that would suck.
Besides, freelance work is typically something that’s done online so that’s where your clients are going to be. So you’ll do the online equivalent of networking and hang out and meet people in FB groups, forums, and social media.
How to get freelance work from social media platforms
There are a zillion FB groups out there for businesses, online businesses, freelance work, digital nomads, women in business, the works!
You need to be in these groups meeting people and listening to people. Your goal is NOT to be spammy or sell people on stuff, but to ADD VALUE!
Let’s say I’m a social media manager. I specialize in Instagram and that’s where I want to stay for the moment.
That means I’m not going to get involved in groups or conversations talking about Pinterest. I’m going to stay focused.
I go online and make sure that what I do is clear in my profile so that if someone does check me out it’s clear that I do freelance work in the social media space. I start searching for and getting accepted to Facebook groups where my potential clients are likely to be.
I DO NOT spam. I do not talk about my services. I do not nag the shit out of people. I listen.
I watch for opportunities to help. In one of the groups I’m in, Jane Doe says, “I’ve started an Instagram account for my business but I don’t have a lot of time for it and don’t even know what to post.”
I do two things. I open up a spreadsheet I’ve started called: Problems business owners have, and I copy and paste Jane’s comment into it. A spreadsheet like this will help you collect the things you hear straight out of other business owners’ mouths. This helps you understand what to offer! It’s the best research because there’s no guessing! Business owners are literally telling you what type of freelance work they need help with.
I then reach out and respond to Jane’s comment giving her a few tips, maybe an idea or two on some ways she may want to structure her posting schedule and to create a pattern of the types of posts she does so that way she doesn’t even have to think that much when creating posts. That’s it. Not only does it help Jane, but it helps anyone else who comes along and reads that helpful answer.
Over time, listening, and adding more and more value in the groups by commenting, will do two things.
1) People will come to recognize your name and that you know a lot about (in this example) social media.
You’re building your credibility and they’ll appreciate the free value you are providing. You won’t look like a desperate ambulance chaser type of freelancer because you’re providing value, value, value and not selling, selling, selling. The right people will reach out check out your profile and realize that you do freelance work. One day, they’ll say, ”You know what, I’ve noticed you comment in the group a ton, you have a business right? I’m thinking of hiring someone to get social media off my plate … can we chat?”
2) It will clarify for you which people are prime for a pitch.
Yes, I know above I talk about providing value vs. selling, but that’s in the group setting. There’s nothing wrong with directly pitching a person once you’ve gotten to the point where you know you can provide value. Let’s go back to Jane Doe. You’ve been in the group for a while and learned that she actually has a pretty successful brick-and-mortar florist shop. (This is good because it signals she can pay for your services!) You also know that while she needs help with social, it’s not something she’s going to hire someone full-time to do. This is a perfect situation for a freelance worker like you!
She’s in her 50s and while she knows social media would add more customers to her base she just doesn’t have a lot of time to spend figuring it out. She’s hip enough to have started an Instagram but she doesn’t really know what to post. She’s got some pretty flower posts up but isn’t doing anything consistently and you know you could help with that.
One day she mentions that she spent an hour fighting with Canva just to get 3 posts done and she’s over it. Poor Jane! She’s such a sweetheart. You know you can help and get this off her plate, and bring in more business for her so you reach out to Jane with a custom pitch. You let her know that you have a social media business designed to take the stress off of clients and let them focus on their business while you focus on growing the account.
You’ve built up some rapport previously with all the free advice you’ve given and you clearly outline some ways you could help, speaking directly to things she has mentioned in the group before. Your pitch leaves Jane feeling like she’ll be in wonderful hands with you and she’s excited to get on the phone with you and talk more about the engagement.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you get your own freelance clients. You break the helplessness model — sitting back, sending off a proposal among 50 other people, and hoping you hear something. You build the powerful model — “I am a business owner providing services to other business owners who need my solutions in order to solve their problems.”
Facebook groups are not the only places to tune into what types of freelance work businesses need. Forums like Reddit and Quora can also be useful. There’s also good old Instagram. Connecting with the types of people you are looking to help and then listening to what they need will get you everywhere!
If you’re inspired to go after your own Jane Doe like NOW, come and join my freelancing community. You will be able to connect with me and a host of other amazing and talented freelancers to help you get started freelancing today!
What other questions do you have about finding freelance work? Be sure to reach out to me on Instagram @liveworktravelig.