Five Ways to Find Your Ideal Freelance Client
By Jena Kroeker
One of the most common questions we receive at our FreeU Support Desk is “How do I find my ideal freelance client?” Can you can relate to this problem? As we discuss in a previous blog post, “How to Gain Experience (and Credibility) When You Have None,” you might feel like new clients are ignoring you, despite your quality website and social media presence. Or if you’ve switched to a new niche, maybe you’re struggling to convince people of your new services and skills.
And on top of that, you might find yourself working for clients who are less than ideal. You’re grateful for the work, but something doesn’t feel right. As FreeU co-founder and instructor Craig Cannings explained in a recent Facebook Friday session, character and compatibility are two key criteria for determining your ideal client. If your client doesn’t treat you well or is difficult to get along with, your working relationship can suffer.
But never fear — ideal clients are out there, waiting to be discovered. So, let’s explore the top five strategies for finding them!
Five Ways to Find Your Ideal Freelance Client
1. Referral Marketing
Referral marketing is one of the easiest, most cost-effective strategies. As Mark Zuckerberg says, “People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend.”
And according to a Nielsen survey, 83% of people trust recommendations from family and friends.
You can leverage this strategy through two types of referrals, indirect and direct referrals:
This type of referral occurs when someone recommends your services and provides social proof that entices others to become interested in your business. For example, clients may post a review on your Facebook Page or give you a LinkedIn Recommendation. They may recommend your services through a website testimonial or video case study, indirectly referring potential clients to you.
On the other hand, direct referrals occur when someone directly passes your name on to another relevant contact in person or through an email, phone call, or social media message. For example, you might meet someone at a local networking event, and that person refers you to a potential client. These are the best kinds of referrals because they’re from someone the client knows, likes, and trusts.
You can tap into five core direct referral sources:
1. Current and past clients – people you’ve worked with who love what you do and are the best type of people to refer you to others.
2. Family and friends – people who know, like, and trust you and are willing to share your services with their friends and colleagues.
3. Past employers and colleagues – people you’ve previously worked with who may refer you to other businesses.
4. Local connections – places in your neighbourhood, like a hair salon or bakery, where you’ve built relationships with people who could refer your services locally.
5. Other freelancers and virtual assistants – people who work in different areas or specializations who could build a cross-referral network with you to collectively build each other’s businesses.
Another strategy for finding clients is networking — an activity that evokes fear in many of us. But if working a room and connecting with new people makes you feel uncomfortable, rest assured you can network in a way that fits your personality.
It’s important to put yourself out there because consistent networking increases your professional exposure, builds relationships with potential prospects, and brings referrals. It also creates opportunities, provides advice and support, and boosts your confidence.
Before you begin networking, ask yourself who your ideal target audience is. For example, do you want to network with entrepreneurs, niche groups like authors or coaches, or local brick and mortar businesses? Spend some time brainstorming and narrow down your list.
Then, once you’ve decided on your audience, pursue these three types of networking opportunities:
1. Events – local events, conferences, networking mixers, monthly workshops or seminars
2. Groups – mastermind groups, regular meetup groups through Meetup.com, entrepreneur groups, freelance groups, business groups like Rotary Clubs, Chamber of Commerce, Business Network International (BNI), or local business chapters like eWomenNetwork
3. Locations – coworking spaces, community libraries, coffee shops, and other places where entrepreneurs spend time.
And if you’d like to network virtually, you can join groups online. In an article titled “New To Freelancing? 16 Tips For Landing Your First Client,” Sharesz T. Wilkinson shares the following advice:
“People connect with people. Build up your networks exponentially by joining groups. To attract your first customer, write very concise ad copy on your personal Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or business page. A format that works is: “I am looking for five people who (pain), and want to (goal) within the next (time frame) to (solution).” Offer a free consultation of 15 minutes. It is a fit? Close.”
3. Content Marketing
As we discuss this third strategy for finding your ideal freelance client, consider the Content Marketing Institute’s definition of content marketing:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
In essence, if you provide valuable content and interact with a target audience, they could turn into your next client. This strategy is a long game that helps you build your authority in the hopes of attracting ideal clients. For example, Craig Cannings teaches the CCTC formula (Content, Credibility, Traffic, and Conversion).
To see this formula in action, imagine you’re a social media manager, publishing valuable content about how to use Facebook and other top social media tools. As your credibility grows, you become a trusted advisor. People want to find out more about you and your services, leading targeted traffic to your site as they connect with your content. And ultimately, that traffic turns into conversions that lead to new client opportunities.
Types of Content Marketing Channels
Although there are many different types of content marketing channels, it’s best to start with just one that suits you and your business. Here are some options to consider:
• Blog posts
• YouTube, Facebook, or IGTV videos
• Online presentations using tools like SlideShare
• Social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest
• Webinar or Livestream events
• Online courses
• Infographics that describe a strategy or workflow
• Monthly newsletters
• Ebooks, guides, or PDF reports
In an article titled “How to Get Clients: Your Short and Long Term Strategy For Success,” Maddy Osman gives some great advice:
“Your best chance at success with using various short and long term marketing strategies with how to get clients is to always be consistent. It’s ok to take some time to test out strategies, but you eventually have to settle on a few and keep them up.
“It doesn’t necessarily matter how much you post, so long as you do it on a regular basis. While you’re at it, establish a consistent social media marketing strategy to drive people to your website, to demonstrate your expertise, and to create an industry resource (so the content you post is not all blatantly self-promotional).”
4. Email Marketing
This strategy helps you find ideal freelance clients by building a targeted email list that you can connect with. For instance, on the front page of our Freelance University website, we offer a free guide on “the most in-demand Freelance or VA careers to pursue in 2021.”
Since we’re targeting freelancers and virtual assistants as our audience, this is an ideal offer that allows us to build a list so we can nurture a relationship with people who might be interested in our products and University in the future.
Three Steps to Building a Targeted Email List
1. Determine your free signature offer (e.g. a free report, white paper, or course that you can give away).
2. Select the email list program that you’re going to use (e.g. Mailchimp, ConvertKit, Active Campaign, or Mailerlite) and sync it with your website.
3. Promote your free offer everywhere (e.g. through social media, blog posts, guest posts, and Facebook Ads).
After building your list, the article above suggests using a longer term goal of sending consistent emails “that aim to deliver value over anything else.” For example, you could send a weekly email with curated content from others in your industry. Include information about your own services and projects, inviting subscribers to contact you for more information.
5. Strategic Cold Calling
You may be wondering why we’ve included this strategy. Isn’t cold calling an antiquated and obsolete way of finding clients? Not at all, if you do it the right way!
So, before we discuss it, let’s clarify what we mean. Unlike the old definition of cold calling (phoning a potential customer to solicit business without prior contact or without a lead), today’s cold calling is a more personal approach. In our social media-driven era, it’s an opportunity to build rapport and make a meaningful connection with your ideal client prospect.
Seven Steps to Connect with Freelance Clients through Cold Calling
1. Profile your ideal client by researching who your niche audience is (e.g. speakers, coaches, local business owners, real estate agents, or service-based businesses).
2. Source your ideal client by finding them on LinkedIn, Facebook Groups, and other social media channels.
3. Screen your ideal client by looking at their website and social media profiles to determine whether you could see yourself working with them.
4. Build a targeted list of prospects that you would like to work with (e.g. speakers, coaches, and other types of entrepreneurs).
5. Warm prospects by commenting on their blog or connecting with them on social media so you can start to build a relationship before making direct contact.
6. Connect with prospects directly to make a meaningful connection. (e.g. Reference blog posts or recent tweets they wrote and tell them how much you appreciate them. That way, they’ll remember your message.)
7. Follow up with prospects after 48 to 72 hours. If you don’t hear from them, send another brief note in case your first message got lost in their inbox.
With these steps, cold calling can be an effective strategy that leads you to freelance clients in an authentic, personalized way.
It can be scary, starting a business and wondering if you’ll ever find your ideal freelance client. But the five strategies above will lead them to you. At the same time, you’ll build your credibility and authority as a business owner in your industry. And these strategies are repeatable, so you’re never lacking potential clients.
Above all, don’t lose hope. Be sure to persevere and “believe in yourself,” as Vered Kogan encourages in the article above:
“We project what we believe and our mindset then becomes our reality. In other words, our thoughts are a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I believe that it will be hard to land my first client or that it will take a long time, I may self-sabotage my efforts. On the other hand, if I believe that my first client is out there now waiting for me, I’m much more likely to do the work to make that happen.”
Here’s to doing the work to make that happen! And now we’d like to hear your thoughts. What strategies have helped you find ideal clients? Please share your advice and experiences in the comments below!