Most people when they first start considering freelancing an option for them ask “How do I get enough clients?”.
The answer really is: get your first one, but make sure it’s a lucrative one.
A lucrative client is a client that is willing to pay you the rate that you are happy with and has the potential to become a long-term one.
As you can imagine, while landing just one deal like that is usually not enough to have a stable business, it can certainly jump-start your freelancing career.
And if you are able to figure out how to land it once, you will eventually be able to do it over and over again, not to mention that you will soon start getting a lot of referral work, provided you also do a great job and make your clients happy.
The Beginning Freelancer’s Trap
Most people when they first start freelancing feel the need to win and accept every potential client that comes their way.
This way of thinking kind of makes sense at the first sight, because they typically don’t have many references and aren’t sure whether they will actually be able to get a better client or better conditions than they are being offered at the moment.
So not only do they accept every client, but they are often afraid to ask for (and to insist on) the price that they need to be asking for in order to start building a profitable freelancing business.
This mindset can go very wrong and trap talented and high-value freelancers in doing work that they don’t enjoy, for rates that don’t allow them to be profitable enough to comfortably start freelacing full-time.
And the inclination to do this mistake is even stronger if you are in a situation where you are not financially stable and need to get clients fast.
Get Your Mindset and Situation Right
The first step before you even start looking for clients should therefore be to make sure that you are in a situation that doesn’t put pressure on you creating income within too short period of time, yet, doesn’t lock you up in the office from 9 to 5, as you will need some time flexibility as well.
The two ways to do that is to either have enough money saved up (to live on for let’s say a year) before you quit your job or get a remote job that gives you the time flexibility you need to build your business on the side.
Everything you make at the top of this savings or remote job income is then extra money.
That will take a lot of pressure off you and will allow you to take your time and look for the right first client that will jump-start your business instead of the wrong client, which would only be holding you back and prolonging your journey.
You Are NOT a Beginner
If you are familiar with the five levels of freedom, you probably understand that trying to become a freelancer in an area that you don’t have experience in is not a great idea.
Assuming you have followed that advice, you may be brand new to freelancing, but you already are an experienced professional, so think like one.
Starting out, you may not have references from actual clients, but you do have references from your previous employers or other people you have worked with, so use these if you need to.
Being new to freelancing does have its challenges, but you should always remember that you already have valuable experience and can actually be one of the best options for the potential clients, so keep that in mind and act like that!
Step 1: Getting Abundance of Leads
To get your first lucrative client, you first need to create a consistently recurring source of high quality leads.
This will provide you with abundance of meetings with potential clients, which is a prerequisite to be able to cherry-pick the clients that you really want to work with and avoid falling into the beginning freelancer’s trap described above.
1. Freelancing Platforms
The reason why this is number one is that platforms like Freelancer or Upwork alone can provide you with the abundance of leads. These platforms are however specific in a sense and they have their important pro’s and con’s.
The main pro is that all the legal stuff is taken care of, including agreements and taking care of non-payers.
All you need to do is to just jump in, grab a client or two and start working. They then charge a commission for the service, which is however reasonable in comparison to the value provided.
The main con however is that the client is not really “yours”, the most limiting restriction (from my point of view at least) being that the client always hires you to do the job, so you are not allowed to outsource the job if needed.
If scaling your freelancing business up by outsourcing isn’t your ambition or priority though, these platforms may be the only thing you need to run a successful freelancing business.
Some people argue that these platforms are full of clients looking for cheap work and you need to compete with people offering ridiculously low prices.
While that is true for most clients there, if you think about it, the situation is actually no different from any other method, it’s just that on these platforms, you explicitly see these offers from other freelancers.
It is indeed possible to successfully sell your services there for premium rates, however, it takes some time to get a feel for what kind of projects to bid on.
An exception to these competitive rates is the Toptal platform, which specializes in developers, designers, project managers and finance experts.
They have an extensive screening process and claim to only accept 3% of applicants, however, if you are in one of those industries, I highly recommend giving it a shot – this platform was my main source of income for quite some time and unlike the first two platforms, all the clients you find there are willing to pay premium rates, as they are pre-screened for that.
2. Your Existing Network
The power of your existing network is that while it almost certainly isn’t as big as other possible sources of potential clients and will potentially dry out if you don’t get refferal work from these clients, it allows you to leverage the fact that these people know you and if you get recommended, half of the battle is won.
Definitely let your existing network of contacts know that you are available and ready to help them (or their connections) with their projects – chances are that your first lucrative client or two is just a connection away!
3. Launching & Promoting Your Website
Although creating your web presentation may be a pretty time-consuming task, it is well worth it in the long run and should be a no-brainer if you are serious about your freelancing business.
All serious businesses, small or large, do have a website and you should too. When you do, it opens up a whole lot of new ways to get high quality leads right into your inbox.
For example, although it requires financial investment, my very favorite method to get quality leads is to run PPC campaigns on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora and other websites and target it to the groups of people that will most likely be interested in my services.
4. Online Communities
Provided you have your own website presenting your business, but aren’t ready to invest in paid advertisement to promote it, you can alternatively get exposure by creating content on websites like Quora or LinkedIn with a link to your website.
There are many more websites and online communities where this is possible (i.e. industry-specific discussion boards).
Always make sure you understand and follow the rules for advertising in the given community though; while advertising is often allowed, it is usually conditined by also providing quality content.
5. Industry-Specific & Region-Specific Websites
In pretty much every industry, there are websites that connect clients with freelancers in one way or another.
While I am unable to give you a list for every industry at the moment, it is definitely worth the time to do a detailed research for the industry you are in and make heavy use of these.
Furthermore, there are also region-specific websites doing the same – for example, I am from the Czech Republic and there is a local website that allows me to leverage the fact that I am able to meet with my prospects in person rather than online, which always increases your chances to seal the deal (along with speaking their native language).
6. Cold E-mailing Prospects
While I am personally not a big fan of contacting clients this way, I know for a fact that it can work very well if it’s done right.
If you decide to go this route, the important thing here to make the e-mail as personal as possible and show the potential client that you really took the time to understand what he is doing and how you think you can help him.
Definitely avoid copy & paste e-mail messages – not only will they not get you very far, but can shed a bad light on your business and may even be illegal.
7. Networking Events
Networking events may be a good way to expand your current network of contacts, depending on how you approach it.
Chances are you will not meet your next client right at the event, but you can meet someone who knows someone who may need your services and can connect you!
8. Referral Work
This is a little bit off-topic for this article since we are talking about how to get the first lucrative client.
However, I need to mention it, because it is important to realize that many or even most successful freelancing businesses are mainly built on referral work.
Lucrative clients in your industry know other lucrative clients in your industry.
We will look into how to leverage this in more detail later in this article.
Decide for Your Strategy & Make It a Habit
All these methods are just ideas – you obviously don’t need to use all of them.
What you do need to do though is to look at these steps, see which ones suit you the most and build a strategy that will allow you to take continuous action, earning you leads on a consistent, recurring basis.
An example of such strategy would be:
- Build a website promoting your services.
- Every day, write a quality answer on Quora on a related & popular enough topic, with a link to your website included, progressively building steady traffic coming to your website.
- When you get first clients, do a really good job and ask for referrals.
You should always do the last step, regardless of what strategy you choose – that is the one step that should always be a part of your strategy, whatever the rest of it looks like).
And once you decide for a strategy, stick to it and keep doing the action steps! It may not start bringing results from day one, but keep planting seeds!
Step 2: Schedule the Appointments!
When scheduling an appointment, I used to have to exchange several e-mails with the potential client just to see when we both have time to meet.
This often even resulted in the client not meeting with me eventually, as he probably had found someone else in the meantime.
There is an invaluable tool that I suggest everybody who is serious about their sales process uses.
It’s called Calendly and what it does (besides other extremely handy features) is that it connects to your Google Calendar to see when you are available and then creates a web page that you just e-mail to your potential client and he is then able to schedule a meeting with you by choosing one of the available times.
Ideally, to be able to pick the best clients, you should be aiming for at least 1-2 appointments every week.
Step 3: Seal the Deal!
When you are on the meeting with the client, make sure that you understand what he needs and then demonstrate how you can help him and why he should choose you (if you really think he should – there may be cases where you may not be a good fit to his needs).
After the call, make sure to get back to the client with a quote in a reasonable time, invite him to schedule a follow-up meeting and include a prepared agreement ready to be signed.
If the client doesn’t get back to you after receiving the quote, follow up with him in a couple of days and then also in a couple of weeks, as it is possible that at the time of the meeting, the prospect was just testing waters and wasn’t yet ready to buy.
You don’t want to be forgotten as one of his options in this case.
(You can even set up Calendly to do these follow-ups automatically for you, that’s another great feature.)
When you start having a lot of meetings, make sure to keep an Excel sheet with all clients including all the important information, i.e. when you last contacted them or what was the conclusion of the last meeting.
There is of course a lot more to the sales meeting, but that is out of scope of this article and we will cover that some other time.
Step 4: Do a Great Job & Ask for Referrals
This is an important step to always take. Once you establish a relationship with a client, make him happy with your work and therefore prove to him that you are an exceptionally good person to work with, it is time to ask to be introduced to his connections that may be interested in your services as well.
Don’t overcomplicate it – provided that the trust is already established and they do know someone who may be interested, they will be more than happy to connect you if you just say something like:
“By the way, I currently have extra 10 or 15 hours a week that I could dedicate to another project, do you maybe know someone who could be interested in my services as well?”
Simple and effective.
Take the Action Now!
Being able to get new clients consistently is obviously the most important skill to develop in freelancing.
Without clients, there is no business.
The great thing about freelancing is that unlike with start-up projects, you already know that there are people out there who need your services.
It’s a proven business model. All you need to do is to put yourself out there and cultivate the skill to win business.
Do you know additional ways to get leads or do you have a great story about how you got a lucrative client? Share these in the comment section below!