How to Find Clients & Market Your Freelance Business – The Ultimate Guide

How to find freelance clients
Finding clients and marketing yourself… it’s the biggest struggle for most freelancers.

If you’re just getting started then chances are you have no idea how to find new clients or get your name out there in front of the right people.

While the task of finding clients and marketing your freelance business can seem daunting, it’s not all that difficult. The clients are there, you just have to develop the right plan, figure out what works for you, and stick with it.

In this post I’ll share how to find your first client, how to turn completed work into referrals, I’ll give you some marketing ideas, and more! So if you’re ready to build a steady client base, then you should continue reading!

First: define your target market

The first step to finding clients and getting your name out there is to define your target market. Who is it you’re trying to target? Know who your audience is in relation to your freelance goals. Then tailor your branding and promotions to them.

You can define your market by what type of clients you’d like to work with or what type of work you enjoy doing the most.

If you don’t know who you want your target market to be, work as a generalist. Find work in your area of expertise and figure out what you like the most. Then narrow your focus down to that. Again, that can be based on the kind of client you like working with or the type of work you like to do more of.

Second: set attainable goals and deadlines

You may have some pretty big aspirations, but, in order to get anything accomplished, you need to break your goals up into manageable tasks and create deadlines for them.

When will you start marketing your freelance business? Will you have some sort of promotion over the holidays? If so, when does it need to be finished in order for you to prepare its launch? Consider this kind of stuff and write it down in your tasks.

When you’re creating tasks for yourself, try your best to write them down with as much detail as possible. Instead of writing “find more client work,” try something like:

  • Email five local (niche) businesses (e.g. print shops, photographers, restaurants, etc.)
  • Find ten local business websites that aren’t mobile friendly, then reach out and educate them about my services.
  • Search for any design firms that work with the type of clients I’d like, introduce myself, and inquire if they have any occasional run-off I can help with.

Doing this will also help with your productivity, because you won’t feel so daunted with a clearly actionable task as opposed to a vague one. Then, once you accomplish more tasks, you’re more optimistic about the goals ahead that you’ve yet to complete.

Finding your first client

Ideally clients should be coming to you, but, in order to get to that point, you’ll need to have a solid work process, quality work examples, and some case studies published to your website. With this information readily available, a client should know what to expect, and if you optimize your website to convert these prospective clients, it’s only a matter of time before you start getting a steady stream of work.

However, until then, you have to do most of the foot work. Clients aren’t going to know you exist unless you start getting your services and work examples out there in front of them.

The very first place to start is to reach out to your family, friends, past employers, past school instructors, and any other important people in your life, and tell them about what it is you’re doing. Let them be your first referrers! You’ll need their support, and the more people who know about your freelance business, the better chance you’ll have at getting a lead.

I’m starting a freelance career, and I’m looking for businesses that are in need of a new logo or website. If you know of anyone who’s in need of those services, let me know — I’d love to introduce myself!

Now that you have some word of mouth making its way around, you’ll want to make contact with some potential clients that you’d like to work with. This can be a local shop in your area, design firms across the country, or really any business in the world.

Before you make contact with these clients, you first need to understand who they are as a business, and if possible, find the contact name and email of the person that would most likely have the influence to hire you. In a small company this would be the owner, and in a larger company this may be someone else like a marketing director. Try to find out who it is you should contact from the client’s website, or call the business directly to inquire about this information.

Review a potential client’s online presence and see if there’s any value you could bring to the table. Could you build them a more effective website? Are there any opportunities they’re missing out on? How can you make their business better with your services? Use this to your advantage when introducing yourself.

Compile a list of these potential contacts who you’d like to work with, then start cold calling or emailing them one by one.

If you’re contacting a number of clients for potential work, never do a mass email, because it’s easy to tell a boilerplate message from one that’s personally written.

This doesn’t mean you can’t start a message from the same base, but tailor each email specifically for the client you’re reaching out to. Address the contact by their name, and be sure you don’t talk too much about yourself. Share with them your interest in them and how you can help.

Here’s a generalized introductory email you’re free to pick from:

Hi [Client name],

I hope all is well. My name is Brent Galloway and I’m a freelance graphic designer in Ohio.

I specialize in logo design, t-shirt design, and website design. If you’d like, you can read more about me on my about page. [Here’s where you can be specific with your services in relation to how you can help.]

I’m contacting you to determine whether you have any occasional or ongoing need for the services I provide above.

You can view some of my work here:
[Link to your portfolio, dribbble, or list one–two links that are relevant to the type of work you’d be doing for them.]

If you’d like to chat further or have any questions for me, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Thanks for your time!

All the best,
Brent Galloway

That example would be great for introducing yourself, but, if you’re looking for a hard sale, then you’re going to want to go into some specifics about what it is you can provide them. Find out where their site lacks and/or explain to them how you can make them more money.

Once you finally have your first client lead, now’s your chance to land the job and start making some money! Along the way you can refine your sales process so you will complete projects faster, generate more leads with your completed work, and build an effective portfolio.

Freelance marketing ideas

Getting your name out there can be tricky no matter where you’re at in your freelance career. It’s how you’ll continue to find work, drive traffic to your site, and, as a result, it’s how you make your money.

The first step to marketing your freelance business is to find a way to appeal to your target market and attract them. Devise a marketing plan that will achieve this goal.

The possibilities for marketing your freelance business are endless. It’s an opportunity to let your creativity shine through, and to help get you get started, below is a list of some well-known freelance marketing ideas. Take these ideas and try telling your target market what it is you do and why they should hire you!

Word of mouth

For me personally and for many other freelancers, word of mouth is where it’s at. Nothing is more effective than a family member, friend, or past client personally recommending your name and services.

Let your family and friends know what it is you’re doing and contact influential people in your life to let them know you’re available for freelance work. School instructors or previous employers are also a great place to start. Make sure you tell your friends even if they aren’t influential; you never know where a valuable connection might be made.

Use your network and your network’s network to your advantage. You could also offer free consultations for referrals, or even set up a finders fee (10% of the project’s earning after taxes.)

Client relationships

Many clients are in need of your services more than once, and, chances are, they know other businesses, so market to your current and past clients. Get in touch from time to time and remind your clients that you have some availability for work and that you’d love to help out with anything. If they don’t need your services at that time, ask if they know of someone else who could benefit from your services.

Networking

In person: Attend events with like-minded people, or, even better, go to a client industry event. You can make so many connections by floating around the room and introducing yourself. Just be sure you have your elevator pitch and business card ready!

Charity is another great “in” with social circles that makes you feel good in the process. Do some pro-bono work for a charity, sponsor a social event, offer a seminar, speak at an event, or join your local chamber of commerce. Getting involved in your community is a great way to get some positive reputation behind your name in your town.

Online: Aside from social media, helping others on forums and commenting on blog posts is a great way to be visible online. Doing these will draw people back to your site and can be the easiest way to get more traffic. Then, let your website convert these views into something more.

Promotions

Getting your name out there doesn’t always have to happen by word of mouth; it can also be done through various branded materials or advertisements. For example:

  • Car signage
  • T-shirts
  • Local Facebook ads or Google Adsense
  • Listing your business and services on directory sites
  • Sending holiday cards to clients
  • Offering free consultations
  • Offering branded office supplies at events

Become an expert

While you’re sending emails and making other connections, use whatever free time you have to contribute something of value to your prospective clients or audience.

  • Guest post on an established blog that has your target audience.
  • Write a tutorial explaining how to accomplish something that others might find useful.
  • Teach a workshop or maybe set up a presentation to give to a high school or college class.
  • Judge at competitions or trade shows that are related to your field.
  • Share everything you know! Go on forums and answer some questions or reply to blog comments.
  • Write an ebook or report and promote it to your target audience.

Sharing your expertise and thoughts is one of the best ways you can drive traffic back to your site. When you’re starting to get some traffic flowing in, that’s when your site should convert the views into paying client and/or product sales. I hope your calls-to-action are in place!

Cold-email potential clients

Networking events are few and far between in my hometown. Besides that, I can be quite an introvert at times. As a result, I’ve found cold-emailing to be a great way for me to reach out to the clients I want to work with. As a result, my entire client base is spread across the world!

Use Google and search for the type of business you’d like to produce work for, find out how you can improve their business and profits, and reach out to them.

You may need to email 10–15 potential clients every week until one follows-through. Again, you’ll have to do a lot of foot work to get off the ground. Then after completing projects, turn those into referrals and marketing materials (portfolio pieces, case studies, Dribbble shots, etc.)

When you’re sending out these emails, start by introducing yourself and your services specific to their needs. Then get right to the point — Explain to them why you’re reaching out. After that, share your links to your work that can directly relate to their needs (e.g. a specific type of website design, mobile website designs you’ve done, or a specific style of illustration.) Finally, ask if they have any questions for you and close the email.

Be everywhere

Being listed in Google’s search results and other online directories can generate some leads for you without your having to do anything other than filling out some basic contact information.

Create accounts on the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google+), guest post on blogs, and create your own content. Being in more than one place and being more visible helps tremendously in getting your name out. You’d be surprised at the amount of traffic and number of followers and leads you’ll get when you have your name on a wide array of sites across the web.

It’s also important that you search optimize your website, so you appear more in search results. Here are some helpful SEO tips to keep in mind:

  • Have well-written and unique content on your website, with a focus around a few primary keywords or keyword phrases.
  • Build a network of back-links — these are the incoming links from other websites. The more links you can get to your website, the better.
  • Use a focused keyword or your business name (your name and title) on every page of your website. This could be in the content itself, or in the page title.
  • Create fresh content. It adds relevancy to your website in the eyes of the search engines.
  • When creating links in your content, be sure to use keyword phrases. In other words, try not to use, “click here.”
  • Search engines like organic, natural content. Do not fill a page with a bunch of keywords. Search engines will see this and will actually penalize you.

Make sure your website is easy to read and use. This will help influence link building and your popularity this improving your ranking.

Getting referrals

Like I mentioned above, nothing is more effective than having someone personally recommend your name and services. Referrals are vital for freelancers, and the best part is, they aren’t hard to get!

First off, as long as you provide good customer service and quality work, then clients will talk about you and others will share what you’ve created.

So how do you get referrals? You just ask!

Here’s what I do: with every completed project, I include in my email a link to a feedback form.

At the end of every project I like to get feedback on how the project went for you and how I can improve my services with a simple survey. This is completely optional and can be filled out at your earliest convenience. You can fill out this feedback survey here. I’d really appreciate it!

I use a simple Wufoo form to deliver these type of forms. It makes it easy and convenient for my clients, and the results are sent directly to my inbox.

In this feedback form, I include a section for referrals:

Referrals are very important to me and my business, so I hope you’ll keep me in mind. Do you happen to know of any other small business or person that could use my services?

Again, all you have to do is ask. Either the client does have someone they can refer, or they don’t. However, they’ll always keep your name in mind if something does come along and you did provide a good service.

Stick to it

You can never stop marketing your freelance business. The only time you should stop marketing is when you’re ready to give-up. Nothing will make you an overnight success, so be patient, and stick with it!

As long as you stay consistent and are always getting your name out in front of your target audience in some way, you’re successfully marketing yourself.

How’d I do?

I hope you got something good out of this long-form post, and I hope you actually use this information to land some clients.

If you enjoyed this article, please let me know by sharing it and leaving a comment below.

Anything to add? I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading this far and I wish you all the best!


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  • Great post and useful info – a lot that I already know but needed to hear again as I haven’t acted on it yet. I especially like the email examples provided, it’s often difficult to word things like that so this is really helpful.

    • You’d be surprised at how not knowing how to word an email can hang someone up on a crucial or simple task. That’s why I always try and provide some sort of example. Glad you found it useful. :)

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Fathima!

  • Maegwin

    Excellent article. I found the referral information and the email template particularly useful, especially for us designers that design better than we write! Thanks, Brent.

    • You’re welcome, Maegwin, and thank you for reading! I’m glad you found the email examples useful. :)

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  • Tejaswi Bitra

    Thanx a million. I will get to work right now. You have inspired me like crazy. I was bursting with ideas while I was reading this post.

    Just one thing to ask. How do you play so many roles like, a programmer, designer, marketing expert, accountant …all come together? Are you superhuman or do you have fellow freelancer friends to help you?

    • Haha I am nowhere near being superhuman unfortunately. I really appreciate the kind words! It’s just been many years of trail and error, and I try to utilize the tools out there to my advantage to help with the tasks I’m not so great at. I definitely recommend you try to establish a work process for everything you do; finding clients, landing clients, ending projects, handling finances, etc. With that experience over time you’ll figure out what works best for you.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! :)

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  • Sunny

    Hey Brent. Nice article. I am trying to obtain clients for my marketing services that you can see on adcoads.com , but am having a very difficult time. I have tried emailing a lot of clients but no luck. If you have any more tips you could share based on the services I offer or anything that you have in mind, I’d appreciate it. Thanks. :)

    • Hi Sunny, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      Without knowing how you’re approaching your potential clients, my first piece of advice would be to experiment with your pitches. Are you blasting a generic email or are you investing your time to research each client and bringing up exactly how you can benefit them? It’s all about the approach, and if it’s not working, then try tweaking it.

      Also, I checked out your website and you’re using an overwhelming amount of stock imagery. I’d recommend investing in a few high-quality images, then simplify the rest with a great color scheme. To a designer like myself and many clients, stock imagery doesn’t come across as quality.

      I hope that helps. Keep on trying. You’ll soon find the right approach to landing clients, then it will only be uphill from there! :)

      • Great advice, Brent! About the cold emailing. Today, I listened to a podcast with “The Autoresponder Guy” interviewing Robert Williams. Robert has literally “listened in” to thousands of email conversations between freelance creatives & their potential clients. The podcast offers a lot of great advice on doing cold emailing the right way. Listen to the podcast here. Robert has also written a book based on above experiences. I haven’t read the book, but it seems promising.

  • Courtney

    Hi Brent – do you have any other recommended SEO resources?

    • Hi Courtney – honestly, I personally follow the tips shared in this post. I don’t use any special tools or have any SEO resources. With the tips I shared above mixed with a bit of time, your site and posts will soon find their place higher up in the search engines. Best of luck, and thanks for reading! :)

  • Michael McKenzie

    Thanks for the help Brent! The examples were a huge help, as I always struggle writing emails to clients.

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  • Kael Bhyadogg

    You got it all right Mr. Galloway, thanks to this Ultimate Guide sir! Two thumbs up for this article and for the author :) God Bless You…

  • As a business owner, it is very hard to not get discouraged! I have made a career of helping others market their businesses. But, when it comes to my own, I find it much harder. We must feed ourselves positive mantras. Here is what I always tell myself:

    If I never experienced my clients’ hardship, how could I ever help them accomplish their marketing goals?

  • Anne Clara

    Really nice article – I especially like the SEO part and the part about becoming an expert! I’m writing a few in-depth posts on personal branding – more specifically on defining your core values, writing your vision statement and defining your target audience. I hope it’ll be helpful to some! http://www.blog.artly.me

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  • CG

    Hi Brent, thanks for the great info. I’m in the video and photography productions buisness specializing in food and products work. But I want to approach new potential clients in resort and hotel industry. I have contacted hotel business in my area by phone and asking for the names and emails address of their marketing directors.
    My question is, is it ok to send emails to this potential clients even though they didn’t subscribed? The email I prepared has good info on new trends in their industry that includes the video productions services that I provide. Thank You CGProductionsinc.com

    • Hi CG, it’s not okay to add people’s email to your mailing list without their permission. That’ll only get your emails marked as spam and possibly even blacklisted. You must have people opt-in themselves, giving them the opportunity to say, “Yes, I’d like to receive your emails.”

      One thing you could do is personally reach out to each person individually, introduce yourself, your newsletter, and ask if they’d like to signup to receive your content. Then give them the link to signup themselves.

      I hope this helps.

  • Great Post. I am meeting with my first client tomorrow and this post has actually educate me as a freelance business personnel. Thank you and I hope I can be getting more updates from you. Will be glad to subcribe with you. Thanks once again

  • Schaepman & Habets

    As two introverts, working in a country that doesn’t speak our native language it can be challenging to find customers sometimes. We really like the tip about the referrals. Thanks for the great article.

  • Great post brent! We are getting most of our work thru referrals and have not advertised.

  • Malvika

    Great article! Really useful for people who are looking our to freelance their capabilities. I really liked the idea of defining the target market- that is extremely important! Thanks Brent :)

  • Excellent post Brent! I have been freelancing for about 15 years, and I am still finding usefull info on your site! keep it up.

  • Great advice. I felt good reading this, since I’m already doing many of the tips you suggested. There were a few things I’m not doing yet, so thanks for the advice.

  • Hello Brent, would you be willing to share the link to your referral form you send to clients. I would love to see what things you ask, and how you word it. Thanks.

    • Hi Eric, the form I built is a simple client satisfaction survey. I ask questions like: How satisfied were you with my overall process? Were there any steps along the way that could’ve been explained more clearly? Do you have any suggestions to improve my work process? Then for referrals I ask exactly what was shared above in this post, along with a section to gather a testimonial for the project’s case study. If you want referrals and testimonials, then just ask the client. If you did great work, then they’ll be happy to help.

      You can build this form in a number of ways using different form services, or you can simply ask these questions through email. Hope this helps!

  • Carreen

    Thank you very much, Brent! I have been a writer my entire life but am now entering the waters as a proofreader, editor and content writer (including writing business profiles for clients). There is SUCH a need for professional websites to improve their writing fluency and style, grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc… and many companies are not even aware of the several flaws on their site! I have been feverishly busy with leads I’ve received through another established freelancer who cannot keep up the workload but I want to market for myself. I’m still not quite sure where or how to begin, but your post has helped to framework my overall goals. This is going to be a longer process than I had thought, but I’d rather get it done right, the first time! Thank you so much for sharing your expertise!

  • Radu Mazilu

    Congratulations Brent! Everything you mentioned is extremely helpful, but I particularly found the “getting referrals” tip to be an awesome addition to the post. I really think that every individual who wishes to pursue a freelancing career will find this article to be a gold mine.

  • Loretta Mlalazi

    Very useful Ideas

  • Trish Catapang

    Useful Info.- Exactly what I am looking for. :D I like the email examples provided. I’m having a hard time composing a sentence on how to say something about my services but I’m surprised when I read it. I didn’t think it was as simple as that. Very direct to the point.

  • Great article as always, Brent! Regarding ideas for promotions to get your name out there… To get our creative juices going, I’ve listed 18 inspiring ideas (with links to articles/project descriptions). All the promos/marketing activities are made by and fellow freelance or small business creatives. I’ll add new inspiring/effective examples to the list as I find them. :)

  • Great advice! It’s so easy to get discouraged when you aren’t seeing results. I have cold-emailed so many businesses with nary a reply but if I stop then I’ll never get any leads. So I’ll keep at it!

    One problem I have is referrals. It seems that’s the way majority of freelancers get clients but I don’t think I’ve ever had a referral. I did just send out some “thank you” postcards to past clients and asked for referrals so we’ll see!

    There’s so much you can do to market yourself, I’m glad you mentioned some great options.

  • HazirahJalal

    Hi Brent, I have read a few web on becoming a freelancer but yours is one of the inspiring one. Thank you for sharing. I would like to know where did you have the courage to start doing it? I mean… What was your muse?

    • Short answer: design was what I loved to do, so I went for it full-time on my own. I took a major risk and have stuck with it ever since.

      If you’d like the long version, check out my new video and blog post on how I became a freelance graphic designer. I really dive into it there.

  • Allbrie Broeder

    Great stuff! I find myself often reading articles like this and not commenting on them, forgetting that that can be a key way to market yourself and that feedback is a special form of love for the author. I’m on the brink of “opening up shop”, so to speak, for my freelancing career and this gave me a ton of notes and ideas for future projects and guides for my clientele. Thanks a million!

    • Hi Allbrie, thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      If you have a website or as soon as you do, make sure to link to it on your profile. It’s certainly the easiest way to drive traffic back to your site. :)

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  • Thank you for the valuable information. My graphic design and illustration is just starting out so all of this stuff is still very new to me but I am learning as much of it as I can!

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  • I enjoyed this quick scan and jotted some notes down! Thanks :)

  • nice post from last many month i need this type of post i found it today thanks to post