How to Land Your First Freelance Clients When Your Business is New

How to Land Your First Freelance Clients When Your Business is New

When you’re new to freelancing, there may be some clients who discover your services through organic web search. But if you’ve been in business for yourself for a little while now, then you know how hard it can be to drum up new business as a freelancer that way. Unless you’ve got a well-known name in the WordPress community, people aren’t typically going to knock down your door trying to work with you.

At the end of the day, this is your business. You’re the one responsible for keeping a steady stream of paying clients coming through, and you’re the only one who can truly sell others on the value of what you do.

Wherever you are in your WordPress design or development career, it’s always a good idea to be on the hunt for that next great client. It keeps your workload interesting and your income on the up and up. But finding those great freelance clients takes a lot of strategy and work.

If you’re ready to take an active part in pursuing high-quality leads for your WordPress freelancing business, let’s take a look at what you need to do.

Before You Start Searching for Clients…

Okay, before putting yourself out there, I suggest you follow the same advice you’d give your impatient clients. You know the ones: they’re so anxious about getting their website live that they just want to get something, anything, done and up so people can find them. But you know that’s not going to do them (or you) any favors.

There are three things you need to do before you start trying to find freelance clients: know who you are, know who you want to target and be prepared to sell your services in a way they’ll understand.

Identifying the Ideal Client

Many freelancers make the mistake of wanting to work for any client, so long as there is money coming in. But a poorly-fit client can be harmful to your business. You end up wasting time on reworks because you didn’t understand their niche or you tirelessly argue with them because your views were never on the same page.

In other words, it’s important to take the time to figure out who would best be served by your web design or development skills. To get started, ask yourself the following:

  • Which industry do your clients work in? Is this one you have first-hand experience in?
  • What role does your point-of-contact serve at the company? Marketer? CEO? Solopreneur?
  • At what point should you contact them to start a discussion about freelance work? When they first open? When they’re about to launch a new product? During a major hiring spurt?
  • Why would they need the assistance of a freelance designer or developer?
  • What can you do for them that other freelancers (or in-house creatives) can’t do?

Even if you’re not 100% sure what you want your niche specialty to be, you can still drill down as much as possible so you’re prepared once you have found the right fit.

Developing Your Pitch

Regarding a pitch, I’m talking about your written as well as verbal pitch. Prospective clients want to speak to someone knowledgeable and confident. If you can nail down what you do and what makes you the best choice in two to three sentences, you’ll be in a good position to find and land new clients with ease.

Ask yourself the following:

  • What is your unique selling proposition? You should already have an answer to this based on #1 above.
  • What aspects of your background or prior experience make you a smart business investment? Think about savings here: cost savings, time savings, stress reduction, etc.
  • What sort of results can you promise your clients? The more granular you can get here, the better.

Do Your Research

Last, but not least, never engage with a prospective client if you haven’t done any prior research. Why? Because not knowing anything about them is just as bad as not knowing who you are. Remember:

  • Your goal should be to impress clients from the get-go, so you should know about them: who they are, their target audience, their pain, and have a plan formulated on how you’ll tackle their new web design project.
  • Your proposal should cover every angle—from deliverables to frequency of check-ins.
  • You may even want to offer freebies so they know they’re not just getting a new website from you, but also X dollars in marketing collateral templates or X months of free website maintenance and support.

Finding new clients and convincing them that they need to hire a professional freelancer is tough. That’s why a well-formulated approach is essential to drumming up new business.

Tips for Finding Freelance Clients

In an ideal world, all new clients would find their way directly to you. That way you’d have more time to focus on your work and grow your business instead of out hunting and selling yourself. But that’s not always the case nor is it a practical way to approach working as a freelancer. Your goal, at the end of all this, should be to have a healthy mix of clients approaching you while you continue to pursue clients.

Here is what you can do to find freelance clients for your WordPress business, both actively as well as passively:

#1. Update Your Portfolio

If you don’t already have an online portfolio and site set up, that should be the very first thing you do. Once you do have a portfolio, keep it up to date. As you hone in on a niche for yourself, you’ll want your portfolio to reflect it. While you can show off a range of skills here, you won’t want to deviate too much from whatever you’re trying to sell (e.g. web designer for finance, web developer for small business owners, etc.)

#2. Optimize for Search

Your site is probably already optimized for search. However, if you’re not seeing a steady stream of organic traffic pouring in on a daily basis (let alone conversions from that organic traffic), something’s wrong. Reassess your on-site SEO to see if there’s something that needs cleaning up. Start with these tips.

#3. Start a New Portfolio

Your website is an important part of your freelance business’s identity. While it’s important to put effort into optimizing your site for organic traffic, you should also spend time showing off your work around the web. Websites like Behance, Coroflot, Dribbble, and Flickr (and others of this ilk) offer web designers and developers a chance to show off their work, be it snippets from a portfolio or something totally new. The point is: you never know who may be looking there.

#4. Publish Testimonials

Think about LinkedIn for a moment. You’re on there, looking at a friend’s or colleague’s profile. You scroll down and see that they left a testimonial for a business consultant’s work. Those kind words from someone you know and trust do a lot to bolster that consultant’s reputation in your mind, right? Again, this is a case of “you never know who is looking,” so reach out to previous clients or employers and ask them to leave you a testimonial.

#5. Get Referrals

Once you have a solid portfolio of work that you can point people to online, start with personal referrals. Contact your friends, family, former coworkers, business partners, and anyone else you know who can speak as well to your skills as you can. You may not get an earth-shattering amount of new clients from this, but it’ll give you a good place to work from.

#6. Check Freelance Marketplaces

Job boards, social media (especially Twitter and LinkedIn), and other freelance marketplace websites are a good source for securing one-off gigs from new clients—perfect for when you’re new to freelancing. While you may run into a long-term freelance position on these sites, they’re few and far between and pretty hard to come by. I’d suggest using sites like these to help finesse your portfolio while you continue to make money.

#7. Network Locally

For those of you located in major metropolitan areas or in an area otherwise active for professionals, check out nearby networking events. If you work from home, consider going to a local coworking space where other creatives work. You could also take a look at Meetup.com and see if there are approaching events that would give you the opportunity to meet people working in your target industry.

#8. Network Online

For those of you located somewhere with less freelancer-friendly networking opportunities, take yourself to online networking events or groups. Facebook and LinkedIn both offer a number of groups for web design and development professionals, as well as a plethora of industry-specific ones. There are also groups like Maker Mentors, Freelancers Union, and Hack Summit that offer virtual opportunities.

#9. Share Your Knowledge

As a web designer or developer, writing may not be your strong suit, but that doesn’t mean people don’t want to hear from you. Start a blog on your website and show off your knowledge about what’s happening in web design or give your audience a few reasons why they need to hire a freelance developer.

In addition to writing for your site, give prospective clients another way to discover you online by getting a piece of content (e.g. blog, infographic, white paper, WordPress tutorial, etc.) published on a high-authority website. The same rule applies here: demonstrate your expertise and value through whatever you create, so that when people search for it online, they’re pointed straight back to you.

#10. Get on Social

Social media isn’t just a place to publish a portfolio or get testimonials. The more active you are on there, the more likely it is that new contacts you make will take you seriously as a WordPress professional if and when you try to connect.

#11. Do Pro Bono Work

I’m not saying that you should work for free until you find clients willing to pay you. On the contrary, I think you should be getting paid from day one. However, I do think that if you’re struggling to find new clients and really want something to help you impress them, it might not hurt to do one free (relatively small) job for a big-name client. That’ll not only give you an easy in with that client, but it will also give you something impressive to put in your portfolio.

#12. Partner Up

Sometimes the easiest way to find new clients is to partner with someone who already has them. That’s not to say you should ride someone else’s coattails; this is about creating a symbiotic relationship. The goal then is to find someone whose skills complement your own. For instance, partner with a copywriter or SEO strategist who can take care of the content while you do the design. As you gain new clients (or as they do), you’ll be able to work together – but separately – to offer a full-service package to new clients.

Finding Freelance Clients Means Building Relationships

The key here? You’ve got to establish yourself as a skilled WordPress professional at every turn while working on building relationships. Until you’re a brand name that everyone knows, it’s going to take some work to get clients to come running to you, begging for your help. Be proactive now, and you’ll be happy you did later.

Brenda Barron
Over to you: What’s the best piece of advice you would give your fellow freelancing designers or developers when starting out?