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How to Find Clients as A Freelancer

The Kickstart Your Freelancing Career meetup in April disclosed more about the proper mindset to build when you want to get real with a full-time freelancing career (read the recap here).

As is the case with many other 'big' attempts, initial stages are the most challenging ones, even though you have all the enthusiasm in the world. What most freelancers-to-be generally lack is a clear idea on how to find clients, which is why many get stuck here. This was the issue addressed throughout the third meetup in the series powered by Untitled - The Almost Utimate Experience and FullStack Cluj.

Shedding some light upon this whole affair there were 4 pros who either transitioned from freelancing to founding their own companies or built a solid reputation as independent experts:

  • Moe Zidan - current CEO of FastOrder, former owner of a successful online marketing and eCommerce company
  • Smriti Menon Chatterji, self-employed content consultant for 10 years, currently founder of content services company Get It Write
  • Adrian Punct, full-time freelancer with more than 15 years of experience in software projects
  • Paul Chirila, software development freelancer turned CEO of Around25.

A Look in The Mirror

When you run a business, they say you have to "Put yourself in your customers' shoes". When you run a client hunt for your freelance work, it's quite the same: the customers are your prospective clients so the first step is to examine how you (and what you offer) appear from their perspective.

Moe Zidan has been on both sides of the spectrum: a freelancer and an HR hiring freelancers, so he's seen pretty much all about how freelancers brand their services. Even better, he can outline what works and what doesn't and he advises that a critical question to ask yourself is:

Would I buy what I'm trying to sell?

Answer it honestly. You don't like the answer? Then it's time to start polishing the way you come across.

For instance, try to avoid self-entitled claims like I'm a creative person or I am an expert because it's up to the client to decide this, as soon as your work delivers.

At the same time, however, make sure you hold your work to the value it presents and don't pitch it in phrasings like I'm cheaper than others.

Filling up The Client Pipeline

To many, finding clients as a freelancer started way earlier than the actual beginning of their full-time freelancing career.

Take Smriti's case, for instance. Having been working in different capacities related to content creation and management, she was often approached by workmates, ex-workmates or other acquaintances with various content tasks.

Smriti spent extra time to identify each one's particular needs and then provide thoroughly documented pieces of work. The thoughtful approach was appreciated, then the happy clients kept referring Smriti's work forward.

That's how the clients pipeline started to fill up, key phrase being word of mouth.

Keep closely in touch with your circle of acquaintances - once they know the quality you deliver, they're your best shot at getting you subsequent substantial projects.

Adrian started on eLance (currently Upwork) with the classic bidding for projects. His approach was doing some work for free at the beginning, with loads of time put into sales and negotiating as well.

He recalls the first important project came after one month of sustained work and it took a year for clients to come back (note that we're talking about long-term web&mobile development projects).

You may need to say yes to unpaid work until you get your profile to the level of trustworthiness clients are looking for.

This does not mean you're selling yourself cheap, it just helps you get some early-stage visibility.

The Selling Point

In this regard, Moe shared an impactful one-liner: selling is telling. What this means is, especially in the case of beginner freelancers, some extra time put into crafting a straightforward story or philosophy, so that future collaborators understand the kind of talent they can rely on.

Moe advises that you always keep in touch with the way both clients and other freelancers "tell" their stories so that you can seize potential gaps and better adapt your message.

Smriti's selling point is an emphasis on quality backed up by thorough research before initial conversations.

For Adi, it's all about spending the necessary time to craft a customized offer. Also, understand how much your time is worth and shake off the feeling you're charging too much.

Paul was very candid on this one, recalling how there really wasn't a selling point, just a good bid on rentacoder.com (currently freelancer.com) maybe. At the very beginning, he took the small jobs, garnered some positive reviews, then steadily grew his reputation.

Clients and Social Network Presence

You want to find clients, alright, but what happens if they find you first or if they search you online after having established a first rapport?

Moe pointed out to this aspect while mentioning an ideal kind of online presence for the freelancers he hires: someone who shares more than dry information, someone who formulates points of view and thus adds an extra dimension to the way they're perceived.

Smriti brought another aspect into discussion: a well-thought of social media profile is particularly useful when it serves as a backup for face-to-face networking efforts.

You meet a potential collaborator, you establish a rapport, then they may want to look you up on social media, where they can find more reasons to work with you (e.g. sense of humor, as it once happened to Smriti).

Use social media presence to round up your professional profile, with an emphasis on quality over quantity.

While Adrian favored a clearly outlined profile on freelance networks against social media branding, Paul insisted this whole personal branding thing is clearly an individual approach and recommended that freelancers prioritize networking before plotting out their entrance on the freelance stage.

Client Management

At the end, we got some words of wisdom on managing the freelancer-client dynamics:

  • Moe: There's no such thing as a bad client, just a bad angle someone else may see your work from.
  • Smriti: Hold on to your clients' tempo, communicate what you need from them, clearly and patiently.
  • Adi: Rather than 'bad' clients, there are potentially bad clients; so what you can do is try to anticipate any bump along the road.
  • Paul: It's part of your job to disqualify the client if they advance impossible requests or if they simply are an ill fit to your work ethic.

Would I Buy What I'm Trying to Sell?

I chose to conclude the post with this question because, at the end of the day, it is you who has to be both your cheerleader and your toughest critic, and keeping these words in mind can only help you approach everything more comprehensively.

Talking about comprehensive, a well-rounded freelancing career implies a solid grasp on finance management, which will be tackled in the next meetup. So if you're in Cluj and want to learn from the best, you're more than welcome to attend; if you're not nearby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter to get the meetup no.4 recap.