You don’t have to give your work away for free when you first start freelancing. In fact, you should never work for free. The second you assign a $0 value to your work, you and your clients will begin to believe in your lack of value.
Below we’re going to look at four ways you can go about getting your first paying client.
What's Included in This Post:
What If You've Never Freelanced Before?
You may be wondering how you’re going to find a client willing to pay you if you have no freelancing experience.
While experience and education matter in the corporate sphere, many people hiring freelancers aren’t going to demand to see your resume. In fact, I stopped applying to freelancing positions that asked for it — because it’s the wrong thing to focus on. My degree from UD in 2005 isn’t going to tell a prospective anything about my skills as a content writer or SEO today. Nor will my 15-year history working in restaurants, pharma, or project management.
I suspect it’s the same for a lot of you. Unless you’re a recent graduate, and the education and experience you gained there can help you sell yourself as a freelancer, there’s no need to bring it up. Instead, demonstrate your prowess with the following:
- Professional branding that reflects who you are as a freelancer and the value you offer.
- A well-built and informative website that can effectively sell your services.
- A portfolio with examples of your work, even if it’s work you did for family or friends (for barter, if not payment) or something you worked on on your own.
- A clear and confident pitch that’s tailor-made for each gig you apply to.
- A freelance rate that’s commensurate with the level of service you provide.
Armed with everything you need to make a strong first impression, you’re now ready to start applying to freelancing gigs.
The 4 Best Places to Find Your First Freelancing Gig
The tips below are meant to be general guidance on where to look for clients. While the guidance applies to all freelancers, some of you may need to use more specialized platforms depending on the kind of work you do. For instance, a platform like Indeed probably won’t be helpful to dog groomers, but something like Rover would be.
So, adapt these suggestions to your niche as needed:
There’s a big difference between a job board like Indeed and a freelancing platform like Upwork or Fiverr. While Upwork may give you more space to advertise your experience, skills, and offering, it comes at a price. They take a percentage of everything you earn through the platform.
In my opinion, freelancing platforms are rarely worth it. You can attract a much higher quality client base through your website and a well-crafted pitch — and earn more money that way, too.
So, job boards are where you should start. Here are some of my favorite:
If you want to write, edit, or do SEO, add FreelanceWritingGigs.com and ProBlogger to your list as well.
If you’re going to do web design, development, or other technical jobs, try out Toptal and We Work Remotely.
There are plenty of specialized job boards out there. Just search for “[your job title]” + “job board” on Google to find ones that connect you with relevant freelance opportunities.
This is how I landed my first freelancing gig.
I had worked in the restaurant industry for five years and stayed connected with many of my coworkers long after I left. One of them launched a company in the restaurant marketing space and they were looking for blogging help. My old coworker knew first-hand the experience I had in the industry as well as how diligent of a worker I was. So when I sent him my pitch — along with non-restaurant writing samples — I ended up getting the gig.
This is much different than asking for referrals from family and friends. In my experience, personal referrals rarely work out. Some of them have expected me to give them a friends-and-family discount (which I won’t do) while others wanted me to help with something that’s outside my area of expertise (which, again, I won’t do). You’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth it to ask the people you know for referrals. It may be different in your case.
Back to the approach that will work for everyone…
Professional connections who have seen you in action — even if it’s in another field — are better suited to help you find freelancing clients. Connect with your old coworkers and let them know what you’re up to. You never know. They might be the one to provide you with your first paid gig.
I hate the term “networking” because it tends to drum up images of overeager go-getter types crowded together in a bar or at a conference. Networking can happen anywhere so long as you have the confidence to speak to others about what you do.
For example, I went to see a movie playing at a film festival in Boston. The guy seated next to me started talking about the horror movie we were about to see. I mentioned how I’d recently done a review of a new horror TV show with a similar vibe as the movie. That’s when I learned that the dude was the editor of one of my favorite movie review sites.
I didn’t get a gig from this interaction because I didn’t have the confidence at the time to even ask if they were hiring. I’ve since learned though that these random encounters in the real world can lead to amazing opportunities as freelancers. But you gotta have the guts to talk to others and to share what you’re working on — not in a bragging way or anything like that. Just explain what you do and if they need your services, they’ll ask about them.
You’ll be surprised at how many people are looking for freelancers just like you (even if they don’t know it until you mention what you do).
Content marketing is a catch-all term for different types of content creation. For instance:
- Social media posting
Which types of content marketing you do generally depends on what your area of expertise is. For instance, I write and edit for a living, so I primarily use blog posts and social media to communicate with others.
That’s the key thing to remember — content marketing is about authentically communicating with your audience. If you’re out there saying “I’m an amazing landscaper. Hire me!”, it’s not going to do much for you. But if you’re publishing helpful DIY gardening how-tos and tips, for instance, people are more likely to take notice.
The second you become a helpful and trusted resource online — without asking for anything in return — is the second people are going to start looking at what else you can do for them.
In fact, this is how I get the majority of clients these days. I rarely have to scour job boards because prospects find their way to me through the content I put out there.
While it can take some time to build up enough content to get to this point, you can still use this strategy to help you get your first clients. In the absence of a massive portfolio of work, a well-crafted piece of content placed in front of someone at the right time can help you get hired.
Let’s say you’re a dog groomer and you create a video that teaches pet parents how to trim their dog’s nails. If you encounter someone on social media complaining about a fussy dog, share your content with them. They might use it to improve their own approach to grooming their dog or realize it’s not worth their time and instead opt to outsource it to an expert like you.
There are two things you can do to get your first freelancing client sooner rather than later:
- Be prepared to wow them
- Look for clients in the right places
Master these two things and you’ll be surprised how easy that first sale is — as well as the many to come.