January 11, 2018

5 Smart Strategies for Finding & Keeping Freelance Clients

How to keep up your flow of clients and interesting work

No matter what stage you are in your freelance career, it can be daunting and stressful when it comes time to find new clients.

You may be just starting, or you may have had to fire a long-standing client (which I’ve totally had to do) and the time has come: Where can I find all the clients??

The last thing I want is to feel is that I have to go hunting to find someone to pay me for my services. That even felt slimy to write.

For me, finding and keeping clients isn’t about sales, pricing, or products per se. Instead, this is about setting up myself, my business, and my value to feel like an amazing discovery for clients who can’t believe they found me – and who instantly feel like they’re in good hands.

Here is how you can do it for your freelance business too.

1. Set up your digital first impression to be just that: impressive

It seems like most people come across us as freelance service providers in a handful of ways: through word of mouth (by past or current clients and colleagues), social media profiles, or our websites.

Just as you would show up to an interview dressed to impress, you want your business to be in that same state. Only, this isn’t just one outfit – it’s as many outfits of a similar variety, as many as you have points of contact for potential clients.

Make your social media match your website and vice versa

The photos, colors, language, themes, and subject matter you’re displaying on your “main page,” wherever you house the home base of your business, should be used across all of your platforms. What I mean is that your Instagram bio is a summary of your website bio; your tweets are one-liners from your blog posts; your Facebook shares are from your website or from content that is “on brand” with the rest of your network.

Develop a consistent image And voice, so people recognize you before they’ve seen your name.

Make sure that no matter where anyone lands in your “virtual universe,” they know exactly who they’re dealing with. Share your humanity in whatever degree you’re comfortable with across your platforms, giving your potential clients a glimpse into the person they’d be working with. I’m sure you’ve seen someone’s profile online before and simply fallen in love – with their style, their competency, their perspective.

Create that experience for any unsuspecting person who may happen upon your profiles, and you could be converting a client before you even say hello.

2. Create free content in the field where you provide paid services

I admit it; I am guilty of hoarding free downloadable content from experienced professionals in my fields of interest. When I see the offer of “Free Web Audit PDF Worksheet” and “Kombucha Brewing 101 eBook”, you have me hooked on your email list for life.

What has surprised me over my years of grabbing free content is that I actually found myself going back to these websites and blogs time and time again not just to learn, but eventually to buy.

You have expertise that no one else has. No matter if there are a million people in your field, there’s only one you and only you can share your unique perspective.

When developing products for clients, provided there are no restrictions in your contract, see if any portion of what you’re creating might be useful as a free template or how-to guide to add to your website or social media.

The robustness of your free content is entirely up to you, but ensuring it leads your audience to your expanded, valuable services is like handing them a roadmap to precisely what they’ve been needing. Give them a free taste of the amazing value you have to offer, and you’ll be more likely to convert them into a paying customer.

3. Connect with your networks regularly and with the intent to provide value

As you’re cultivating your network through generosity, it’s important to stay in touch with those who interact with you. You may have supplied your name and email in exchange for one of those coveted eBooks or given someone a follow-back on Instagram naturally because their comment led you to their beautifully engaging profile. It works both ways!

Make these methods of connecting a part of your business activities, and you’re sure to make a personal impression on potential clients:

  • Publish consistently on your engagement platforms: email newsletter, social media accounts, LinkedIn – wherever your network lives.
  • Curate content you know your audience will enjoy. Doing quick market research will help you determine what best to create for and share with them.
  • Send personal notes or replies to people who engage with you directly, and be genuine in your interaction.
  • Deliver personalized thank-you messages by email or mail to past clients, sharing gratitude for their business and for the opportunity to have helped them grow.
  • Occasionally survey your network by asking them questions about their interests, priorities, goals, and for how you can serve them better.

There’s no substitute for face-to-face connection.

Wherever you live, small town or massive city, there are innumerable ways we can connect with colleagues, potential clients, and potential collaborators in person. Local ‘meetups,’ national conferences, volunteer opportunities, workshops, and local business development centers serve as networking catalysts for freelancers in pretty much any field. Do a quick search online and you’ll have a treasure trove of opportunities to meet individuals who can have a profound impact on your freelance business.

In the title of this post, I intentionally called out “finding & keeping” because the keeping part can be the hardest part of all.

Securing a client for a one-off project puts food on the table and a piece of work in the portfolio, but creating a relationship with a client who continues to come back for more (and sometimes greater) work is what makes freelancing a rich experience.

Consistent connection is the number-one best practice for keeping a client.

Just because someone has signed a contract doesn’t mean it’s all business and you should focus all your best energy onto new signing prospects. Nurture your client relationships by getting to know them a little more personally, acknowledging their milestones and genuinely listening to their answers when you ask, “How was your weekend?”.

4. Align with freelancers in complementary fields

Sometimes, your potential and future clients are hanging out in someone else’s sandbox. Now, I don’t suggest you go and try to steal clients from other freelancers in your field. On the contrary!

Align with freelancers in your field and those who provide complementary services to you. Nurture these connections and you’ll be able to find opportunities to provide their clients with your services in addition to theirs, so that you both can add value to the client.

How to work with these complimentary service providers? Consider publishing guest blogs, hosting a guest blogger, or collaborating on a piece of content

If you’re a copywriter and you’ve befriended a freelance designer, what could you two create together? And even better, how could both of you serve the same client such that in the end, the client garners the highest benefit?

Creating relationships with other freelance professionals and speaking candidly and generously about your business shouldn’t be something guarded or fearful – we are all in this together, and truly, no one can do what you do.

Here are a few collaboration and cross-promotional ideas to get you started with serving new clients through freelance partnerships:

  • Write a guest ‘how-to’ article and submit it to blogs or magazines your target client might read
  • Create an eBook or worksheet with another freelancer and host it separately on your own lead pages, attributing its creation to both freelancers
  • Let freelancers in your network know that you’re available to serve their clients in many ways they may not be able to
  • Ask freelancers in your network if their clients have sought services they couldn’t provide and if you could be a good fit to provide them

Always remember to speak to and treat others the way you’d like to be treated. If you fear your ‘ask’ sounds desperate or slimy, ask a trusted friend or colleague to read it over and provide feedback. Even reaching out authentically for feedback on your collaboration strategies may open doors you couldn’t have imagined.

5. Create retainers and packages your target client will value

Clients don’t always know what they want, and don’t we know it! As freelancers, we tend to blend the roles of a service provider and subject-matter-expert (advisor). It’s never advisable to step on a client’s toes or tell them how to run their business, but they do look to us for guidance in the areas we have expertise.

Let’s take web design as an example. On the surface, a web designer creates a beautiful website that illustrates the client’s brand, products, offerings, and gives them a place to connect with their network. But, is that all? No way! Websites also need:

  • Brand copy, product copy, and marketing copy
  • Beautiful imagery
  • User experience design
  • Customer pathway mapping
  • Security and privacy
  • Search engine optimization
  • Market research

And so much more, depending on the industry of your client.

Instead of sending your client a laundry list of suggestions they may not even understand, this is your opportunity to craft packages that serve your client beyond what they know they need.

Activity: Set a timer for five minutes and brain dump all of the ways you can serve your clients, down to the most minute service. Then, group these services into “packages” that have different values, outcomes, and pricing scales to serve your clients.

This is a great way to help clients sort themselves into the right category for what they need, so you don’t have to spend time tweaking your services and readjusting expectations throughout the project. It’s also a helpful way to show what you can do, which gives clients an opportunity to see your value and ask smart questions about how you can best serve them.

Stay keen on business trends to learn (and implement) what clients in your target market want, actually purchase, and need

Doing market research into your own field means investigating your competitors, studying your idols, and keeping detailed notes for yourself as to how you can implement what you’ve found.

In every industry, your potential customers are looking to freelancers like you to help them be ahead of industry-related trends in marketing, content, sales, and other services so they can beat their competitors to the punch!

Consider subscribing to marketing blogs or other authorities that record industry trends. Being on top of the latest trends can set you apart from competitors and earn you instant respect with potential clients.

Use this trend data to serve existing clients too! If you learn of a new development that might serve a client you already have, let them know. These messages don’t have to be delivered as pitches for new work or a higher-paying contract; in fact, sharing a free tip about a new trend can be a valuable relationship-builder.

By coming to your clients with developments in their industry, providing them knowledge and the opportunity for an unforeseen competitive advantage shows that you have their back. Clients who trust their freelancers tend to keep those freelancers.

Freelancers are an extension of a business’s team, no matter the size and scope of the business. Implementing these tips and establishing lasting relationships with current clients and those who could potentially become clients will not only boost your business – it’ll boost your credibility and tenure in your industry.

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