If you’ve decided to leave your day job to go freelance, you’ll need to find clients to sustain and grow your one (wo)man band. In this article, we explain how to win your first client, how your reputation will get you more clients, and what effective marketing looks like in the freelance industry.
And if you’re just getting started, we have a course that explains how to set up your freelance business and start earning what you’re worth.
How to get your first client as a freelancer
There are currently over 2 million freelancers in the UK, contributing £125 billion to the economy.
Considering freelancers tend to have higher levels of satisfaction and wellbeing, it’s not surprising this figure is on the rise. 79% of UK freelancers say they enjoy a greater work-life balance.
Simultaneously, 54% of freelancers consider irregular income a difficulty. If you’re used to a fixed salary, this does take getting used to. But there are a number of ways you can keep the money coming in.
If you’re starting out, the best ways to win your first clients are to:
- Leverage your network
Most freelancers win their previous employer as their first client. Chances are your previous employer already knows the quality of your work and likes you as a person.
You also know their business and can pick up where you left off. Plus, there are financial benefits for them (for example, hiring a replacement employee can cost £30,000.)
So really leveraging your network – explaining you’ve gone freelance and offering your services – is the best way to secure your first client account.
- Build up your testimonials
Testimonials are a key way to show the quality of your work and set yourself apart. If you don’t have any testimonials yet, consider offering your work at a discount or for free.
This will help you get more practice and teach you how to manage clients. It will also build up a body of work that you can later use to market your services.
And if you do a good job, the chances of them recommending you – or even hiring you in the future – are high.
freelancers tend to have higher levels of satisfaction and wellbeing”
Why your reputation is key
But what if you’ve already established yourself as a freelancer – how do you go about finding more clients?
A 2019 study found that 64% of freelancers find word-of-mouth within their network to be among the most common ways to find work.
But what about a network helps freelancers find work? According to Harvard Business Review, it’s your reputation that really matters. Because quite simply, a good reputation builds trust ‘among members of a social network in which economic transactions are involved.’
What’s more, Marketing Science found that freelancers with a higher reputation also enjoy higher incomes. Using online ratings to calculate reputation, they discovered that freelancers with an average rating of 10/10 could expect 40-70% higher revenue.
So it looks like building up trust doesn’t just help you find more clients, it also increases your income.
But does that mean you need to join every single networking event out there? Not necessarily.
Digital technology is increasingly at the forefront when it comes to helping you build – and maintain – a good reputation.
61% of full-time freelancers say that their work depends on being digitally connected to clients, while 59% say they use technology to make themselves more competitive.
So while your initial network is a crucial starting place, digital technology – particularly online marketing tools – will help you maintain a good reputation, and consequently win more clients.
How to get more clients as a freelancer
In 2019, 28% of freelancers said digital tools – like social media – were among the top ways to win clients. But 65% of UK freelancers feel they don’t have the know-how or tools to market their skills online.
Truth is, you don’t need an array of tools or a full-blown marketing strategy to successfully market your freelance business. The key is to focus on one or two that work for you and to create content you can share across them. Social media and email marketing are a good place to start.
- Social media
Social media helps freelancers build up brand awareness, a key part of a good online reputation.A study analysing the effects of social media on freelance work found that companies hire freelancers based on a combination of two factors: referrals and their social media reputation.
According to the surveyed freelancers, social media is fundamental. Not because it directly helps them get work, but because social platforms act as a portfolio that people use to ‘window shop’ recommended freelancers.
One freelancer even noted that ‘if a client can’t find you on social media, they won’t hire you.’
When asked about social content, respondents said their blog helped them the most.
‘It was my blog that got me recognised, and Twitter allowed me to publicise it to a client group in a position to give me work. Without Twitter, it would have taken me longer to establish myself.’
High-quality blog posts, that cover topics your clients are interested in, work well when shared on social. If you don’t have a blog, you can also write and share guest posts that get published on external websites.
Which social network you should use depends on the type of work you do, and which platforms your clients use.
If your work is very visual, Instagram and Pinterest work well. If your work is heavily writing-based, Medium and Twitter are useful. LinkedIn is the preferred networking platform for most freelancers.
- Email marketing
While social media is a great tool to build brand awareness, email marketing will help you convert your followers into clients: it has a conversion rate of 66% and an ROI of 122%.
For freelancers, building up a strong email database is crucial. The best way to go about it is to encourage social media followers to subscribe to your newsletter.
Adding a simple subscription form to all articles, and highlighting the benefits of signing up, will do the trick.
Once you start growing a database, segment your list by current and potential clients, and by services required. By dividing your list into groups, you’ll be able to send targeted content specific to client needs.
This further builds up your reputation as a skilled freelancer and increases your chances of winning projects: 77% of ROI comes from segmented and target emails.
It’s important to note that freelancers aren’t exempt from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). GDPR prevents you from adding people to a newsletter list without their explicit consent – another reason your subscription form is key.
Don’t forget about yourself
When it comes to online reputation building, include yourself in the story. Research shows that people hire people they like, and successful self-branding has become instrumental to win clients.
So when posting on social media, share personal insights, things that inspire you and experiences you’ve had doing what you do.
What’s more, not everything you share has to be overly positive. As humans, we’ve learnt that if something seems too good to be true, it usually is – making us distrust those that paint a perfect picture online.
According to behavioural science, showing flaws actually make people like you more. The Pratfall effect notes that imperfections make people more attractive, and admitting weakness demonstrates honesty. And honesty, in turn, makes you more trustworthy.
So next time you engage in self-branding, don’t be afraid to share what you’ve learnt from failures. Chances are your audience will find that type of content much more useful and it will help build up credibility.
Three points of advice
- Market yourself as a local business – Even if you have the ability to work globally, targeting everyone could be harming your efforts. People tend to include words like ‘near me’ when searching online, so start out marketing to the locations your target clients are in.
- Have a good user experience – When deciding what content to highlight, only show what will make the most impact. Listing every project you’ve ever done will cause information overload. The same goes for your website: keep it simple and clear. You don’t need a complex web design to stand out.
- Ask for reviews – Remember the statistic about freelancers with high ratings earning more? When you’ve done a great job, don’t be afraid to ask for a review. According to research, 70% of people will leave a review if asked to do so.
Combining referrals and reputation
As a freelancer, finding clients is a combination of establishing a good network and using digital technology to maintain a good reputation.
Your network is key when referring you to new clients, and your online reputation helps you convert those prospects into projects.
If you need a little help, don’t hesitate to sign up to our course on how to get your freelance journey started.
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