Ask any freelancer what they dread most about freelancing and the answer will usually be something like finding clients.
Cold pitching, especially, has a way of making even the most experienced freelancers question their own abilities. Reaching out to strangers in the hope of landing a paying project sparks anxiety and gives many freelancers a sense of imposter syndrome.
Fortunately, there are other ways to get clients on board with your services without stepping too far outside your comfort zone.
1. Respond to Warm Leads
As freelancers, we continuously get plastered with other freelancers telling us that cold pitching is the only way to go about getting legitimate, high-paying clients.
Rarely do those people talk about responding to warm leads instead of contacting strangers to ask for work. Warm leads are people you've already connected with in some way or those who have already put a request out for someone to help in your line of work.
A job board or freelance marketplace, like Upwork, can qualify as a warm lead generator because clients post jobs targeting people with specific skills. If you meet the job's requirements, you can respond and "pitch" yourself. You won't be doing a cold pitch, though, because the client has already expressed an interest and need for your skills.
People in your network who've already shown interest in your work, like past or current clients or those who have asked about your services, are also warm leads. You can use simple sales pitches to approach these interested people to sell your services to without feeling like you're contacting someone who has zero interest in what you offer.
2. Build Your LinkedIn Presence
LinkedIn is an invaluable tool for freelancers to engage with potential clients. Although it's a form of social media, it's much more geared toward professionals and those interested in networking than other sites like Facebook or Twitter.
Your LinkedIn Profile not only explains what you do, but it also hosts your accomplishments, past jobs, certifications, and other elements that build a level of trust between you and clients. You can also use the platform to write industry-related articles and posts, join relevant groups, and connect with other professionals.
Although I don't suggest directly pitching to others on LinkedIn, I do suggest building valuable connections with other freelancers and potential clients. Like, share, and comment on their posts to foster relationships naturally and post your own engaging content to share with your network. When others in your network require services like yours, they might just come to you for help.
3. Join Freelancing Groups
An often-overlooked part of being a successful freelancer is networking with other freelancers. Although you might see them as competition, other people in the freelancing world tend to help each other rather than compete against one another.
These social networking groups, which you can find on Facebook and LinkedIn, not only aid freelancers in getting their job-related questions answered, but they're also helpful when in building connections. Sometimes, freelancers will look to outsource client work that they don't have the bandwidth to handle, giving others the chance to pick up more work.
Interestingly, clients also hang out in these groups so that they can quickly find freelancers to handle their tasks when the need arises. If you're active in the group and post valuable content that proves your skills and experience, you might find that clients are willing to reach out directly to you for help.
You can search for general freelancing groups, but it will likely benefit you more to join more specific groups relevant to your services, like those for freelance designers or developers.
4. Find Out Where Your Ideal Clients Hang Out
Your ideal clients probably congregate in a few places online, and it's up to you to find out where those places are. For the most part, professionals network in LinkedIn and Facebook groups related to their industries. Both of them are 100% free, so there's no reason not to join them yourself. You might also find industry-specific message boards and forums where your clients could be lurking.
The trick to finding clients in these groups and forums is to not sell yourself directly to them. Instead, prove that you're an expert in that industry by offering helpful advice. Be quick to answer questions (set push notifications, if possible, to notify you when someone posts a new one) with enough information to show that you know what you're talking about.
Helping others for free can lead to a money-making project, so it's often worth it to build, and cater to, those new relationships.
5. Help Others Find You
It should never be challenging for a potential client to find you online. Maybe they've read a guest post of yours in an online magazine and are interested in reaching out to you, but they can't find a website or social media accounts from which to learn more about your services or contact you. By optimizing your online presence, you can help clients find you in just a couple of clicks.
A few things to consider are:
- Your website's URL and name: It's tempting to get creative with a title and URL, but ideally, you'll want your URL to be extremely easy to remember, which can also help people find you in searches. Your site's title should be simple, too, like your name and a few words about what you do.
- Your social media handles: Using your name as your handles for Twitter, Instagram, and other social media accounts can make it easy for people searching you to find your accounts and check out your social media presence.
- Your email address: Is it professional? Does it use your website's URL and is it something easy for clients to remember and spell correctly (like [email protected]).
6. Reach Out to Past Clients
Never forget the clients you've already worked with and have had an excellent working relationship with. These are people who liked what you did and paid you to do it, so there's no reason for them not to pay you again if they need your help.
Sometimes, they might have an area where you can put your skills to work, but they haven't gotten around to finding someone to fill the gap yet. Reaching out to them might be just what they needed to jump-start the process.
It's also beneficial to circle back with past clients when you add new services or have a special offer to promote. Send a quick email letting them know what you're offering and that you have some limited availability for them to snag.
7. Ask for Referrals
Are your past clients not interested in more work right now? No problem—they might still know someone who is. When a client responds without a need for your services, you can take the opportunity to kindly ask them to pass along your information to others they know who might be seeking someone like you.
You can also ask for referrals from current clients if the project is moving along successfully. Send a quick email along these lines:
I'm enjoying working on your project! I have a spot for more client work opening in two weeks and would appreciate you keeping me in mind if you know of anyone who might need help with [your services]. Feel free to pass along my information if so. Thank you!
8. Attend Local Networking Events
Networking events are perfect places to find people to connect with, whether or not they're your ideal clients. You might meet other authority figures in the industry, startup entrepreneurs, or freelancers who have connections in your niche who can come in handy for building your business . But there's a good chance you might find a few clients at these events, too. Go into a networking event prepared to explain what you do, arm yourself with business cards and a portfolio, and don't be afraid to have genuine conversations with others.
You can try using Meetup to find local networking events.
*Networking in various ways, locally and online, is an excellent way to build your presence and make potential clients take notice of you. Keep building and fostering genuine relationships and you might find yourself with a freelance business free from the anxieties of cold pitching. *
Amy Boyington is a freelance writer and blog manager for lifestyle entrepreneurs and businesses. After working a few unfulfilling 9 to 5 jobs, she took it upon herself to create a career path that meshed with her family life. She now works with clients all over the world in a flexible freelance career that helps her be both a businesswoman and mom to her two children.