After working your 9-5 job for many years, you have finally decided to be your own boss. Once you are established, freelancing is an excellent career option. But where do you begin? Getting started may seem like a daunting task. The biggest challenge new freelancers face is finding the initial work. Maybe you haven’t quit yet and you are still slaving away in a cubicle, but you feel like you need a change and you are ready to do whatever it takes to succeed.
Regardless of your reason for becoming a freelancer, you need clients. Your goal is to have a steady source of income, so you won’t be crawling back to your old job. How do you find work as a freelancer? It is not as complicated as you think, but you have to hustle and channel your inner salesperson. Here are some methods to snag those precious first gigs:
Tap Into Your Network
Okay, you don’t need to get a megaphone and tell the world that you are a freelancer now, but you have to at least let your network know. We all have friends and family. You may be a little shy to tell them about your new business venture, but these are the people who would love to help you out. They know what you’re capable of, or at least that you’re a nice and trustworthy person (you are nice, right? If not, you may stop reading and go to your nearest used car lot).
Let anyone who might have an inkling of interest know that you are starting a solo business. You’d be surprised how many people are already interested in your services, and many will go out of their way to help find leads and make recommendations. This process can be intimidating, especially for introverted types, but you’ll be amazed at how accommodating people can be once you open up.
You may never wish to look back at your last job, but you should consider telling your former co-workers and work acquaintances (the ones you liked, anyway). You never know if they can identify prospects for your business. Using your former work network can be a way to find those hidden clients.
Use Job Boards
When I started out as a freelancer, I used job boards and sometimes I still do. Now don’t get confused. You are not an employee you are a freelancer, so you have to keep that business mindset. Using job boards can help you find contract gigs in your niche.
Here are a few of your options:
- FlexJobs – They sift through the garbage and deliver quality options
- Craigslist – Check the gigs section; just be wary of scams
- Authentic Jobs – Allows you to search for contract jobs
- Problogger – Great site for bloggers
Big-time sites like Freelancer, Upwork (formerly known as oDesk/Elance) and Guru have very mixed reviews and will be covered in detail in an upcoming article. I do not recommend starting out on these sites unless $3/hr and massive competition is appealing to you. There are also horror stories about freelancers not getting paid and account balances being withheld. You can read the myriad of 1 star reviews on Upwork from freelancers at HighYa.
Job boards are a good tool to utilize, but nothing is better than reaching out to clients on your own. When you are starting out, you should look into local businesses. Before you make your pitch or send a letter of introduction, make sure you know a bit about the industry and what challenges they are facing. You have to focus on their problems and how you are the perfect person to solve those problems.
There are plenty of resources you can use to find companies to pitch:
- Walk around!
Example pitch for a web designer: Next time you go to your favorite pizza place, check out their website. As a designer, you can spot a bad website from a mile away. Now, instead of sending them an email, find out who the owner is and strike up a conversation. Ask how business is going, what obstacles they are facing, etc. Casually mention your web design service and explain how you could bring in more customers, reduce phone calls and increase sales. The owner likely won’t care about tech talk or which platform the site is built on – just explain how easy the site will be to use and that you’ll handle all the details.
Start finding businesses and get those pitches in. The pitch is the absolute hardest part for me, but it gets much easier over time. The only way to improve your pitch is to practice as much as possible. Practice in the mirror, practice with friends, practice with your cat. Record yourself and see how you sound, how your body language looks and identify what you can improve. Do whatever it takes!
Join Online Groups
Once you’ve exhausted your network of family and friends, there are many more opportunities waiting for you online. Joining online groups can provide great moral support for your journey and may even send some clients your way. I personally have joined a few groups for freelancers, and I have made some great connections. Occasionally there are clients who come into these groups looking for freelancers. You will also be able to connect with other freelancers who need a helping hand with some of their work. This goes both ways: maybe you’re a writer and you need someone to to help out with SEO for a particular project.
All you have to do is search freelancing groups online. Here’s one great resource for finding facebook groups for writers. Try searching MeetUp to find groups of local freelancers and entrepreneurs. Freelancers Union has local gatherings and a wealth of information of legal issues, benefits, taxes and more.
Becoming a freelancer is a rewarding and liberating experience. You don’t have to worry about a boss breathing down your back, or employees and customers nagging you. You will deal with difficult clients at first, but over time you will be able to pick and choose those whom you enjoy working with. I hope these tips will help you find your dream clients.
One last note: your people skills are far more important than your technical ability. Be reliable, responsive, pleasant and professional and you’ll end up with more clients than you have time for. After a lot of effort, you can and will have a full-time income as a freelancer.