7 Places to Find Freelance Clients Online and Offline

One of the huge differences between a salaried worker (a W2-based employee) and a freelancer is that freelancers need to always be looking for work. Freelance work consists of projects with a limited duration. Prospecting — the process of researching and landing projects and clients — is a necessary ongoing effort that needs to happen even when you have work.

You should never stop marketing and prospecting.

In this article I’ve included platforms and opportunities for prospecting and building connections that can lead to future work.

To follow up on my article on building a prospecting pipeline, what I’ve included here are places to look for prospects and opportunities, so you can begin building connections for your pipeline or just find clients. I also share my impressions and recommendations for each method.

Creative Hotlist

A subsidiary of Communication Arts Magazine, Creative Hotlist is a job listing site and an online portfolio site. You can post your work, and also search for freelance projects and job listings. Use search terms including freelance, contract, remote.

Word to the wise: Many job listings on Creative Hotlist are posted by freelance agencies. To land these projects, you need to join the agency or work through it instead of connecting directly with a client.

Upwork

For many freelancers who rely on online listing services, Upwork  is one of the more stand-up options in terms of how it works. It serves all types of independent contractors, from designers to legal pros. Freelancers can join for free or pay for premium memberships, create a work profile and respond to project listings. Billing and payments are handled through Upwork. When you quote a project, Upwork adds a percentage of your fee to the client — this is based on a tiered percentage — and deducts it from your payment. You receive your quoted fee in full. Upwork boasts more than 49,000 signed contracts per week.

Word to the wise: Take care with project listings on Upwork that have unrealistically low budgets. For example, I found this listing in the Graphic Design category: Hello I am looking for high quality professional e book covers for kindle. I will publishing in romance category and would like covers that scream professionalism! I am looking to pay no more than $5 per cover but will be ordering covers very frequently. I look forward to hearing from you!* The job lister determines the value of a project, in most cases and, in most cases, drastically undervalues the job, as you can see from this example. The key is to find budgets that you can work with.

LinkedIn

Keep your LinkedIn profile professional, updated and optimized. Your profile pick should be a headshot, not a work example or your logo. (Use your logo on your LinkedIn business page.)

Join groups that target your ideal clients. For example, if you are a copywriter, you should join groups made up of businesses and organizations that need copywriting. If you are a children’s book illustrator, join groups made up of publishing industry pros and self-published writers of children’s books.

Once you determine your target audience and have created a description of your ideal client, simply look for related groups, join, and get active in them. Be a thought leader in the group rather than promote your work. For every one work promotion (depending on what the group allows), write 3 – 4 posts or articles based on the group topic.

Additionally, follow business pages and companies you’d like to work with. Interact with posts and comments.

And send personalized, relevant connection requests. Avoid connecting just to follow up with a sales pitch. Include a short message introducing yourself and share why you want to connect. Don’t just use the supplied template, but, to reiterate, make your request relevant to the person you’re inviting.

Lastly, peruse the job listings, looking out especially for those marked “freelance”. LinkedIn has many postings requiring freelancers and independent contractors.

Word to the wise: I’ve been referred many times on LinkedIn, and acquired some very lucrative design projects via the groups I joined. My advice is to be active regularly. Don’t simply hit and run. So have a marketing plan and include your strategies and tactics for using LinkedIn.

Business Networking

Face-to-face meet-ups, networking events, trade shows and conferences, whether in person or virtual, are a great way to develop relationships with potential clients. This is especially true if you volunteer to help with an event or create your own meet-up.

Also consider joining a service club (Kiwanis, Rotary, for example) and your local chamber of commerce. Chambers of commerce will have networking groups and events at least once a month.

Word to the wise: You’re likely to become known and trusted quickly when working directly with people. I’ve had greater success when it comes to attracting clients and being referred through networking and volunteering than on social media, email, and advertising. If you’re an introvert like me, I have some proven networking tips for you here.

Behance

In addition to having your own website, Behance is a good platform for showcasing your work. Once you’ve set up your profile and portfolio on the platform, the next step is getting noticed.

Make sure to include only your best work, and think of each post as an advertisement.

What works well on Behance, especially for designers, are case studies. Include 6–12 images of a project and written commentary on your process and creative problem-solving.

Select an enticing cover image for each project or catgory.

Don’t include preliminary work unless it’s part of a case study. Show only your best finished work.

Promote your work. Under the “Public Project” section of your Behance portfolio is a ‘Promote Project’ link where you can send out notifications about your project to Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin at the same time.

Word to the wise: Don’t seek to get featured on Behance. There’s more to it than being picked by the curators. Just always showcase your best work and be sure the platform is secondary to your own website.

People You Know

Among your colleagues, friends, and family are referral opportunities. The people you know know people who need your services. It does no harm to utilize your acquaintances and family members to find new freelance opportunities. Just ask them. “Hey, I’ just started my freelance business! It there someone you’ve done business with who could use my services?” or “I’m currently accepting new projects. I’d love to connect with Amazing Company, and I know they’re a member of the same Toastmasters group you are. Can I take you both out for a coffee?

Word to the wise: Be very specific about what you are looking for. On occasion I’ve mentioned to friends that I’m looking for new clients and have gotten responses along the line of, ”Oh! I know The Home Depot is hiring. I saw a sign in their window.” Right.

Understand that your close connections and friends may not really understand what you do and who you serve, so be clear with them.

Your Clients

If you have existing or recently former clients, do not hesitate to ask for referrals or new projects from them, respectively. Just like your colleagues, friends and family, your clients have colleagues, friends and family. If you’ve done excellent work for them, you have a firm basis for asking.

Word to the wise: When you do excellent work and provide a professional experience, your clients are more likely to refer you. But you do have to ask, because once a project is completed you may no longer be top of mind or know that you’re looking for new work.

Use these avenues along with social media, email list building, blogging, podcasting, and video to keep your project pipeline flowing. Remember that marketing and promotion are necessary business activities that need to be addressed on a consistent basis. Add these options to your marketing plan, and if you don’t yet have a plan, create one. That’s one lesson we cover in the Freelance Road Trip business school program. Check it out.

Related Articles:
10 Proven Networking Strategies for Introverts (and Everyone Else)

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