So you’ve decided you want to begin freelancing—that’s great. There’s just one teensy little issue. No one has paid you to do it yet.
Some freelancers get into freelancing because a client approaches them first. Those people obviously are blessed. But maybe you’re one of them. In fact, you may already be freelancing without quite realizing it.
“Freelancing” is a nebulous term—in my opinion, it’s any time someone pays you for a one-off task. I had all kinds of freelance jobs before I became a full-time freelancer. I was a freelance class-action-lawsuit-collector (did anyone else sign up for the Facebook one?). I freelanced for my mother, when she offered me $30 to not bring up Roe v. Wade at Thanksgiving 2016. And I freelanced for the United States Government in 2020 when they sent me $1200 for the very difficult task of enduring the pandemic. At least, I think it was freelancing—when the government sends me money, I don’t ask questions.
That said, you may want to be a bit deliberate if you want control over your freelancing career. The good news is you don’t have to wait for a magical first client to fall from the sky—63% of freelancers began doing so by choice, which means they sought out their first gig. There are several things to consider as you begin looking for your first freelance client. The following steps are helpful for landing that starting job:
First, you should ask yourself what your goals as a freelancer are. Do you want the freedom of not having a full-time job, or the chance to try many different things, or is freelancing the best way to make your desired profession a reality?
Your goals will affect how you should think about finding your first client. If you’re mainly interested in freelancing as a lifestyle, then be open to anything. You’ll get practice with handling things like invoices and setting your own hours. If you have more specific goals, then wait until you find something in your field, or your experience might not be relevant. For example, as a writer, freelancing is far more feasible than finding a staff writing position, and it gives me the chance to write on many different topics. However, that also means it was harder to get a foothold as a freelancer, and I had to wait longer to find my first client.
Harness Your Existing Network
To find a client, I recommend first considering your current network. It can be the easiest way to get started because a friend or former coworker may be more likely to trust you, even if you don’t yet have freelancing experience. There are two things a freelance client must have—money and needs. If you have friends who run businesses, this can be a great place to start.
Consider any functions they don’t currently have—social media, a website, marketing—and make an offer. Potentially ask old full-time coworkers or bosses, too. Even if they weren’t someone you worked with directly, your reputation at the company can help you land that first client.
Get on Social Media
Depending on your social network, you could post on social media to find new clients. It works—37% of freelancers have found work via social media. Try posting on LinkedIn—or even Twitter or Facebook—to see if anyone is searching. In your post, make sure to be clear about how many hours you want to work per week, and what type of work you’re capable of doing. Also be clear about whether you’re looking for a short-term gig or something more ongoing. Someone scrolling through social media probably won’t read a long post, so get to the point about what you want, and put it out into the world!
For this one, also consider the issue of your current job. Specifically, do you have one? If so, you might not want to post on social media about seeking freelance work, unless you’re clear that you’re only looking for something part-time to be done in the evenings or on weekends.
Check Out the Freelancing Websites
There are a number of websites that can help you find clients. Places like Upwork and Fiverr offer myriad jobs that can help you put together a portfolio if you’re just getting started. With a wide range of freelance projects available, they can be the perfect place to dip your toes in.
Consider a Pay Reduction
For finding your first client, it’s a bit easier if you charge less initially. Of course, if you’ve been working full-time in the field you were once freelancing in, you can charge more. However, if you’ve found someone who’s interested in hiring you for a job but is a bit hesitant because your freelance skills are untested, I do recommend lowering your rates a little. This is especially relevant on sites like Upwork, where clients will rate their freelancers. Until you have a strong rating, you may find that you’re going a bit below your desired rate.
It can feel like threading a needle to find that first client, but I promise you—it gets easier after you’ve gotten a foothold. If you consider your network, your goals, your social media presence, and freelancing websites, you may have a better chance of landing on something that works for you. Good luck!
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