Maybe you’re a seasoned freelancer who is hitting a dry spell, or maybe you’re launching your creative business for the first time. No matter where you are in your journey as an entrepreneur, one question always seems to pop up:
“How can I get more clients?!”
The good news is there are potential clients all around you. There are thousands of people and businesses that need your services – so many that you couldn’t possibly help each one. To find and sign new clients, it’s simply a matter of getting in front of them and focusing on the approaches that work for you!
When you build your network and relationships on an ongoing basis, soon you will reach a point where referrals run the show. At that point, your freelance business will be booked out and won’t have to worry about what happens to your income when one project wraps up!
To get to that point and create a steady stream of clients, here are 11 proven and effective strategies to help you get more clients. We dive much deeper into how to land your first freelance graphic design clients in our Freelance Starter Kit!
1. Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is the simplest strategy, but it’s also the one that most freelancers neglect. Sometimes it seems almost too easy!
First, you can remind your friends and family of what you do and who your freelance business serves. Many times, the people around us know we have a business, but they get fuzzy on the details over time.
Even though your family and friends are not your ideal clients, they interact with people all the time and may stumble upon someone who needs the services what you offer. You can also check in with past clients or employers to see how they are doing, if there is anything you can do to help them, or if they know anyone who could use your services.
As long as you keep your notes short, friendly, and professional (rather than pushy or “salesy”), you don’t have to worry about bothering anyone. Past clients who were happy with your services will often refer you to more – you just have to ask.
Just starting your freelance business? You can download our cheat sheet to starting your creative business here:
2. Cold Pitching
Cold pitching can be scary at first, but it can also result in connections and clients that are a perfect fit for your business.
Let’s say you specialize in video marketing for the alcohol industry. You could see if there are any small-to-medium sized wine stores in your area, and then browse their websites to identify which ones would benefit from an amazing video montage.
Then reach out to them directly. Send them a customized email that introduces yourself and demonstrates that you took the time to become familiar with their business.
The personalization of that cold pitch email is extremely important — you would be surprised at how horrifyingly generic most cold pitches are! My branding agency receives pitch emails every day that are clearly copy-and-pasted, don’t include my name or anything about my company, and have no relevance to me.
All it takes is a little effort for you to stand out from the pack. Note that with cold outreach, you will likely need to reach out to numerous companies before someone gets back to you. This is just the nature of cold pitching and doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong.
3. Share Your Portfolio
Your portfolio needs to be amazing in order to stand out, so make sure your portfolio is housed on your own website and features your best creative work.
Your portfolio should focus on projects that will appeal to your ideal clients. If you say you offer web design services for the pet industry, but your entire portfolio is made of banking websites, that will be confusing to your ideal clients.
Once your portfolio looks great, it’s time to proactively share it with others – just because it is sitting on the internet doesn’t mean it will attract visitors! You can sprinkle links to your portfolio in your social media posts, on your business cards, or in your email signature to gain interest and clicks.
Social proof is important when attracting clients, so I suggest getting testimonials from your past clients. You can post these testimonials proudly on your website and scatter them through your social media posts as well. Ideal clients will trust you more if they see proof of quality work and a track record of satisfied clients.
4. Create Information Products
You are not just a creative entrepreneur – you’re an expert in your field. If you haven’t yet established yourself as an expert, there are so many ways you can do that. One unique method is to create informational products like ebooks, a video series, or a simple online course.
You can give these types of creations away for free in exchange for an email address, or you can charge for them. Either way they accomplish the goal of positioning you as an expert, building trust with potential clients, and building your brand awareness.
Keep in mind that anything you make needs to be created for your ideal client to use. So if you’re a floral designer who specializes in corporate banquets, your clients don’t need to know how to cut and store a daisy to make sure it lasts as long as possible. You need to know that, but they don’t. 😊
However, your potential clients would probably be interested in topics like “The 5 Questions You Need to Ask Before Ordering Holiday Floral Centerpieces” and “The Best Color Schemes for Your Corporate Holiday Party.”
If you need creative ideas for your information products, blog posts, and Instagram posts, you can download our free guide to 20+ Instagram post ideas here:
My favorite way that female entrepreneurs can position themselves as experts is through blogging. That’s actually what I’m doing right now: sharing my expertise in a relatable way that gives my readers real value – all on a blog!
You can do the same, and in the process you will attract people to your website where they can click around, see your portfolio, understand the problems you solve, and contact you for help.
Another benefit of blogging is it builds your search engine optimization (SEO), so over time your website will show up higher in Google’s search rankings.
One well-written blog post that is optimized for keywords can drive targeted traffic to your site for years to come. I talk a lot more about how you can use a blog to grow your creative freelance business in our Aventive Academy courses.
If writing isn’t your thing and the idea of creating a bunch of blog posts sounds miserable, there are other options. You can also consider starting a podcast or YouTube channel, or you could just focus on writing valuable content for your…
6. Email List
… email list!
Even if someone stumbles upon your blog post, loves it, and finds it incredibly helpful, they may not need your services in that exact moment. If you have no way of keeping them engaged after they read your post, they will likely move on with their day and forget about your business.
By creating a simple email list and inviting them to join, you give them the opportunity to stay connected and potentially buy from you in the future. Your email list doesn’t have to be complicated, and you can even use a service like MailChimp which is free until you hit a high number of subscribers.
Consider sending a short newsletter once a month with some tips, a link to a cool project in your portfolio, and a reminder that you have room in your schedule for new freelance clients. It’s mostly important that your emails are genuine, targeted, consistent, and valuable to your audience – they don’t have to be the best emails the world has ever seen!
Email marketing is perfect for entrepreneurs who are looking to grow. You can find 9 more ideas on how to grow your creative freelance business in our free guide:
7. Online Networking
Want to know an insider freelance secret? Even though one of the benefits of having your own business is that you can work from anywhere, you can still benefit by participating in local networking groups both online and in person – particularly with other freelancers.
I know, I know… this whole article I have been saying to focus on your ideal clients and not on your industry peers. But if you offer copywriting services for tech startups, and there is an interior designer in your city who designs offices for startups – wouldn’t it help to be connected with her?
Wouldn’t it be nice to know that when she hears a client is having a hard time attracting customers, she can tell them “I actually know this great copywriter who can help you”? And wouldn’t you want to return the favor by letting your clients know about her when appropriate?
Unless another freelancer is offering the exact same services as you, tailored to your exact same target audience – they are not your competitor. By networking with other entrepreneurs in Facebook groups like ours, along with other avenues, you can swap referrals and open the doors to more client opportunities.
8. Guest Post on Other Sites
While developing your own website is crucial, one way to build your business faster is to be featured in websites or social media accounts that your target is already reading.
If you want your guest posts to result in clients, you will want to be strategic about where you attempt to get featured. If you’re a wedding photographer, think about pitching local wedding blogs and magazines that your ideal clients are already reading when planning their special day. You could also look into Instagram accounts and influencers that appeal to your target.
There are many places online where you can pitch a guest blog or even a guest Instagram post depending on your industry! If you write a super-valuable and interesting blog post on a site that your clients are already reading, and then include a link to your website in your author bio, you can drive relevant traffic to your site and potentially sign new clients.
When you focus on getting your business featured where your potential clients already are, rather than trying to get them to change their behavior, you will see success much faster.
9. Join a Coworking Space
Working from home alone can get lonely fast. Coworking spaces offer opportunities to work productively and grow your professional network – a true win-win!
I joined a coworking space shortly after I started freelancing, even though on paper it seemed like there was no way I could afford it. But for me, it felt like I couldn’t afford not to.
I was getting lonely working at home, I just moved to a new city and didn’t know anyone, and I found myself working at all sorts of weird hours. My business wasn’t growing, and I needed to do something to spark a change.
Participating in the coworking space completely turned my business around. Not only did I meet clients there, I became friends with other graphic designers who were further ahead of me on their business journeys. They were generous and willing to help me learn the ropes of freelancing much faster than I could have on my own.
A few years later, I ended up founding my own coworking space because I loved coworking so much 😊 But that’s a story for another day.
LinkedIn is a great platform to network and connect for your creative business. This is especially true if your ideal clients are other businesses, which is often the case in industries like web design and content marketing.
Even if your business works directly with individuals (like some photographers, stylists, and interior designers do), LinkedIn can still be a useful tool on your freelance journey.
Is your LinkedIn up to date? Does your profile have a clear summary of what you do and who you help, along with a link to your portfolio? Once you fine-tune the basics of your LinkedIn profile, you can use it in many ways.
Much like other social media platforms, you can write original posts on LinkedIn which you can use to share your your blog posts, case studies, and thoughts on any trending news in your industry. You can also focus on becoming more visible by liking and commenting on the posts of people in your network.
You can also find relevant LinkedIn Groups, join them and leave valuable comments, offer help and create relationships with various business people. They might need your services, or they will send you referrals when they hear that someone is looking for services you offer.
11. In-Person Networking
Sometimes the best way to build your professional reputation is to get out from behind the laptop and meet other people face-to-face.
Check if there are events and meetups in your area for other business owners, fellow creative freelancers, or the local entrepreneurial community. When you go to a networking event, the biggest thing to remember is you are never there to sell yourself directly: no one likes to get (or give) a sales pitch on the spot.
Think of the people you meet at networking events as your referral partners. They may know someone in your network who needs your services down the line, and since you made such a great impression in person, they can refer you in the future.
If you’re a digital nomad who works from lots of different places, networking and social events can still be a cool way to meet people in the area you happen to live for now! As you grow your network of connections from all around the world, you never know what opportunities may come up to collaborate or offer your services.
When you make the choice to be your own boss, you get a lot of freedom – and also the responsibility to find all of your own clients. But as you can see from the ideas above, getting freelance clients doesn’t have to be a scary process.
What’s important is that you show up for yourself, be consistent in your marketing and outreach efforts, and be honest about the results you are seeing. If you spend all your time on Instagram but haven’t gotten a client inquiry in months, you will need to either tweak your Instagram strategy or try a different method. It’s all part of the experimentation and freedom of working for yourself!
Creative entrepreneurs typically hit a point where they are booked out based on referrals alone. You can get to that point too, and it doesn’t have to take a long time.
To learn more about how to start or grow your creative business and make the consistent income you want, check out our Aventive Academy courses. You can also join our free community of creative women entrepreneurs on Facebook here to grow your network, get ideas on how to grow your business, and make friends along the way.