Is your creative business feeling stalled? Maybe you had some momentum and signed a few clients, but you’re not hitting the income level you want every month?
You’re not alone. When I first started my freelance business, I was working for a printing company during the day and building my graphic and website design business on the side. After I landed my first few clients, I took the leap, quit my job, and officially became a full-time freelancer!
But it didn’t work out as quickly as I wanted (you can read my full career timeline here). Getting a few clients is a huge accomplishment, but to actually profit from your work and stop dipping into savings, you can’t keep attracting one client at a time. You will need to set up systems that consistently bring in new clients and make them aware of what you offer.
It doesn’t have to take you as long as it took me! I tried literally everything from Craigslist to networking events to speaking gigs to Facebook ads, and if I had instead just focused on one of the six items below, I could have been booked out much sooner than I was.
Below is a breakdown of how to grow your creative business, based on my real-world experience of going from an underpaid freelancer to a thriving business owner. You can also download our popular guide on this topic here:
1. Reposition Yourself
If you offer too many services to too broad of an audience, your creative business will hit a plateau. Clients need to see you as an expert in a specific area in order to trust you.
If they see you do branding and social media and copywriting and photography… and you dabble in videography… and you help anyone who needs your services… they will not have confidence that you can help them solve their specific problems.
Even if you started as a generalist, you can always narrow down your niche once you know the types of projects you enjoy the most.
For example, if most of your clients are fashion and jewelry designers, you can revamp your website and content to focus solely on attracting more clients in those industries. Your business will evolve over time, and it’s never too late to refocus in order to sign more clients.
If your business isn’t growing at the rate you want, you should also evaluate how much time you spend on each task. Do you have service packages on your website that no one ever chooses? Do you post on Facebook every day with no results? When you have clarity on what actions and offers are actually moving your business forward, you can prioritize those and cut out the rest.
2. Network in New Ways
In the freelance world, your network is crucial when it comes to word-of-mouth referrals. To grow your creative business through networking, you can either increase the time you spend on your current networking efforts or try something new. Either option can bring you an influx of clients, visibility, and referral partners.
You don’t need to be on every single social media platform – that’s a one-way ticket to burnout. Here are some actionable networking ideas to help you expand your reach:
— Join our Facebook community of women freelancers in creative industries! Introduce yourself and meet likeminded women who are growing their businesses.
— Reach out to your contacts on LinkedIn and ask how you can help them. This is not about pitching your services in their DMs – it’s about genuinely providing value. Is there someone in your network you could introduce them to? Is there a problem you could help solve? When you help them, they will be more interested in helping you when they hear of someone who needs your services.
— Is there a freelancing organization in your city? If so, you can become a member, attend their events, offer to write a guest blog for their site, and do what you can to get plugged into that community.
— Engage on social media. This is different than just stopping by Instagram, posting a picture, and then logging out – you can talk to people in the comments sections, follow them, and grow your audience that way!
3. Create Content
Content creation is the key to growing your creative freelance business.
Content can come in the form of blog posts, emails, social media captions, videos, podcasts… you have lots of options! Think of each piece of content as a bite-sized piece of information that addresses what your ideal client needs to hear in that moment.
I’m not talking about posting your random thoughts on social media without a plan. I’m also not talking about writing 2,000-word marketing emails every day and burning yourself out. When you create content in a strategic and consistent way, you can actually feel inspired and have fun. If you need help coming up with content ideas, you can download our free prompts here:
Pick one or two platforms where you know your ideal clients are searching for answers, and show up there to attract them. If the people you want to work with are on Instagram, schedule a few Instagram posts a week that genuinely showcase your personality and help them solve their problems.
In my branding agency, most of the clients who got on the phone with us for a consult call would say something like “I’ve been following your blog for six months and knew I wanted to work with you – and I’m finally ready!” People are paying attention whether you realize it or not, so even if it takes time to gain traction, your content is still worth making.
If your potential clients read, watch, or listen to your content, they will be familiar with your personality and offerings even before you get on a call. This builds trust, saves time, and allows you to sign clients who value your services and are willing to pay for your creative expertise.
4. Refresh Your Website
No matter what creative field you work in, your business needs a website. Once you have worked with a few clients and are ready to grow your creative business even further, you can update your website to attract more ideal clients.
The two major things to focus on when improving your website are:
i. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
As you continue adding content and blog posts on your website, make sure to use the exact key words your ideal clients are searching for. The more you focus on creating helpful and keyword-optimized content, the more often your ideal clients will stumble across your website in their Google searches.
While social media posts can fade into the background and be hard to find later, the evergreen content on your website can introduce new clients to your personality, brand, and services for years to come. We cover more about how to grow your creative business using content in our signature Money-Making Freelance Course, and you can learn more about that here.
Most creative freelancers know they should ask clients for testimonials – but once you get so busy, it can be hard to remember to stop and ask. Slower periods in your creative business are a perfect opportunity to reach out to past clients and get their positive reviews and testimonials.
You can also ask them to leave a review on sites like Google, Yelp, or Facebook if you get clients through those sites. I recommend putting a calendar reminder for once every quarter to check in with recent clients and see if they would be willing to provide a testimonial.
5. Build Passive Income
What are the questions that your clients always ask you? What do they consistently struggle with?
Even if the solutions to their problems seem obvious to you, there is a reason they reached out to you instead of just Googling it. They see you as an expert, and they trust that you can guide them to the answer in a simple way.
Rather than helping each client individually, you can take your unique process and package it into a paid product like a workbook, mini-course, PDF guide, checklist, video series, book… the list is endless!
These types of passive income products add more revenue streams to your business. You get to help your ideal clients, and they pay you while you sleep: it’s a win-win.
I first fell in love with passive income products when I published my book BrandFix. I had a lot of fun writing and promoting the book, but after the launch was over I didn’t focus too much on marketing it. Even so, I receive royalty payments every month from people who have found the book, loved it, and recommended it to others over time. How cool is that?!
Passive income products are a gateway for clients to trust you and pay for more of your knowledge. If someone purchases your short ebook and feels you delivered a ton of value, they are much more likely to inquire about your higher-end packages.
6. Remember Why You Started
Think about what your life was like before you started your creative business. Close your eyes and really picture it for a moment.
Maybe you were grinding away at a 9-5, sipping lukewarm coffee out of a generic office mug, your day overtaken by useless meetings and bureaucracy. Maybe you had to juggle your 10 vacation days a year to make it to weddings and family events, even though you had a strong desire to see more of the world.
Maybe you simply knew you could make it on your own – that your creative talents were worthy of paying clients. That your photography or website designs or Pinterest management or blogging services could make a bigger impact on the world. That you deserved a flexible lifestyle without a boss hovering over your shoulder.
By launching your freelance business, you took a giant step towards your dreams. In moments of thinking “Am I really cut out for this?” or “Where are my clients already?!” take a moment to focus on the big picture, how far you have come, and why you started your business at all.
A lot of gurus post about “finding your passion and taking the leap!” without actually focusing on the step-by-step how-to’s of managing a business, working with clients, invoicing, managing your workflow, and so on. This can make it confusing to creative women who do take the leap – it sounds simple to run a freelance business, so why isn’t it working?!
I know exactly how that feels because for the first few years of my freelance journey, I felt the same way. I dive into the strategies, action steps, and real-world details of how to start and grow your freelance business in our Aventive Academy courses.
If you’re struggling to get to the level of income and clients that you want, you can join our courses or participate in our free Facebook community!