Freelancing is freedom, but most of us don’t even know where to start. How do you create a portfolio if you don’t have any samples? How do you set your freelance rates when you’re new to the game? And importantly, you probably want to know how to get clients when you have, like, zero experience.
I see a lot of freelancers take wrong turns here and end up shooting themselves in the foot. Getting started is hard, yes… but it doesn’t have to be THAT hard.
Let’s talk about little things you can do and changes you can make so that you can land your first clients sooner, rather than later.
How to Get Clients as a Total Freelancing Newbie
1. Highlight What You Can Bring to the Table
Freelancers have shown me their cold emails and some of them will say to their leads (read: potential clients) things like…
- I’m brand new to freelancing, but…
- I don’t have any clients yet, but…
- This would be my first paid project, but…
Stop! You don’t need to do that, and you shouldn’t.
To be very clear, I’m not telling you to lie to or otherwise mislead potential clients. Don’t claim to have experience or credits that you don’t.
Rather, focus on the positive and tell them what you can offer. Even if you don’t have any professional experience, you might be able to say things like…
- “My work is 100% original and thoroughly proofread.”
- “I’m excellent at research and only reference peer-reviewed journals.”
- “I’ve had a real passion for your industry for the last five years and am very familiarized with it.”
You get the idea.
Always be honest in what you say, but don’t go out of your way to point out your shortcomings. You don’t need to be giving your leads a reason to doubt your ability.
BTW, you can get the five exact cold email templates I use to land clients over at Gumroad.
2. Create Your Own Portfolio
This is something freelancers struggle with, and I get why.
How can you make a portfolio if nobody’s hired you for a project yet?
Simple. You make your own portfolio with samples you come up with on your own.
If you’re a freelance blogger, this might mean writing up samples that you come up with and publishing them on your blog. And your blog is your portfolio. If you’re a freelance graphic designer, you can do the same thing with your own blog/website.
For social media marketers, your portfolio/samples can be your own business’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages — or wherever you have a presence. (Your business is on social media, right?)
You don’t need to wait until somebody hires you to start building your portfolio. You can start right now, even if you don’t yet have a single client.
3. Spend More Time on LinkedIn
I know we all kind of giggle at LinkedIn because, well, it’s LinkedIn. It pales in comparison to fancy toys like Instagram and TikTok. But hear me out.
LinkedIn has been vital for bringing in new clients for my business. Without it, I wouldn’t be making nearly as much as I am.
The reason the platform works so well is that it combines the best of both worlds: the casualness and laid-back nature of Facebook mixed with the professional perks of networking. If my cold emailing approach were to rely solely on whatever email addresses I could find on my leads’ websites, I probably wouldn’t hear back from many of them.
In fact, I know that I wouldn’t hear back from many of them, because this is how I used to cold email, and the results were underwhelming, to say the least.
But my conversion rate shot through the roof when I started utilizing LinkedIn. First, I make a personal connection with an employee of a potential client, and then we typically take the conversation to email to talk shop.
I wouldn’t have been able to form this connection without LinkedIn!
Take this platform seriously. Spend time filling out your profile in its entirety. Connect with people. Like and comment on posts. Share your own posts and publish original content. Ask for and offer testimonials to people you’ve worked with in the past.
If you want to learn more about how to use LinkedIn to land high-paying clients, download this free guide I made.
4. Focus on Something You Know Really Well
When it comes to how to get clients at any stage in your career, I often offer the same piece of advice.
PICK. A. NICHE! Clients pay experts more than they pay generalists.
But more than that, picking a freelance niche will help you land clients faster because you’ll be going after something that you already know a lot about.
For instance, let’s say that you’re a social media marketer, and you happen to also be passionate about living a sustainable, non-toxic, cruelty-free, eco-friendly life. It would make sense, then, to cold email brands that somehow fall into one or more of those categories.
That might mean a clean-air salon, a vegan cosmetics line, or a pest control company that uses only non-toxic spray safe for humans and pets.
When you reach out to these companies offering your social media services, you’ll be able to wow them with the knowledge you already have about sustainability, etc.
On the other hand, if you know nothing about cars, what are you doing cold emailing a mechanic or a dealership?
Pick a niche and focus on landing clients in that arena.
5. Ask a Friend or Relative to Connect You
This was (and sort of still is) an excellent source of business for me.
Referrals and recommendations are so powerful. You can brag about your services all you want, but nothing is quite as convincing as other people vouching for you.
Go to people you’re close to — friends, family, former and current colleagues — and ask them to provide one person they know who might need your services.
For instance, a friend of mine connected me with the owner of his barbershop. Another friend connected me with a pal of hers who worked at a moving company.
Don’t underestimate how effective this can be. One thing our digital world is lacking is personal communication and networking with people we know and trust. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still cold emailing’s biggest fan. But there’s something to be said for something a little less formal.
A Word of Caution
When I write you these lists, I always try to focus on what you should do, not what you shouldn’t. But in this case, I want to leave you with something that I strongly encourage you to avoid.
Don’t offer to work for free for someone who you eventually want to charge!
I always caution against working for free in general, although there are certainly exceptions. But this scenario is different. If you go to a potential client and offer to provide your services at no charge — maybe so they can get to know you and your work — the odds of them eventually paying you are very, very low.
Because why would they when you taught them that they can get someone to work for them for free?
In my experience, when you’re willing to give things away for free to a lead, the people who take them don’t have the intention of ever paying you. This is why I mostly stopped doing free audits and providing free samples. More often than not, I don’t convert those people. They never planned to pay. They just wanted something for free.
So, if you want to land paying clients, charge from the get-go, even if you’re brand spanking new to freelancing. Stick to your guns! Yes, you’re new to the game. That doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to be compensated for your time, value, and knowledge.
Now that you know how to get clients as a beginner freelancer, which of these tips will you try implementing first?