How to Get Clients as a Freelancer

Do you know how to find leads for your business? As a freelancer, you are your own, one-person business. Big companies have entire departments dedicated to marketing and sales to sell their product and services, you have only yourself. Finding leads and closing deals is a core competency in order to stay in business. Find out what we got wrong and what we got right to land leads ourselves.
Written by
Kim Le
Published on
February 21, 2024

One of my greatest fears as a freelancer was this: how will I make money when this contract ends? In those early days, I didn’t know where my second contract would come from. Nowadays, work still isn’t consistent, but I also worry less. I know better what it takes to land clients, leveraging LinkedIn and my network as my sales funnel.

A One Person Marketing & Sales Team

all the activities a 1-person consulting business must do: marketing, sales, support, services, admin

Whereas companies have entire departments dedicated to marketing and selling their product and services, as a self-employed consultant, you have only yourself. Therefore, it’s important to carve out 20-30% of your time to marketing, networking, and selling your services.

The activities of marketing and sales include:

  • Building a presence on an online platform.
    Whether it be social media or a niche work marketplace, choose a platform where you can find potential customers; and build a presence there. We both found success with LinkedIn.
  • Connect with people and pitch them (softly).
    Whether it’s a normal social gathering or a random event with your alma mater, let people know what you do and have a quick 30-second pitch on your services. Proactively reach out to your network: set up zoom calls, join in-person events, and participate in community forums. Focus on building 1-on-1 and small group conversations. Be in settings that allow you to speak and be heard. Avoid large scale events unless you’re there to meet specific people or learn something.
  • Read consistently and stay up to date.
    Be in the know of the latest trend in your work, and join the conversation. Follow the top influencers and experts in your field. When your peers share interesting posts, respond, comment, and engage with them. Read up on your work and share your learnings with your network to build your own voice.
  • Build a brand and be open to work.
    The best leads are inbound leads. They convert at higher rates and in shorter timeframes than outbound leads. The best way to get inbound leads is by building a brand for yourself. Let the business come to you.
How to build your Consulting business sales funnel from LinkedIn

Finding Clients as a Freelancer: What Not To Do

Spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on a website

You can have a website, but it won’t do you any good if no one visits it. Worse — It is a time sink that takes you away from making money. I spent countless hours on a website that never went live, and all the while I still continued to have clients and business through my network’s referrals.

Getting work through Upwork and Fiverr

Both of these markets are highly active with some decent talent, having hired talent from Upwork myself. However, Upwork suffers from the similar dynamics as a used car market: it’s a bad lemons market. In a bad lemons market, the buyer doesn’t know what they are getting; and the bad lemons in the marketplace outnumber the good lemons. This ends up depressing the pricing on the market, adversely affecting the good lemons. Upwork isn’t necessarily filled with bad talent, but there is a very, very wide range in capabilities and experiences on the platform that is difficult to differentiate. This will cause prices to be depressed for highly talented individuals who can command higher prices elsewhere.

From personal experience, as an employer, I’ve only relied on Upwork for lower level work to get the best pricing, particularly in commoditized service areas. Anyone we paid top dollar for, was a referral to us from an investor, a trusted recruiter, or a fellow founder.

Ask to “Pick people’s brain”

People get this a lot. It does not work, unless they offer it as a paid service. Be direct and purposeful when you reach out to someone. Have a specific ask and outline it when you reach out. People who do well professionally are busy. Most don’t have time to waste on nice pleasantries. Get to the point and get it done.

Best Practices on How to Find Clients

This “What To Do” section is built around LinkedIn, which has 1 billion users worldwide and 200 million users from the US [1]. However, the general advice applies to comparable social media websites.

Build Your LinkedIn Presence

This is your website. There are built in analytics tools, an audience, and a blank slate to present yourself. Make new connections and message old contacts. Beef up your resume and your portfolio with recommendations, certifications, publications, and skill endorsements. Leverage the Featured section to add in your content like posts, videos, or presentations. Use the Open to Work logo or offering services section to reach inbound interest.

How to brand your LinkedIn profile for your consulting business

Reconnect and Grow Your Professional Network

Your connections are your leads. Beyond that, they are also your community. Leverage the platform to engage with old contacts and form new contacts. They will form your support system as you embark on the lonely journey of solopreneurship. Thankfully LinkedIn is not just a job search or resume, but also a very vibrant professional networking website. There are many ways to expand your professional horizon by following thought leaders, joining a professional community, and engaging conversation on interesting posts.

Be Helpful and Make Referrals

LinkedIn is a social media website, that is no less vibrant than Instagram or Facebook. It’s just geared towards working professionals. Be active on LinkedIn. Repost when new jobs are posted, to help someone job searching. Congratulate people on their job milestones or new promotions. Offer to help if they’re looking for work. Drop messages to catch up with folks.

If there are periods when you can’t take on new customers, then make a referral to another freelancer of firm. There were periods where I had to turn down leads because of bandwidth coming from just referrals. During that period, I helped other consultants like myself land the job. Others doing the same work are not your competition, but your network. Do them a favor that you would want done for yourself.

Even if you can’t take the job, refer them to someone who can.

Stay up to Date. Join the Conversation

Build your portfolio. Engage in the conversations that other people are posting. There are many ways to keep your skillsets up to date such as learning how to apply ChatGPT to your work or test out the plethora of new software like Notion or Figma. Spend the time to pick up a new certification or take a new online course. Lastly, read books from a wide variety of disciplines from history, sci-fi, economics, business, politics, to biographies to expand your understanding.

Ask Former Co-workers, Bosses, and Employers for Help or Work

Neither of us went out looking to freelance. We both got started when it was propositioned to us from our former employer. This was how I got my first consulting gig, and since then my work has come from referrals from my network. Because you have brand recognition with them, you are also able to charge a higher rate.

Example Prompts to Reconnect with Former Colleagues

  • Congratulations on the new job! Let me know if I can help with anything in your new gig. Would love to catch up some time.”
  • “Hey — I saw your company just posted for [position title] position. I’ve doing freelancing work on [project tl;drs] with various companies lately like [company names]. I think I can be of help while you’re looking to fill the role or provide an alternative solution to a full-time hire. Let me know if you have time to connect.”
  • “Hey — Been expanding my consulting business and looking to bring on more clients. Are you free to connect? Would like your help to get the word out there. Here’s a link to my portfolio. Hope to chat soon!”

Conclusion

Going solo is hard. Learning how to do sales and marketing for your business helps reduce the stress that comes with the journey. However, there is always uncertainty when you’re forming your own business. There may be periods of no work, and periods of too much work due to factors beyond your control (like the economy). Arming yourself with a strategy, tactics, and expertise to land clients can help you find success as a freelancer.

For more related reading, check out Consultant Hourly Rates: How to Charge What You're Worth

Reference:

[1] https://www.demandsage.com/linkedin-statistics/

The Eight Twenty Newsletter
No spam. Just the latest releases and tips, interesting articles, and exclusive interviews in your inbox every week.
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

DISCLAIMER: Information on this site is for educational purposes only. LeHerring LLC does not provide, legal, accounting, tax or investment advice. Although care has been taken in preparing the information provided to you, we are not responsible for any errors or omissions, and we accept no liability whatsoever for any loss or damage you may incur. Always seek financial and/or legal counsel relating to your specific circumstances as needed for any and all questions and concerns you now have or may have in the future.

We cannot guarantee your success, nor are we responsible for any of your actions. Our role is to support and assist you in reaching your own goals, but your success depends primarily on your own effort, motivation, commitment, and follow-through. We cannot predict, and we do not guarantee, that you will attain a particular result.

AFFILIATES: From time to time, we may promote, affiliate with, or partner with other individuals or businesses whose programs, products, and services align with ours. In the spirit of transparency, we want you to be aware that there may be instances when we promote, market, share or sell programs, products, or services for other partners. In exchange, we may receive financial compensation or other rewards.