Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way of making money without needing to find customers?
That would certainly make life as a freelancer a whole lot easier.
Because everything we’ve discussed in this series so far (the benefits of freelancing, positioning yourself within an industry and calculating the right rates) is pointless if you can’t find customers.
Equally, you can mess up just about every part of managing your freelance business and still survive…
…if you have a steady flow of customers.
I’m not going to sugar-coat this for you. Finding and retaining enough clients to freelance full-time is definitely the hardest part of the job. You can do everything right and still have anxious spells when no work is coming in and all your most promising leads have fizzled out.
This doesn’t make you a failure. And it doesn’t mean you suck at your chosen profession. It’s just the nature of the freelancing experience.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a step-by-step guide that will ensure you always have a waiting list of clients, eager for your services. But what I CAN do is share with you two secrets about finding clients that, in my experience, the vast majority of freelancers have overlooked.
Secret #1 – The best gigs are not on freelance auction sites
Freelance auction sites are like catnip for freelancers. They’re FILLED with potential clients with exciting-sounding projects and, on the surface, these sites seem like the perfect solution for the ambitious freelancer.
Here’s the problem…
Those great clients with awesome projects are not looking for you. They’re looking for freelancers who are willing to work long hours, for months on end, for a fraction of the income that you need to survive.
By their very nature, freelance auction sites are a race to the bottom. The vast majority of users are looking to hire workers as cheap as possible and there will always, always, be someone who is willing to work for less.
It’s like the reverse of the recruitment market. An employer knows they have to offer a competitive salary to attract the best talent. But on a freelance auction site, the employers are swamped with freelancers from all over the world, all falling over themselves to offer the most hours for the cheapest price.
It’s hard to make a living that way. Very hard.
If you’re from a part of the world where the cost of living is very low, you might be able to make the numbers add up, but I still encourage you to consider these sites a last resort.
Because the best projects – the ones offered by employers with deep pockets and an eye for quality – rarely end up on auction sites.
The reasons for this, if you really think about it, are kind of obvious…
Imagine you’re a successful business owner who’s planning to build a new software application. How likely is it that you’re going to post the job on a freelance site?
Not very likely. For a number of reasons:
- Posting a big job on a freelance site is going to generate dozens and dozens of bids that you’re going to have to sift through.
- Your new project is a secret so you can’t post too many details on the freelance site so you’ll get bids from people who will likely be incapable of delivering what you need.
- Freelance sites are a lottery. For every talented freelancer, there are dozens of incompetents.
And here’s the biggie…
- You KNOW that the best freelancers – the ones with real talent – are not spending their days fiddling about on freelance sites. They’re already working on other projects.
So, as an employer, what do you do? You contact a few people in your network and ask for a recommendation. Someone comes back to you and tells you about a freelancer they worked with six months ago who did a really good job. You reach out to them and arrange a Skype call to discuss their availability.
Or perhaps someone responds to your request and says they know of a freelancer who’s looking for work because they emailed a couple of weeks ago.
In the second article in this series, I encouraged you to proactively contact people in your industry and offer your services. This is just one of the many scenarios in which this strategy can yield results.
Personally, I’ve tried many different ways of finding clients and freelance sites have always been the most ineffectual. Networking, asking for referrals and asking for work is how I landed every long-term, profitable project.
Bonus Tip: Think outside the box when asking for work. For instance, I’ve picked up some nice projects by joining a paid, private Mastermind group and being quick to jump in when someone says they’re looking for a writer. On another occasion, I offered my freelance services to a local firm who was advertising for an employee and ended up on a retainer for about five years.
Secret #2 – Freelance professionalism is rare
I’ve hired many freelancers myself (including writers, designers and coders) over the last decade and the majority fall into two camps:
- Quick, inexpensive and great communicators but desperately mediocre at performing the very skill I hired them for, or,
- Incredibly talented, but slow, expensive and unreliable.
If you’re going to be one of the above, go for the latter. Smart business owners will, to a point, put up with a lack of professionalism if the end result is good. But if you can pull it off, you should be shooting for that ultra-rare third group. Those who are talented AND professional.
It’s easy to assume that your chosen field is filled with talented, professional people with whom you’re going to struggle to compete. But the sad fact is that this isn’t true. Freelancers who are both skilled and professional are astonishingly rare.
Which means that, if you can position yourself as such, you’re going to find it effortless to stand out from the crowd.
Sometimes, when I need a pick-me-up, I like to read the testimonials on my “Endorsements” page. What I always find interesting is how many of the comments are unrelated to my skills as a writer. Phrases such as “reliable,” “accommodating,” “honest” and “integrity” have little to do with my abilities, and everything to do with my willingness to serve my clients.
It amazes me how few freelancers act professionally, given how easy it is to accomplish. All you have to do is work hard, respect deadlines, communicate clearly and care about your client’s business as if it were your own.
Deliver work in a professional manner and you’ll quickly make yourself indispensable to your clients. That’s how you get ringing endorsements, referrals and long-term retainers.
Talent at your chosen profession, naturally, is also important, but much of that will come with time, practice and persistence. Professionalism, on the other hand, is something that you can accomplish right away.
Finding and keeping clients gets easier over time so don’t be concerned if the level of work for the first few months (and even years) of your freelancer career ebbs and flows.
Use gaps in work to ramp up your networking efforts and produce sample work for your blog or portfolio.
Before you know it, you’ll find yourself having to turn away work because your schedule is full to bursting.
But once you reach that stage, how do you increase your income and maintain a steady stream of job offers?
This will be the subject of the next article.
Do you have questions about working as a freelancer? Post them in the comments below and I’ll cover them in a future article.