“I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.”
— Dark Helmet, “Spaceballs”
Freelance clients can be hard to find — whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the business for 20 years. Sadly, there are no sure-fire ways to get freelance (unless you have a big family with lots of executives and/or entrepreneurs in it).
I’ve always done freelance work on the side. It never interferes or competes with my regular work, and it’s a great way to make extra money and keep my writing skills fresh. (Because the “Hashtag Wars” Twitter contest on Comedy Central’s “@Midnight” is a different kind of writing.)
So I’ve had to double up my efforts to get freelance, and it’s actually going pretty well. Here’s five tactics to try — along with the stories that inspired them:
#1: Turn online connections into real-life ones.
I’m pretty good at social networking. I have 1,000+ Facebook friends, 1,700 Twitter followers (yes, probably half are spam — but I love my bots too), and 2,000+ LinkedIn connections.
Which means I’m no Ashton Kutcher, but I do OK. And here’s how my social media efforts turned into (at least) one client.
Bouncing around Twitter, I ran into a friendly, local couple who both worked in marketing. We had some people in common, so Twitter following led to LinkedIn connecting and eventually Facebook friending.
Eventually, they turned to my wife (she’s a realtor) for help with their home search, and we finally met in real life since I was my wife’s driver/navigator. (She did find them a nice place that accommodated his home-brewing hobby.)
They recently moved back to the East Coast, where the guy decided to start his own digital marketing firm. I offered him my writing services, and ended up helping him with his company website — which built professional trust, so he began offering my services to his clients.
It’s working out well for both of us, and I look forward to being a resource for his company for years to come!
#2: Prove your value.
I’d been working with this web design shop for a few years, occasionally providing content for their clients who needed it. The web guys referred me to a friend of theirs who had his own company selling a specific household product. [Note: Excluding client information to protect these nice folks.]
Client Guy had gotten super-lucky a few months back, figuring out a way to dominate Google searches for his products. But as they do, Google changed their algorithm — and Client Guy’s search ranking went back to normal.
So while he wanted me to help him get back to the top, I suggested something more realistic. I helped rewrite sections of his website, then created emails, sales letters, and a brochure.
Over the years, he’s come back to me for small projects; I even fixed his daughter’s resume a month ago.
Currently, I’m working on an entire rewrite of his website, which is a pretty extensive project. And it’s definitely due to my being reliable, strategic, and affordable.
#3: Keep in touch with satisfied clients from the past.
Not every freelance client gives you a steady stream of work. One such client had his own small agency a few years ago — but he closed up shop for an amazing career opportunity. While he used to send me a project every couple months or so, he didn’t have any more work to provide with his new position.
However, a month and a day after my recent layoff, he emailed me out of the blue with a referral to a friend of his. This person had just taken a position with a high-end organization in the real estate business, and was looking for a writer to help with monthly blogs, articles, and press releases.
Which I now write.
#4: Spread good networking karma.
I wrote to this one creative director seven years ago, looking for work. He didn’t have anything at the time, but we kept in touch.
A few years later, I actually helped him get a job at a company that I was about to leave — so he’s been grateful and looking for a chance to return the favor.
He recently got so busy at his FT gig, he realized he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the work that his steady freelance client gave him.
So he referred this client to me — and I just completed their first month’s worth of work (blogs, press releases, etc.).
#5: Work with family — or at least, their colleagues.
OK, so this one might not work for everybody. And working with family and family friends can be tricky, to be sure.
But in this case, it’s worked out well. My brother and a couple business partners have established a small publishing company, and I copyedited/proofread one of their first big books a couple years ago.
And they now have another big book — plus three smaller ones — that they’ve asked me to review. (Spoiler alert: I said “yes.”)
So while it’s not writing per se, it’s a pretty cool opportunity — even though my brother has promised a series of congratulatory “noogies” the next time we hang out.
And one more: Offer help to other freelancers in the same boat.
This opportunity hasn’t turned into a real live client yet, but I’m waiting to hear back any day now. I pitched myself on a phone call last week, and provided my links and references. (Yes, some people still like to check references.)
I saw a former colleague — who had been home taking care of her newborn — post on Facebook that she was seeking new opportunities in User Experience.
I private-messaged her to let her know that I’d send her any UX work I heard or knew about — with the hope that she’d refer me out for content projects.
She wrote back within a few hours, saying that one of her freelance clients was looking for a content writer — and that she’d get them my info.
A couple emails and a phone interview later, and here I am hoping that another top-to-bottom website content project comes through!
Getting freelance clients is challenging. But if you’re always on the lookout, you’re nice and helpful to people, and you do good work, it’s not as tough.
Share your unique tactics or stories on getting freelance clients in the comments below!
With 20+ years of experience — both at agencies and "on the client side" — Harley David Rubin has enjoyed many challenges and opportunities in his career. He's currently freelancing, with an eye toward starting his own creative communications company. And he loves to share the stories and "wisdom" he's accumulated over the years. (Because what writer doesn't love talking about himself?) He's truly thankful for the opportunity to write for TalentZoo.com, and he's happy to connect via LinkedIn or even on Twitter at @hdrubin.