20 Excellent Tips for Getting Your First Freelancing Gig

It’s an exciting time!

After weeks of wavering, you’ve finally decided to become a freelancer. You’ve got the skills. Maybe you’ve even set up a freelancing website already. You’re ready and willing–but there are no clients in sight.

Now what do you do?

This post gives you twenty tips for finding that elusive first freelancing project.


Tips to Find Work

Many new freelancers really don’t know where to turn when it comes to finding their first gig. A lot of freelancing advice seems to assume you have work already, when in fact you don’t.

In desperation, many freelancers try to respond to obscure job listings for unknown companies or individuals that may be shady at best. Sadly, some of these new freelancers wind up being the victim of scams sets up expressly for the inexperienced.

Here are some better tips to help you find work:

  1. Be visible. Having a freelancing website is great. In fact, I would say that it’s pretty close to a must for any new freelancer. However, your website will do you no good if no one ever sees it. Tell everyone you know to visit your freelancing website and encourage them to share the link with others.
  2. Use your past connections. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with people you were once acquainted with to tell them about your business. Your initial contact list can include any or all of the following: friends, family, neighbors, former colleagues, former employers, former or current teachers, and so on.
  3. Share your knowledge. One of the best ways to illustrate your expertise is to share your knowledge about your field with others. There are many ways to do this including: writing a guest post, writing a column for the local newspaper, answering questions at online forums or on question and answer sites.
  4. Stay active. Many freelancers make the mistake of becoming anti-social with their offline contacts, but this won’t help you to find projects. Instead, stay connected both online and off. Who knows, that weekly golf game with your buddies could lead to a new client or a project for your portfolio.
  5. Join groups (online and off). Joining a professional group can be particularly beneficial, but don’t overlook other groups such as groups related to hobbies, interests, and even general business groups such as your local chamber of commerce or other local business organization.
  6. Market yourself. This can be tough for a new freelancer who may have never had to sell anyone on their abilities before, but it’s an absolutely crucial component of getting new business.
  7. Advertise. Consider placing an inexpensive advertisement in your local newspaper or online. The key is to get the word out about your business to as many people as possible.
  8. Don’t forget the local market. Most freelancers focus their business on the online marketplace and that’s fine. However, there may be small or medium-sized businesses located right in your own town that could also your services. Do a little research and find out.
  9. Cold call. Don’t be afraid to send out a mailer to qualified businesses that fit the profile of your ideal client. Be sure to follow up in a few days with cold call to see if they have any questions.
  10. Ask for referrals. Don’t take rejection personally. If someone can’t use your services themselves, ask if they know of anyone who might be able to use your skillset. You’d be surprised at how often works out. Most freelancers cite referrals as their number one source of jobs.
  11. Pay finder’s fees. Real estate agents and other professionals have been doing this for years. Consider offering an incentive to those who are able to direct you to a lead that becomes a client. (Check with your legal professional to make sure that you get the details right.)
  12. Price yourself fairly. It’s true that if you price your services too high when you start out, you may drive clients away. However, most freelancers make the opposite mistake and price their work too low. If you do this you run the risk of seeming unprofessional and are likely to attract scammers and other disreputable individuals.
  13. Don’t work for free. While this might seem like part of the previous point, it’s important enough to merit its own mention. As a freelancer, you’ll receive many chances to work without compensation. However, free won’t pay the bills. A general rule is don’t work for free unless you’re passionate about the project.
  14. Check job banks. Don’t rule out job banks. Many now include positions for independent contractors (that’s you). You can find job banks at your local college, sponsored by your professional organization, or even by your local newspaper.
  15. Get social. Social media is fast-becoming as important to freelancers as having a website. If you haven’t already, make sure that you have a professional looking profile on the four main social media platforms (Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter).
  16. Travel some. Local businesses may want to interview you in person. That’s a good sign. Research the company carefully to make sure that they fit your client profile and be willing to go to their offices. Be sure to dress professionally when you do.
  17. Share business cards. Another mistake new freelancers make is not having business cards. But remember, a business card is a great way to leave your contact information with a prospective client who isn’t quite ready to hire you yet. Also, make sure to share your business cards with your cants.
  18. Ask for work. Too often new freelancers are hesitant to actually ask a prospective client or social contact for work. Don’t make your relationship with anyone solely about that, but your network can’t help you if they don’t know that you’re available either. Don’t be a victim of false modesty.
  19. Be ultra-polite. It’s been noted many times and I think it’s probably true–people are becoming more discourteous. That’s why, if you really want to stand out and make a good impress, being ultra-polite is a good strategy. Thank people for interviews and other favors. Be respectful in your conversations and conduct.
  20. Don’t stop trying. The freelancers who succeed are the ones who don’t give up. They keep trying and take every rejection as a sign that they need to try even harder. It may take a dozen rejections or even a hundred rejections before you get that first freelancing assignment.

My First Gig

So, you may be wondering how I got my first freelancing position. That’s a good question and I’m happy to share.

It’s been ten years and during that time I’ve used almost all of the methods above to find clients. However, my very first client came through a bidding site. In many ways it was a stroke of luck that I found that gig, but once I did they hired me several more times.

My next freelance assignment, however, came from a referral through a friend. In fact, many of the individuals from that company are still clients–even after all these years.

The point is that everyone starts somewhere. Getting the first client is tough, but not impossible.

Your Turn

If you’re new to freelancing, congratulations and best wishes on your new career. I hope this post helps.

If you’ve been freelancing for a while, share your advice for new freelancers. How did you get your first client? Did I leave out any tips?

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Comments

  1. says

    I didn’t actually find from where you’ll get clients in this article…

    What’s the best way to get clients online? I’m pretty new, and currently all I get work is through odesk/elance, and I found out that those portals are pretty underpriced (web design standard 20 – 30$/hr, maybe even more, not sure, odesk Web Design standard – 10 – 15$ per hour)

    Would be great if someone could point me to the right direction.

  2. says

    Great article! I’ve been freelancing for one year and a half now as a translator. My first gig? I replied to an offer on a bidding site. I was pretty lucky as this assignment was rather big. Now they are one of my best clients and I continue to develop further our relationship.
    My best advice to new freelancers is to price fairly. Often, prospects will tell you that as you are inexperienced, you can work at a low rate. But it is not true. If you dare start a business, it means you have certain skills and degrees that deserve a good pay. My second tip is, if you graduated at school, to stay in touch with your former mates and teachers. The latters may work in your field so it is a good way to network. Good luck!

  3. says

    Well written.I have been freelancing for the past 2years now.I have a good idea of nearly all the points mentioned and agree to all.Its really hard but perseverance matters in establishing online presence.

  4. says

    Great comments! Thanks everyone. :)

    Namanyay Goel–I don’t typically recommend job boards any more for the very reason that you mention (the prices are low). Of course, you can check those if you like. What I am suggesting is that you use a variety of strategies to help find jobs both locally and

    Maéva, I think pricing is one of the biggest challenges that freelancers face.

  5. says

    So, am I write in saying the standard rate in web design is 20 – 30 per hour?|

    The problem in finding jobs locally, is that rates are too low in my country. A decent web site design, some http://namanyayg.com/ will be maximum for 40$, which is a lot under priced.

    So, could you refer me to some online locations, where I could get jobs? It would be really great for me.

    Thanks.

  6. says

    Thanks a lot for being so helpful :)

    Sorry for asking you design related questions.

    Thanks again, and I will go subscribe to your RSS feed now :)

    Thanks again.

  7. says

    I like your cold calling suggestion about pairing it with a mailer. Also, I couldn’t agree more with number 13, just because you’re a FREElancer doesn’t mean you work for free!

    Along the same lines as all of your tips, make sure that you tell everyone you meet what you do (within reason). If you’re out socializing and people are talking about what they do or someone asks you, have a good explanation prepared in your mind of what you do and who you help. It may seem completely random or off-hand at the time but you never know who will remember it and contact you the next day with a prospect!

  8. says

    Thanks for the great advice Laura. Having worked for a couple of start-up companies in the past I’m well aware of the problems of finding clients and keeping them. However, it hasn’t put me off and I’ve decided to use what I’ve learned and get into the business start up market for myself. I’ll let you know how things go.

  9. says

    This is good stuff. When we first started out, we were a bunch of designers who didn’t have time for anything else except trying to meet deadlines, so we did the following:

    9) Cold Call – by hiring a by-the-hour intern or assistant to man the telephone.
    10) Referrals – we set aside about an hour each day looking up old contacts.
    11) Finder Fees – we still do this on a sub-regular basis and it’s paying off.

    The thing is that you really gotta take the effort to get yourself out there, if not, someone else is going to have you for breakfast.

  10. says

    I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a great blog like this one nowadays..

  11. says

    I think don’t work for free is key. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to charge otherwise it gives off the vibe that your free work won’t be top notch.

  12. says

    Thanks for the great tips! We often overlook the quickest and cheapest way of finding clients–social media. I just found my last client on Google+. I was reading an old post from April where someone had asked if virtual assistants were a good idea. Since it was an old post, all I did was enter my website address–with no pitch. I just wanted to test things out.

    Within a few minutes, the guy emailed me requesting a quote. I was in the middle of the quote; however, when he emailed saying he was in a hurry and had just hired someone from elance. I thanked him and said I would hold the quote “just in case.”

    Well “just in case” came just a few minutes later. He said that the guy he had hired (from India) suddenly increased his rates 300% when he saw the details of the assignment. He was concerned that he would be paying this guy and would then have to spend a long time cleaning up the language in the document because he was not a native speaker. So, he gave the assignment to me–although my rate was twice as much.

    It shows you that even if you have doubts about something (like this comment was old), you need to just make a move. Sometimes it pays off.

  13. says

    Great ideas, but I do disagree that you shouldn’t work for free. It depends on your skill, but I’ve found that it is a must to have an actual “customer” in your portfolio. Yes, pick one you are passionate about. This will encourage you to do a good job, even barring the pay. But you do need something to get started. Then you can limit or eliminate your pro bono work.

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