How to Find Work Without Using the Freelance Job Boards

meeting-clientsYou know me, I’m the Job Board Queen. I troll places like Craigslist, Indeed and ProBlogger in order to list freelance writing jobs for my community each day. Even though I list the gigs, I often encourage the members of my community to look beyond the job boards. I tell them the most lucrative opportunities aren’t always found in a classified ad.

There are more freelancers now than ever and here’s something to consider: for every gig you apply to there could be dozens, if not hundreds of people applying for the same. Besides you and the other freelancers you interact with online, there are also out of work designers, journalists, photographers and others looking to make ends meet. Moreover, there are parents looking to make a living while working at home with their kids and recent graduates looking to make a go of it outside the traditional work force. So, yeah, go ahead and apply for those job board gigs, but know you won’t be the only one.

You might consider a less traditional route.

Use the Social Networks

Twitter isn’t only for sharing what’s for dinner and Facebook isn’t only for playing Mafia Wars. The social networks are also important tools for building relationships and trust. Through the forums, microblogs and networks you can meet other freelancers who share tips, ideas and, yes, job leads. Moreover, the more time you spend with other freelancers the more likely they are to recommend you to clients and even outsource their overflow. Plus, you’re also networking with potential clients. They may not need you now, heck they may not think they’ll ever need you, but you never know when a Twitter friend can become a client.

I like to use this example:

Someone you chat with every day discovers he’ll need a freelancer. Who do you think he’ll be most likely to call–a stranger who answered a Craigslist ad or a freelancer he has a relationship with online?

Establish Your Expertise

When you’re good at what you do, the clients come to you. This is why so many freelancers work so hard to establish their online presence. They have websites to use as portfolios, and blogs where they share their expertise. They also write ebooks and courses. This comes in handy for the client who is shopping around for designers and writers.

Many potential clients would rather not take out ads if they don’t have to. Truthfully, it’s a pain to have to sift through 500 applications and portfolios. Rather than go this route, clients will ask for referrals or explore freelancers’ online portfolios. If you’re considered an expert in your niche, with a good reputation, there’s a very good chance clients will come to you.

I haven’t applied for a job in over a year. Though I’m not accepting as many clients as I used to, every gig coming in now is repeat business, referral from another freelancer or client, or from someone who landed on my blog. In fact, my blog refers several potential clients each month. I tend to refer those clients to writers I trust from my community.

Keep in mind that an online reputation doesn’t grow overnight; it could take months, even years before you see this type of business.

Go Local

Many local businesses would rather work with area-specific freelancers for several reasons:

  • They like freelancers to be close by in case they want to have a meeting or need pickups or drop offs.
  • They like to stimulate the local economy.
  • The feel more comfortable doing business with someone down the road as opposed to across the county.

Though it’s more work than trolling the job boards, it’s not too difficult for a confident freelancer to find local clients. Area networking events can provide a goldmine of opportunities. The Chamber of Commerce and the local government often throw networking events for business representatives to meet each other in an attempt to keep spending inside the community. Local professional organizations and civic groups also hold networking events. You might also find clients at conferences and seminars. Branch out to include county-wide events as you may meet some interesting people there as well.

Cold Calling and Emailing

Here’s the part that scares everyone. Cold calling takes us out of our comfort zones. Who wants to call businesses unsolicited when we can use email? The truth is, you can do either. Both are effective for landing clients and both turn off potential clients if not done correctly.

When I first began freelancing, I decided I was going to target graphic design studios. I worked for a design studio for several years and they hired many freelance writers, designers and photographers. This was a good place for me to begin my cold calling experiment.

I sat down and researched a list of local businesses that might work with freelancers. Instead of calling unannounced, I contacted the receptionist and explained that I wanted to send a package to whoever hires freelancers. Once I had a name, I snail mailed a packet containing:

  • A cover letter
  • My freelance writing resume
  • Testimonials and recommendations from other clients
  • Samples of my writing
  • A rate sheet
  • My business card

Several days later, I called to see if the packet arrived. If it was, I set up an appointment to have a call or in person meeting. I landed a few lucrative clients this way too. A couple of the businesses contacted didn’t need me right away, but kept my details on file and called me later.

I didn’t always find success though. Once I couldn’t make it past the reception desk and another time the person on the other end was very rude in his dismissal. Though cold calling wasn’t something I was comfortable with, it worked out well for me.

Some freelancers prefer cold emailing. This can work too but you have to be sure to have an eye catching subject line so you’re not tossed in the trash. I know some freelancers like to find websites with a poor design or poor writing and write to offer their services. You really have to be delicate in these situations because you won’t land clients by insulting them. For cold emailing, paste your details and samples in the body of your email because no one wants to open up a stranger’s attachments.

Be Brave

I always suggest freelancers try and do one brave thing a month. It can mean cold calling, attending a networking event or having a meetup of other freelancers. It’s the brave freelancers who land the lucrative gigs. If you have no intention of stepping outside of your comfort zone, rock on. No one says you shouldn’t use the job boards and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sticking with what works best for you. However, the next time you’re wondering why the other guy gets all the good gigs, consider it might be because he’s not looking online.

How Do You Land Clients?

What methods do you use to land clients beyond the usual job boards. Share your strategy