Whether I’m meeting a client for the first time or chatting with an old friend about my job, I can pretty much guarantee that the subject of how a freelancer finds work will arise at some point. The frequency of this question means I have a standard spiel. It goes along the lines of: “Oh, from a variety of sources really. The majority of my clients at the moment are referrals, but I’ve gained a fair few through social media. LinkedIn is great, y’know.” I rarely go into more detail, mainly because we’re often pushed for time, or I’m conscious of boring the other person to tears. It’s about time that I addressed the question in writing, offering a more comprehensive explanation to those who are genuinely interested. This may also prove useful for other budding freelancers! Here’s how I get my work…
Employed vs. Self-Employed
When you’re a copywriter/contenty person (my preferred job title) who is employed at a marketing agency, the work is ready and waiting for you – assuming that the business is succeeding and the new biz team are doing their job, of course. You can focus purely on the job at hand, whether that’s scheduling a client’s social media, compiling a link building strategy, brainstorming for their next campaign or simply catching up on emails. You don’t have to worry about where the work came from or how long the client will stick around. It’s important that you impress, sure, but if something goes awry and the agency ends up losing an account, it’s no skin off your nose. You still get that wage slip at the end of the month.
When you’re a freelancer, you face a completely different kettle of fish. In order to make a start on that Twitter schedule or link strategy, you will have had to impress. You’ll have had to convince. Chances are, you’ve put a good day’s work into the project before even starting properly, including emails, phone calls, meetings, proposals… When you finally get the go ahead, you’ll probably have a tight deadline to get the job done. And it needs to be done well, very well. Because if your work is below par, your hard-earned client might go elsewhere, and you could be looking at a month of overdraft exploitation and baked beans for dinner.
My Main Sources of Work as a Freelancer
So how do you get the work? For most freelancers, client acquisition comes from a mixture of existing connections, referrals and marketing yourself. I’m sure there are some freelancers who’ve managed to forge a successful career by simply sitting back and waiting for the work to roll in, but for most of us, there’s a considerable amount of proactivity required. Here are my most fruitful sources of work.
LinkedIn is by far the most effective social platform for gaining work. I’ve known of businesses and freelancers making connections via Twitter, but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen success from that channel. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is a bloody goldmine. If you’re launching your freelance career, my biggest piece of advice is to get your LinkedIn profile in shipshape. Upload a high quality headshot, update your work history and experience, write a cracking summary and choose a searchable headline. Make use of the platform by sharing your work and interacting with conversations, and be sure to check in regularly throughout the day – you never know what opportunities could arise.
In 18 months I’ve gained 4 clients through LinkedIn, two of which are now regular retainers contributing to around 15% of my monthly revenue.
2. Self Promo
I’m not a fan of spam in any shape or form. I’m also not terribly comfortable with talking myself up (surprisingly). But I always knew I’d have to incorporate elements of self promotion into my freelance venture. I eased myself into it gradually, sending introductory emails to a selection of local marketing and digital agencies, explaining my skill set, experience and availability for work. While this method wasn’t hugely successful overall, I still work with one of the agencies on a regular basis, completing big projects for some seriously impressive clients.
I bulk email businesses every quarter, sourcing contacts through LinkedIn and the search engine. A third of my income this month came from a client who I first emailed 18 months ago.
For me, the word ‘networking’ is pretty cringe-inducing, harking back memories of stilted conversations, stale sandwiches and offering fun facts about oneself to a crowd of strangers. I’m certainly not a Networker. But it’s the way to describe this technique. I steer clear of organised networking events but am always sure to ‘network’ (ie. be friendly, engaged and confident) at every opportunity. Industry events, seminars and workshops offer the perfect opportunity to network and potentially gain clients. You can even network on a night out! Just pop a couple of business cards into that clutch bag, and you’re good to go. *Nb. I recommend you cease ‘Networking’ once a bottle of process has been consumed.
I recently attended an event where I exchanged details with three potential leads. One contacted me soon after and we are in the process of arranging a meeting.
Getting work is always great, but there’s something extra special about gaining clients through referrals. Basically, it means impressing someone enough for them to recommend you to one of their own connections. The majority of my work comes from referrals, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have a business today if it weren’t for my lovely clients and friends recommending me to their own networks. While it isn’t proactive in the way that LinkedIn, self promotion and networking are, the referral method takes a lot of hard graft – you’ve got to impress people enough for them to tell their pals about you.
I gained three new clients in February alone through referrals, and my referral clients contribute to around 75% of my monthly revenue.
I’d be intrigued to know how other freelancers get work, and which methods they find the most effective. Get in touch and let me know @NaturallyCS!