If you’re wanting to start a freelance business, the most pressing challenges typically revolve around getting new clients. When I initially launched my freelance business, I struggled to acquire any customers. However, after a few months of trudging through the traditional channels, I discovered a great solution that resulted in generating over $290,000 last year, and it’s what I want to discuss today.
Let’s begin by reviewing the list of options for where you can find new clients as a freelancer. I’ve read countless blog posts and a number of books on this subject, and the following were the most popular recommendations. First and foremost are friends and family. This may seem like a natural place to start. However, it’s been my experience that friends and family typically expect you to work for free or incredibly cheap. This channel can be good if you’re just starting out and you need to build a portfolio. However, it’s not too scalable and usually not very profitable.
Next would be networking events. For networking, you can join your local chamber of commerce, or find networking groups where you can promote your business. This approach can work well in some cases. However, each time I’ve tried it, I’ve discovered that there are already several other developers attending, working on getting new clients for their own freelance businesses. I wouldn’t let my experience with this option stop you from trying it, but make sure that you’re prepared to compete with others. I remember attending a chamber of commerce meet and greet a few years ago. When everyone around the room introduced themselves and their business, there were over half a dozen freelance developers who were all offering pretty much identical services.
Third, are outsourcing services. This is the option that I want to focus on today. Interestingly enough, I was told by a number of freelance experts that this avenue was too difficult. However, I found a great way to use it for getting new clients as a freelancer. Like I already mentioned, I had a difficult time in the beginning getting new customers. Using services such as oDesk and Elance, which now merged and are now Upwork, were especially challenging. Even though I had a solid portfolio and a decade of experience, I couldn’t get a single client.
Some of the challenges were the following. First, I didn’t have any ratings or reviews. Not many clients are willing to take a risk on a developer without some type of recommendation from others. Second, I was priced much higher than the majority of the other freelancers. Most of the freelance teams marketing on services on outsourcing sites or offshore. This meant that I was having to compete against developers offering to work for, at times, 90% cheaper than my rate. I charge $100 per hour while the majority of the offshore teams are charging 10 to $20 per hour. And lastly, I didn’t have the time to pitch potential clients consistently. In regard to marketing my freelance services, I was very streaky. I would get motivated for a few days, send out a large number of pitches, and then I’d get depressed that I wasn’t getting any replies, and I wouldn’t send proposals out for weeks.
After struggling for a few months, I knew I didn’t have any control over challenges one or two. However, I could do something about number three. I was working a full-time job at the time while also attending grad school, so my time was very limited. With that in mind, I came up with a marketing system and it actually worked. Since I’m a little bit on the stubborn side, it took me a while to admit it, but I finally came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t getting new clients, especially with the methods I had been trying up to that time.
So I put a plan into action that involved hiring some freelancers of my own. I assembled a team that helped fill in my weak areas. In order to start getting new clients, I knew that I had to have clearly written proposals that described my services, and I also knew that the proposals would have to be sent out 24/7. With that in mind, I researched sales copywriters on Upwork and hired a talented marketer who created three different proposals that I could use. This included sales copy that advertised my experience, portfolio, and expertise as a developer.
I had three versions created because I wanted each one to be targeted to a specific type of project. For example, one of the proposals focused on enterprise projects, another proposal was targeted at building APIs, while the third had content geared toward startups. With a full set of professional proposals, I was ready to implement the second step of my plan, which is to consistently send out proposals.
For this, I hired a detail-oriented and fluent virtual assistant from the Philippines, named Sy. I was able to hire Sy for $6.50 an hour and he paid for himself in the first week. I walked him through the proposals and described the types of projects that I wanted to get hired for. After I was confident that Sy clearly understood my goals, I let him loose on Elance. He reviewed the full set of potential projects on the marketplace and sent my targeted proposals to each project that fit my criteria. Within a week, I was getting responses back from clients, and within two weeks I’d been hired for multiple projects. Three months later, I had to hire my own developers because I was getting so many clients that were hiring me to build applications.
So how did my strategy work out? Last year, my freelance business generated over $295,000 in revenue, with one month hitting over $40,000. I’m not going to pretend like this is easy. This is pretty much the opposite of a get-rich-quick kind of scheme. However, by implementing this strategy, I was able to cost-efficiently outsource the marketing for my freelance business so that I could focus on actual development.
I hope that this has been a helpful guide for getting new clients as a freelancer, and has also given you some ideas on how you can build your own business.