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The life of a freelancer can be a very appealing one, with the chance to be your own boss, control your own workload and, if all goes well, pick and choose the projects you would like to be involved with.

But no matter how talented you are at what you do you there is one major challenge that every single freelancer has to face in order to enjoy a successful career – finding work. Without the ability to attract and retain clients, your freelance career won’t last long so it is vital that you put some time, effort and thought into how you will go about winning enough business to sustain an income.

Your tactics for looking for business will vary depending on your own personal circumstances, professional background, existing contacts list and the industry you work in. Ideally, you will already have some work secured or some very strong leads before you embark on the full-time freelance path, although this is not necessarily always practical or possible.

When you start the hunt for work, a list of existing contacts and potential clients will make things much easier. You must also learn to develop some additional skills which may have never seemed relevant to you before – specifically you must learn to become a salesman.

This is one aspect which some freelancers often struggle with, particularly if your previous in-house roles have simply allowed you to utilise your creative skills while others take care of the business side. However, it is a skill that you can learn with practice.

Be prepared

There are some simple things you can do to be ready to meet potential clients at any time, having a business card made up and preparing a quick ‘elevator pitch’ snippet of what you do can be invaluable for making a good first impression.

You also need to remember that the search for work can be a never-ending one. For example, you may meet potential clients in a social capacity, not just in a business one. You may be introduced to a small business owner through a mutual friend at the weekend. While we’re not suggesting you shove your business card into their hand on a Saturday night, it is always worth remembering and following up on such introductions at an appropriate time.

You shouldn’t be afraid to ‘sell yourself’ or casually let people know what it is you do, most other business people will appreciate that freelancers need to do this and you may well find that others are often more tolerant of being ‘sold to’ by freelancers than they are of people working on behalf of a company. ‘Going solo’ also displays your entrepreneurial streak which can often seem a lot more impressive to potential clients.

Of course, you would have to have a huge stroke of luck to secure all of your work through social situations, so you need to be willing to get out to professional networking events too. Business breakfasts, conferences and trade shows all create environments where people expect to network and they are often happy to hear from people like yourself who may be able to help out their business or help solve some of their own particular problems.

Targeting the right people

If you’re looking to get out there and present your work to potential clients, here are some of the key groups you should be targeting:

  • Previous clients and existing contacts

Re-selling to a previous customer is often much easier and more lucrative than cold calling for new business. If you’ve ever bought anything online, you will almost certainly have received follow up emails from the same retailer reminding you about their products or informing you about special offers. Online retailers spent vast amounts of money on re-targeting to gain repeat business, because developing loyal and repeat customers is so valuable to the long term sustainability of any business. The same principle applies to freelancers. If you’ve done work for somebody in the past and done a good job, then they hopefully shouldn’t take much convincing to use you again when the need arises.

The same applies to existing contacts who you may have been introduced to in the past or may have worked with in a role with a past employer. Even if you weren’t disciplined in keeping business cards or maintaining a contacts book, tracking these people down through LinkedIn, on the internet or with a phone call can be relatively straightforward. A simple email to let them know that you are now available for freelance work can sometimes be all it takes.

  • Friends and family

Mixing friends and family with business can sometimes be a bit of a minefield, but these are the people who most want you to help you out and see you succeed so think about ways you can maximise this good will. Perhaps you could do some freelance work for somebody you know well for free or a heavy discount in return for listing them as a client on your portfolio or creating a case study. A strong portfolio makes finding new clients a lot easier and is one of the most crucial tools you should have in your freelance toolbox.

  • Fellow networkers

Cold calling can often feel a bit like throwing yourself into a shark pool, you get unwelcome responses, snapping rebuttals or sometimes angry reactions. Of course, it is not always like this and people spent years honing their cold calling skills to make their efforts more effective. But putting yourself into situations with people who are ready and willing to be sold to is often more appealing and effective. This is where networking events and business to business situations play such an important part.

Mix with people who are actively looking to network, seek out new suppliers or look for help in certain areas of their business. Join business clubs, attend breakfast meetings, sign up for trade shows and get out there and meet fellow business people relevant to your industry. In these situations, everybody is playing the same game so there is nothing wrong with introducing yourself and going armed with stacks of business cards.

Finding work online

The World Wide Web is one of the most effective sources of new business for many freelancers these days, but is also a highly competitive marketplace. There are some simple things you can do to give yourself the best chance of standing out.

  • Investing in a professional website is a key first step for most freelancers as this is the first place many potential clients will look. Make sure it reflects your business and the quality of your work, which means no typos if you’re a writer and making it look as good as possible if you’re a designer.
  • Choose your domain name (your website address) carefully so that is relevant and easy to remember. Setting up a custom email address linked to your domain name also helps give an air of professionalism, rather than using a generic free email address.
  • Make use of your contacts to get a site built for you, or there are a number of affordable ways to set up a good looking website these days, for example through Cheap Web Design, Wix or Squarespace, while there are also various portfolio websites which let you quickly create a portfolio-based site with your own custom domain.
  • Keep your site simple, uncluttered and to-the-point. People’s attention spans are very short when it comes to websites so make it obvious what you are offering and how you can help.
  • Make it easy for Google to find you. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a complex beast, but there are some simple things you can do to help give yourself the best chance of ranking in the search engines, for example choosing keywords relevant to your business. First off, check out Google’s Webmaster Tools for some basic tips to make sure Google’s ‘spiders’ can properly crawl your site.
  • Add a portfolio and testimonials. Once you’ve got some happy clients, use them to help shout about how good you are, these are the first things many potential would-be customers will look for.
  • Become an authority. Setting up an effective blog can turn your own website into a useful resource for people looking for information on your area of expertise. Website visitors may not always instantly convert into customers, but building up your reputation will help you attract clients in the future. Other ways to get your name out there include forums and message boards. Make useful contributions to small business discussion groups on LinkedIn, leave valuable comments on other people’s articles and give out free advice and tips on Twitter and Facebook. These are all useful tools for developing a reputation as an industry expert and becoming a trusted resource, which makes it more likely that people will turn to you for professional help in the future.


Advertising in print or online can be an expensive venture, especially if you’ve never done it before. But choose your campaigns well and it can be a cost-effective way to attract new business quickly. Tools such as Google AdWords and Facebook advertising allow you to set your daily budget so you don’t spend more than you intended and both also offer good ways of targeting adverts specifically at people who may be interested in your services. It is also crucial you have a good landing page to send people to when they click on your adverts.

Many freelancers have a limited marketing budget, so for more tips on generating free leads for your business, check out our quick, plain English video guide below. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel for regular updates and more video tips.

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