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I’ve been freelancing since 2014, basically ever since I started blogging. Back then (saying that makes me feel old but it does seem like it was a while ago!), getting freelance clients seemed a lot easier. Most of my clients came as referrals from other bloggers, who had too much work on their own and who passed their contacts on to me.
Earning money on the side was the biggest way I paid off credit card debt and was able to leave my job to pursue freelancing full time. I love my work-from-home life now, but most importantly, I’m easily able to pay all of my bills, including my student loan debt. I really recommend people with debt side hustle if possible, because it’s a great way to tackle debt straight on and it doesn’t take up a lot of time.
While it’s certainly becoming tougher for new freelancers to find clients, I’ve noticed a few trends. I’ve scaled my writing and virtual assistant back a lot because I can afford to (I really only offer blog management at the moment!), but I’ve kept a pulse on freelancers and how to find clients.
From an unbiased perspective, I’m going to share the number one secret to finding clients as a freelancer. I’m not actively looking for clients right now, yet this secret still directs clients my way. It takes a little work up front, but it can pay off for years. It can help you pay off debt, add extra money to retirement savings, or even leave your job for a completely different life!
Networking is the number one secret to finding clients as a freelancer. To quote Trick Daddy and Lil Jon, “everybody knows somebody who knows something about it” – everyone knows someone who’s looking to hire a freelancer. You just have to be the person everyone recommends.
Before the introverts start running away, I’m an introvert! You don’t have to be a talkative extrovert to be that one person that everyone recommends. You just have to do a couple of things, which I’ll outline below.
No one is going to know you, network with you, or refer you if they don’t know you’re looking for work. So join some Facebook groups and get networking.
I recommend joining the following groups:
- Bright Bloggers + Business – for all types of bloggers, but particularly new bloggers
- The Careful Cents Club – more for personal finance bloggers and entrepreneurship bloggers
- The Rising Tide Society – this group is huge so I recommend finding some people you click with or who blog about the same things as you, and seeing what groups they belong to that you can join
Even better if you’ve taken some courses and can join course-specific Facebook groups, like 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success (more on that below).
Once you’ve joined some networking, blogging, or virtual assistant groups, pay attention and comment on threads you find interesting. See what type of work is being offered: is it low-paying and time consuming, or is it lucrative and substantial?
I’ve been a part of a few useless Facebook groups. These are the groups that offer virtual assistant, writing, or social media “jobs” that pay 1 penny per word, or want you to manage 5 social media accounts for $150 a month. These jobs usually have spelling mistakes in the post, don’t have any references, or re-post the same job multiple times (which means they’re burning through freelancers, probably because they’re unreasonable to work with or the pay is too low).
Good jobs will usually come from the Admin of the Facebook group and will have comments underneath saying “I love working with [Melissa]! She’s so nice and I used to be her social media manager until I launched my own blog/got a FT job/etc.”
Also, participate! If someone asks a question you can answer, answer it! Share what you do in the group, and then don’t mention it again unless someone asks.
If someone asks a Pinterest question and you’re a Pinterest account manager, answer their question thoroughly, then offer them to private message (PM) or email you if they have more questions. You can also direct them to your ‘Work With Me’ page but don’t offer your services unless they ask.
Don’t spam the group with your blog or your desire for work. You don’t want to be annoying. You want to be helpful and informative.
Engage with Bloggers You Like
In general, spending too much time on others’ blogs can be counter-productive. If you’re looking for freelance work, you need to hone your skills and focus on increasing your rate instead of commenting on a ton of blogs.
That said, if you have 3-5 blogs you really like (you like the blogger, you like how they write, you find them helpful or successful), engage with them! When they write a new blog post you really like, comment on it and make sure to leave a link to your site (many commenting plugins allow for this, but if one doesn’t, type your names as “[Your Name] from [Your Blog]”).
It goes without saying your comment should be insightful – don’t just say “great post! -Melissa from Sunburnt Saver”. That’s not helpful and the blogger won’t register your name at all. You’re trying to build a network, remember? Say something positive and ask a question – engage them!
The goal with this is to build a network of other bloggers who know you, like you, and who hopefully share your work on their social media channels and/or eventually refer work your way. Don’t expect this will happen, but be pleasantly surprised if/when it does.
Take a Course
This wasn’t really “a thing” when I first started freelancing, but from my observations, this is a really excellent way to build your skills and find clients. If your passion is writing, take a writing or blogging course. If your passion is social media, pick a niche first (Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram), then find a course about that social media platform.
Some courses I highly recommend based on reviews or my own experience include (and all of these have their own Facebook groups that you should join once you enroll in the course!) (affiliate links below – signing up using my links won’t cost you extra and all profits from affiliates go to running the blog!)
- 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success
- 30 Days to Virtual Assistant Success
- Become a Pinterest VA Today
- Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing – this is more for your own blog to generate income, but I’ve taken it and highly recommend both the course and the Facebook group!
- Elite Blog Academy – the Facebook group alone is worth the course price!
Yes, it costs money to take these courses, which is why this is tip #3 instead of tip #1. Joining free Facebook groups is obviously preferable to paying for a course and joining that Facebook group, but these courses offer personalized instruction and personalized referrals to tons of clients looking for specific freelancers.
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing and Elite Blogging Academy (EBA) are a little different – they’re geared more toward bloggers, but they offer a ton of helpful information from bloggers and their Facebook groups are unparalleled for their advice, support and, yes, even job leads.
Sign Up for a Conference
My last tip for finding clients as a freelancer is signing up and going to conferences. This is my last suggestion because this really is geared more toward extroverts, which I am not.
The real money in conferences comes from talking to sponsors, pitching yourself to sponsors and networking with other bigger bloggers (those who are looking to hire writers, social media managers, VAs, etc.) I only recommend this if you really have your skills down, you have a solid Work With Me page, a media kit, and testimonials from previous (or even current) happy clients.
I recommend the following conferences:
- FinCon – for personal finance bloggers
- BlogHer – more for bloggers, but you can network with the sponsors and with other bloggers
- Activate – the conference part of Elite Blog Academy
The sponsors with Activate aren’t as robust as they are with FinCon, for example, but Activate gives you access to huge bloggers. You can have personal conversations with them in a way that you can’t at a huge conference like FinCon, which means your interactions with these big bloggers (and therefore referral potential) is greater.
The Golden Rule
It may take you a while using these strategies to get freelance clients, but once you start getting word-of-mouth referrals, it never really goes away. The connections with people I made 3 years ago are still going strong, and quite frankly, I consider many of these bloggers to be friends at this point (shout out to Kali, Liz, and Erin!)
It’s important to stay in touch with people who refer clients your way – you don’t have to send them a thank you gift, but a thank you email, shout outs on your blog, and any other ways to show your appreciation are important. Even if the client ends up backing out, thank other bloggers for recommending you and be sincerely interested in their blogs and the projects they’re working on.
You never know who is going to refer a big client your way, and how that client will change your life. Be friendly and helpful, and you will be rewarded!
What do you think of this suggestion on getting freelance clients? Do you have any advice for others looking to earn freelance income?