Finding my first clients as a freelancer never used to be a concern for me. A little over a year ago, I was sat in an office. I was staring at a blank computer screen, waiting for an email to come in or for the phone to ring.
Anyone else would have been grateful to be receiving a steady salary in return for little work. But I was bored out of my mind.
I came to work at the same time every day, and left precisely when the clock struck 5.30 PM. I ate lunch at my desk and spent a considerable amount of time spinning in circles on my chair, making pointless edits to the office manual — a task I had given myself to help pass the time.
It hadn’t always been this way.
I worked for a criminal law firm. When things were busy, I’d be helping prepare cases for trial, and attending court. On those days I felt particularly important and enjoyed the sense of purpose I felt.
But those days were becoming few and far between. Work had considerably dwindled and my boss was switching up the business model to deal with data breach claims instead. That was my cue to start rethinking my next career step.
I was on the path to becoming a fully-qualified lawyer, having recently passed further exams with flying colours. But something wasn’t sitting right.
Stepping Into The Freelance World
During the Spring last year, myself and my husband travelled to Portugal for a long weekend. I had a bit of an Instagram thing going on and so we had been invited to stay for free in a new hostel in Peniche.
We had a great time and got chatting to the owners about how they got there and what they had done previously for a living. And this is when I was first introduced to Upwork.
Now I know Upwork isn’t for everyone — and to be honest, it isn’t for me anymore. But it’s a great place to start, and certainly to find your first clients as a freelancer. And we’ve all got to start somewhere right?
When I first joined Upwork, I was a full-time Personal Assistant. I quickly realised I had a lot of administrative skills I could offer. But I was also a keen travel writer which I documented via my own blog.
And whilst I applied for numerous administrative related positions, the first job I ever landed was that of a travel writer. I couldn’t believe my luck. The thing that I enjoyed the most was something I could get paid for? All whilst continuing to work at my day job. Genius!
Now full disclosure: it wasn’t the best paid job in the world. But equally, it didn’t pay the worst. And I also found out much later that the profile created under my name (without my permission) was pretty questionable.
I didn’t have free reign to write about what I wanted to write about. There were very strict writing guidelines and often covered topics I had no interest in. But that’s pretty universal in the writing world.
The main thing was I was getting paid to do something I enjoyed doing, and the earning potential could be unlimited.
Getting Your First Clients as a Freelancer
Fast forward a few months, and I found myself in a pretty sticky situation. Approaching the end of a 3-month notice period with no job to go to — and no more travel writing side hustles. Yikes.
So what have I done between then and now to end up in a position where I have a number of well-paying clients and a roof firmly over my head? And what advice would I give to those who have just taken the leap into the freelance world?
Join an agency
I quickly realised that a good way of sourcing clients was to find somebody else to source them for me. Joining an agency has it’s pros and cons. But for someone just starting out, if you can get in with an agency, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be offered work. Obviously, this comes at a price, and the price for most people is that the agency will take a hefty cut of your earnings. But it’s still a small price to pay to ensure you have clients on your books and money coming into your bank account.
Talk to people in your industry
Around the same time I was searching for a suitable agency to join, I was also connecting up with fellow virtual assistants and writers on LinkedIn. I joined groups on Facebook and had a few phone calls with people who said they’d recommend my services if work came up in the future. At the time, I thought nothing of it. But sure enough, quite some time later, I received a phone call out of the blue. The person contacting me was looking for a freelancer to help with some invoicing, and they had been given my name by someone I’d had a phone call with many months prior. The power of networking!
Help a fellow freelancer
The moment the pandemic hit, I instantly lost a few clients. I had a bit of extra time on my hands. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I saw it as an opportunity to continue implementing my skills. I spotted a thread on Facebook whereby freelancers were offering their services in exchange for somebody else’s — a free trade as it were. What an awesome idea. I needed a little bit of help with my website, and I offered up a week’s worth of social media content in return. We kept in contact, and whenever we see work available, we recommend each other’s services. I landed my first ‘proper’ writing gig this way. And as it turns out, I’m now also writing articles for the original person I connected with. Result.
Do a good job
It goes without saying, but if you take pride in your work and offer a valuable service to all of your clients, eventually word will get out. Only last week, one of my longest-standing clients who has been with me since the end of last year, recommended my services to a fellow business-owner. I had a brief phone call and before I knew it, I had another client on the books.
My journey as a freelancer hasn’t always been an easy one — and really, it’s only just begun. It’s been one full of twists and turns, ups and downs, disappointments, and pretty good surprises.
Finding your first clients as a freelancer can be a daunting process but it doesn’t have to be. Keep an open mind, stay positive and confident in your own abilities, and most of all, communicate and collaborate.
Your first clients as a freelancer are out there — they’re just waiting for you to find them. Start building your new career today.