Clients are the lifeblood of any service-based business. If you don’t know how to find freelance clients, you could be the very best at what you do but still be making less than an absolute newbie.
If you want to know how to get freelance work, keep reading.
Below, we’ll talk about:
- What to do before finding freelance work
- Where and how to find freelance clients; and (best of all)
- How to get freelance work on autopilot
Wait! Before Finding Freelance Work…
It’s a good idea to set up a freelance portfolio of some sort.
If you’re brand new and haven’t landed your first client yet, your portfolio could include:
- Personal projects
- Free work that you’ve done
- Courses and certifications
If you’ve already landed clients, then you should already have some previous work to add to your portfolio.
In the end:
Don’t worry about spending too much time on this, but you should at least have something to show potential clients once you get their attention.
Where and How to Find Freelance Clients
Finding freelance clients involves actively searching for them, spreading the word, applying to gigs, and creating service listings.
Because of the active nature of this, it’s essentially a numbers game. The more opportunities you create, the better chance you have of landing that first (or 5th, 25th, 50th) client.
Here are some ways to get started:
1. Freelance marketplaces
These are one of the best and worst places to find freelance work.
They’re good because they can provide a consistent stream of incoming clients.
They’re bad because they’re competitive and tough for new users to make sales on.
If you can find an underserved market and build up some initial clients and reviews, the snowball can build quickly. Some freelancers have built entire empires through freelance marketplaces.
The key to these is to:
- Apply for incoming jobs quickly and often. Some marketplaces allow clients to post their own job requests. If you see a job and you have relevant skills, apply.
- Start with low rates at first. This will suck for a bit, but it’s the name of the game. Getting your first clients and reviews is essential to building a reputation on the platform. As you gain more, you can raise your rates.
- Cast a wide net. On places like Fiverr where you can create pre-packaged services, don’t create just one and call it a day. Create multiple listings for your services. For example, if you’re a copywriter, you could make: “Copywriting for Pet Blogs” “Copywriting for Online Course Facebook Ads” “Copywriting for PTC Ads” etc. These are just examples, but the point is to target very specific keywords that not as many people are searching for. That way you’ll be dealing with less competition, and you’ll be able to…
- Position yourself as an expert. By targeting specific keywords and specific types of customers, you’ll immediately seem like a better fit for the job than a generalist. This can also allow you to charge higher rates. Just think about it: if you were running ads for an online course, would you rather hire a generic Facebook ads copywriter, or a copywriter who specializes in Facebook ads for online courses? Most would choose the latter as they’d expect them to have more experience.
- Customize your proposals. When applying directly to a job that a client has posted, DON’T copy and paste a generic proposal message. Surprisingly, this is what most freelancers do, so you can easily beat them by actually reading the job listing and writing up a quick customized proposal. The easiest way to do this is to pretty much repeat what the job poster said in their job description and explain some past experience you have doing similar work. This shows that you understand what they’re looking for.
- Study your competition. If you feel like your proposals are still no good, here’s an easy way to get better: head over to Upwork, create a client account, and post a job that you would typically be interested in applying for. Don’t worry, you don’t have to hire anyone or pay money. Just wait for applications to come in. Read these applications and see which ones stand out the most to you. Then, simply copy their tactics and use them in your future job proposals.
- Don’t give up. Landing clients is typically a numbers game. If you give up after 1, 2, or even 10 proposals, or after creating only 1 service listing, you’re selling yourself short. The more applications, cold emails, gig listings — whatever you choose — that you send out, the better you’ll get at it, and the more you’ll increase your chances of finding that first client.
If you’re ready to get started, check out this full list of freelance marketplaces.
Tip: If you’re still struggling to land jobs or attract clients, you can always use one of the other methods below to find freelance work. Then, you can ask the client to buy through your marketplace listing (e.g. Fiverr page). This can help get the ball rolling.
2. Online communities
Online communities are often similar to freelance marketplaces, but a bit less structured. Because of this, they’re typically less competitive and easier to make sales on, but there are often fewer opportunities to be had.
Here are a few options to try:
I found my first freelance writing client in a Facebook group, and I’ve hired multiple people from Facebook groups as well.
They’re great because:
- They can be very niche
- There’s less competition among group members because groups are typically smaller
- They’re casual but personal
When looking for groups to join, you should look for ones where either your ideal client hangs out and asks questions, or where jobs are directly posted. Both exist.
For example, if you’re an SEO expert, you could go into some generic SEO-related groups. Quickly, you’ll find people asking SEO questions. Each time a question is asked, that’s your chance to provide some value. This isn’t guaranteed to result in clients right away, but over time, group members will start to notice your consistency, and some people (regulars, lurkers, etc.) may reach out to you directly. That’s your chance to make a sale.
Occasionally, some people will also ask questions and flat out ask who they can hire for help. That’s your chance to leave a knowledgeable comment with a simple call-to-action for them to reach out for a consultation or similar.
Job groups are going to work the same way. When a job is posted, read the description carefully and then send a personalized message to the poster to apply.
Tip: Besides prospecting for work, you can also join Facebook groups to connect with other freelancers. They can be in the same niche as you or not, both have their benefits. You can use these groups to ask questions, build connections, and potentially find client referrals from freelancers who can’t take on more work.
There are tons of subreddits for finding work. Just look up things related to your service and you’ll find them. You can also try generic job boards like r/forhire.
Nextdoor is great for local services (e.g. pet sitting, dog walking, plumbing, appliance repairs, local web development, local SEO, babysitting, etc.), but also works for online services (like writing, graphic design, and more).
You’d be surprised how often people post looking for help in some way, like this:
If you’re quick to respond, there’s very little competition here (though that could change in the future).
You can also post simple advertisement-style posts to drum up interest in your services, like this:
You can also try to find like-minded communities and places your potential clients might be hanging out on:
3. Friends and family
Most people would recommend this as a starter option, and I’d agree.
I’ve put it toward the end here because most people read this option and immediately skip it.
Surprisingly, selling to friends and family (or even telling them about your new endeavor) is more nerve-wracking for many than trying to sell services to strangers.
Here’s the thing:
You really never know which people in your network could benefit from what you’re offering.
- Past coworkers
- Past bosses
- Past mentors
- Friends of friends
- Friends of family
- Acquaintances (e.g. hairdresser, old school friends)
“But I only know a few people and I know they don’t need my service!!”
Remember, the people you know have their own inner circles as well. And the people they know might know someone interested in what you’re offering. By simply telling one or two people what you’re doing, you might be surprised at how far the word can spread.
Here's a simple visualization of how much bigger your network might be than you realize:
Personally, I’ve got multiple clients like this for both marketing work and web design work. I didn’t think it was going to work either, but I’m glad I got the word out.
Here are some ways you can do the same:
- Make a quick social media post about what you’re doing (e.g. on Facebook)
- Bring it up naturally in conversation when someone asks what you’ve been up to recently
- Ask if someone in your circle knows anyone looking for your services (this takes the pressure off of them and might get you a nice recommendation)
Whichever route you go, just know that it is a lot easier to sell to someone when they already know you personally or through a mutual acquaintance. There’s already a level of trust there, so you’re at a huge advantage.
Networking is a way to essentially expand your inner circle, so it’s not much different than the tip above. The benefit here is that you can tailor your networking strategy to increase the chances of finding someone in need of your services.
Here are some ways (and places) to do that:
- Become a customer. If you want to work for a specific business or a specific type of business, becoming a customer can be a great way to naturally meet the owner/decision maker. You can then attempt to bring up what you do naturally in conversation, and see where things go from there. (I’ve put an example of this in the warm outreach section below.)
- Coworking spaces. Not just a good place to get work done! Coworking spaces can be a great place to meet like-minded individuals and other business owners. And many of them are probably looking to make new connections as well. Simply asking someone what they do can be a great conversation starter and it’ll give you the opportunity to talk about your services.
- Local meetups. Business events, networking events, and workshops are pretty common these days so you should be able to find some in your area. These can be another great place to meet like-minded individuals.
All of these options allow you to build trust with people and share what you do in a non-pushy, non-salesy way. The people you meet can then help spread the word, or they might even hire you themselves.
5. Cold outreach
The most common forms of cold outreach are cold emailing and cold calling.
The former is a lot less scary than the latter, but can also be less effective. It's easier for people to ignore an email than it is to hang up a phone call.
Cold emailing can still be very effective, and it's less intrusive so it's less likely to rub people the wrong way.
Whichever you choose to do, the strategy is pretty simple:
- Find a business that seems like it could use your services (e.g. if you’re offering video editing, you could reach out to streamers, YouTubers, etc.).
- Come up with a short plan of exactly how you can help them (e.g. save them time, expand their reach, make them more money, etc.) and why they should listen (i.e. show them examples, case studies, your past work, etc.).
- Reach out with your personalized message.
If you do this right, and you send out enough targeted messages, you should be able to get some conversions. And you only need one to get the ball rolling.
That said, there’s another similar approach that can lead to higher conversions:
6. Warm outreach
This is very similar to cold outreach, but instead of coming out of nowhere, you introduce and get to know your potential customer before making a sales pitch.
For example, let's say you want to do Facebook advertising for local restaurants and you’ve found a pizza place near you that you think would make a great client. Rather than just reach out with a cold email, you could visit the pizza place in person, order a pizza, and chat with the employees or owner of the business.
From there, you can write an email starting with something like:
“Hey Jimmy, I visited your pizza parlor last week and I thought the slices were great. I’m not sure if you’re already experimenting with any paid advertising, but I actually run a Facebook marketing agency and I think we could drum up some additional business quite easily and profitably.
If you’re interested, feel free to give me a call or respond to this email and we can chat further! Either way, I’ll probably be back for another slice soon.
This shows the business owner that you’re already familiar with their product, it makes the reach out feel more personal and natural, and it breaks down some of the barriers the business owner might have.
Tip: Whether your outreach is warm or cold, be sure to personalize it. Whenever I receive a cold email that starts with “Dear sir” or “Webmaster” I immediately delete it. Before you reach out, put in the time to learn a bit about the business and who runs it.
7. Job boards/search engines
These are similar to the freelance marketplaces we talked about above, but they’re not strictly for freelance gigs. You can still find freelance work on them, but you’ll have to dig a little deeper. This can make them a bit less competitive.
Places you can try include:
How to Get Freelance Work on Autopilot
While the methods above are great for finding freelance clients, there’s one big downside to them:
Prospecting for leads can take a lot of time.
And all that time spent searching for clients, applying to job listings, sending outreach, and networking? It’s all on your own time, meaning it’ll eat into your hourly rates.
Whether you’ve already landed some freelance clients or not, it’s worth thinking ahead and setting up passive lead generators.
Below are some methods you can use to bring a consistent stream of potential freelance clients your way — even when you’re not actively searching.
And that’s not the only benefit:
Since clients are coming to you with these methods (rather than you coming to them), they’re already warmed up, making them much easier to sell to.
1. Freelance marketplaces
Yes, this method was in the section above as well.
Here’s the thing:
Marketplaces aren’t just a good place to find freelance clients, they’re a good place for clients to find you as well.
For example, marketplaces like Fiverr are essentially search engines for freelancers and freelance services. If you optimize your gig listings for the right keywords, you can get freelance work on autopilot.
Unless you find an extremely low competition service idea (this usually requires finding micro niches), you’ll most likely need to build up a decent number of reviews before Fiverr starts ranking you high in the search results.
The same goes for platforms like Upwork. While these types of platforms are more centered around applying to jobs, clients will also often invite freelancers to apply to their job if they think they’re a good fit. Some clients may even search for freelancers and message them directly if they don’t feel like posting a job listing. That means if you build up a strong profile, you’ll get more job invites, and you’ll have a major advantage over other freelancers on the platform.
There are also platforms like Toptal (pictured above) which will automatically connect you with clients they think you're a good match for.
Check our full list of freelance marketplaces for more ideas.
Referrals can only really come after you’ve landed at least one client, but they’re worth thinking about before you land that first client.
Because referrals don’t always just magically happen.
For the best results, you have to ask for them.
If you’ve just finished your contract with a client and the work went well, there are two things you should do:
- Ask for a testimonial
- Ask if they know anyone else who’d be interested in a similar service
Business owners are busy people, so you should ask these questions right after receiving your final payment from the client. In most cases, if you provide a quality service, they’ll be happy to help you out.
And that’s key:
If you want to have the best chance of receiving referrals from past clients, you need to deliver a great service.
As the phrase goes:
You need to under promise (set reasonable expectations upfront) and then over deliver (surpass the clients original expectations to leave them feeling like they got a bargain).
In other words, knock your clients socks off. Make them KNOW that their money was well-spent. If you can do this, it’s only a matter of time before word gets around.
Tip: It may sound weird, but when asking for a testimonial, offer to provide the client a quick template. Yep — literally offer to write part of your own testimonial for them. This makes their job easier (they just have to fill in the blanks) and you get a great testimonial.
3. Content marketing
Creating content is a great way to have clients come to you. It also makes your job (i.e. selling yourself) a lot easier as your content will passively build trust and show your expertise.
There are a lot of ways to go here:
- Start a website. A big benefit of creating web content is that it can rank in search engines, meaning you can target specific keywords that your potential clients might be searching for. Example applications:
- Create case studies (i.e. show results you’ve got for past clients/personal projects) (e.g. SEO case studies)
- Create listicles (e.g. “Top 10 Facebook Ad Mistakes”)
- Create guides/how-tos (e.g. “How to Come Up With Social Media Post Ideas”)
- For more ideas, read this guide to starting a money-making blog
- Create YouTube videos. YouTube is great for building trust because you can show your face and voice. Many people prefer to learn from videos as well, so they’ll go directly to YouTube to find content. Besides being discoverable directly on YouTube, videos can also rank in search engines like Google. Example applications:
- Create tutorials (e.g. web design tutorials)
- Create time-lapses (e.g. graphic design showcase)
- Create guides/how-tos (e.g. “How to Create a Facebook Ad”)
- Create videos showcasing your services (e.g. film yourself finding and explaining SEO problems on a website, then have a CTA at the end showing where people can get the same done for their own site)
- Post on Medium. Medium blogs carry similar benefits to a website. They can rank in search engines, and since some people go to Medium directly to read articles, they can be found by that audience as well. Also, you can make one for free.
- Post on social media. If you’re already creating web content or videos, you can simply repurpose that for social media. If not, social media alone can be a great place to reach people as well.
- Graphic designer? Post your designs on Instagram.
- Car detailer? Post time-lapses of your work on TikTok.
- Writer? Share short written content related to your niche on LinkedIn.
These are just quick examples. If you know your audience and you know your business, you should be able to come up with plenty of your own.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to give away too much value with your content. Even if you give away all your best strategies, the best clients (the ones you want) simply won’t have the time to implement them themselves. So, they’ll hire you instead because they'll already see you as an expert.
Note: Besides bringing in clients, creating content can also make you money in other ways: sponsorships, ad revenue, affiliates, and more.
4. Local SEO
If you want to find freelance clients in your local area — which is a good idea, since many prefer to work with local businesses — local SEO is an essential thing to focus on.
Take this example:
- Go to Google
- Search for “plumbers”
You’ll notice that Google will show you 3-5 listings of plumbers in your area.
Local SEO gives you the chance to show up as one of these listings.
This works for tons of different services as well, not just traditional “local” businesses. Google shows these “Businesses” results for almost any service-related query. Copywriters, designers, photographers, developers, almost any type of freelancer can benefit from this.
It's easy to setup too:
One of the quickest ways to get started is to create a Google Business Profile. This is how you’ll start showing up in Google’s local search results and map listings.
Besides the SEO benefit, this also makes it easier for customers to read your reviews, find your website, and see your hours and contact information.
5. Paid advertising
Paid advertising is the most expensive way to find freelance clients, but it can also be an extremely effective strategy. A good campaign combined with an optimized sales funnel can be a lead generation machine.
Places you can buy advertising include:
- Facebook/Instagram – Offers very precise targeting (i.e. if you were doing mobile car detailing, you could target car owners or people interested in cars). Can pay per engagement, per click, or per action (e.g. for an email submit).
- Google – PPC ads in search results. You could target specific keywords related to your service business. For example, if you’re a Facebook ads freelancer, you could target keywords like “Facebook ads expert” or “help with Facebook ads”.
Here's an example:
The first sponsored link in the photo above is for a voice-over marketplace, but the second one leads right to a freelance voice-over artist and coaches website.
Keep in mind:
Paid advertising can be even more effective when combined with content marketing.
For example, if you’re an SEO and you have a website where you share SEO tips and case studies, rather than advertise a sales page, you could advertise one of your case studies instead. Potential clients will be more likely to click this, and you’ll give them some value right off the bat to build trust. They might then check out more of your content or reach out directly to inquire about your services.
And if they don't?
Most advertising platforms will allow you to retarget people who engage with your ad. So, if someone engages with one piece of your content, you can send them a new one to bring them further down your funnel.
For example, here's a simple funnel idea for a freelance SEO:
- Ad #1: SEO case study.
- Ad #2: Another case study.
- Ad #3: A video of yourself explaining your SEO services and background, and then a pitch for a simple, free consultation.
- Ad #4: If they didn't bite on the free consultation, this ad could show an example of what a free consultation would look like, and what type of information you'd give them. Then, another offer for where they can get one.
If you’re at the end of this article and you’re still not sure how to get freelance work effectively, I’ll leave you with one last tip:
Get creative and take action.
No matter how many methods, strategies, or examples you read about, you’re not going to know what works until you get out there and test.
The more you test, the more you’ll learn, and the better chance you’ll have of:
- Creating your own luck and landing in the right place at the right time.
- Coming up with your own creative strategy.
In the end, there are no secret or magical ways of finding freelance clients, but there is a simple recipe:
- Take advantage of your network
- Put yourself out there
- Deliver great work