“How the &*$! do I find clients!?”
Every freelancer ever.
I attended a virtual coffee social for journalists and aspiring journos this morning, organised by my brilliant and talented friend Franki Cookney. At one point, as it so often does when a group of writers get together, we conversation turned to the methods we use to get gigs and find freelance clients.
This is something I’m still learning and exploring all the time. I’m not sure anyone has all the answers, because there is no exact science to it. However, I thought it might be useful to share a few of the ways that I’ve found clients and got jobs since I started freelancing.
Joining a Networking Group
I found FaB Networking a few months ago and have been attending the monthly meetings and weekly speed networking sessions. I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it, but the time investment has paid off many times over.
If you’re looking to find freelance clients, I heartily recommend joining a networking group. For best results, I suggest joining a group with a One Seat policy (that is, only one member allowed from each business type.) This guarantees you won’t be competing with 15 other writers for work.
Find a group that will fit in with your life. Some have very stringent attendance policies, which can be good for some people but wouldn’t work for others. Consider timing, too – I chose a group that meets in the evenings because the odds of me being functional enough to promote my business at 7 o’clock in the morning are approaching zero.
Finally, don’t go in with the intention to make it a sales pitch. Instead, aim to build connections and make friends in your local business community. The work will follow.
I got my regular writing gig with Your Best Kept Business Secret Magazine, as well as a few one-off writing jobs, through the group.
Word of Mouth
This is really heavily linked to the last point, because people I’ve worked for from my networking group have now recommended me to others. I recently received a lovely one-off job worth several hundred pounds thanks to a personal recommendation.
Word of mouth is possibly the most genuine form of advertising there is. If people recommend you to their friends and associates, take it as the highest of compliments. They’re essentially staking their reputation on you being as good as they say you are.
Of course, it takes time to develop the kind of reputation that leads to word of mouth referrals. But you might be surprised how quickly the recommendations roll in once you’ve landed a few clients and done a great job for them.
Pitching is essentially reaching out to an editor or publication with an idea for something you’d like to write for them. If they’re interested, they’ll come back to you, you agree on a fee, and then you write the piece. If not… well, in an ideal world they’ll send you a friendly “thanks but not for us.” In the real world, nine out of ten of your pitches will never be answered.
I won’t lie, pitching can be a pretty soul-sucking game. I often spend two hours or more crafting the perfect pitch email, and then… nothing. Silence.
Of course, it doesn’t always come to nothing. Publications need writers, and many rely on freelancers to fill their (physical or virtual) pages. I’ve had pitches accepted and the high of an editor coming back and saying “yes, we will pay you to write this for us” reminds me why I do this.
I don’t recommend you use it as your sole method to find freelance clients, but if you want to break into the bigger and more prestigious publications, you’ll need to pitch.
I’m not a big fan of “freelance jobs boards” like Freelancer.com, Upwork, and so on. I’ll go on the record as saying they’re essentially content mills, where people churn out high-volume, low-quality work for pennies.
Can you find good work on there? Sure. Is it common? No. More than likely you’ll end up writing thousands of words for very little pay. That’s if you don’t get completely ignored and undercut again and again and again.
So I don’t think you should waste your time on these exploitative hellscapes. But did you know that organisations often post freelance opportunities on more traditional jobs boards too? It’s worth keeping an eye on them every now and then.
One of my best clients came from replying to an ad on the Gumtree jobs board. I applied for an editing gig, but it quickly grew into a mixture of writing, editing, and content management. So you shouldn’t discount jobs boards just because you’re not looking for a traditional 9-to-5.
By Luck, By Accident, or By Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
I used to hate it when I asked “where do I find freelance clients?” and people gave me this answer. It’s annoyingly vague and impossible to engineer or replicate. But it’s also the truth.
My longest standing regular freelance gig, with the amazing Youth Employment UK, came from applying for a job that I didn’t get. I wasn’t actively looking for freelance work at the time, but the opportunity presented itself. The full-time job wasn’t the right fit, but applying for it led to steady, monthly freelance work.
So, though you can’t necessarily create these moments, you can be ready to jump on them when they arise.
Finding Freelance Clients is Challenging
I won’t tell you it’s easy, because it isn’t. The journey from the first time I got paid for words I’d written, to the point that I was making enough to cover a viable replacement for a full-time income, took over three years.
Everyone has their own methods to find freelance clients. Some things that work for me won’t work for you, and vice versa.
But keep plugging away at it. If you’re good at what you do, there’s a place for you and work to be had.
Good luck <3