3 ways to find new clients as a freelance marketer or creative

Forget filing self-employment taxes or chasing overdue invoice payments. Finding new clients is one of the biggest challenges freelancers face. 

And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it. Whether you took the leap into freelancing 10 days or 10 years ago, you know that the grind never ends! It’s important to always have a strong pipeline of new client leads, especially if the services you provide are often one-off projects, or otherwise not well suited for a retainer.

And unlike with a traditional job search, clients looking for a freelancer or consultant are unlikely to write up a job description and post their opening on a job board. Most of the time, these conversations are behind closed doors, and — particularly with smaller clients — there is no formal RFP process. That means exploring many avenues at once to find new clients before you need them.

Here are the most effective ways to find new clients:

1. Build relationships with other freelancers and agencies who offer complementary services. 

You know that saying, “your network is your net worth”? That applies to no group more than freelancers. Tapping your existing connections is one of the most effective ways to find new clients.

Of course, not everyone you know is likely to refer business your way. The most profitable connections you have are likely other freelancers, consultants and agencies offering services that complement – but don’t compete with – yours.

The clients of email marketing and CRM strategists probably also need email designers and developers to bring to life their customer outreach plans. Paid media agencies need conversion-minded creatives. Web designers and developers should have both copywriters and SEO/SEM consultants to call on. Clients hiring PR consultants often also need social media strategists, who may need designers, photographers, animators and copywriters.

And fractional CMOs may need all of the above (and more) at some point!

So instead of chasing cold leads, cozy up to your connections working in complementary fields. Let them know you have capacity to take on new clients, and ask them to keep you in mind if any of their clients need what you offer. 

And make it a win-win: Offer to reciprocate if the opportunity arises.

2. Get out there! Expand your network by attending in-person conferences and networking events. 

As a freelancer, it’s probably not possible to have too many professional contacts. So while you strengthen those existing relationships, remember: The more, the merrier!

One of the most effective ways to meet new people is through in-person events. (Remember those?)

Search for conferences attended by the kinds of people who might refer business to you, or who work in verticals you’d like more clients in. For example, if PR freelancers refer a lot of business to you, attend a local PRSA event. If you’d like more clients in healthcare, seek industry-specific conferences for physicians or healthcare communications professionals.

If the idea of “networking” in a room full of strangers makes you nearly break out in hives, consider that you might be more comfortable at events attended by people who aren’t your competitor, and desperately need your services. You might even find that you’re the most popular person in the room!

That’s nearly guaranteed if you also offer to speak at these events. This is the introvert’s secret strategy – because everyone already knows you and what you do, the conversations that follow are far less stilted, with less need for small talk.

But in any case, be ready to talk about yourself! Make sure you have a strong elevator pitch, and can point your new contacts to a portfolio site with case studies and recent samples – or at minimum, a stellar LinkedIn profile. For extra credit, have ready an “entry-level” service like a one-hour strategy call or a website audit for those who might be ready to engage your services soon. To sweeten the deal, consider offering a small, limited-time discount to those you meet at the conference.

3. Get on a Freeman+Leonard recruiter’s radar. 

Yes, you read that right! Even though you’re not looking for a j-o-b, talent acquisition agencies like Freeman+Leonard offer far more than traditional employment options. We often need freelancers to take on project work for our clients, and demand for freelance talent is rising. 

We even build project teams for our clients by assembling a rockstar crew of freelancers and training them on the client’s brand standards, and having them ready when the client needs them.

This is a great way to get repeat work AND feel like you’re part of a team (and we all know how isolating freelancing can feel!) — without being beholden to a single employer.

Who’s in your corner?

Whether you’ve been freelancing for a while or you’re still undecided about taking the leap, don’t hesitate to reach out to our recruiters. We work with freelancers like you all the time, and know the ins and outs (and ups and downs) of your path. We’d be happy to talk with you about your options and provide insight into the market. Contact our team on LinkedIn anytime or submit your portfolio at jobs.freemanleonard.com.