The only answer to this most important problem is, Networking, networking, networking.
You keep meeting useful people, show your use to them, be helpful to them, and eventually one thing will lead to another. Often, the first freelance job happens due to a referral from a friend or a colleague.
- Meet a lot of people: Be known for something, for some specific skill. Be a personal brand (see table of contents). 'He is the best maker of web sites for eye-wear sellers there is.' Go to meetups, events, industry functions, Linkedin groups etc. Use your existing contacts. Also create a list of prospective clients you must meet. Work on this list and see people accordingly.
- Working for free: Volunteering, small pro-bono (free) work for a good cause, small consultations related to your niche, etc. Moreover, if you work for free, ensure your 'client' understands you're doing them a favor. This also goes in building up the 'testimonials' section of your profile/website.
- Never working for cheap: From start, you have to make clients know your rates reflect your value as well as your work. Never come off as a commodity supplier.
- It will take time, so have financial backup to sustain you/your family.
- Know how to pitch to clients: The biggest secret to pitching a client is to 'make it about them' not you. Listen to the clients. Do your research. Find out what their #1 or #2 biggest problem is, and base your pitch on the problem/s.
- Use the 'briefcase technique': When you're pitching a client, come prepared with notes (thus the 'reaching for your briefcase' name) on what you can/would do to make their business better, as it applies to your expertise. People are impressed with anyone who's done their homework.
This is also how you differentiate yourself on the job boards.
- Avoid taking work that you know will end up causing a lot of pain: So, it also means you taking a good, hard look at the client's problem first. But do it tactfully - 'the project is too big for me to handle...call me when you are ready', and such.
- Do not, and this is the most important advice, model your work on the online freelancing (elance etc) model. It is all commodity-level, ultra competitive stuff. Model your freelancing career on the likes of Mckinsey and Accenture, providers of ultra-expensive consulting services.
That also means: If the job is too big for you, don't try to bite it off. If its too small to waste your time with, don't take it. Try to present yourself as a serious solver of business problems, not a desperate shop that will do anything.
- Improve your online presence: Your own blog/website. Your profile on Linkedin and other places relevant to field (e.g. Behance for creative work) - Making it clear you are available for contract. Recruiters are also looking out to fill contract jobs too.
But if you are working for an employer, you will have to find ways to hide your 'availability'.
- It helps if you know where do clients in your niche find freelancers. Ask around. Search Google for 'Industry x freelance'. Search Linkedin and nay other place where the clients may be. And if you don get to come across a prospective client, or any entity which has used freelancers before, about the kind of work they get done, the problems they face etc. It is time to build some rapport.
It is very important you find the places (offline/online) where your prospective clients spend their time most.
- Talk to other freelancers in your niche: No harm in introducing yourself and building some rapport. Many may consider you as competition, but some may be friendlier. Talk to these people and know how they find work, what works, what doesn't and so on.
Build your network. In future you may be working with some of them on a bigger project. Who knows?
Knowing other freelancers will also help you form partnerships, which means you can then pitch for bigger projects requiring different skill sets.
- Create useful products to stand out: The product may be your take on an existing product (e.g. 'A simpler way to create mobile elearning'), or a free guide/tool to the most pressing problem/s in your industry (e.g. 'Are you making these mistakes in industry x, problem y? Take this quiz and find out ways to improve results'.)
All these activities form a group of marketing tasks known as 'inbound marketing', which is the internet's way of creating useful, unique and interesting content to pull in visitors to the website from search engines and other sources. In other words, create good content related to your industry and you will stand out eventually. That is inboudn marketing in a rough nutshell.
More examples of inbound marketing: Free webinars, ebooks, speaking at conferences, guest posts, podcast appearances, video interviews, videos/presentation on important issues in the industry, podcast related to the industry, etc.
- Email marketing: If you can get access to a database of prospective clients/frequent clients in your industry, you can send them targeted mailers, with your proposal or a ready reckoner to your services.
- Landing page marketing: This is what you do when you don't have access to an email database. You create a dedicated web page related to to your niche, starting with most pressing problem of the client, the consequences of the problem and your solutions. You can then offer a free guide or something in exchange for their email id. To bring traffic to this landing page, you can do a trial PPC (paid per click) advertising using Google Adwords, and see how many clients are interested in your solutions.
Many smart marketers create a series of landing pages, each focused on one particular problem.
- Cold Calling: Sometimes, calling people and businesses in the neighborhood, may help you get some work. Provided you are upfront and apologetic about calling them out of blue - these are your neighbors we are talking about here.
- Use job boards only if you need to, seeking the 'easy way out', instead of all the work listed above. Search Google for 'industry x freelance', 'industry x job board' etc.
- What to do during 'off-time' (when you have plenty of time between projects)
- Work on your professional network.
- Work on getting some more skills.
- Work on a side project to build up your credentials.
- Get in touch with the right people: People who make recruiting decisions, and/or may need your services in future.
- Without asking for work, talk about their business, the industry etc and what value you bring, giving example of skills of successes, tactfully.
Let them talk and listen.
- Build a connection by building rapport: Find a common ground. Praise them on their progress (better skill, better health, etc). Congratulate them on their successes (better job, successful project, new product launch, etc). Send them information they will like and find useful.
- Say 'thank you' a lot: Even when the lead they gave you didn't work, thank them.
- When you ask something, keep it modest: Ask for small things like phone numbers, industry information etc. Ask for their experienced advice on some topic in the industry (flattery). Don't outright say you need them to find work for you.
- Track your prospects. Track who you contacted (or want to), when, what you discussed, and your follow-ups.
Most importantly, follow up.
Using The Six Principles Of Persuasion To Get More Clients
Professional life is 'give and take'. You have been very useful to me. I will help you now.
Or, let's not make it a one-sided contract. Let's work on a win-win deal, where it becomes a pleasure to do quality work for you.
Corollary: People like those people who don't expect anything in return for a good deed. Let things happen on their own accord. Don't push for it.
When a web developer has made 30+ online stores for eye-wear sellers, they become known for this expertise. They have also just published a guide for successfully selling eye-wear online.
3. Social Validation
Recommendation from people we trust, number of clients serviced, number of Twitter followers, number of subscribers to your blog feed, professional awards, etc - Things like these build up your standing.
When you like people, people will like you back. In your conversations, make it about them - their interests, their preferences etc. Praise generously without sounding fake. Look for a common ground - things you both like.
Corollary: When people help you, don't ask for more help.
For example, your resume and portfolio, and testimonials from satisfied clients up on your own website.
For example, 'these project pricing is only valid till end of month', or, 'first 20 signups get 20% discount'.
Thank you for reading.
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