When starting out in freelancing, among the first of many questions is where do I find clients? How do I approach them and offer my services?
It’s a very scary situation for those just beginning, especially if you may not be the most outgoing person to begin with. There are lots of places you can find clients. It’s truly a global marketplace with an abundance of online opportunities to be had.
But I want to focus this post on finding local clients. Something I have had a bit of success with and can often be a neglected source in today’s Internet culture. But I have found, especially starting out, there is power behind meeting and talking with people face to face and can help land those first clients and projects.
Spread the Word
The approach I recommend most in the beginning is to start with your current network. Tell all of your family and friends what you do. Don’t assume that they understand. Show them some of your work and explain what types of things you are interested in doing for people — logos, business cards, brochures, websites, writing, photography, programming…wherever your background and interests lie.
You would be surprised at who may know someone that leads to an initial contact. The contact leads to a small job. The small job leads to another and a referral, and so on.
Personal referrals are a strong aspect of most freelance businesses and developing a good reputation will have many benefits.
The point is, everyone has to start somewhere and even if you land a business card design, treat it like it was a project from a Fortune 500 company. Communicate professionally and promptly and deliver a great design. Leave them with a good impression of you as a designer and a person.
Always remember, people will be more likely to do business with someone they know, like and trust.
Get Out There and Network
Another thing to do is to join a group or association such as your local Chamber of Commerce. Yes, that’s right. It’s time to network! Not the overbearing, business card shoving, in-your-face kind that might come to mind when you hear the term networking.
Networking is about meeting people and developing relationships. It’s not about selling. In fact, if you are selling, you’re going about it the wrong way.
The reason I like Chambers of Commerce is they often have lots of networking events, from a “Business Before Hours” gathering to dedicated networking groups. You can choose the events that are best suited for you.
My chamber even has a “speed networking” event where they pair up about 20 to 30 business owners in a speed dating type scenario — spending two minutes introducing yourself and then rotating until you have met and spoke with everyone. You may land a project on the spot. But more likely, you have made an important first contact with someone and now have a good reason to send them a follow up email, or even a hand-written card telling them how nice it was to meet them. This simple gesture makes a good impression. Now, you aren’t a stranger to this small group of people and you shouldn’t feel weird about contacting them occasionally to see if they have any projects available.
Also, Chambers of Commerce usually have several committees in which you can volunteer. This can allow you to work on some good public service and community projects, while getting to know and work with other business owners and being visible. Again, it’s about developing relationships.
If you’re wondering how you go about asking if someone has any projects, naturally work it into the conversation. First get to know them. What they do for a living. Are they from the local area or where did they move from? Try to find some common interests as you carry on a casual conversation. Be genuinely interested in them and their business. Ask questions about their business or industry. The discussion should eventually get around to what types of marketing or design they currently do and then you can discuss what you do.
Common Misconceptions and Things to Avoid
When I first started freelancing, I wasn’t able to tell who were good prospects and who weren’t. You may associate the retail stores where you shop or pass by while driving across town as potential prospects. And some may be.
However, too many of the retail establishes are franchises who may have to get corporate approval for any design work handled outside of their existing materials. These are not your potential prospects for the most part. So for now, keep driving!
Often you pass by many non-descript office buildings and complexes that you never visit and don’t know anything about, but behind those doors they are running regional, national and global companies who need various types of design work.
Another common misconception from those just starting out is that their city or town is too small and there is no business there to be had. Or maybe there are already a couple of ad agencies or designers, so they certainly must have taken all of the business by now, right?
I live in a town of a little over 2,000 people. The closest city I would consider to be large (most people would consider to be small) is 30 minutes away. But I don’t live in the middle of nowhere. In fact, most of my clients are local and I fully support myself and my family as a full-time freelancer. It’s a great little area that has an interesting mixture of businesses and entrepreneurs.
But It would be easy for me to have said, “We’ll the area is too small — there’s just not enough work.” Many times, that is just a cop out and is simply covering the underlying fear of “putting yourself out there” and facing possible rejection.
So what tips do you have for working with local clients? Have you found it easier to get new business locally or online? Please take a moment to comment below and let me know what you think!