As a new freelancer, you have limited business cash flow. That means you don’t have much of an advertising budget. So, how are you supposed to attract clients without spending big money? Good news: there are lots of ways to get your first freelance clients on the cheap.
Start a Website
As a freelancer, you must have a website- even if you provide your service in person. Virtually every prospective client is going to search for a service provider online. And, even if you never make it to the first page of search engine results, your prospects will check your online presence before doing business with you.
You need to ensure that they’re impressed by what they see. Your website is the digital home for your business and should tell a prospective client everything they need to know about working with you. If it’s done well, it does most of the selling for you.
There are many affordable options to create a website. Sites like Wix.com or WordPress.com are free and could be a good way to get started. However, if you have a few bucks available, I encourage you to buy a domain name and some web hosting. That way, you can make your site with WordPress.org, which is much more feature-rich than the free options. Your digital home will be able to grow alongside your freelance business.
Related reading: WordPress.com versus WordPress.org
Social media is a free advertising platform — use it! Create profiles and pages for your freelance business and put yourself out there. Connect with others. Build a community of folks with similar interests that could benefit from your service.
Although it takes time to see results, it’s simple: like, comment, share, follow, friend, etc. — just as you would using social media on a personal basis. This time, you’re just interacting with your business hat on.
Yes — you are your business, and your personality should always shine through. But — who you connect with, what you say, and what you share should be of service to your target market and reflective of your freelancing goals. If you show up consistently on social media, people will take notice, and you will gain traction.
A few quick tips on using social media:
- Focus on one or two platforms at first to avoid getting overwhelmed.
- Wait to buy ads until you have steady cash flow — and do some research on best practices before committing a lot of money.
- Consider using an auto-posting tool, like Smarterqueue. You can share your thought leadership on a set schedule without having to do it manually!
Showcase Your Expertise
People do business with those they know, like, and trust. Showcasing your expertise helps foster that sense of trust because your community will see that you know your stuff, that you’re credible. They’ll look to you for information over and over again. Ultimately, they may be so impressed with your free content that they fork over the cash to work with you on a deeper level. (#Goals!)
So, how do you demonstrate your competency? You create and share helpful blog posts, podcast episodes, videos, e-books, social media posts, etc. — crafted specifically with your target market in mind. Of course, you shouldn’t try to do all of these things at once. Choose a medium you’re comfortable with (written, audio, or video content) and get creating.
Make Friends with Other Entrepreneurs
Whether you’re a web developer or a dog walker, the chances are good that another busy entrepreneur will need your services at some point. So, it makes sense to befriend business owners whenever possible. You never know when someone from your network will become a paying customer — or make a lucrative referral to your business.
In addition, your friendship with other entrepreneurs could result in mutually beneficial collaborations. If you’re a writer, maybe you team up with a graphic designer to offer clients a more robust service package. Or, if you’re a web developer, maybe you partner with a web designer to create client websites from start to finish. The possibilities are endless — and everyone’s a little richer for the partnership.
Find a Freelancing Mentor
No person is an island. You’ve heard that, right? Well, it’s just as true in business as it is in life. Being a freelancer can be lonely. You often work in solitude. And let’s face it — even though a growing number of folks are becoming self-employed, the decision to strike out on your own is still often misunderstood.
That’s why finding a freelancing mentor is so important. They understand what you’re going through and what you’re trying to achieve. They’ve been there — and they’re still doing it. Your mentor is a trove of knowledge and insight that can help you dodge mistakes and grow your business faster.
Plus — your mentor might pass along gigs to you! If they learn about or get offered an opportunity that isn’t a fit for them, you’ll be top of mind. This really does happen — promise. I’ve been both the beneficiary and benefactor in this situation — and it’s great from both sides!
Distribute Business Cards
Physical business cards are not dead! (At least not in my opinion.) They’re a great (cheap!) way to leave a trace of you behind when an in-person interaction ends. Sure, some of the cards will end up in the garbage soon after the handoff. But — some of them will be founds days, weeks, or months later, prompting a follow-up email or phone call to reconnect.
So, order a big stack, and start getting them in the hands of your prospects. Attend free or low-cost networking events. Drop off a few in strategic places (with the property owner’s permission, of course) where your target market hangs out. Have some in your wallet or purse every time you leave the house. You never know when you’ll have a chance meeting with someone that becomes pivotal for your business.
When you post online, you’re planting digital seeds. When you hand out business cards, you’re planting physical seeds. Garden often. You can’t be sure when it will be time to harvest. But, if you plant consistently, that harvest will be bountiful and ongoing.
Not sure where to grab your business cards? I use Vistaprint and I’m very satisfied.
Offer Your Services
Your prospects won’t hire you if they don’t know that you’re open for business. I’ll say it louder for the people in the back: YOU WON’T GET HIRED IF FOLKS DON’T KNOW THAT YOU’RE FOR HIRE!
Sounds pretty obvious, right? Well, you’d be surprised at how passive many freelancers are when it comes to self-promotion. They think it’s awkward and icky. They don’t want to be a pushy salesperson. I get that — neither do I and neither do you! But, let’s reframe our thinking, shall we?
If you do something that can truly help someone, you should offer it to them, right? If you don’t, you’re doing them (and yourself) a massive disservice. When you promote yourself from a place of genuinely wanting to serve others, you sell with integrity. And that’s a beautiful thing.
It’s OK to want to help others AND make money. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re inextricably linked. So, offer your service boldly and frequently — and watch your business — and others around you, flourish.
Offer an Exchange
Testimonials and positive reviews are gold to freelancers and other entrepreneurs. They signal that you’re competent and can be trusted — two vital things when you want to attract more business. But, how do you get them when you haven’t landed your first client yet?
You offer an exchange. You provide a small service in exchange for a testimonial you can use on your website, social media profiles, and other marketing materials. Sure, getting paid is great. But this little barter results in social proof for your business, which can translate into paying gigs in the future.
Of course, don’t get stuck in the testimonial-gathering phase for long. Working for free doesn’t feed you. So, score a couple of rave reviews and start getting paid, stat!
There is some truth to the adage that it takes money to make money. But — in my opinion, you can start your freelance business with a very small amount of capital. Then, as you start getting paid, invest some of your revenue into things that help you level-up.
And remember two key things: 1) Businesses are all about relationships. You can develop and foster those for little to no money — and experience an amazing return on investment over time. And, 2) Be patient! If you put the time in now, your freelance business will take care of you for years to come!
There you have it. 8 ways to attract your first freelance clients on the cheap! Go get it done!
Bonus resource: Grab my short, free guide on how to land clients without cold pitching!