I can’t tell you how often people assume that being an online writing pro is all about sitting around in your PJs playing on your computer; not to mention how often people come to me and ask me how they can do what I do – work at home and actually make a living doing it.
Assuming you’ve got the chops, becoming a successful freelance writer or online writing pro can totally be possible – but you’ve got to want it enough to work for it – and probably harder than you would if you were an employee.
When you’re employed by a business, it’s fairly easy to find clients because you work for the clients that are assigned to you. You don’t have to worry about making sure you line up clients now so that you’ll be able to pay the bills in the future.
But when you’re an online writing pro (AKA freelancer), you’re all you’ve got. You have to make sure that you bring in the clients in order to keep your business going. In fact, you should always be on the lookout for new clients so that your business continues to thrive and expand.
While some freelancers think that finding clients is difficult, it’s actually not – but it does take a little bit of consistency and effort. You can’t just create a page and expect clients to flock to you.
So here are some pro tips to get you started.
Word of Mouth
When you do a good job at what you do, word will get around. When a client is happy with the work you’ve done for him, he’ll tell others. You can provide excellent service to your clients by knowing their needs and looking out for them.
When you find something that might be helpful – such as a tip or a networking event they can use – let them know. Going the extra mile will make you stand out in the client’s mind.
If you’re doing freelance work like writing or graphics, throw in some freebies from time to time that the client wasn’t expecting. This can really make them impressed and tell others about you.
When you have a client, don’t be afraid to ask him to pass on your name if he knows others who may want your services. Give out your business cards, links or print brochures about your company to each client you have and ask him to share the information.
Satisfied clients are usually more than happy to do this. Don’t just treat your client like a client. Build a relationship. That offers a little something extra your client doesn’t get elsewhere.
You still have to market yourself. You can do this through advertising your services wherever your prospective clients are – such as community events or online social media sites.
You can encourage referrals from your clients by offering a bonus or discount for every person that they refer to you. Many big businesses employ this practice by giving out coupons to current clients to hand out to referrals.
These coupons have the current client’s name written on them so you know who to give the bonus or discount to and who to thank. Word of mouth can also involve making connections in person to people you meet.
This is why you want to take part in any networking events offered in your niche. Go to tradeshows, join your Chamber of Commerce and actively participate in community events.
Get your current clients to give you a testimonial or feedback that you can use to show prospective clients how others have liked your services. These comments can be used on a variety of offline promotional tools such as brochures or online by placing them on your website on a testimonials or feedback page.
Online Sites and Job Forums
Since you have to find the clients, a good place to look for them is on online forums. These forums offer different categories of services for you to promote your work.
You can offer everything from article writing to designing websites. These forums are also helpful for those who have assistance-based companies such as those owned by virtual assistants.
Elance is a large online job forum. Here, users can both look for work as well as hire people to do jobs for them. What most freelancers do when they go on to an online job forum is they look for clients, but they don’t take advantage of all of the ways the job forum can bring clients reaching out specifically to them.
On Elance, you can look at the jobs – but you also want to pay attention specifically to the clients who have a high job award score. Avoid clients whose advertising for a needed project is far greater than their average for awarding a job.
Odds are high these will be extremely difficult clients to work with. You want to check out a potential client’s feedback. See what kind of feedback they give freelancers and what kind of feedback they’ve received.
Clients that have a lot of negative given and received feedback should be avoided. You want to use certain areas of Elance to help boost your hiring potential.
Make sure you fill out your profile completely. This helps you land the better paying jobs. Use a photo in your profile picture. That’s because this helps the client trust that you’re not part of a company that churns out substandard work.
On Elance, you can take the skills tests that they offer and show off your score to potential clients. This helps them see that you know what you’re doing. You can also list your portfolio there so clients can see what kind of work you’ve done in the past and what you’re capable of handling.
Another online job forum is Warriors for Hire on Warrior Forum. On this site, you can list what service you’re offering – such as designer, writer, programmer, virtual assistant, etc.
Clients who are looking for people to hire can go through the listings and connect with the person they feel best suits their needs. In these postings, you can do what some other freelancers do – which is list any deals you’re offering – and you can choose to list the price of your services.
You can also choose whether to make something a limited time offer or not. Problogger.com is a website that lists jobs offered by potential clients. While the majority of these are geared toward freelance writers, you will see some ads looking for designers.
And don’t forget about the OWP Writing Jobs Board – it’s always free and requires no signup to apply for gigs.
Some of these clients include companies looking for people to write about health or technology. There are often plenty of opportunities for those looking for blogging work.
Some online magazines and news sites advertise for freelancers on this site. Studio.envato.com is a site that allows clients to search through their freelancer portfolios to find the designer or developer that they’d like to hire.
Clients give a brief statement about what they’re looking for and then the payment for the yet-to-be-completed job is held escrow – much the way Elance works. Once the job is finished, the freelancer receives payment.
Professional networks are so often overlooked when it comes to searching for potential clients. But these networks are valuable pieces of virtual landscape just waiting to be mined for clients.
LinkedIn is a large professional network that can be used to both promote your services and find clients that can use them. What you want to do first is make sure your profile is helping promote you.
You want to have a professional looking photo up. Save the casual photos for friends and family. Under your name, you can list what you do – such as virtual assistant, with detailed specifics on what tasks you handle.
This helps people be better able to find you if they’re looking for someone who offers your skills. When you finish your profile, off to the right side of the page, you’ll see what your profile strength level is, such as intermediate.
That means there’s room for improvement and you’ll want to go over your profile again. The more in-depth you are with this, the easier it will be for clients to connect with you.
Any clients that you’ve had in the past can endorse you on LinkedIn and this helps build trust with potential clients. Under your background experience, you can have a list of the skills that you know how to do.
This way, people can see at a glance if you have the talent that they’re looking for. This is also the area where others can endorse your skills. The more endorsements you have, the better it is for you.
To find clients, what you need to do is to become active on the network. Keep in mind that you want to give and not just get – because that tends to make people get upset if you’re new to the network and you start connecting just to use the people.
Build relationships on the network – and this doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Plus, it’s pretty easy to do. Join groups. Answer questions. You can look for companies that routinely hire freelancers.
One way to find these companies is by looking up the profiles of other freelancers in your niche. These companies will often be listed in their experience.
That tells you that the company has hired freelancers in the past. You can send out a letter of introduction to that company’s mailing address to offer your services.
You can often find the address by doing a simple Internet search. You also want to search your association if you’re part of one. For example, there are numerous virtual assistant associations, both local and international.
You also want to do a search for whatever your specialty is and add the word forums after it. If you were a virtual assistant, you would type in “virtual assistant + forums” and many of these will help you with networking to find clients as well as offer you other resources.
Many of the million dollar companies you often see on television or read about hire freelancers to outsource some of their workload. But not a lot of freelancers know where to find these clients or how to get a foot in the door.
This is where a letter of introduction comes in or networking at tradeshows can help. What you need to do is first look for agencies where your skills would be needed.
For example, if you’re a graphic designer, then you would contact a web design agency to offer your skills. Many of these companies are overloaded with work but don’t have the funds to hire a full-time employee.
This is where you can help them and gain a new client. In your letter of introduction, you want to stress the benefits of hiring a freelancer on an as-needed basis.
If you’re a graphic designer, you would contact advertising agencies or PR firms because they often have clients who need design work. You also want to make sure you have a portfolio on file with all of your local temp agencies.
Some businesses will only use a temp agency when they’re looking for a freelancer because they don’t want the hassle of trying to find one themselves. You can also team up with another freelancer.
For example, if you’re a freelance writer and you have a contact that does graphic design, you can team up on a website. You do the copy and he does the design.
Clients like it when freelancers can be a one-stop-shop to handle a job and they don’t have to find people separately. Look for both online and brick and mortar businesses that are in your niche.
Put yourself out there and make contact. The worst they can say is no. But you could gain several new clients just by asking. Another often overlooked agency that freelancers unwittingly ignore are the non-profit agencies.
While many people think that non-profit means no money, it’s not true. Non-profit agencies do hire freelancers and they often have budgets set aside for their marketing and other business needs.
And on the plus side, many non-profit agencies do try to keep staff to a minimum to save money. That means that they hire freelancers to handle certain jobs because it’s cheaper to do that than to hire a full time employee year ‘round.
You can find agencies by looking in the online phonebook or doing a search for the type of business you’re looking for. Many search engines have business directories with this information.
You also want to check any trade magazines or sites that are associated with the type of freelance work that you do. That’s because these magazines and sites will often have advertisers who could use your services. They’re another avenue for you to check out.
Using Your Website to Find Clients
Sometimes these clients will go to the Internet and type in the kind of freelance service they’re searching for. You want to make sure that you have a piece of that kind of advertising because it can pull in traffic.
On your website, you want to have your portfolio, along with who you’ve done work for (if they allow it) and the kind of work you’ve done. You also want to list your skills kind of like an online resume.
This is also where you want to have any testimonials that you’ve gathered. Some freelancers show samples of their work. If you’re just starting out and you don’t have samples of your work from clients, what you can do is create samples and put those up because they are samples of what you’re capable of doing.
Use your blog to network with others in the niche because this can be a source of finding clients. You can host guest blogs with people related in the industry. If you’re in graphic design, you want to be careful about hosting another designer.
But what you can do is host someone who writes website copy and you can start a dialogue about the importance of hiring someone who’s an expert in an area rather than someone who’s a jack of all trades.
Teach your clients what you know about their needs on your blog. So for instance, if you’re a freelance writer, you might blog about the importance of having unique content or the importance of developing cutting edge content. This proves to them that you know what you’re doing.
You can look for podcasts or online radio shows that you can be a part of. Many of these host freelancers in the industry to talk about things that are important in that industry.
It’s a great way to get clients because you can put a link to the podcast on your blog and it helps brand you as an expert in your field. You also want to make sure that you engage in live chats on Twitter or hang out at a Google+ event.
This is a chance to network and meet clients in the industry that you’re in. Then you want to talk about this on your blog as well. If you participate in a Google Hangout, it can be automatically recorded and put on YouTube and you can take that and embed it on your blog.
Finding clients is a matter of showcasing your expertise, being a prime example of the type of worker people want to hire, and not being afraid to network with others to put yourself out there as an available resource.
Don’t worry if you feel you’re not “big enough” yet. The people who are “big” in your industry got there by not being too afraid to promote themselves. Always try to level up your client list, too. If you have someone paying you $5 per page for writing, replace one client with a $7 per page client, and so on until you max out at the highest per page amount possible.