How to land your first freelance client
Today I wanted to share a little success story with you, because we could all use some good news in 2020: how I landed my first freelance client.
I know that many of you are thinking about starting a side hustle or launching your online business. With the advent of Covid-19, even more mamas (and papas) today are moving their existing jobs online, or are looking to transition to an online-only profession.
If you’ve already started marketing yourself as a freelancer, and you’re wondering how to land your first client, the road is long and decidedly uphill.
That’s why I have decided to share what worked for me in the hopes that it will help give you direction if you’re stuck trying to land your first freelance client.
So let me pour you a cup of coffee. You add the sugar and milk. Let’s get started.
How I got started freelancing
I began my freelance journey in September 2019. I had been looking at job offers throughout the previous summer, but after searching about 4 different platforms every day for 2 months, I found absolutely nothing that even remotely appealed to me (no pun intended).
My career coach/friend suggested I think of all the things I liked to do and figure out a way to get paid for doing them. I immediately thought of reading and writing—two things I have loved since my childhood, but two things I hadn’t taken any time to enjoy in recent years.
First, I began carving out time every day to read. I stopped checking job offers and bought books on topics I was interested in learning about. (Although my favorite genre is sci-fi/fantasy, I decided to focus on nonfiction books to learn something new.)
Then, I revisited an old dream of mine to start a blog. I had heard that people made money with their blogs, but I thought it was somehow a fluke—these people just went viral for some reason and were insanely lucky. It turns out, this is not always the case. There is actually strategy behind blogging!
Through my research about blogging, I found out about bloggers’ side hustles (gotta diversify your revenue streams!). I saw that people were making good money as virtual assistants. The truth is, I was already something of a virtual assistant myself. Every winter I performed email management from home for my day job.
But I didn’t really want to continue doing email management for someone else. Blogging served as a creative writing outlet for me; now I just needed to find a job involving READING.
I stumbled across the Proofread Anywhere course (not affiliated) and I was immediately drawn to hone my skills. People at school always told me I had a strong command of grammar, and I enjoyed editing others’ writing. In particular, I remember editing a friend’s honors thesis, and while I couldn’t comment on his topic, I did have a lot to say about how he could improve his writing… and his gratitude I will forever remember.
How long it took to land my first freelance client
I bought the proofreading course in October 2019 and began it in November. In December I met my goal and finished, passing the final exam just before the end-of-year holidays. I could legitimately call myself a trained proofreader, but I still needed to make it legal, and I opened for business as a sole proprietor (or, rather, the French equivalent) on January 1, 2020.
Then all hell broke loose. A debilitating illness (not Covid-19) caused me severe delays in launching my business. Still, I powered through, making small progress each and every day. I’ll never forget the figurative headaches building a website caused in January!
Then, as we all know, Covid happened. My day job was in shambles. All my coworkers were furloughed, and I was (thankfully) kept on to figure out what the year ahead was going to look like through a pandemic and economic crisis. During lockdown in France, I found I had no motivation whatsoever to work on proofreading.
But finally, as lockdown lifted, I decided to buckle down, roll up my sleeves, and get to work. I made a 3-page Word document detailing my entire marketing strategy. This sounds super fancy, but I promise you, it was just a list of things I wanted to try to market myself.
That was in late April. I finally landed my first freelance client in late July—3 months later.
My strategy for landing my first freelance client
Without any formal training in business or marketing, I had no real “strategy”—just ideas. I approached marketing from a beginner’s perspective almost by accident. I found that so many of the job search techniques I had picked up throughout the years had become outdated since the last time I had gone looking for work. The entire professional landscape had changed, thanks to the ever-increasing advances in technology.
Start with a website.
I knew my first goal was to get my website up and running. Now, people say you don’t really need your own website as a freelancer, but I wanted one for a couple of reasons:
1) I could use it as a portfolio to showcase my work, and
2) It makes me look legitimate.
Think about it, freelancers: any time you’re going to spend money, what’s the first thing you do? You look up the service or product online and search for reviews. It reaffirms your choice as a consumer. That being said, I didn’t wait until my website was perfect to launch—it just had to be good enough.
Set up your profiles.
My next goal was to set up professional social media listings. As someone who had shunned personal social media for 10 years, I knew I had a huge learning curve. I managed to set up a Facebook page and a LinkedIn profile. Again, they weren’t perfect—just good enough.
Experience told me I then needed to go out and apply for jobs. I made profiles on Fiverr, Upwork, and Freelancer, as well as other job networking sites like Career Builder and Indeed. With everything in place, I vowed to apply to 2 jobs or gigs every weekday. I mostly achieved that goal, but after a few months, I felt discouraged…
Fiverr straight-up didn’t work; I couldn’t even log in half the time. The recruiters on Upwork seemed to need a formal interview for even the most basic of gigs. Freelancer was bloated with people undercutting others’ rates. Career Builder and Indeed began sending me messages that opened my eyes; for the types of jobs I was applying to, I was among 700-1200 applicants!
Surely someone down the line landed those jobs. Surely. But it was hard to feel like I had a chance, and it was beginning to seem like a waste of time. Subsequent applications I sent out began to feel desperate and panicky. I was not operating from a good place.
Fix your mindset.
At that time, I threw myself into blogging here on MCS. It was therapeutic to work on a passion project that was fully in my control. I launched at the end of June. I felt so empowered and proud of myself. My mindset began to change… I read a book about marketing, and while I read it with my blog in mind, it also got me thinking about my proofreading business.
I decided that my marketing “strategy” wasn’t working. Although I never expected to land my first client immediately, I also knew that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I knew I had to change something.
So I faced my fears—and, quite frankly, my revulsion—and turned to social media.
I started posting regularly on my Facebook page. I also engaged in groups related to my field, and networked with other bloggers and proofreaders.
Through my new connections, I joined a book launch team. I read the book and proofread it on my own; no one asked me to. Then I sent my annotations to the editor. That was it. It started the ball rolling. A week later, I had signed the editor for another book!
Key takeaways for landing your first freelance client
My experience will not equal yours, but there are some key takeaways I’d like to share with you, because they will be helpful for anyone starting out on their freelance journey.
Never underestimate the power of networking. Sure, there will be lots of times where it will lead to nothing. But you never know whom you’re talking to. Maybe your barista knows someone who knows someone. The possibilities are endless!
Put yourself out there and start building connections. It’s hard, I know. I’m an introvert who had lived without social media for 10 years. But without networking on Facebook, I’m sure I wouldn’t have found this first client. If I can do it, you can!
We hear it all the time: mindset, mindset, mindset. How powerful is mindset, really?
It turned out to be very powerful for me. I nurtured my mindset by doing something I enjoyed (blogging), which created such positivity in my life that I believe people on Facebook, including my client, resonated with my positive vibes. I felt good, so I sounded good on Facebook when I went a-networking.
Another important part of my mindset was approaching new marketing techniques with what’s called child’s mind or beginner’s mind. You might simply say an open mind. I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s an opportunity to connect with some other cool people in my field. I might even—gasp!—learn something!
Don’t let fear stop you. Let curiosity drive you. Come up with an idea, and try it, if only just to see what happens. If it doesn’t work, then at least you’ve learned something! Try something else. Rinse and repeat.
Pro bono work
Doing any work for free is a hotly contested topic among freelancers, and for good reason. I firmly believe that no one should do any amount of work for free if asked to do so by a client. (In other words, if a client wants to do a trial run with you to make sure you’re a good fit for each other, the trial run should always be paid. Period.)
The pro bono work I did for my client initially was my own idea and my own initiative. I purposely proofread her book which was a topic I was interested in, so it was not only fun, but it provided great practice for me, and I learned a lot. So if I never heard from that editor again, I didn’t lose anything at all!
If you are going to do pro bono work, the best advice I can give you is: don’t put yourself at risk. Make sure it’s still worth your time. If you can, ask for a testimonial you can add to your website or portfolio for social proof. At the very least, make sure you 1) learn from the experience, and 2) enjoy it.
The dawn of the freelance economy
And there you have it! One size won’t fit all, but I really hope my experience will help you land your first freelance client.
For more great insight about working from home, check out this post:
- How to stay productive as a WAHM—My top strategies for getting organized and focused when you work remotely.
Calling all fellow freelancing WAHMs! Where are you in your freelance journey? What sort of services do you offer? What is the biggest hurdle you face in your business right now? Which marketing strategies worked for you? I’d love to know all about it!-Jessica
About the Author
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !
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Well done you! Loved that post.
Thank you for the encouragement, Wendy! Glad you enjoyed.
I’ve had a blog for three years that I started as a stepping stone to freelance writing, but got sidetracked along the way. I’m now in the process of building my writer’s website, and am truly getting serious about freelancing. Your post is so helpful because it’s really about all the things I’m going through right now, and shows that I can do it, too. Thank you!
P.S. I’m going through the Proofread Anywhere course right now, too, and hope to add proofreading services in the near future. It’s always been something I’ve loved to do.
I’m so glad to have helped out, Amy! I really wish you the best in your freelancing journey. Let me know if you need some support, and I’ll be here =)