3 Tips for Getting Your First Freelance Client

It’s been just a little over 3 years since I first stepped foot in the freelance world, and it lasted 2 and a half years, paid for my tuition, and fed some of my family.

It took me 2 months to land my first client, and it didn’t come easy. Be warned now, it’s a lot of hard work, and it can happen in your first day, or a year later depending on how you go about it. I wish I knew then what I know now. It would have made the process much easier, and MUCH MUCH smoother.

Something a lot of people don’t know about me, is that freelancing was the reason I started learning web development. I wanted that freedom of being able to work at home, and not have to face the outside world. I didn’t know about remote work at the time, so freelancing was my initial goal.

Going into it I thought I had it all figured out. I didn’t like talking to people, but I knew I could do it if it meant making a living doing what I loved. I thought I could use my tech jibber jabber to convince clients that they were making the right decision. This is a bad idea, and almost never works. I also had no work experience or portfolio, so that didn’t help my case.

Every freelancer needs a website to display work to leads, so that was the first step I took. I threw a few side projects into my portfolio, added a contact form, and off I went. I fully expected to deploy my website, and watch work flood in. What a surprise when I opened google analytics and saw a total of zero visitors over the course of 3 days (besides my own visits). This was the first time I was discouraged as a freelancer.

Tip 1: Be patient — if you don’t see results after taking action, take action again

You’re going to run into a lot of these types of situations. You will take action, create expectations, and see no results. This is massively discouraging, and causes the average person to quit.

Seeing zero visitors on google analytics really messed me up. I thought for sure there was something wrong with my website that I could attribute to SEO, or something else. I made a decision right there that instead of being discouraged, I would make another move before checking the results again.

My next move was to post an Ad on Kijiji and Craigslist. After spending about an hour crafting the Ad, I posted it and went to watch google analytics. I watched the number of concurrent visitors go from zero, to 5. This might sound lame, but I was ecstatic seeing that number.

This lead to my first email. It was from a small business owner that wanted to start a website dedicated to trading. He was asking for more of a web application though, with live stock charts, CMS functionality, and user authentication. Roadblock number 2. I was still new to web development, and had no professional experience. I was terrified to say “yes, I’ll do it” and not be able to deliver.

Tip 2: The art of the follow up

After my ads expired or fell off the first two pages, I started cold emailing. This is what I recommend dipping your feet in and learning a bit about before starting. I got my first 3 clients through sending out cold emails and following up. I was using a chrome extension called Gorgias to make small little snippets of emails, this makes cold emailing a lot more efficient. I also signed up for Hubspot Sales email tracking, so I could see when someone would open the email.

So here is my current workflow for cold emails, and I suggest you adopt something similar if you want to venture down this path. Firstly, create a Lead Sheet on Trello, and separate it into 5 columns. First column being titled ‘Leads’, followed by ‘Contacted’, followed by ‘Follow up’, followed by ‘Closed’, and lastly ‘Rejected’. You can find a similar structure just by googling ‘Lead Sheet Trello example’.

An example of what a lead sheet might look like

The first course of action is finding potential clients. I targeted small businesses in my area to start. I had two methods for finding small businesses with poorly designed websites. First, I would search on google X business directory, the X being city name. Most cities will have a business directory that maintains a list of contact information for certain companies in a specific industry. The second method was to use yellow pages. I would just simply look up an industry like dentistry and search for outdated websites.

Each company that had an outdated design, or a website that wasn’t responsive, I would add to my lead sheet. I’d create a card with their contact info, what it is they do, and what solutions I could provide them. I usually spent an entire day building up my lead sheet, and then another day contacting them all. When I contacted them, I would move that card to the contacted column, and leave a comment saying “contacted”, so I knew the date I sent the email at (this is for following up).

Most small business owners are passionate, and they usually read the emails coming in themselves. If they open the email and don’t respond, I add them to the “Follow up” column. I will follow up with them 1–2 days later reiterating the same information I sent in the first email (i.e. pointing out the issues with their website, and stating how I can fix them — I will create another post of my email templates if the interest is there). I would also add a comment to the card so I remembered I sent a follow up email. More than 70% of closes I make with cold emails are in the follow up, so don’t skip this part of the process.

The other columns are pretty self-explanatory so I won’t go over them in this article. As long as you are “tracking” your cold emails by using something like a lead sheet, you are on the right track. I’m sure there are better tools and strategies for this type of work, and I’d love to hear about them! Shoot me a DM, or mention me on twitter.

Tip 3: Give, Give, Give, Ask

A lot of my friends and followers already know I’m a huge fan of GaryVee (Gary Vaynerchuk), but I’m especially fond of this quote. “Give, give, give, ask.” This might be one of the primary quotes I live by. It has some room for interpretation, but I think of this quote during every meeting with a client. I go into a client call fully expecting to provide more than I receive. If you adopt the mindset of wanting to give, rather than wanting to receive, you will come out on top. You have to genuinely want to help your clients. A lot of small business owners are more concerned with the logistics of running their company, and that usually indicates they aren’t qualified for the task of designing and developing a website. Thats where you come in (keep in mind it can be other tasks as well, e.g. social media, graphics, copywriting, etc).

This ties into the cold emailing as well. One strategy I have started utilizing is sending out a site audit for free every 5 or so emails. I will add in much more detail, do a full site audit with tools that I pay for, attach it to the email and let them know that I’d love to sit and chat about the issues in the site audit, and how we can work together to fix them. I still do this today, and it closes about 40% of the time. I’m giving them this information for free, and offering them my willingness to assist them with their website.

I also wasn’t afraid to do work for free. I volunteered my services to a amateur movie producer when I first started, and got offered a place to stay if I ever visit New York. I never took her up on this offer, but I did work with her to turn her website into something she could manage (i.e. WordPress integration). One of my current clients that I’ve worked with for over a year off and on, was a referral from her. I also used her site for my portfolio. It was a win/win for both of us, and to be honest, I wish I had more time to do free work for other people. The act of giving is rare in our society, especially in the digital space.

If you gained anything from this article please recommend it by pressing the heart.

Also, if you want to accompany me on this journey, follow me on twitter.