There are few better careers than being a freelancer. You get to do the work you love for all kinds of different clients. You have control of your pricing. You can choose where and when you want to work.
The benefits are almost endless.
However, one of the most challenging parts of being a freelancer is finding those first clients to help build up your portfolio.
Being about 8 months into my freelance journey and currently working with some of my ideal clients, without having to do any sales, these are a few of the ways I made it happen:
An ongoing debate on Twitter is whether you should have a niche or not. From my experience, having a niche is the only reason I've landed my freelance roles without doing any sales. In July 2020, I started my own financial coaching business and relied on content as my main marketing efforts. This led to making videos, trying to do a podcast, and of course, writing blogs.
I began to realize the thing that I loved doing most was writing. I also realized that writing could serve as a pillar piece of content and act as scripts for videos, starting points for twitter threads, carousel posts on Instagram, etc — so I doubled down on it.
But to the main point, I was focused only on personal finance writing because it was serving as marketing. So I had written a lot around personal finance with the messaging tailored towards the younger generation and this allowed me to build up my own little portfolio with my own work, all around one general topic. This made it that much easier for someone to look at what I've written and hire me because I'd already shown I could do the work.
Having a niche and writing around a certain topic isn't the only way to get your first clients and it's not necessarily the right way, it's just what worked for me.
Since my writing served multiple purposes for my business, it was easier to get started because I had some direction on what to write about. But if you're someone who hasn't started freelancing or writing yet, it's never been easier to get words out into the world than it is now.
Set up a Medium account and publish a few articles a week about topics you want someone to hire you for. Get on twitter and start publishing threads and essays, share your blogs and interact with people. To get inbound clients, your work has to exist somewhere for people to see it.
Which is why I also recommend having a personal website. Even if you don't publish specifically for your website, use it as your portfolio. This makes it easier for someone to visit your profile, go to your website, and see your entire body of work. Republish essays, blogs, newsletters, anything you write. If you're hesitant to do so because of SEO purposes, you can set canonical links to point towards the original piece of writing to avoid duplicated content. (However, if you're not trying to rank in search and just want to have a digital home for all your writing, SEO shouldn't necessarily be your main focus)
If you only take one thing away from this article, let it be this: start building relationships with people associated with the industry or topics you want to write about.
For example, I was starting to get a feeling in late 2020 that I wanted to try freelance content writing. In parallel, I had been building rapport with people within the financial services industry on Twitter, not in hopes that I would write for them one day, but because nothing bad can happen from knowing people.
In early 2021, I saw a tweet from a founder that I followed and he was asking about hiring another writer so I reached out via DM. I didn't get the gig initially and was disappointed, yet continued writing. To my surprise, a couple months later, they reached back out and wanted me to write a sample article to get a feel for what I could do. After I submitted it, I landed a 6 month retainer and have since extended past that initial six months.
By building relationships online, you'll begin to see new opportunities arise. I can't even count the number of tweets I see each week from people I follow asking for freelance writers in all kinds of industries - B2B SaaS, B2C fintech, medical marijuana, personal finance, crypto, the list could go on and on.
Additionally, build relationships with other writers. The nice thing about having an online presence and forming a niche is that you become known for that style of writing. You'll also know which opportunities make sense for you and which ones you can send to other writers. For example, the freelance writing I do is all around personal finance content so if I see a role for a different topic that I don't write about, I try to send it to someone in my network who it may be a good fit for.
Avoiding sales doesn't mean you don't have to do any outreach. For me, both of my most prominent freelance roles have come from initiating the conversation. In a similar situation to the last story, I listened to a podcast that featured someone I followed, the things they were talking about resonated with me, so afterwards I reached out via DM.
At the time, I wasn't really looking for another content writing role but we hit if off, ended up having a call, and now I do some content writing for their company.
You never really know when or where a new opportunity could arise from. Just think about how many different styles of writing there are (content writing, copywriting, ghostwriting, email writing) and how many different businesses need some sort of writing.. almost all of them. Figure out what kind of writing you like most, identify some key people within that niche, then slowly build relationships and it may lead to a role that changes your career.
The world of writing is abundant, go out there and claim your piece of it.
There's no one right way to get freelance clients. I've heard stories from across the board but the common denominator is that to get freelance clients, you have to put in the work - whatever that looks like for your situation.
For me, it was 6 months of writing for myself around one topic, getting featured in publications which built some credibility, and then building rapport and responding to a request for a writer.
For you, it could be publishing your writing every day on Twitter and building relationships with people you want to write for. Or signing up for platforms like UpWork or Fiverr and competing against other freelancers for the same roles.. Or it could be doing cold outreach and sending out your resume and portfolio in hopes of landing an interview.
Depending on which route you take, you may never have to "sell" your freelance services. Don't get me wrong - you'll have to negotiate rates and other things throughout your career, but by establishing yourself as a credible, reliable writer and building an online presence, don't be surprised when your dream clients start reaching out to you first.