A little while ago, I asked IWT readers two questions:
- Who was your first high-value client (>$10,000)?
- How’d you close the deal?
The answers I got back were amazing.
If you want to be able to land the same kind of high-quality, high-paying clients, I’ll show you the six ways to find them and the best tactics and systems you can use that’ll have them watering at the mouths for your services.
And the best part about the people who replied to me on Twitter? None of the tactics they used were overly complex.
They didn’t rely on viral marketing campaigns or blogging or any of the other typical “advice” you find when looking up how to get clients — they demonstrated their value and closed the deal.
And yet, beginner freelancers get intimidated when confronted with the question of how to get clients. That’s because you’ll always run into helpful tips like, “You just need to start a blog and get to the number one spot of Google’s search results for 1 million different keywords.”
Jeez, thanks. I’ll be sure to get right on that.
Because this is IWT, I’m not going to give you that. Instead, I’m going to show you 6 straightforward, no-nonsense ways to get a pool of high-quality clients using a few proven systems.
That’s right. You don’t need a website, Facebook page, or a big stack of leads a la Glengarry Glen Ross. All you need is determination and the right systems.
How to get clients
The places you can go to find potential clients can be broken down into two different levels:
Using this system, you’ll be able to begin scaling your work and earning even more money in no time.
When it comes to finding clients, I’m frequently inundated with questions from new freelancers along the lines of, “How do I get a dozen clients in my roster??”
My answer: Get one client.
Freelancers are so wrapped up in attaining as many clients as possible that they ignore the importance of attaining your first few clients and then scaling from there.
Utilize the resources below to find those first few.
Craigslist gets a bad rap…for good reason.
And you can do it with the appropriately named Craigslist Penis Effect (CPE).
The CPE is the scenario wherein everyone else is so terrible that, by being just a little bit decent, you look 1,000 times better than your competition.
Consider the humble moron on Craigslist sending pictures of his mediocre manhood to women on the personals section over and over without any results. Instead, if they just wrote a few semi-thoughtful messages, they’d get A LOT better responses.
You can leverage that exact framework to find great clients on Craigslist. If you took the time to write a great email reaching out to these companies, you’ll immediately separate yourself from 99.9999% of others on the site who are just sending boring boilerplate emails that’ll get them nowhere.
So go on the Craigslist job board for your specific market. Here are the links for a few common freelance hustles out there:
If you’re looking for a fantastic script to help you reach out to these clients, be sure to check out my article on how to make extra money on the side.
A NOTE ON FREELANCE-FOCUSED JOB SITES:
There are a lot of “freelance focused” job sites out there such as Upwork or Fiverr. However, unless you’re completely inexperienced at the kind of gigs you want to do (in which case, these sites can give you that experience), I suggest you stick with Craigslist.
Don’t get me wrong. I love sites like Upwork and Fiverr…but only as a client. I can get some of the best people online to do work for me at an extremely cheap rate on these sites. Sound unfair? Totally. But that’s the way it is.
#2. Networking events
I know what you’re thinking: Networking events SUCK.
But that’s because people typically go to them looking for clients.
Don’t be that creeper at the networking event. Instead, go to networking events to find CONNECTORS. These are people who may not turn out to be a client, but can help introduce you to potential clients.
Now that you know that you’re not going to be finding leads at a networking event or mixer, you’re not going to go in there and try to constantly pitch your business. Instead, you’re going to be finding connectors.
Here’s a good script you can use to connect with a connector:
“Hey, if you know of anyone who’s looking for a video editor, let me know. Here’s my card. You can pass it along to them.”
Of course, you should mold the script to fit your individual situation.
If you live in a big city, networking events are a dime a dozen. If you don’t, that’s okay. There might be a few in your area happening occasionally.
Be sure to check out event boards like the following for great opportunities for networking events.
- Meetup.com. One of the biggest sites for friendly meet-ups and networking events.
- Eventbrite.com. This site aggregates many different types of events happening near you. It also has a “networking” events filter in its search function.
- Facebook. No matter what your industry, there’s a group of like-minded freelancers on Facebook for you. Many times, these groups will notify you of upcoming events you can hit up.
Afraid of introducing yourself or not knowing what to say? Here are a few great resources on IWT to help you get started building amazing social skills so you can dominate any networking event.
- How to be popular. Use these proven steps to become more charming, make more friends, and learn how to be a social butterfly.
- 5 thought-provoking questions. 5 of the most intriguing questions for networking events, dates, and small talk.
- How to master conversational skills. Master these 3 fundamentals of conversation and you’ll be able to talk with anybody.
#3. Where potential clients live
No, this doesn’t mean stalk potential clients and go to where they live (unless you want a restraining order).
Instead, you’re going to go online to the places where potential clients might frequent.
I started spending all my free time hanging out where my potential clients were online (free Facebook groups) and directly engaging with them by sharing valuable content and answering any questions I could about advertising.
That’s how I got my first client. A woman I’d been helping for free — answering her questions about how to set up a basic advertising campaign — asked me how she could work with me, and when I told her the price — $5,000 for six months — she said, without missing a beat, “I’m in.”
You can use the exact same framework for your potential clients.
- Are you a graphic designer? Find a Facebook or subreddit group for small business owners who need your services.
- Are you a writer for a niche industry? Start answering questions on Quora regarding your niche.
- Maybe you’re a video editor. Find online groups for bloggers looking to expand their content media.
No matter what you choose, you need to make sure you stay engaging and provide high-quality answers to your potential client. By doing this you build your brand and make connections you would never have otherwise.
It all goes back to the 80/20 rule. The little bit of effort you put in now will pay off in spades in the future.
Higher value clients
So you think you’re ready to scale and start targeting higher level clients? It’s actually incredibly simple once you’ve attained your initial 3 – 5 clients.
All you need to remember is to keep delivering incredible, white-glove service to your clients. After that, it’s all a breeze.
Referrals from existing clients are one of the best ways to not only get more clients but also earn more for your services as well.
I have a friend who used to do the occasional freelance project management gig on the side for a small consulting firm. The job paid $25/hour — but after a while, she wanted to earn more because:
- The firm’s owner was very disorganized and non-responsive.
- $25/hour didn’t add up to as much as she wanted to earn.
So I suggested that she do two things: Ask her current clients for referrals and raise her price for them.
As it turned out, one of her favorite clients was more than happy to refer her to someone he knew at a different organization.
“You wouldn’t believe it,” she told me one day. “I quoted him $50 an hour and he didn’t even blink. Shit! I should have asked for more.”
YES! That’s what I’m talking about.
Here’s why referrals work so well:
- Always raise your price when you get referred. A lot of freelancers fall into the trap of keeping their rates the same when they get referred thinking that their old client told the potential client your rate (they didn’t). DON’T DO THIS!! Your old client added more value to your work by recommending you. Reflect that in a higher rate.
- More incentive to do good work. This is yet another example of why you want to treat every client that comes your way with respect while going above and beyond to provide them world-class service. There are always areas where you can add value, and it’ll only help your client and yourself.
- You get higher-quality clients. If you charge more, that means you’ll start to weed out the high-quality clients who can afford you from the lower quality ones. Also, by paying you more, they’re less likely to waste your time and money. It’s a win-win.
- Blow up your income. My friend went from $25 an hour full time ($52,000 per year before taxes) to $50 an hour ($104,000 per year before taxes). This is a MASSIVE WIN.
Referrals are a simple yet powerful way to start charging more. Not only does it allow you to increase your rates, but you’re also able to gain more clients.
And the best way to ask for a referral is right after you’ve delivered a high-value product to your client.
- Just finish a landing page that generated a ton of qualified leads?
- Create an email campaign with a record-high open rate?
- Have a blog post go viral and increase traffic by 200%?
Once you’ve delivered great service, you can ask for referrals and rest easy in the knowledge that your client will want to tell others about your work.
You can use a similar script to the one you use at networking events:
I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed my work. If you know of anyone else who’s looking for my services as well, I’d be grateful if you passed my contact information along to them.
It’s simple, direct, and gets results.
#5. Cold email potential clients
Cold emails don’t have to be scary. In fact, they can be shockingly effective if you use the right techniques.
For example, check out this amazing email I got from a reader a while back.
I LOVE IT.
This email is the perfect example of everything that you need to snag a client for three reasons:
- He showed that he actually knows me. Nothing is going to make a potential client trash your email faster than a boilerplate message. Instead, do what the guy who sent me this message did and showcase how you know me and how I’ve helped you (don’t forget to lay the compliments on thick).
- He made me care. Let’s face it: I’m a busy guy. And, most likely, so is the person you’re trying to email. That’s why you need to make me give a damn. If you and the person you’re emailing have a warm connection, drop that in the message. You can also do what this guy did and touch on a subject that matters to me (in this case, the sender knew that I’m always on the lookout for talented developers).
- He made it easy to say yes. The reader who sent me the email made it clear that, though he was looking for paid work, he would be willing to work “to network and receive a little advice” while acknowledging that I did have a few projects that I didn’t have time for.
By the time I finished the email, I was clamoring for the phone to call him.
You can use the exact same framework in order to reach out to VIPs or potential clients that you don’t know. Here are a few great resources that’ll help you do that:
- How to write the perfect email introduction
- How to cold email a VIP (and actually get a response)
- The definitive guide to building your network (with scripts)
#6. Industry-specific job boards
A great place to find clients who know exactly what they want (and, therefore, are willing to pay top dollar for it) are industry-specific job boards.
These are job boards specific to certain industries that can help you generate great leads. If your hustle is niched down enough, you’ll be able to pick up clients from many different job boards.
Here are a few good industry-specific sites you can check out for your leads:
- Media/publishing: MediaBistro.com, JournalismJobs.com
- Healthcare/pharmaceuticals: AllPharmacyJobs.com, HealthcareJobSite.com
- Non-profit: Idealist.com, Encore.com, CommonGoodCareers.org
- Developer/engineer: iCrunchData.com, Engineering.com, Toptal.com, SmashingMagazine.com
- Illustrators/designers: 99designs.com, Designs.net
“What about my marketing strategy/Facebook campaign/hashtag optimization??”
It’s very easy to get excited about all the sexy tactics like marketing campaigns and creating a blog — but the truth is, none of that really matters.
Do you think that doing high-level tactics like SEO, blogging, or viral marketing is easy? Absolutely not.
Do you think it will help you when you’re just starting out? Same answer.
What DOES matter is that you get your first few clients. Once you have a reliable base of people who’ll pay for your services, THEN you can start the complex marketing strategies like Facebook or blogging.
The most important thing is getting your first few clients though.
To help you get started, I want to give you a FREE 15-page guide to finding your first client: Hustle Your Way to the Top.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- How to get inside your potential clients’ heads
- How to overcome the automatic “no” and score big wins by deeply understanding your prospects
- How to use psychology to identify the most likely customers and get them to say yes
I’ll also show you the one huge mistake freelancers make so you can avoid it and separate yourself from the rest.
Just enter your info below and get the bonus lesson today.