As a new freelancer, the one question you probably want answers to more than anything else is: “Where do I find freelance clients?”
Now of course, there are platforms like Upwork that are PERFECT for newbies but does it really end there?
Of course not.
There are so many ways and places to get freelance clients but interestingly we overlook the one place closest to us; the people that we already know.
These people could your family, your friends, friends of your family and friends, local businesses you deal with, ex colleagues and more.
If you want to build your freelance business beyond Upwork, and you’re wondering how to get freelance client referrals, consider these five tips for getting more clients from people you already know.
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#1 Your family & friends
This is probably the easiest way to get freelance clients and referrals.
These are the people that know you, trust you and love you. So if there’s anyone in the world who’s going to hire you first, it’s going to be them. Take advantage of this.
Now I know this must seem obvious but most freelancers still don’t do it. And if they do, they do it as a “by the way“… without putting any thought to it.
You’re probably wondering how you will approach your very large group of friends and family. The best place to start is focusing on the influencers and the well-connected people in your circle.
Ask yourself who in your circle of family and friends has large social circles themselves or are well connected and contact them first.
Good targets include people who:
- Own businesses
- Are part of community groups
- Are socialites
- Are well connected or have lots of friends.
Here are some examples from my circle of family and friends:
- I have a cousin who runs a restaurant. I could ask her if she knows any other business owners to connect with.
- I know a guy who runs an ecommerce site and hangs out with other online entrepreneurs. I could ask him if he knows anyone looking to hire someone with my skills.
- I have a friend who has his own creative design agency. There’s lots of opportunities for referrals here.
- I have a brother who owns a cafe. He’s always talking to customers. I can ask him to keep an ear out.
You get the drift right?
Think about people in your circle that can help you get more client referrals.
How to go about it
Once you’ve narrowed down the people in your family and friends list that have more potential to get you freelance work, contact them. Get your phone out and message them. Simple as that.
If you don’t have their number, email them or send a Facebook message etc.
Explain the services you offer and the clients you are looking for and how you can help those people.
For example if I’m contacting my buddy Claudio who has a creative agency. It could be as simple as this:
You might already know, but I have started my own business doing online video editing. You can see some of my work at yourwebsite.com.
If you are looking for someone to do your video edits let me know, I’d love to help out.
I know you run a creative agency, so if you know anyone else who might be interested in my services, I would definitely appreciate a referral.
If I hear of anyone needing some design work done, I’ll be sure to send them your way as well.
Remember to put some thought in your message. Just because they know you it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a professional message.
Before you start contacting people have a plan. Write down your targets and set goals.
Say, for instance you’ll contact 5 people daily. Then keep going until you have exhausted your list.
#2 – Previous employers
Now obviously this only works if you are still on good terms with your previous bosses. If you are, then previous employers are great targets for work and referrals.
If you worked with them, you’ve already proven you’re good at what you do and they already trust you. So if there’s an opportunity to pitch your service to them, you should not hold yourself back.
How to go about it
First, think about all the past employers or people you have worked for. Then consider whether your service is something that could help their business.
Do some research on what their current needs are and see if you are able to help them out with your services.
For example, throughout university you might have worked for the local florist part-time, but now you’re freelancing as a website copywriter.
You notice that the content on their website is a mess and needs some sprucing up. Reach out to them and offer to redo their website content.
When you’re pitch to your past employers, highlight how you can help them with their business. Mention the problem or the improvements that you can make for them.
If you have done good work for them in the past, even if it is unrelated, they will likely be open to hiring you.
Additionally, they might know other people or business colleagues who are also looking for your services and refer you to them.
#3 – Places where you are a customer
What are some places in your local area that you visit regularly?
Coffee shops, restaurants, gyms, yoga studios, clinics?
Do you have a relationship with the staff or owner? If so this is another great way of getting clients.
How to go about it
Just as with previous employers, do some research first to see if you can help these business owners improve their businesses.
See if they need help with whatever it is that you’re offering.
For example, if you’re a social media marketer and you notice that your favourite local restaurant has poor social media presence, strike up a conversation with the owner.
Explain to the owner the importance of good social media and offer some really solid advice to help.
The key here is to provide value. Above and beyond if you can. Spend a few minutes giving some of your best tips. Show them that you’re an expert.
Because the business owner or staff already somewhat knows you, you have some level of trust. Plus you just showed them that you’re capable of helping them they’re going to come to you if they are interested in hiring someone.
Additionally if they don’t need your service, maybe they know someone else or another business owner that does. So don’t forget to ask.
# 4 Other freelancers
So you’re probably wondering how to get freelance client referrals from other freelancers who are your competition?
The reality is that they can actually be a great source for client referrals.
Think about it.
Established freelancers already have a pool of clients that they are working with day in and day out. When businesses are looking to hire new freelancers they will often reach out to their existing freelancers for referrals.
This happens to me frequently. My clients have often asked me if I know a good SEO guy or a social media expect etc.
The reasons why they ask their existing freelancers is because they already trust the freelancer working for them and their opinion.
It’s also a time saver for them. By asking their freelancers for referrals, they get to skip the hiring and screening process.
People would much rather hire someone without having to go through the process of putting a job ad up and having to interview.
So you want to buddy up and build relationships with other freelancers.
What if you don’t know other freelancers?
Then it’s time to go out and network. Join communities where freelancers hang out both online and offline. There are so many groups that attract freelancers it shouldn’t be too hard to make friends with a few of them.
How to go about it?
Start networking. Talk to other freelancers. There are countless networking groups online and in real life. Get involved introduce yourself and start building relationships.
You could also start working from a coworking space if there is one in your area. Even if it’s only one day a week. Here you will find not only other freelancers, but business owners and entrepreneurs.
If you already know other freelancers, email or message them letting them know that you are available for work, the kind of services you offer and the kind of clients that you’re looking for and ask them to refer you should they know of any client looking for a freelancer.
# 5 Existing Clients
Are you already working with clients? If so, hopefully you’re providing excellent services to them.
Having a good relationship and doing great work with existing clients will pay off bigtime. And by this I mean referrals.
Most freelancers shy away from asking for referrals from their clients because it feels like they’re asking for too much. I mean, the clients is already giving you work won’t you seem greedy?
However, people you already work with or have worked with in the past are one of the best ways to get more client referrals. This is because people running businesses tend to know and talk to other people in business.
That means that there’s lots of potential referrals from this group. So if you’re looking to increase your client list, your current clients should be a priority.
How to go about it
So… how to get freelance client referrals from your current clients?
The most important thing to remember is not to assume that your client knows that you’re looking for more work. Go ahead and actually tell them.
Obviously, don’t ask for referrals the day you get them as a client. Prove yourself first and earn their trust as a good freelancer by providing value to them first.
Also go for the right timing. Ask them when they are in a great mood or after you just did something really good that they acknowledged.
Once you are ready. Politely send them an email. It can go a little something like this:
‘Hey [name of client],
I’m really enjoying the work that we do together. Right now I’m looking to grow my base of clients and was wondering if you know of anyone else who could use my services?
Referrals are very important to my business and I would appreciate any potential leads you might have.
So if you’re looking for ideas on how to get freelance client referrals, these five groups of people are the perfect place to start. They may just be the most important source of work or referrals.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Put in the effort. I mean, really, what’s the worst that can happen? You totally have nothing to lose but a potential referral!
More questions or comments on getting client referrals from your network? Leave us a comment and we’d love to discuss.
As the co-founder of Fulltime Nomad, Johnny really believes the world is too big to stay in once place. In 2013 he broke away from his non-location independent job to chase his passion of travel and living abroad. Now he helps others do the same.