How to get clients: A guide for freelancers

Most freelancers get clients by applying for jobs they’re interested in. But did you know clients can also find you?

This article is all about how to get clients to contact and hire you.

Who is this guide for?

Just about anyone who is self-employed – you could be a graphic designer, photographer or videographer, writer, editor, translator, proofreader, tailor or seamstress, insurance agent, babysitter/pet-sitter/house-sitter, caterer, home baker… you get the idea.

How does a client find you?

To answer this question, you have to put yourself in their shoes. Let’s ask YOU this question – if you’re looking for something, which places would you look at?

In the order of “trustworthiness”, you…

• ask your contacts

• ask Google/search engines

• use specific apps/websites/platforms that have the reputation to list the services you’re seeking

So for clients to find you, your services must be made known to the following in this exact order:

• your contacts

• Google/search engines

• apps/websites/platforms

1. Getting your contacts to promote your services

The actual phrasing for this is “word-of-mouth referral”, and it’s incredibly powerful. We trust recommendations that come directly from our contacts.

To get your friends to drop your name as a provider of X service, you have to build relationships with people. But it’s not easy – people can easily figure out ulterior motives.

In the best-selling book, “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success”, author Adam Grant categorises people as givers, takers and matchers.

The “givers” are the most successful in the long run. “Takers” may enjoy short-term success, while “matchers” (people who only help others if there’s something in it for them) have the least success.

Helping without expecting anything in return is the best way to get people to advertise on your behalf, without even asking them to do it. People support you because they like you and want you to be successful.

It’s important to note here that “takers” and “matchers” cannot fake this. It’s an inherent quality that sets the “givers” among us apart from the rest.

It takes a lot of consistency, a certain character to be able to sacrifice your time day after day to help others – whether they are your friends or strangers.

There is no “return-on-investment” calculation here, no guarantee that “if I help here, I’ll get x”.

Nonetheless, it’s very powerful. Here are some tips:

• Let friends/acquaintances know that you offer X service, but never give them the sales pitch unless they specifically request for it.

• Let your services be known in your personal social media networks, but never use your profiles as advertisement space.

• Try your best to share information that may benefit others. A natural passion in that area greatly helps – it doesn’t feel like work.

• Answer questions from people, but never make “buy something from me” part of the solution.

How to start using this approach to get clients:

• Tell everyone you know about your services (but don’t sell, unless they ask).

• Consistently help people by sharing information related to that particular service/industry.

2. Listing your services in Google/search engines

The next most effective way is through search engines, especially Google, because that’s what most of us use. It can be easy or hard, depending on the industry you’re in and your digital marketing skills.

The most obvious way is to set-up a website, but you can also list your services on high-quality platforms that may also appear in Google – for more information on this, see the next section.

If you have a website

• Have a “Hire me” page to tell potential clients that yes, your services are available for hire.

• Include your work portfolio i.e. your photography work if you’re a freelance photographer, a sample of your writing if you are a freelance writer, etc.

• Include testimonials from past clients and employers.

• Make navigation easy to ensure potential clients can contact you easily.

How to make you website rank higher:

• Have good content (Google’s algorithm takes into account the quality of the website) – this is why a lot of websites have a blog section offering advice and tips in that niche.

• Know strategies to rank your website higher in search engines i.e. Adwords advertisement, SEO (search engine optimisation). If your page appears on the first page of Google Search, you’re doing it right.

Your website can be anything you want:

• If you are a freelance writer who specialises in finance topics, you could write about your personal finance journey.

• If you are a wedding photographer, you can have a gallery-type website with pictures of interesting weddings.

• If you are a personal trainer, you can log your fitness routines and post YouTube videos of your workouts.

• If you are a pet-sitter, some pictures and a writeup on how you took care of different animals will help.

A tip here is to show experience and expertise in your niche. That how clients can see you’re good at what you do.

If you don’t have a website

If you don’t have a website, you can make do with social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – it’s free, so there’s really no reason not to.

They are like search engines, but of course your potential clients are limited to users of those platforms. For example:

• Many Malaysians sell their services on Instagram and depend on hashtags for clients to find them.

• Some consultants get their clients purely from LinkedIn.

• Many illustrators get work from Tumblr.

• Some who organise (paid) dinner parties in their homes get clients via Facebook events.

Millions of potential clients here.

In the digital marketing world, this is called “lead generation strategies”. Using even ONE of the above platforms can work wonders for your business, because it means potential clients can actually find you when they are looking for your specific type of service.

After clients come in the door, then what? You hook them in, of course.

You must make sure there are incentives to turn those potential clients into paying clients, once they land on your website/Facebook page/Instagram page, etc.

Some common strategies:

• Offer financial incentives – discounts, cash back, etc

• Include proof of quality service via testimonials from past clients and happy customers (or if the space doesn’t permit, then links to those).

• Ensure good pictures and copywriting.

• Have a good reputation (ratings, support from fans).

Important: Everyone hates spammers on social media, so don’t spam.

How to start using this approach to get clients:

• Make a website, AND/OR make social media profiles. Tweak and optimise the heck out of it.

3. Listing your services in apps/websites/platforms

The following list is NOT exhaustive. Also, you don’t have to use ALL of them. Focus on one or two – better to have a few active platforms than a lot of non-active ones. Services page.

Lowyat Services Noticeboard. – these are international freelancing platforms. You’ll be competing with people from other countries, who sometimes accept ridiculously low prices. But focus on providing quality work and you should be able to command a fairer rate. – these are Malaysia-based freelancing platforms.

MyPrivateTutor – as the name suggests, these are mostly private tutors. – best for event-based services like workshops.

• Couchsurfing/ – great for independent tour guides.

Carousell (Android/iOS).

Kaodim/ – platforms for many types of service providers.

The following is important:

• you have to abide by the platform’s terms and conditions, and fees when you list your services there.

• you will face competition from other freelancers using the same platforms.

These platforms are great to get your first few clients and collect testimonials. But once you have a reputation, focus on word-of-mouth referrals and lead generation because they work (and pay) better.

How to start using this way to get clients:

• Open those accounts.

• Spend some time tweaking the sales pitch in your page. You can offer package deals, include customer testimonials, whatever it takes to make you more attractive to clients browsing in that platform.

This article first appeared in

Suraya is a corporate writer-for-hire and the blogger behind personal finance website Ringgit Oh Ringgit. She is more of a minimalist, less of a consumerist, a konon DIY enthusiast, a let’s-support-small-businesses-over-big-corporations kinda girl. Prior to her current role, she worked in various capacities within the non-profit industry.