We love this question from Sydney so much, because every new business struggles with it.
We side hustled for years as freelance designers trying to get our business off the ground, and we found ourselves asking the same question.
If you struggle to find new clients, here’s our BEST ADVICE:
Stop calling yourself a:
All these titles are often used when someone is “part-time” and, essentially, “easily replaceable.”
For example, when you’re a freelancer, you’re competing against all the other faceless, nameless freelancers lined up on Upwork or Fivrr. And there is FOR SURE someone with a “good enough” portfolio willing to work for less than you.
And even if there wasn’t, do you really want to be competing on price? ?
Our big leap forward came when we stopped positioning ourselves as freelancers, and instead established our brand.
For us, that means:
✅ We have a very limited list of services & proven results.
✅ You can’t hire us hourly to do any random design project.
✅ Our process is smooth & refined, and we guide you through it.
And, most importantly, we show up consistently and produce results, which builds that “know, like, and trust” factor.
(PS. Need help establishing yourself as a brand?
Check out our free guide:)
Ok, back to the original question…
Where do you find clients?
If you’re doing everything right, your clients will find you.
Many successful businesses (including us) operate on only referrals.
But to get there, you have to be crystal clear on the specific services you specialize in and the benefits you deliver. Then you have to talk about it (a LOT and loudly) wherever your target client is.
Often that’s a social media platform (Instagram, Facebook Groups, LinkedIn, YouTube) or, even better, your email list.
We know what you’re thinking: we all want to find awesome clients who value our work and refer us to MORE great clients, but how do you find those first few to get the ball rolling?
We’ve tested out a LOT of sites & strategies and here are the ones we’ve found the most successful:
In addition to having a ton of cool stuff in every issue, the Creative Mornings newsletter has a section called “Remote Jobs in Our Universe” that always has really great postings. This is actually how we landed our first big digital client, so we can vouch that the listings are legit. You can search more jobs in the CreativeGuild on their website.
There are a lot of high quality jobs listed on Working Not Working, both full-time and freelance. It’s especially great for landing jobs with big brands OR getting noticed if you have a few bigger clients in your portfolio.
Honeybook is a client management system founded by the Rising Tide Society, and they have a great “Opportunities” portal inside their service. The best part is you don’t have to have a HoneyBook subscription to post or reply to jobs. (Side note: Honeybook is a GREAT client management system—if you’re in the market for one, you can get 20% off a year subscription here.)
Freelancing Females started out several years ago as a Facebook group for sharing jobs, but they recently launched a searchable directory (where you can create a profile) & a job board for project listings.
If you specialize in a certain tool, see if they have a list of preferred partners and inquire about the process for getting added. A few examples of this are the ShowIt “Hire a Designer” page and the Squarespace “Hire an Expert” page.
We did this early-on, and brought in some great jobs we’d never have landed otherwise. Partner with someone who provides a service that clients often need with yours. For example, a designer + a web developer or a designer + a writer. You can simply refer clients to each other or actually take on projects as a duo. Either way, it increases prospects for both of you. Win/win.
This is kind of a lay-up but it’s worth adding to the list. Make sure you’re telling everyone what you do. A lot of our early work came from a connection made through a friend or family member, which then created a referral, and so on. You never know who will know someone who knows someone who’s looking for exactly what you offer.
We got this idea from the founder of Working Not Working, who used to put up an IG post that said “Open for Projects” whenever he finished up a job and didn’t have a new one waiting. Clients may have a project that’s been rattling around in their mind, and it just takes the right opportunity popping up to make them prioritize it. You can also build in scarcity and urgency by including that you have a limited number of spots open.
Some employers automatically jump to ‘full-time hire” when they need help, overlooking the option to contract a freelancer. We’ve landed multiple jobs by reaching out to the hiring manager, proposing a contract relationship instead, and explaining how we could deliver what they needed as a project (and save them money in the long-run).
And don’t forget, no matter where you’re showing up, make sure you’re positioning yourself with a strong specialty to stand out from everyone else.
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