After being self-employed for a couple of years, I know a thing or two about getting clients. Happy to share what I know with you!
Most freelancers get clients by looking and applying for jobs they’re interested in. You’ve done this, no? You keep tabs of places posting new job opportunities: when they post something you’re interested in, you apply.
BUT. Did you know clients can also find you? In this article, I’m focusing on this part – how to get clients to contact and hire you. In technical jargon, this is called ‘inbound marketing’.
Clients finding you is better than you finding clients. You have to dedicate some time to set it up, but once you do, you will save so much time. Time that you can spend in more effective ways (like making more money).
Who is this guide for?
This guide is for those of you selling skills. I’m a freelance writer, but this guide will also work for anyone who is self-employed (part-time or full-time). For example, you could be:
- A freelance graphic designer
- A freelance photographer or videographer
- A freelance writer, editor, translator, proofreader
- A freelance tailor or seamstress
- An insurance agent
- A babysitter/ pet-sitter/ house-sitter
- A caterer/home baker
- A freelance masseuse/ holistic treatment
- A makeup instructor (or other beauty services)
- An independent tour guide
- A private tutor (academic, music, fitness, etc)
- A home/electronics repair person
- An independent sex worker (be safe, you)
- And more
This is NOT an article to find out what services you should sell. That’s something you have to decide on your own.
This is also NOT an article for selling (physical) products. I don’t have experience in that area, but some tips in here may help. May.
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, where are the places you turn to?
Easy question to answer, isn’t it? In the order of ‘trustworthiness of information’, you (1) ask your contacts, (2) ask Google/search engines and (3) use specific apps/websites/platforms that have the reputation to list the services you look for.
So to get clients to find you, you have to let your services known (1) among your contacts, (2) in Google/search engines, and (3) in those apps/websites/platforms. Priority-wise, in this exact order.
Use a combination of them to maximise your reach to clients – for example, I’ve gotten clients who heard about me from their friends, who found me on Google.
Let’s get in deeper, one by one.
How to get clients #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.
This is why we are guarded towards overly-friendly insurance agents who approach you out of nowhere, and why most of the business cards we receive in networking events end up in the trash.
In the best-selling book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drive Our Success, author Adam Grant categorised people into three – 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 meh success.
Giving away help 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. They just can’t. 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 people – 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 – enough that I can personally vouch for this method’s effectiveness (I imitate what givers do in the hopes of becoming one). Here are some tips that worked for me:
- Let friends/acquaintances know that I offer X service, but never give them the sales pitch unless they specifically request for it
- Let my services known in my personal social media networks, but sparingly use my profiles as advertisement space
- Try my best to share information that may benefit others. A natural passion in that area greatly, greatly helps – it doesn’t feel like work!
- Answer questions from people, but never make ‘buy something from me’ as part of the solution
I know it sounds counter-intuitive because you’re not actively selling per se, but let me tell you – once people decide that yes, I want to buy from you BECAUSE of you, there is no better scenario for your business.
How to start using this way 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 the service/industry
How to get clients #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 and your digital marketing skills.
The most obvious way is to have a website, but you can also list your services on high-quality platforms that may also appear in Google – for more info on this, see the next section.
If you have a website
If you have a website, it should, at the very least:
- Have a ‘Hire me’ page – to tell potential clients that yes, your services are available for hire
- Include your work portfolio (ie your photography work if you are a freelance photographer, your writing work if you are a freelance writer, etc)
- Include testimonials from past clients and employers
- Be easy to navigate – make sure those potential clients can easily contact you
To make your website rank higher, you should:
- 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 – ie 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. For example:
- If you are a freelance writer who specialises in finance topics, you could write about your personal finance journey (lol me)
- If you are a wedding photographer, you can have a gallery-type website with pictures of interesting weddings in Malaysia
- 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 + 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 kinda 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 people to find them
- I know some consultants who get their clients purely from LinkedIn
- I’ve seen illustrators get work from Tumblr
- I also had friends who organised (paid) dinner parties in their homes via Facebook events.
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 services.
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 to your website/Facebook page/Instagram page/etc. Some common strategies:
- Offering financial incentives – discounts, cashback, etc
- Including proof of quality service via testimonials from past clients and happy customers (or if the space doesn’t permit, then links to those)
- Ensuring good pictures and copywriting
- Having a good reputation (ratings, support from fans) – this you have to build up
Important: everyone hates spammers in social media, so don’t spam.
How to start using this way to get clients:
- Make a website, AND/OR make social media profiles. Tweak and optimise the heck out of it
How to get clients #3 – Listing your services in apps/websites/platforms
The third, and final way for clients to find you is to list your services in reputable apps/websites/platforms. Which ones? So many to choose from.
Here are some of the places you can list your services. The list is NOT exhaustive – please comment if you have more to add. 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.
- Mudah.my Services page
- Lowyat Services Noticeboard
- Fiverr.com/Upwork.com/Freelancer.com – International freelancing platforms. You’ll compete 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.
- Bantu.my/Freelanc3r.com.my – Malaysia-based freelancing platforms
- MyPrivateTutor, TutorKami – as the name states, mostly for private tutoring services
- Meetup.com/Peatix.com – best for event-based services like workshops
- Couchsurfing/Triip.me – great for independent tour guides
- Carousell (Android/iOS)
- Kaodim/Recommend.my – platforms for many types of service providers
Now, it’s important to remember that (1) you have to abide by the platform’s T&C and fees when you list your services there, and (2) you will face competition by other freelancers using the same platforms.
I think these platforms are great to get your first few clients and collect testimonials. But once you already have a reputation, I say 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.
Everyone needs professional services at some point in their lives. Your job as a service provider, aside from providing said services, is to get yourself and your services noticed.
Marketing yourself in the digital age is not hard, but it is cluttered. So you have to find ways to set yourself apart from the rest. Ways #1 and #2 will set you apart from the rest.
I hope by you reading this, you will have a head start. All the best out there. Feel free to list your services in the comments section – who knows, your next client may come from here as well.