10 Proven Ways to Find Clients On the Cheap

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Keeping the pipeline of work full is a challenge for freelancers and small agencies, especially when on a tight marketing budget. Luckily, many have networks of people who will gladly refer, or even buy from them at little cost making selling easier.

One of the top 3 worries of freelancers and small agencies is finding enough work to sustain themselves and their dependents. It’s no wonder. Getting work takes effort over time and requires selling. Freelancers and agencies that are starting out without a big marketing budget have to be smart and use existing relationships.

Here are 10 not expensive sources of client work you might not have considered, or fully explored, yet.

1. Friends and Family Are Low-Hanging Fruit for Finding Work for Freelancers and Small Agencies

Your family dinners can be great sources for leads for work.
Your family dinners can be great sources for leads for work.

Most of those starting out find their first clients in their extended family. Whether it’s your uncle’s employer or cousin’s client, these are people who want to help you and will go to great lengths to do that without you spending time selling. It doesn’t take more than a phone call or mentioning your shift in your career during the holiday family dinner.

Watch Out For

A family recommendation is strong and your family members will expect you to deliver. After all, they did put their necks on the line. Failing to execute can have lasting consequences and create serious awkwardness around that very same table that brought the lead.

Where To Go

Call your uncle or aunt and tell them about your new life as a freelancer.

2. Previous Employers Can Be a Great Source of Assignments

There are many businesses that would happily contract the services of former employees whom they know well.
There are many businesses that would happily contract the services of former employees whom they know well.

Many companies are more than happy to contract the services of former employees. Unlike other freelancers, former team members do not present a risky unknown. This reduces much of the risk a buyer might perceive in a regular selling situation.

Some companies even let people go only to realize they need them and re-hire them as consultants at twice the price. Not great for them but perfect for you. You already know the job but this time it comes with much more freedom.

Watch Out For

As a consultant and business owner, relationships are secondary in value only to money in the bank. That’s why you should never burn bridges unless there’s no other way. Always think ahead before you take actions that could severely damage a relationship. In this case, going back to a former place of work has its own set of traps. From disgruntled former colleagues to managers who might have a hard time adapting to your new position. Be wary and smart.

Where To Go

Call your former manager or colleagues and ask if they need help.

3. Ask Your Professional Contacts If They Know Someone In Need of Your Services

Grab a coffee or lunch with some of your professional contacts to find out if they know someone in need of your services.
Grab a coffee or lunch with some of your professional contacts to find out if they know someone in need of your services.

People we know from previous jobs are often a good source of work or leads. They know and trust you already and will be curious about your latest move. I recommend meeting them over coffee or lunch. Probe to find out if they know of someone who might need your services. They usually know you well enough to vouch for you but might not have all the facts. Give them the arguments and information they need to pitch you to their friend or colleague and they’ll do much of the selling for you.

Watch Out For

As with family, being recommended by a professional contact brings accountability. You’re responsible for not just your own but also their reputation. Make sure you live up to the expectations.

Where To Go

Grab a coffee or lunch with some of your work or professional contacts.

4. Use Social Media to Build Relationships That Bring Work

To succeed on social networks you need to reach out to people and initiate genuine conversations
To succeed on social networks you need to reach out to people and initiate genuine conversations

Today a presence on Twitter, Linkedin, and Facebook is nearly mandatory. In many professions, if you aren’t on either of these networks, you do not exist. But existing isn’t enough. People are so inundated with messages through these platforms that you have to get through the noise. Getting followers, and leads through these channels, requires delivering something valuable and unique.

For that, you must publish do things your audience resonates with. Most use social channels to share blog content and communicating one way. But that’s like using a telephone for monologs. To really make it work you need to reach out to people and initiate genuine conversations before you can start selling.

Watch Out For

As with everything worthwhile, this will take time. If you decide to go this way, don’t make it your only strategy. Be patient and consistent and it will pay off. While waiting for that to happen, use your non-digital social network to find work.

Where To Go

Create accounts, if you don’t already have them. Find out who the most influential people are and find ways to start conversations with them.

5. Sell Packaged Services or Digital Goods Using Online Ads or Classifieds

You can now sell services on sites like eBay.
You can now sell services on sites like eBay.

To broaden your reach, classifieds or ads online can be an option. Many websites that traditionally catered to traditional ads now also let service providers post offers. This can be a great alternative source of leads, besides your ongoing selling.

Just look at what a search on eBay for “web design” results in:

You may not want to compete with agencies and freelancers that can produce a website for 80 bucks. Even so, there are classifieds sites for all wallets and there’s always a premium segment.

Watch Out For

Don’t let customers eat your margins if you sell something with a fixed price. The lower your price, the worse the clients are. A truth of freelancing is that buyer price sensitivity is inversely correlated to client decency. Ideally, sell something you can easily duplicate for each new customer and that doesn’t require too much customization.

Where To Go

Check out classifieds sites like eBay, Rakuten, Alibaba or Bonanza.

6. Find Consulting Assignments Through Online Job Boards

Visit job boards and job search sites to find freelance contract work.
Visit job boards and job search sites to find freelance contract work.

These days, online job boards feature more than just full-time employment positions. Freelance gigs and consulting positions are frequently being posted as well. Some of these clients even allow remote work which potentially makes the whole world your workplace. Many consultant brokers announce assignments on these boards. In these cases, they’ve already done some of the selling and need a candidate that fits the gig.

If this sounds interesting, then polish that résumé/CV and start applying. This is a numbers game and luck plays a big part. Expect to write many cover letters and applications before you land an assignment.

Watch Out For

With the risk of sounding cynical, the reality is that many brokers often broker services they have a superficial understanding of. In addition, a large share of buyers doesn’t have much of a clue either. Due to lacking knowledge, the vast majority of brokers lack the knowledge to educate them. So expect some frustration when it comes to communicating your true worth.

Brokers may also want to restrict what you may and may not do. Read all contracts carefully, ideally with the help of a lawyer. This can be extremely frustrating for a hard-working and well-meaning professional. Unfortunately, this is a consequence of this poorly working market where brokers are overplaying their hand for lack of oversight. Consider this a landing pad before you’ve built a name for yourself and can forego brokers completely.

Where To Go

Check out contract work at job sites like Monster, Indeed, CareerBuilder and Working Nomads.

7. Use Online Freelance Marketplaces for Small Assignments That You Can Do Fast and With Little Effort

Use freelance marketplaces for work that you can do fast and efficiently.
Use freelance marketplaces for work that you can do fast and efficiently.

If you’re looking for smaller tasks or individual projects and tolerate bidding, marketplaces may be for you. As more and more people turn to freelancing, the marketplaces have been growing exponentially. More and more companies use these marketplaces to solve specific problems. They post small assignments and often contract several freelancers to solve a task in order to pick the best solution. Your selling work will revolve around position yourself in relation to other bidders.

Watch Out For

The hard reality is that marketplaces are not on your side nor your friend. They’re brokering work and are taking full advantage of that position of power. They will ask you for fees for this and that. Don’t expect them to rule in your favor should there be a conflict with a client. Ensure your money is paid in advance or is in escrow. Make sure there’s no uncertainty regarding payment terms.

Also on most of these sites, the majority of assignments are subject to bidding. There are countless unscrupulous firms who will underbid to no end in the hope of winning repeat work. In my opinion, these marketplaces turn freelance professionals into fungible commodities. I’ve shunned these sites for these reasons. However, I have also read about people finding good work this way. The way I see it, the only case where you might want to use these sites is if you can make a profit at a small price. Or, if you find work for clients that recognize seniority and competence.

Where To Go

Popular marketplaces or freelance brokers include Upwork, Toptal, and Freelancer.

8. In Certain Freelance Professions, Local Newspapers Can Be a Great Source of Leads and Work

Not everyone is digital! Don't ignore traditional media when it comes to finding clients.
Not everyone is digital! Don’t ignore traditional media when it comes to finding clients.

If people in your market read the local news, running ads in the newspaper might pay off. Don’t underestimate the power of being local and known. Even in this global era, people care about their neighborhood. This is especially effective if you’re a talented copywriter or designer and can write headlines and produce ads are eye-catching.

You can also look in the newspaper to find gigs. Small specialized jobs can be done in a freelance capacity. Getting this work can be easier than bidding for work online since you can show up in person and draw on your local connection.

Watch Out For

Reputation and gossip travel fast. If you decide to go local, don’t be a jerk. Do what you’ve promised and at the quality the client expects. Just be a good, dependable and decent person and people will say good things about you.

Where To Go

Buy a copy of your local most popular newspaper and check out the ads and classifieds. Inquire about the price for advertising your services in the paper.

9. Collaborate With Other Freelancers Through Specialized Freelance Websites

Chat with other freelancers or agencies to find projects you can work on together.
Chat with other freelancers or agencies to find projects you can work on together.

Many freelancers turn to the web to get their questions answered. These websites are often discussion forums that are open to freelancers using them to find collaborators as well as answers. They might have been successful selling and winning a large project and plan on hiring subcontractors to do some of the work. It might be a web designer with a client looking for print design. Perhaps someone just has their hands full and need help. You can be that help!

Watch Out For

Almost every freelancer who’s been doing it long enough has been cheated online. Make sure you get paid in advance or the money’s put in escrow and set up a payment schedule based on milestone deliverables. Try to be less trusting than you normally are. Take precautions and don’t trust people you don’t know unless you have a very good reason. Exchange copies of passports and ID cards to prevent fraud. Use video conferencing to further verify identity.

Where To Go

Forums for freelancers include LanceBase, TalkFreelance, Warrior Forum and Reddit’s r/freelance. Be sure to check forum rules before you start posting as some of these do not allow any form of self-promotion.

10. Find Consulting Assignments Through an Employment Agency or Staffing Firm

For certain professions, a staffing agency can be a source of freelance work.
For certain professions, a staffing agency can be a source of freelance work.

Just like online job boards, employment agencies and staffing firms can provide consulting work without you having to do much selling. Many firms broker more advanced work these days including digital services and marketing roles such as writing. Here’s a more extensive guide to finding work through a staffing firm.

Watch Out For

Contracts for temp work can be extremely one-sided and sometimes require you to be constantly on call. Be critical and careful what you sign. Find decent companies to work with and establish good relationships and they’ll refer you more work and recommend you to others.

Where To Go

Do a web search for “staffing firm” + your specialty and your city, i.e.: “staffing firm Dublin web design.”

Conclusion

At a cursory glance, it might seem easy to find work as a freelancer. Sometimes it is. However getting work consistently is a challenge many faces.

In my experience, this requires forming the right habits. You need to engage in selling and marketing yourself constantly and consistently to ensure that you’ll see more work down the road. Your freedom as a freelancer depends on your commitment and dedication to promoting and selling yourself.

Make sure you’re always executing on at least one plan for marketing and selling. It could be a systematic outreach to contacts, cold emailing or blogging. Just invest the time, a day every week, doing things that will help generate leads and you’ll sleep more soundly.

For more ideas, check out our post on 5 predictable sources of income.

 

What are your tips for finding work as a freelancer or small agency?

Please share them in the comments.

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Author: Jakob Persson

Jakob is the founder and CEO of Zingsight, the company behind Bondsai. He's been involved with the web for over twenty years and has previously co-founded and grown a web agency from 4 to 70 people. Jakob holds degrees in media technology and cognitive science. He consults in product design and management, and business development. He's an experienced skier and a learning scuba diver.