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How to Get Clients Online (Guide for Beginner Freelancers & Consultants)

How to Get Freelance Clients
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Are you a beginning freelancer or consultant, wondering how to find clients online? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

Below is a simple step-by-step (proven) method that anyone can use to find high-quality, high-paying clients. 

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • The two primary ways to find freelance and consulting clients online (and which one is best for you).
  • How to stand out on crowded freelance marketplaces.
  • How to find a list of prospects to pitch to.
  • How to do email prospecting the right way.
  • And how to close the sale.

Without further ado, let’s dive in and go over how to get clients online.

Freelance Marketplaces vs. Prospecting

When it comes to finding clients, there are two primary options you have to choose from:

1. Marketplaces. This entails finding clients on sites like Upwork, Fiverr, or even job listing sites like Indeed and FlexJobs

2. Prospecting. This involves pitching your services directly to potential clients. For example, compiling a list of people that need your services, then doing manual outreach to those individuals.

As for which is best, it depends. 

First off, what you’re selling and who you’re selling to will each have a major influence on where you go to find clients. 

Another factor is your current connections with people in the industry. Is there someone who knows, likes and trusts you, who is also looking for what you have to offer? 

Let’s take a deeper dive into both options so you can make the best decision.

Finding Clients on Freelancer Marketplaces

Freelancer marketplaces bring the buyers to you. 

For example, on Upwork, a potential client posts a job. Then, as a freelancer, you respond to that job with a proposal. 

The second most popular marketplace, Fiverr, is the opposite. While we still consider Fiverr a  marketplace, it works by you posting “gigs” (i.e., your service offerings) and clients coming to you. 

The big benefit with freelance marketplaces is that prospective clients on these platforms are actively looking for help. As such, it can be a bit easier to get started for those who don’t have any sales experience. 

On the other hand, these marketplaces are competitive — especially for those who don’t have experience. So you might have to apply for a few jobs before landing your first gig. 

The other trade-off is that the marketplace usually takes a good-sized chunk of your earnings — anywhere from 5% to 20%, on average. 

Finding Clients With Prospecting

Some of my first freelancing gigs were for local businesses that I had connections with. 

Actually, my first couple of clients were family and friends. 

One thing I learned quickly is that selling to people who already trust you is a lot easier than selling to people who you’ve had no prior relationship with. 

There’s also no guarantee that your ideal client — the one who you can deliver the most value to — is looking to hire on sites like Upwork. 

In that case, it’s your job to go out and find these clients and pitch them your services. 

The big advantage to going direct is that you have more control of the clients you work with, more control of the pricing, and more control of how many people you reach out to.

The downside is that it can indeed take more work going directly to clients. After all, these people didn’t post a job ad and they may not be actively looking for help.

Deciding Between Freelance Marketplaces and Prospecting

Overall, it’s important to weigh the different pros and cons yourself.  

That said, the most important question to ask yourself is:

“What’s going to allow me to make my first sale the fastest?” 

In the beginning, gaining experience as fast as possible is what’s important. 

Below, we’ll take a deep dive into how exactly to gain clients through both marketplaces and prospecting. 

Getting Jobs on Upwork and Job Boards

If you’re looking to gain your first client through a marketplace, the two sites we recommend are Fiverr and Upwork. 

Upwork is the largest site out of all the marketplaces, with the widest selection of jobs. 

Some job postings are looking to hire locally on the platform. As such, it’s worth checking out to see if it’s a match before dismissing it. 

Myself and other members of The Ways To Wealth team have written extensively about Upwork and recommend you read each of the following posts to help guide you to success on the platform. 

Know that there are many niche-specific freelance marketplaces that you’ll also want to check out. 

A good example of this is that for freelance writers, there’s the ProBlogger job board, which has dozens of new writing opportunities every day. 

Do a quick search for niche + job sites to see if any look legit — e.g., “freelance writing job sites” or “graphic design job sites.”

Note: Here are some of job-specific posts on The Ways To Wealth:

The basic principles of getting hired on niche-specific sites, such as the ProBlogger Job Board, are very similar to those of getting started on Upwork. So it’s just a matter of applying what you learn in the above posts to your marketplace of choice. 

Getting Your First Job on Fiverr

Fiverr is another great platform to get started on.

As mentioned, it works differently than other freelance marketplaces in that you create specific service offerings (called gigs) that people can order on demand.

For example, an editor might create gigs along the lines of…

  • I will edit 500 words for $25
  • I will proofread 1,000 words for $25 

When Fiverr started, the platform only allowed $5 gigs (hence the name). 

This has given it the reputation that it’s for small jobs rather than for full-time freelancers and consultants. 

However that’s not the case anymore, and today there is a massive opportunity to make very good money on the platform. 

For a lot of beginners, Fiverr is actually a great platform to start on because you can rapidly test different ideas, at no cost, to see what works. This is how some team members here at The Ways To Wealth used Fiverr to help kickstart their successful freelancing careers. 

If you’re interested in learning more, check out: How to Make Money on Fiverr: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide.

Prospecting as a Freelancer or Consultant

Prospecting for clients — especially cold prospecting — gets a bad rap. After all, every freelancer or consultant’s dream is to have high-quality, high-paying clients come to them. 

While that is certainly possible, know that it does take time. 

Also, even the most successful freelancers still do some form of prospecting. 

Dan Kennedy, one of the greatest copywriters of our time, is famous for saying he doesn’t go to bed until he attempts to bring in new money to his business. 

Kennedy certainly has a list of people wanting to work with him. But what he also knows is that there are only so many great clients out there. 

Clients where (and I’m making an assumption here, based on his reputation), he can earn more than seven figures from a relationship. And it’s his job to make sure that every day he’s one step closer to bringing in these clients. 

In other words, he’s prospecting.

Prospecting for Freelancers 101

I got my career started in the cutthroat insurance sales industry. And without a lot of connections, I got started like most people in the field do: through cold calling.

It wasn’t fun. But then again, it worked.

For every 100 calls, I’d close one appointment. For every 10 appointments, I’d close one sale. 

So it worked out that I had to make 1,000 phone calls to make one sale. More so, each one of those calls I made, even if I was rejected, was worth $5.

The oft-repeated phrase that my sales manager said to us each week was this:

“It’s a numbers game. Just make the calls.”

So that was my job for a while. Just make the calls. 

Fortunately, for you, there are far more efficient ways to market to prospects. Because in the freelance world, cold calling prospects isn’t something that’s required to close a sale. 

But the idea of it being a numbers game — of having to reach a certain number of prospects to make the sale — is the same. And it’s what’s important. 

The other thing to take note of is the process. 

I would…

  1. Start with a list of leads.
  2. Contact each lead to gauge interest.
  3. Set appointments with those who were interested.
  4. Close the sale (sometimes).

In an ideal world, I’d go from Step #1 (get leads) to Step #4 (close the sale), without having to do all the work in between. 

But sales isn’t like that. It takes time. 

Clients need to trust that you’re able to solve their problems, and that’s not something that can be done with a simple phone call or email. 

Prospecting Step #1: Creating a Lead List

There are two approaches you can take when it comes to developing a list of leads.

  • The shotgun approach: blasting your message out to as many people as possible, hoping one will bite. 
  • The sniper approach: being laser-precise about who you contact.

If you’ve picked a good niche and really narrowed down your messaging, without a doubt the sniper approach will have far more success. 

The way I like to look at it is that there are only so many ideal clients. 

Blasting out your message to hundreds of people will not only result in a lower close rate, but the quality of that client will be inferior to one gained through the sniper approach. 

That’s why it’s so important to get your niche and messaging narrowed down. 

A good goal here is to come up with a list of 25 total people you can reach out to about your service. 

Those people should all be a perfect fit for what you have to offer. 

Most importantly, you want to start your cold prospecting lists with people you already have a connection with.

This would be considered a “warm” lead, as this person at least knows you. 

This list of warm leads can also start with referral sources. 

For example, if you’re looking to tutor kids, you could reach out to local teachers you’re familiar with who may know of parents looking to hire a tutor. 

Once you’ve exhausted your connections, it’s only then you want to look to places like Google. 

For example, if your ideal client is a travel blogger, do a search for “top 100 travel blogs.” If you’re looking to work with local businesses, use Google Maps. 

LinkedIn is an alternative to Google for people selling B2B. For example, if you’re looking to freelance as a graphic designer, you might look for creative directors inside of a certain industry.

Prospecting Step #2: Rack the Shotgun With a Simple Email

One of the most important concepts I’ve learned in over 10 years of intense study of marketing comes from a well-known marketing guru named Perry Marshall. 

The concept is called racking the shotgun. (I suggest you read the post; it’s short and tells the story in a way that is not replicable.) 

The most important sentence to remember from that story is this:

“You send one calculated signal that most ignore, but a few respond to.”

So, let’s say you have a list of 25 people you’ll want to tell about what you have to offer. But not every person is interested in what it is you have to sell (at least not today). 

So, it’s your job to figure out who is. And you do that by sending one calculated signal that most ignore. The few who are interested — the ones who do raise their hand — are the prospects you want to spend your time on. 

It’s also worth noting what you’re not asking your prospects to do when racking the shotgun. You’re not looking for them to make a significant commitment, such as scheduling a phone call or an in-person meeting. 

Instead, all you’re doing at this stage is identifying which of your prospects have a problem you can fix — i.e., which ones are raising their hand. 

Example of a Bad Email Pitch

Email, when used effectively, is a great way to see which of your list of 25 prospects raise their hand.

Yet it amazes me how bad most people are at using email to cold pitch prospects. 

For example, take the pitch below, which was sent to me by a web design agency:

Example of a bad email proposal

There’s a lot wrong with this email. 

It’s not personalized, it doesn’t address my specific problems, and there’s nothing that helps me understand that William is the best man for the job. 

(Not to mention the fact that it has grammar and punctuation errors.)

Oh, and by the way: if you have to have an unsubscribe-like feature in your footer because you’re afraid of getting marked as spam, you’re doing it wrong. 

A Better Cold Email Pitch Template

So what would be a good cold email pitch?

Remember, all you’re doing here is trying to have an ideal buyer raise their hand — a very simple and small commitment that says they’re interested in what you have to offer. 

So, here’s what this may look like for someone cold pitching a website owner in the “make money” space. 

Subject: R.J., thought this would interest you

Part #1 — A personalized introduction that tells the prospect it’s not an automated message.

Hi R.J., I can’t say enough good things about The Ways To Wealth. I found your site via Pinterest and read your article on Legit Online Jobs (which seems to be your most popular) and then jumped around to a handful more. 

Part #2 — Offer proof (e.g., years of experience, past results, specialization) that you’re worth listening to as well as know their problem.

As a web designer in the personal finance space, I couldn’t help but notice that monetizing through affiliate offers seems to be your main earning method. 

Part #3 — Discuss the primary benefit of working with you.

My last few projects were similar to sites like yours, and when those projects were finalized, the affiliate commissions of those sites increased.

Part #4 — Get them to raise their hand by making the smallest commitment possible.

I’m not sure if a design project is in your future plans, but nonetheless, there were a few things I noticed on your site that I felt could significantly increase revenue. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll take a few minutes to write up my findings in a brief email.

Thank you,

[Your Name]
[Your Phone Number]

Let’s discuss this pitch a bit:

Part #1 — A personalized introduction that tells the prospect it’s not an automated message.

Hi R.J., I can’t say enough good things about The Ways To Wealth. I found your site via Pinterest and read your article on Legit Online Jobs (which seems to be your most popular) and then jumped around to a handful more. 

Notes:

  • The reason we made a list of only 25 prospects is that you’ll need to personalize each one a bit. Non-personalized emails get deleted. 
  • At the bare minimum, your opening line should let your prospect know that you’re not a robot. 

Part #2 — Offer proof (e.g., years of experience, past results, specialization) that you’re worth listening to as well as know their problem.

As a web designer in the personal finance space, I couldn’t help but notice that monetizing through affiliate offers seems to be your main earning method. 

Notes:

  • Again, you’re showing the prospect that you did some initial research.
  • You’re also letting them know about the service you offer (web design).

Part #3 — Discuss the primary benefit of working with you.

My last few projects were similar to sites like yours, and when those projects were finalized, the affiliate commissions of these sites increased.

Notes:

  • What’s the biggest benefit there is to working with you? Take the strongest one — the benefit your prospect is most likely interested in — and let them know that’s the type of results your clients get.
  • If possible, use exact statistics. For example, instead of saying “increased,” say, they “increased by an average of 17%”. However, this may only come as you gain experience. 

Part #4 — Get them to raise their hand by making the smallest commitment possible.

I’m not sure if a design project is in your future plans, but nonetheless, there were a few things I noticed on your site I felt could significantly increase revenue. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll take a few minutes to write up my findings in a brief email.

Notes:

  • Remember the goal here: all you’re doing is getting the prospect to let you know they’re interested. The smaller the commitment, the better.
  • For my example, I asked to send the prospect, “some ideas in a brief email.” This is a good low commitment offer for a lot of niches. However, feel free to use another low commitment offer in your cold pitch. For example, a graphic designer or freelance editor might ask to create a quick mockup for the prospect. 

Example #2

To provide you another example of a cold pitch, here’s an exact replica of an email I used when I was looking to run Google Ad campaigns for local wedding venues. 

Subject: Increasing Wedding Revenue

Hi Dennis,

The reason I’m reaching out is to see if you’re interested in a way to bring in more weddings.

I’m currently implementing a marketing campaign for a country club here in Chicagoland, which is running very profitably. 

The club I’m working with was spending big money on featured placements on sites like The Knot and WeddingWire, ads in bridal magazines, and booths at bridal shows. It was working OK but it came at a high cost. 

I’ve been able to significantly reduce the marketing budget, however, increase the amount of weddings booked.

We can discuss the details, of course, but first I wanted to see if this is something you might be interested in? 

If so, would it be okay if I sent you a few ideas on how I could help drive more revenue to your banquet business, specifically in the form of weddings?

Prospecting Step #3: The Follow-Up

For those who have some experience in marketing and sales, know that what you’re doing here is moving prospects down your sales funnel. 

In the top of the sales funnel, you had a list of 25 people. 

You then sent a customized but semi-templated email to each of these 25 prospects to identify which ones have some interest in what you have to offer. 

Those who raised their hands — who showed interest in what you have to say — are now considered warm leads. 

You have their attention. They’re expecting to hear from you. Now it’s your job to transition this warm lead to an actual sale. 

To do that, you’ll have to go through three phases:

  • Prove to them you’re the right person for the job by showing rather than telling.
  • Have a conversation with the prospect to learn more about each other.
  • Close the sale with a well-crafted proposal.

The Follow-Up Email (Show, Don’t Tell)

Just as you wouldn’t ask someone to get married on the first date, it’s important not to rush things with warm prospects.

Your next objective is to prove to the prospect that you can indeed fix their problem — the problem that, by responding to your email, you know they have. 

You’ve succeeded here when your prospect has made another small commitment by scheduling either a phone call or an in-person meeting with you. 

What you’ll come to find at this stage is that not only will the sales process change with each prospect, but it’s going to change based on what you have to offer. 

What doesn’t change, however, is the “next-smallest commitment” principle. 

Just like you did above, you’re looking for your warm prospects to make another small commitment showing that they’re interested in what you have to offer (e.g., a phone call or in-person meeting). 

In other words, the wrong objective is to have the prospect make a big commitment before they’re ready. All you’re aiming for is a phone call or a meeting. And to get that, you need your prospect to start trusting that what you say is true. 

The best way to demonstrate proof and develop trust is to show them exactly what you’d do. You know their problem, so now it’s a matter of telling them exactly what you’d do to fix that problem. 

As an example, when I was having success as a landing page designer inside of Unbounce, I’d often create a 3-5 minute follow-up video for each client. 

It was a screencast with my voice, where I’d run the prospect through a few of the designs I had created, as well as concepts that I felt would be a perfect fit (mentioning why they worked for that particular client). 

The method in which you show proof will change depending on the service you offer.

A few examples of what this may look like are as follows.

  • An online college prep tutor could send different studies and methods for learning that have been proven to work, as well as how they work these ideas into their own lesson plans. 
  • A freelance writer might send mockups — or even better, live articles — while they detail the process behind the writing (what was the research phase like, why did they go with this structure, what was the process for SEO optimization, etc.).
  • A freelance web designer for affiliate sites could create a quick mockup of the number one thing they’d change. 

Here’s then what a follow-up email would look like:

Hi (INSERT NAME), 

Thank you for allowing me to take the time to share some ideas with you. 

As someone who specializes exclusively in affiliate sites, over time I’ve really been able to hone my senses when it comes to what does and doesn’t work. 

One thing that immediately stands out about your site is the above-the-fold design on your homepage. It’s missing some key elements, such as a clearly defined benefit and a call to action. 

There’s a lot going on on your current homepage, and a new user would likely be confused about what action to take next.  

As for what I had in mind, here’s one of the designs I did for a similar site. This design increased the conversion rate of their email funnel by 12%. 

{INSERT IMAGE}

What I did here was work with the client to identify the primary goal of their homepage (e.g., increase email conversions). Next, I carefully created the above-the-page copy, as well as the design via a mockup, which they approved. 

From there, it took me only seven days to implement the hard-coded version on a staging site, which was updated to the live site upon approval. 

This was all accomplished in two weeks, with no more than two hours of my client’s time. 

So, that right there is really a high-level overview of what I do. If this is something you’d be interested in, let’s set up a phone call to discuss the details and learn whether or not we’re a good fit for each other. 

Please let me know what time works best for you. Or you can set up a time on my calendar here. 

Thank you, 

RJ

How you go about building trust with your prospect, as well as having them make that next small commitment, will change depending on your service. 

But what doesn’t change are the concepts. 

Use the idea of showing them exactly how you’d get the #1 result they’re looking for, and you give yourself the highest chance of moving them to the next stage of your funnel. 

Prospecting Step #4: The Phone Call

The goal up until now has been to get a cold lead on the phone or an in-person meeting.

What’s then the objective of the in-person meeting or phone call? 

Most people assume that it’s at this point where your client gets to ask you questions about what you have to offer, or even where you send them a proposal since they showed interest. 

However, the best freelancers — that is, the ones who are the highest-paid — use this initial phone call to learn as much as possible about their prospect. 

In turn, they can not only deliver a customized proposal that covers every major concern of the client, but also do a better job once the actual work starts. This allows them to charge a higher rate. 

Coming Up With Good Sales Questions

A great hack here, especially for those new to sales, is to come up with a list of five sales questions that you can use during this part of the sales process. 

These are questions you’ll use to learn as much as possible about your prospect. 

If you’re at an in-person meeting, you’ll want to memorize these questions. If you’re on a phone call, write them down and have them handy. 

One thing that all good sales questions have in common is that they’re open-ended. 

Think of closed ended-questions as any questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no,” or in only a few words.

One example is: “Is increasing your conversion rate on your homepage important to you?” 

Open ended questions require your prospect to elaborate, which provides you with more clarity about the why behind what it is they want. 

Examples of open-ended questions include: 

  • What are the three to five most important objectives you’d like to achieve by redesigning your website?
  • What do you feel isn’t working for you on your current website?

Come up with a list of questions that prompt the prospect to tell you exactly what it is they want. 

The goal here isn’t to close the sale. Rather, it’s to get enough information to deliver them a knockout proposal. 

To wrap up your call, you’ll want to say something like: 

“Thank you for taking the time to explain your needs. I definitely took a lot of notes. From here, I’ll get organized and send over a proposal that will go into more detail on the methodologies, pricing and timeline. Is it OK if I have that to you in 48 hours?”

Proposing and Closing

Last, but certainly not least, we have the proposal stage. 

Yes, it’s finally come time to close the deal, gain that first client and make that first dollar. 

This process entails sending a customized proposal to the client that will detail everything they’ll get by working with you. 

To get to that point, we’re going to craft your proposal step-by-step together. 

Tip: Search for Your Niche + Freelance Proposal Templates to check if there’s anything niche-specific that should be added to your proposal. 

Here’s our detailed guide to writing great freelance proposals that goes through everything you need to know.

How to Get Clients Online: Final Thoughts on Closing the Sale

In a perfect world, you’ll move your prospect down the sales funnel one step, one email, and one phone call at a time. 

Yet, know that this perfect flow of events rarely happens. 

The sales process can get messy. Every prospect will be different. It’s only over time that you’ll develop the systems and processes that work well for your business.

For now, the most important thing is to get your idea in front of potential prospects to see if they’ll pay you for it. 

If you’re struggling with closing sales, take a step back and consider the level of trust you’re building with your prospects. Do they trust you enough to continue to listen to you? Have you provided them enough value already to justify taking up their time?

It’s questions like these that can help determine where your sales funnel needs improvement, which you can work on for not only winning over clients today but in the future. 

One of the fundamental principles discussed on The Ways To Wealth is the concept of making money being a skill. Just like any skill, you need to practice. And there’s no better way to practice making money than by pitching clients, getting feedback, and adjusting your plan based on what has and hasn’t worked. 

For my own first few sales calls and Upwork proposals, I was nervous. And, if I were to listen to those calls or read those proposals today, I’d cringe. 

But over time, and with practice, I did improve. And my closing rate did as well — even when I was asking for a lot more money. 

I end with this because, for somebody who has never asked for money before, know that for most people it will take some time to get comfortable doing so.

But those who realize it’s a process that requires continual learning and testing those ideas in the real world are the ones who do end up winning over the long-term. 

Good luck!

Up Next

This article is part of our in-depth series on How to Get Started Freelancing.

In the series, the goal is to help you step-by-step land your first high-paying freelance client.

I invite you to check out the next article, How to Write a Freelance Proposal to Win More Jobs & Get Better Clients.

Previous articles in the series, include:

R.J. Weiss
R.J. Weiss is the founder and editor of The Ways To Wealth, a Certified Financial Planner™, husband and father of three. He's spent the last 10+ years writing about personal finance and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, MSN Money, and other publications.

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