You did it! You said goodbye to your boss, registered your freelance business and you even landed your first couple of projects. Congratulations! You’re off to a great start. But what’s next? The small projects you did via Upwork and for your uncle were great to get some experience, build confidence and get some testimonials, but you want more. Where are you going to find that first big fish? We’ll give you some tips.
Conferences & Other Events
I met some of my biggest clients, including Serkan from Cowork7/24, at industry conferences and other events. The more niche and specialized an event is, the better. The people attending those specialized events are usually not just browsing around, but they already have an established business or are at least at a later stage of realizing their company. This is a good audience for you, because they often know what they want and what they need. They are also likely to either make a profit or have some good investments behind them, and therefore have the budget to pay you a decent rate.
Besides, when it’s a niche conference, you can prepare very well for it and have all your knowledge at the top of your mind. Listen to the challenges people face, and then demonstrate your expertise by sharing some instant ideas of what they could do to overcome those challenges. Show that you’re up-to-date about the latest trends and solutions in their industry.
Are you now thinking ‘That’s all great, but I’m not a good networker’? See if you can give a workshop! If you can impress your audience, they will definitely come up to you afterwards, so you won’t have to take that first step. Another easy way to interact with people is by signing up as a conference volunteer. This will give you lots of good reasons to start a conversation with people. Another benefit: you won’t have to buy an entrance ticket!
For similar reasons, there is a good chance you will find great clients when you sign up as a member at a coworking space. The businesses that are being run from those spaces aren’t in the bootstrapping phase anymore (otherwise they wouldn’t spend the money on coworking and flex-office memberships), so you can assume that they’ll have at least a bit of a budget to spend on growing their business.
One reason that people work from coworking spaces is that they want to increase their network and find people who can be of value to their company in any way, so they will be very easy and open to connect with. Also, in general, good coworking spaces facilitate an environment that makes it easy to get into conversations, by having shared kitchens and lounge areas, various events, and other initiatives.
Just like with conferences and events, a coworking space is a great place to share and show your expertise. Organize a workshop, be receptive to people who need a quick tip on something they’re stuck with that’s related to your area, and write a guest blog for the space’s website or newsletter. Coworking spaces offer plenty of great opportunities to find good clients!
Whether you want to try out and find the perfect coworking space for you to commit to on a long-term basis, or that you want to reap the benefits of being engaged in multiple communities, have a look inside the Cowork7/24 app to find great spaces near you.
Your Own Network
People overlook – or underestimate – the power of their own network too often. They believe they don’t know any business owner with a reasonable budget, so they don’t even bother to ask around. But where I found some good clients at conferences, I got even more big clients via my network and referrals. Even though when I started, I believed my network wasn’t that valuable.
Your neighbor might not need your services, but perhaps her father-in-law does. Your cousin may not be a business owner, but perhaps his employer is actually looking for someone just like you. You’ll never hear about those opportunities if you don’t let everyone know what you’re doing and what type of clients you’re looking for. And don’t forget about your LinkedIn network, which is often full of people you barely know. One of the people at my coworking space reached out to all his LinkedIn connections, explaining his recent career change and asking for some endorsements. It led to a chat with an acquaintance he worked with some years ago, and a week later, that same person hired him for a project.
Small Turns Big
Another thing you shouldn’t forget is the fact that smaller clients can turn into bigger ones. Now I do realize that there’s a lot of job offers out there, especially on sites like Upwork and Facebook groups, that state ‘small budget available, but for the right person this can grow into something big,’ and more often than not, it never does.
However, when you’re hired by a serious startup, on a small project for an established company, or with an agency, the results you show for that small project could definitely turn into bigger things later on. A friend started with an €800,- job at an agency, and they were so pleased with her, that they let her work on other accounts as well, and she’s now on a €2700,- per month retainer. Another one started working for €300,- per month at a startup. The startup grew, and as it did, she became more and more valuable to that company, and is now invoicing them between €700,- and €1000,- each month for a few hours of work per week.
How to get existing clients to give you more work and bigger budgets? Simple: just ask for it! You’ve been working with them for a while, so you know exactly where they’re lacking time or expertise to perform well. You can pitch the services they don’t know yet you offer. They already enjoy working with you, they know how to communicate with you, they trust you and they don’t have to explain their values and goals anymore, so there’s a good chance they’ll be receptive to your pitch.
These are some of my own, first-hand experiences of how to grow from working on small projects to landing bigger clients. But I’m curious to know: what has worked for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!