Getting clients is one of the hardest parts of freelancing. There are many strategies you can use to get them. In this article, I am going to show you how I got my first client as a freelance developer and how you can use those same strategies to get your first (or next) client.
How it all started
In 2012, I was still working the 9-5. I hated it.
- I had a 35+ minute commute each way.
- I had to travel for work and be away from my wife.
- I had a boss who was constantly changing course.
- I often worked more than 50 hours a week.
I knew that I wanted more location independence in my life and that I was not a good employee. I often had my own idea about how something could be done but was forced to follow someone else’s direction.
I started to do some research into different ways people make money online when I came across freelancing.
Intrigued, I made an account on Elance (now Upwork) and checked it out.
People were paying money for a LOT of things.
I was interested in building websites (I had often dabbled in HTML + CSS in high school and I always enjoyed it). The company that I was at was using WordPress, and I knew a bit about it so I looked for jobs there around WordPress.
I applied to 10 different listings that had anything to do with WordPress. 7 of them didn’t reply at all. 2 asked to see samples of my work (I had none) and 1 said, ok I will give you a chance.
It was the one I did not want to get, but what the heck? Let’s do it.
$20/hour to import someone’s content from Word to their WordPress site and format it correctly.
I did the work.
But before I left, I looked inside the client’s WordPress dashboard. I noticed a few issues: some errors on the front end, some spacing issues, functionality broken, and plugins that needed to be updated.
I fixed a few and documented the rest, along with a proposed solution.
When I finished the content migration, I emailed the client and let them know that I was finished. I also mentioned that I found several issues on the site that, if fixed, would help the usability, improve the speed, and gain SEO ranking. I even told him exactly how to fix them.
Even with my instructions, he did not feel comfortable implementing those changes, so he asked if I could do them if he paid me for an additional 10 hours of work.
I said absolutely, and I did them over the weekend.
This got me my first 5-star review on the platform, and I used that to get another 2 projects from the marketplace.
These starter clients then turned into referrals, which helped me scale. I never looked back.
Even though my first client paid me in total less than I charge for 1 hours of work today, it was the most valuable project I have ever done.
Without that first project
- I would not have got the second or third.
- I would not have learned what it is like to get a client.
- I would not have learned how to turn a small project into a larger one by upselling.
- I would have quit.
Your first project needs to be just that, your first project. Getting someone to pay you for your freelancing services is valuable.
Why that first client is worth more than they pay you
A mistake that I see a lot of starting freelance developers make is that they hear of a friend who has a $10,000 project, and they think that their first has to be of the same size.
It doesn’t. Get your first and use it to climb the freelance ladder.
3 Ways to get that first client (or your next client) as a freelancer
1. Use a marketplace.
Marketplaces get a bad rap. They have their issues, and it is a race to the bottom, but they are one of the easiest ways to get your first client.
The way marketplaces work, having a couple of 5-star reviews will help you get the bigger projects. Focus on getting experience on the platform, then scale into the larger projects more aligned with your passion and income goals.
Just because you use a marketplace to get started does not mean you must use that marketplace forever.
It can be an easy way to get a taste.
2. Tell everyone you know
This is my most recommended strategy. It is very simple. Tell every single person that you know what you are doing. Tell them your skills and what kind of projects you are looking for. Ask if they know anyone who might need help with the service you offer.
Hey mom! I am looking to get into web development and I want to start taking on some clients. I have gotten really good at building simple landing pages for service companies like HVAC or Electricians.
Do you know anyone that might need my help? Here is my email address, it would mean a lot if you sent them my way!
You will be surprised who you know that needs help with their development, design, or copywriting.
3. Knocking (DMS, email)
This one is a bit of a challenge because if you are like me, you would never go from door to door trying to sell something.
But, for this, it is a bit different. What I have done to use this strategy as a freelance web developer was visit the websites of people I interacted with on Twitter and other areas of the internet.
If I saw something that could be improved, I would send them an email or DM. Simply stating that I noticed something on their site was a bit out of whack, here is why that is bad, and here is how to fix it.
They would often ask how much I would charge to fix it for them. This is when I would offer my service. I turned this strategy into $50,000 in projects for one blogger over the course of 2 years.
So go get that next client!
Getting clients is one of the questions that I get asked most often. Everyone wants some hack, some cheat, or a fast way to get them.
There isn’t one. You have to put in the work. Show up every day.
Keep doing that, and you will make it.