Skip to content

How To Get (And Keep!) Your First Client As A Freelancer

This is a guest post from my good friend Jessie Spielvogel. You might recognize her from my exceptional bloggers list I published earlier this year. She’s pretty awesome!

Freelancing is one of the best job options in the world right now. If you’re a student or if you’re currently in the market for a job, freelancing may be for you!

Think about it: jobs are hard to come by, you’ve got a set of skills that you’ve been trained for through school and/or previous work experience, and you certainly have some expertise in an area that others could use you for. So why not put those great skills to use immediately, and begin helping others while bringing in some extra cash?

If you’ve decided that you want to start freelancing, that’s awesome (and it puts a HUUUGGEEE smile on my face)!

First things first – if you’ve currently got a “real job,” make sure to check with your employer to be certain that there won’t be any issues with you working the side gig! Being sneaky about moonlighting will only end up with you either getting fired, or simply feeling paranoid and guilty all the time. Don’t let this happen to you.

If you’re employer-free, then you’re good to go! Let’s find you your first client!

“How do I start?” – you

This is one of my favorite questions (and one of the most frequent that I receive), because this is what I’m best at: getting you started!

Whether you’re a graphic designer, marketing consultant, personal fitness trainer, yoga instructor, rodeo clown, or barista, there are ways for you to get the word out about what you’re good at and what you can do to help others (and you can get paid to do so)!

Here’s How.

Build and Maintain a Website

What’s the first thing you do when you’re looking for help? You Google whatever it is that you need, right?

Well, think about how others are going to find you. If you’re a graphic designer, and you want to get your first paid graphic design gig, how are people going to know about your services and capabilities? Through your awesome website, that’s how!

Check out Thomas’ guide to building your own website, and get started today. It’s super easy, and equally as important to have one. Let yourself be found on Google! Maintain your website on a daily basis with blog posts, status updates, photos, or whatever it is that you’d like your potential clients and customers to see.

Showcase your best work online in a professional and beaauuuttiful manner! They already want you; they just don’t know it yet 😉


One of the easiest (and most fun) ways to get the word out about your skills and your abilities is to write about them.

Your posts don’t even have to be long! They can be a short little paragraph, a quick “tip of the day,” anything that can show that you’re the one to go to for their needs. You’re the expert, you’re the one they should be hiring, and your blog is going to emphasize that point.

If you’re a photographer, start a photo blog! Update your site a few times per week with a new photo and a short story behind it. Or, just a photo with a small caption! You’ll find out what works for you once you get started.

One of the biggest problems that I’ve seen is that people want to start a blog, but they begin with no direction. They will blog about their everyday happenings, and while it certainly is amusing to read about the weirdo you saw on the bus across from you, it doesn’t really HELP anyone.

Unless your goal is to entertain and come off as humorous, it’s better to write content that people will find useful and that they will continue to come back for. If you’re funny at the same time, high five. Be funny! I’ll be the first one in line to read the latest Oatmeal comic, so I know that humor bloggers can be popular. But when it comes to freelancing, it probably won’t be as beneficial to you! People will eventually start asking you industry-specific questions, and then you will find yourself writing content that is as beneficial and as useful as possible for your potential clients!

Corbett Barr has an awesome, awesome, awesome course on starting a blog that matters (and it’s really called “Start a Blog that Matters” – affiliate link)! He has worked with some of the most marketable bloggers out there, and you can read their testimonials on his website. Consider taking this 13-week course and see where it leads you. To get started as a blogger, you simply have to start hitting “publish.”

Talk to people

Talk to lots of people! You never know where a potential client may come from.

You may meet someone on an airplane (like I did on my way home from Portland last week), you may meet someone in a bar, and you may meet someone through your cousins or friends or parents. People and connections are everywhere, and these people know someone who knows someone who needs your help! You just need to work a little bit to find them.

My clients generally come from places I’ve worked previously, or through a friend of a friend. People that you may have met years and years ago may see that you’re now trying to break out on your own as a freelancer, and they could very well send you a random email one day saying that either they or someone they know needs your services! It happens all… the… time!

Talking to people face-to-face is going to be the best skill that you can develop (blasted online generation, we are)! Work on your people skills, and meet people everywhere you go.

Talk with your professors! They will be one of your best resources. Take this advice with a grain of salt, though, because I can’t stand schmoozers and suck-ups. Don’t be one of those people. You’ve seen those people, and you know how they act. If you’re turned off by that kind of behavior, chances are that a lot of other people are as well.

Be transparent, be confident, be honest, and be humble. Know what your strengths are and know what your weaknesses are, and make sure that you’re straightforward about all of it. Honesty is going to get new clients to trust you much more quickly than meeting someone and simply telling them what they want to hear!

Make Business Cards

While this notion seems slightly to moderately outdated, and there are plenty of bloggers and marketers out there that will tell you that it is, IT’S NOT!

Think about how many people you know who do not use social media. Think about your parents, your aunts, or your uncles. I am willing to bet that at least one of them has asked you what a “tweet” was.

These are the people who own businesses, and these are the people who have a giant stack of business cards scrolling around in their Rolodex. If you happen to meet someone while you’re out and about, and you get to talk with this person, what are you going to say if they ask for your business card?

“Uhhh, I don’t have one. But you can go to my website at!”

You better not!

No way is that person going to remember your website name, especially if it’s a long one or if it’s complicated to spell. Always have a business card on hand. Make them yourself at home if you’re on a tight budget. You want these people to hire you, right? Don’t be forgettable.

Also, make your business cards rock. Plain white paper with square edges and black text just isn’t going to do it – you need to stand out. Check out Thomas’ tutorial on making custom-designed business cards to get a head start on yours!

Build Your Portfolio by Doing Some Free Work

I know, I know…  you think this is defeating the purpose of “getting your first client,” right? Au contraire, my friend. Working for free is important. Not all the time, of course, but just to get started and to build up your portfolio.

This can be done in a lot of ways. Maybe you’ve got a friend or a sibling who wants to use you for your services, but they just don’t have the money themselves. Do it for free… in exchange for a testimonial and referrals! If they like your work, I guarantee that they will be happy to spread the word about what you can do!

Doing quality work for free at first is surefire way to create a lifelong loyal customer. Ask them to help you spread the word about your business, and make sure to start charging ASAP! (After all, it’s not a business if you’re not getting paid; so don’t stick around the pro bono side of it for too long).

Make Cold Calls

While doing research for a client, I came across a website that needed a little spicing up. The logo was a little fuzzy, and I thought to myself, “Hmm… I can fix that!”

I sent her an email out of the blue, and asked her if she would let me fix it up for her. She told me that she didn’t have much money, and that she didn’t feel right accepting my work without paying me back in some way. I let her know that I would be happy to do it for free as long as she told her network of friends about me and my services!

You can do this, too. Most of the time, clients are NOT going to fall in your lap. You have to go out there and search for them. Hopefully, when you do this, you’ll land a company or an individual that has the ability to pay you. If that’s not the case, well – you’re just getting started! Just make sure that they know how valuable your time is, and that you’d love for them to help you spread the word once your assignment is complete and they’ll have a big ol smile on their face.

Note from Thomas: This is actually how I landed my first web design client back in high school. It’s good advice!

If you’re a freelancer and you’ve already landed your first client, how did you do it? Share in the comments below, and help a newbie freelancer out! If you’re looking for your first client and you’ve got any questions at all, send me an email and let’s chat about it! Good luck, and fly freeeeee!!!!!! (Too much)?