The 10 ways I find freelance work

There are many topics to consider and discuss when it comes to freelancing, but none seems to loom larger than the difficulty of finding quality gigs.

It’s one of the questions I see asked most often, and one of the questions I myself have pondered most anxiously as a freelancer.

Back when I started a decade ago, things were a bit more straightforward than they are now. Competition was lower; it was easier to find pretty good clients on job boards like Craigslist.

And it’s still not impossible to find listings that lead to good work. With the growing prominence of freelance work, employers are increasingly open to using freelancers and are more likely than ever to post on job boards in search of them.

But any freelance advisor worth their salt will be quick to point out that the best way to build an enduring, lucrative freelance career is to be more proactive about finding clients. Market yourself, network, pitch your services to those you’d like to work with, etc. Don’t rely on job advertisements alone.

Ultimately, you’ll want to use every trick in the book to find work. It’ll come in all sorts of places and from all sorts of sources. The key is that you’re always looking — always thinking about finding new work with at least one little part of your overloaded brain.

And once you get to a certain level of professionalism and have built up a solid network of satisfied customers and friendly colleagues, you’ll start getting referrals. You’ll get work you didn’t even look for.

To provide a realistic sense of how this all operates for those who support themselves as freelancers, here is a list of the 10 ways that I have found most of my clients over the years.

Over the next few weeks I will be adding links to more extensive explanations of each of these work-finding methods. (Click on the titles to learn more about each.)

1. Listings

I have gotten a fair amount of work from responding to gig listings on job sites, particularly Craigslist when I first started out. Nowadays there are plenty of good gigs listed on traditional job boards and on LinkedIn. With practice and persistence you can find good work this way.

2. Magnetism

By “magnetism” I mean anything that causes people to come to me instead of me seeking them out. This category includes inbound marketing efforts such as publishing a blog, putting out a newsletter, and being a guest on podcasts. You can also draw in clients by simply having your work speak for itself.

3. Asking

This one may seem too simple, but don’t discount it. Sometimes you get new work simply by asking for it. This is particularly true when you nudge former clients you haven’t spoken with in a while. But it can work with new or existing contacts, too.

4. Referrals

Referrals will be one of your most valuable sources of work throughout your career. There’s nothing like word of mouth to get new clients knocking on your door. Don’t shy away from asking people to recommend you to others; proactive is the only way to be if you’re going to make freelancing work over the long run.

5. Piggybacking

I refer to clients bringing me with them from one job to another as “piggybacking.” If you’re good, you’ll get loyalty from those who hire you. A client who hires you to work for her company may hire you again at the next place she goes… and the next… and the next. You may be able to ride her coattails for years.

6. Nepotism

Call it nepotism if you’d like, but in the Wild Wild West world of freelancing, we are all about finding quality clients wherever we can — even among friends and family. If that means your brother wants to hire you to freelance for his company, why not? If you’re really good at what you do, why shouldn’t he?

7. Networking

A professional network is by nature amorphous, dynamic, and full of potential. You can’t control it or expect anything specific from it. But you also can’t be passive about it and expect it to help you. All you can do is pour energy — positive, generous energy — into it, be proactive when you see opportunities, and be ready to engage when something comes your way.

8. Groups

In the last five years or so, online networking groups for freelancers have exploded on social media sites. These groups can be gold mines for new work. Joining professional groups can also be a good move, especially if you engage actively online and in-person at events. It’s a trial-and-error process to find which groups give you the most value.

9. Pitching

Pitching means reaching out to a potential client to present them with either yourself or your ideas. Pitching is most commonly used in writing, where editors wait to hear from journalists with proposed ideas for articles. But sending letters of interest (LOIs) to potential clients is a pitching strategy that can be used in any industry.

10. Marketplaces

Over the years an array of sites have sprung up with the goal of connecting freelancers to employers. Few have lasted long, though new ones always take their place. Most have tended toward downward price pressure, which will hamstring a freelance career. But there are ways to strategically approach these sites to make them work for you.

I’m sure there are methods I use to find work that I am forgetting here. And there are definitely methods I haven’t used, such as online advertising, that may work for freelancers in other industries.

The point is that there are a whole lot of different ways that freelancers find work, and you should be using as many of them as you can.

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