Updated June, 2020
When I went to seek advice from a mentor on how to get freelancing projects, he told me to pick one approach and STICK TO IT.
I said yes, ignored his advice like an idiot, and went on to try a whole bunch of things.
I asked other people for advice and got the same answer. Then I did the same thing all over again.
This went on for YEARS… don’t be like me.
I’m sure you’ve seen a whole bunch of other articles on the same topic before and realized that everyone has a different way of doing things. Starting out it can be difficult to pick between them and find a place to start.
One of the challenges with training on how to get freelancing projects is that there is often a lot being left unsaid.
For example, the effect of most tactics decays fast. While people are able to show results early on, the results don’t last because everyone and their mom adopt the same tactics. It is a fun little circle that goes on and on like a never-ending version of Tom and Jerry.
While you won’t always know if a tactic is long-lasting in advance, I want to show you things that have already worked for a long time and will continue to for years to come. They are ready for you to replicate, make your own, and reap the rewards of.
When judging whether to follow the advice of something, here’s a rule of thumb that I like to follow.
When someone is showing you an approach that is contradicting what you already know, ask yourself “do I want to be like them or have what they have in this area of life?”
If yes, then go for it.
If they don’t have the experience, they haven’t earned the right to guide you. In this mini-guide, I’d like to share some ideas on how you can get freelancing projects – even if it’s your first client.
I won’t be covering referrals as it is difficult to depend on that in the beginning because most of us don’t have a strong professional network ready to help.
With that out of the way, below is a few ideas for you to experiment with. Some of the ideas are mine and some I’ve liked as I saw them in the wild.
Let’s dive in…
Five little-known ways to get freelancing projects and two with a new twist
Reach out to businesses unsolicited in a way that isn’t salesy
We all knew this was coming.
Everyone has an opinion on reaching out to businesses that don’t know about us via email or phone calls to get clients. This strategy has worked well for me in some industries while totally bombing in other industries.
If you’ve considered this approach in the past head over to this case study where I share the details of how I landed about $9,000 worth of projects without being salesy using this approach.
In the grand scheme of things, this is likely the channel that will get you the most freelancing projects the quickest.
You don’t need a website or even a professional email. You won’t be dependent on job boards and you can contact any business you dream of working with.
Businesses that are advertising on Google search
This tactic works particularly well if you want to sell services like ads management but it can be tweaked to fit many other services too.
You simply search for business names on Google that are advertising via Google Ads.
Check if they have the Facebook pixel using a free browser plugin (like Facebook’s official ‘Facebook pixel helper’) and pitch them if they don’t.
You could share an example of running search ads and then retarget the audience on Facebook, and help them set it up.
If you write content you could do the same and show them that they can capture the audience that reads their content.
And when they are ready to use ads, they can immediately see the effect even with a simple $5/day retargeting campaign because they collected the audience data over time (either with retargeting or lookalike audience targeting).
This is a great approach because you know they are already spending money to boost their brand, so they might be willing to spend more.
The Upwork hack
I landed a great writing project paying $500 for an article following this tactic (case study here).
Some Upwork-projects are limited by the geographical region. In my experience, it’s most often Americans wanting people in the same timezone (or native English speakers) for writing projects.
I’ve found that often they are simply not aware that someone who is not a native speaker yet highly experienced can still do the job to their standards.
When you search for these projects, you won’t be able to see the projects within Upwork itself (unless you are in the same region or country) but there is another way…
You hop over to Google and search “site:upwork.com/jobs YOUR KEYWORD”, where you exchange YOUR KEYWORD for whatever type of jobs you are interested in.
Sometimes these projects are indexed by Google and you can then open them up in an incognito/private window or by logging OUT of your Upwork account before clicking the link.
If the project mentions any details on what the business name is or any other hints that allow you to find them, you go back to Google, find their information, and contact them outside Upwork.
You can explain that you weren’t able to bid for the project because of the geographical difference but you have some examples to show that might make him interested.
Now, some people will argue that this is unethical because Upwork doesn’t get their cut even though they gave you the lead.
Since you didn’t have the option to bid on this project, I don’t see this as a challenge. Yet, if you prefer to run it through Upwork you can just ask them to invite you to the project.
This requires more work normally using Upwork, which is great because the client will instantly understand that you did a lot of extra work to find them and that you had to get creative.
To a client that shows them that you are a smart and independent thinker. Of course, some just want someone cheap to do mindless work and for those, it might not be a good fit.
For the rest of them, you’ll instantly stand out from the crowd and I bet you that they might even be willing to pay a little more for someone as bright-minded as you if it is within their budget.
Buying personalized ads ($5 was enough for me)
Another option is using ads to get clients that you call based on the information they give you as a response to the ad.
You can buy the ads from any platform but Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn tend to have great targeting options. Let’s look at a few examples.
The first one is with Facebook ads: you buy ads, create a landing page asking them to fill out a survey, and give you their contact information so you can call them back.
Another one is copying your dream client’s website (right-click > save as), pick one subpage (e.g. their ‘about’ page) and edit it so the design is the same but change the text to be your pitch.
Then buy LinkedIn ads to target the person you need to speak with along with their colleagues saying “Could you help me deliver this important message to X?”.
If the size of your target company is too small for LinkedIn’s requirements, just add one of their competitors. At first, I was worried about spending a lot and not reaching the right people but in reality, I’ve spent just a few dollars and gotten feedback from them within a couple of hours and I could pause the ad.
I’ve done it several times for all kinds of projects and it works well because people don’t see that approach done often.
Another hack is buying search ads for the full name of the target person you are trying to pitch. So when they search for themselves they will see your ad.
Facebook/LinkedIn groups or Subreddits
Using Facebook groups is a popular strategy and group moderators are aware of that, so it is more challenging now than it used to be.
Most people using this approach with success shares advice and results in groups and then wait for people to message them privately, so they can pitch them.
Don’t be where everyone else is (e.g. if you are a writer, don’t go to the writer groups and ask for work). There will be so many people doing the same and you’ll be looking for scraps as a bottom feeder.
The Gary Vee method
Gary Vee shared a great little method in one of his many videos. Unfortunately, I can’t find the exact video, so I’ll paraphrase:
If you have a dream business you’d like to work with, figure out who can hire you for the project within their team.
Follow them on Twitter, or wherever they hang out, and casually comment on their things over time. Whenever it fits naturally into the conversation, mention what you do. Be patient and wait for them to hit you up or give you an invite to talk about it with them.
It will take time.
James Clear’s Remora Method
James Clear has his own “Remora Method”, which is basically contacting other freelancers and agencies for work. Many sub-contract for special projects or perhaps need specific expertise for just a few projects where it does not make sense to hire someone full time.
This is more of a long-term strategy as it focuses on you being top of mind for partnerships when the opportunity comes rather than hunting down new projects right here and now.
Each one of these tactics could be a good fit for your freelance business, and there are many more that could help as well.
After all, these are just tactics. The key here is test and experiment with a few different things until you find one that works for you and then experiment to make that single tactic work better and better for you.
After looking through so many tactics, many of us feel a mix of overwhelm and excitement. Ironically, tackling that is often more difficult than to get freelancing projects using any one of the tactics.
As you are working your way through different tactics, keep in mind that most of your competitors think landing projects is all about credentials. But you know better.
To get freelancing projects, the currency is trust, and credentials is just one way to display trust. There are many other ways to do it like being ultra-specific when you reach out to them and explain how you’d solve their challenge.
Many freelance services are transactional ones but the profitable ones are relationship-based. Use it to your advantage.
Have you tried any of these tactics? What happened? If not, what’s holding you back?