About this time a year ago — in the middle of the pandemic — I challenged myself to reach out to businesses in order to land freelance clients.
Once I got the hang of it, the results were terrific. In fact, they have been better than expected particularly in the aftermath because I haven’t had to pitch any new clients for months. Instead, I’ve been able to suggest new projects to my existing clients and earn money that way.
I noticed that the results were better than on freelance sites like Upwork while I put in about the same amount of work.
The big takeaway has been that I switched from working with many smaller clients to a few select, bigger, clients and as a result, I’ve been earning somewhere around $15,000 per client instead of about $650.
This has been a result of a number of things such as pitching clients that I pre-verified were of a certain size, so I knew that they could afford to pay me compared to picking between what’s available on Upwork on any given day.
Upwork is a great choice starting out but as we get ready to grow to the next step and prepare to quit our jobs, I notice that it becomes more and more challenging to land serious work on Upwork consistently.
People located in the US appear to have the main advantage here since it appears to be Upwork’s key market according to their study from 2019. It shows that 38% of the clients hiring for the top 100 most popular skills are non-US companies, meaning that 62% must be US clients.
Sure, there is competition for clients but I’m more so referring to the projects ONLY available to freelancers in the US. Many are hidden if you are not in the correct location.
This makes perfect sense from a business perspective but most of us need a more stable way to increase our earnings both in terms of raising our rates, getting more clients, and more or bigger projects.
That being said, if you can get your account approved on Upwork, it is a great place to start freelancing especially if you have a job and focus on doing it on the side at first.
But, the big difference in my experiment came from something different: actually reaching out to potential clients in the first place.
Committing to a certain number of pitches and following through on it, is really what works. The “one secret” if there ever was one.
Don’t underestimate it though. It is hard. And that’s why I’m reopening the challenge for students and readers this April as well.
The April challenge
Before we jump into the challenge conditions, let me point out that these are recommended ones. You can tweak them to fit your week but I strongly recommend that you keep the conditions at least at the same level, since they are designed to fit into a weekly schedule with a full-time job.
In other words, I suggest that this is the minimum you do throughout the challenge month. If you want to beef it up and pitch more clients, by all means, go for it!
The idea and result
The idea of the challenge is to land your first freelance client and perhaps even more!
The challenge is meant to last for a month – all of April.
Just setting a goal of landing a client is not a great goal in itself because it isn’t clear what we are supposed to do when we are in the thick of it. Instead, to make it easy every day we can focus on what we have to do to nudge ourselves in the direction of completing the goal.
One student earned $30,000 in his first year freelancing and shared the same technique in his case study but for the purpose of this challenge, I’ll simplify it a bit.
We know that not every single client we pitch will end up working with us. We might guesstimate that if we send 30 pitches (1 per day for a month), we get five clients if we use Upwork and one or a couple of clients if we cold pitch via email outside of Upwork.
It might seem obvious to pitch on Upwork but I’ve found that we are actually more likely to earn more by pitching businesses outside because we can better target a specific type of client of our choosing and thus will be more likely to get repeat work as we can bake it into our pitch.
Whether you choose to use Upwork or not, the challenge I recommend is to spend 1h/day to send one proposal or email per day for 30 days.
Depending on how large the project is, we can expect that it might take a while to get hired. I’d expect you to be able to land Upwork clients pretty quickly because they are often ready to hire but if you go outside, it can take longer.
Since that’s the case, we can’t count on completing the work and getting paid during the challenge month but instead, we can target proposals sent or clients closed instead (of course if you do start some projects, that is awesome).
I’ve used digital marketing services in the example but you can use any service you like. I recommend doing research in advance but it is all explained in the guide.
If you are not sure if you should pick Upwork or not, here’s a guide to give you a better idea showing the pros and cons.
Upwork tends to offer smaller hobby projects from clients whereas with email, you can get both that and work with established businesses of any size since you get to pick who you reach out to.
My example challenge
To give you an example, let’s start with my challenge.
I don’t want to use Upwork simply because it is much harder for me to earn what I want there compared to if I reach out to businesses on my own via email.
I commit to sending one email per day for all of April and I anticipate that I’ll dive deeper with five potential clients and probably land one or two of those. I’m actually not particularly looking for more work, which makes it the best time to pitch since it allows me to say no to projects that aren’t a perfect fit.
To make this more fun, I’ll target a new niche that I haven’t worked with before. I’ll reach out to online coaches in the sports and fitness industry offering ads services or marketing automation.
Of course, just working with that industry is not specific enough, so I’ll dive deeper and target businesses that are also earning somewhere between $300K to $1M per year. The reason I picked that size is that I know that they can pay for my services and based on my research, I’ve found that this is when they really begin to need the help that I provide.
I urge you to do this same research yourself since you’ll be able to hit them much better because you’ll truly understand a) what they need help with and b) how to respond/think about your type of services.
I also suggest that you use this template to track your emails (or Upwork client pitches) so it is easier for you to follow your progress (create a copy of this template by clicking FILE > make a copy).
Are you joining? Comment below or send me an email.