The Ambitious Freelancer’s Guide to

 Client Acquisition 

The Most Important Element to Starting & Growing Your Freelance Career

There’s never been a company that succeeded without sales.

Mark Cuban

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 Lesson 

🧠

Rethink everything you know about sales

People hate being sold to…
but we love to buy.

If you understand this dynamic, you can sell anything. As a freelancer, you will always have something to sell: your skills and style!

Your goal is to sell without your prospects ever thinking about it. How to do this? Start by mentally replacing the concept of “selling“ with the idea of “helping.” Focus on providing as much value as you can into the world. In turn, the world has a funny way of returning the favor.

No more going to networking events with your business card extended out in front of you. No more cold emailing asking if someone wants your services. No more direct selling! You’re now learning how to provide value, and how to capture value in return.

When to sell—and when to avoid it 🚫

Gary Vaynerchuk spends most of his time giving value, not selling. He does this to position himself, so when he does have an opportunity to “sell” something, it doesn’t come off salesy because he’s been giving—he’s been building rapport and authenticity.

His book about this method, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, compares sales to boxing: a pro boxer doesn’t climb into the ring and throw a right hook immediately. He starts by getting a feel for his opponent, and delivering small jabs that steadily reduce the foe’s resistance.

That same philosophy applies in business. The idea here is that, if you go into a sale looking to sell, you’ve already lost. “Jabbing” as a freelancer means helping; it means giving value.

Always aim to provide value first.

As Gary Vee explains, when your energy is focused on disproportionally providing value, you will win. So what are some ways you can do that?

  • Writing & sharing a blog post that helps your potential clients do something
  • Making an intro for two people who stand to benefit from the connection
  • Giving someone a ride to an event
  • Speaking at events for free (if you have something to say)

You might think these kinds of things deserve a price tag, and you could be right—but this is 2019, and people do business differently in 2019. It’s about trust and relationships, and the best way to build that is by providing massive value and asking nothing in return. Growing your trust first builds your clout far faster than going around trying to bag a quick client. Remember, this is just the foundation.

You need to jab a few times before you go in for the killer right hook—the ask you want to make: “Hire me to be your ______.” If you’ve been helpful, if you’ve built rapport and a relationship with someone, you’re far more likely to “land the right hook.”

In Gary Vee’s own words, the JJJRH method from your childhood:

My favorite analogy to illustrate the difference between jabs and right hooks are cartoons. When the Transformers cartoon was on Saturday mornings, you would tune in and watch for free. You’d watch the cartoons and not have to pay a dime. But when the movie or new action figure or toy came out, you went and paid for that. Cartoons were the jabs that pulled you in so you would then pay for the movie or toy.

So, when do you throw a right hook?

The best time to throw a right hook is when someone gives you permission to. Seth Godin coined the term “permission marketing” beautifully:

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

You’ve been so helpful to them that they want to hire you when it’s time to hire a freelance writer, designer, etc. Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone you help will come flocking. More realistically, you’ll need to stay top-of-mind and be confident in making a strong ask that “lands” properly.

Let's say you have a book to sell, and your internal goal is to sell 50,000 copies. Let’s compare a couple versions of an email blast you could send to your list:

Hey everyone,

I just published a book called Climbing Mountains With Only One Hand. Please buy it so I can continue living in Zion and not have to work in retail anymore!

Rock the One-Handed Climber

Hi {{first-name}},

Thanks for your continued support over the years! I’m excited to announce that I just published a new book, Climbing Mountains With Only One Hand. It’s part personal success story, part rock climbing lessons.

If you’ve enjoyed my blog & newsletter content about rock climbing and other adventures, you will probably love this book, too. You can buy it on my website, with discount code {{coupon-code}} for being such a loyal supporter!

Please let me know if you do; I would love to hear how you liked it.

Cheers & safe travels 🖐️

Rock the One-Handed Climber

Remember: the reason you can make this ask is because you’ve been building your clout and goodwill for the last several months, and these people, in a way, feel like they owe you something. Some will click the link for that very reason. Playing the long game works in sales. Patience can be hard to keep up, but patience pays.

Example of a great right hook in action

Scott Kupor is a venture capitalist at a16z, one of the most sought-out VC firms in startup history. He spends a great majority of his professional time providing value through his role. Now, since he published a book recently, he’s actively throwing a right hook: asking for reviews on Amazon.

scott kupor secrets of sand hill road twitter screenshot

 Lesson 

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How to find your ideal clients online (and in real life!)

Because over 2.65 billion people have online profiles these days, it’s pretty likely that the types of clients you want will be listed somewhere. The important thing is to know how.

There are countless tools and tricks for finding people online and in real life. Of course, any smart freelancer’s goal is to find specific people, which requires defining your client persona(s). Doing that well includes making an educated guess about where those kinds of people spend time online and in the real world.

Once you have a solid hypothesis for where to find your potential new clients, it’s time to gather your tools and techniques for finding them. You can find potential clients in several ways:

Learn the art of social selling

The concept behind social selling is nothing new. Christina Newberry defined it this way for the Hootsuite blog:

Social selling is the art of using social media to find, connect with, understand, and nurture sales prospects. It’s the modern way to develop meaningful relationships with potential customers so you’re the first person or brand a prospect thinks of when they’re ready to buy.

As you can see, the only new thing about social selling is where it takes place: on social media. The idea is that, since you and everyone else already have social profiles on many platforms, you might as well use them to your advantage.

When we put ourselves out there by posting regularly—and, equally importantly, engaging on others’ content—we start to become part of the conversation in more ways than one.

For one, other people begin to notice us, begin to remember our name and face. But there’s another important factor playing to your advantage when you engage online: the platforms’ algorithms.

In Adam Mosseri’s own words from 2018, this is how Facebook thinks about content:

Today we use signals like how many people react to, comment on or share posts to determine how high they appear in News Feed.

With this update, we will also prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people.

These are posts that inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments and posts that you might want to share and react to – whether that’s a post from a friend seeking advice, a friend asking for recommendations for a trip, or a news article or video prompting lots of discussion.

While each platform’s algorithms are unique, they share one important, common goal: learning to prioritize the content and content creators it deems are most valuable to its users. Therefore, your job is to be valuable. On social media, that means posting meaningful updates (not just the stuff you think will get the most likes), leaving insightful comments on others’ posts, and having 1-to-1 conversations in private messages.

You’ll notice that the people you engage with most will begin to appear more often in your feed. They’ll also be more likely to see your content in their feed—which keeps you top of mind, a key result in your personal branding efforts.

Finding potential clients on social media

These major social media platforms are built to let people find and connect with each other. Any resourceful freelancer can easily do some advanced searching to find specific people, or specific kinds of people (like those with a certain job title, or who live in a certain location).

Finding freelance clients on LinkedIn

LinkedIn specifically has excellent Advanced Search, pictured below to show you some examples of refining your search to find 2nd connections to Creative Directors in English-speaking countries who work in marketing and advertising:

linkedin advanced search filters screenshot example for getting freelance clients

In my network alone, that’s 3,582 people, 229 of whom live here in the Phoenix, AZ area near me. Talk about a powerful search, right? Start getting creative with combinations of job titles, industries, and locations—you’ll be amazed at how many people fit your target client description.

Finding freelance clients on Facebook

Facebook and Instagram prove more difficult to find specific kinds of people without running paid advertising.

Instead, Facebook Groups are a gold mine of connections, and you should seek to join as many groups as are relevant to your interests! Keep in mind that the goal of joining groups is never to outwardly sell—you are building meaningful connections with people who share your interests, and if you’re strategic and skilled, you will earn business from these connections at some point. But play the long game.

Finding freelance clients on Instagram

Instagram’s strongest community connector is its hashtags—follow hashtags to see new public posts in your feed, which allows you to engage with new people you didn’t know before!

instagram hashtag freelance writer

Finding freelance clients on Twitter

Finally, Twitter is a great place to find real-time conversations around specific topics and hashtags. At GigLoft, one of the big ways we try to help aspiring freelancers is by searching terms like “tried to freelance” on Twitter, and engaging with people who have recently Tweeted things like “I tried to freelance last year but it didn’t work.” We engage with the person from our personal accounts, find out what didn’t work, and send them a link to one of our guide pages (like this one you’re on right now).

Think about the kinds of things your ideal clients might be discussing on Twitter. It might be directly related to what you do, like “looking for a writer,” or it might be completely unrelated to what you do. Your job is to think critically about who you want to reach out to, by trying random search terms, learning from what people are Tweeting, and narrowing down from there.

Company data platforms

These platforms are far less famous, but can provide some uniquely valuable information to help you decide which companies to target.

Finding potential clients on Crunchbase

At PubLoft, we used Crunchbase Pro to discover long lists of companies based on various combinations of search filters, one of which we’ll share with you here:

crunchbase pro advanced targeting filters to find freelance customers

This specific set of criteria was especially useful for several reasons. For one, we wanted to make sure we were working exclusively with American companies in the “direct to consumer” (D2C) space—brands like Dollar Shave Club, ScentBox, and Tuft & Needle. That’s because we learned that D2C companies have to be very careful with how much they spend on customer acquisition costs (CAC), so they’re likely to invest in long-term strategies that cost little to nothing once they start working—channels like organic search ranking, possible with search engine optimization (SEO).

We also chose to work with companies that had raised enough money recently enough to be able to invest in content marketing, our main hustle. Finally, the smaller the team, the more likely they had funds to allocate and a dire need to outsource certain activities, like content creation.

This group of filters was just one of many we used, and we made sure we had a highly specific message for each type of company. Remember—the more personalized you are in your approach, the more people will feel that you’re a real human trying to build a real relationship, and the more success you’ll see.

Finding clients with Google

Naturally, Google is one of the most powerful ways to find anything and anyone online—when you know how to use it. Here’s a quick primer on some basic Google-fu that you can use to narrow down your searches.

Searching specific websites

Google lets us search specific sites’ public content simply by typing site:linkedin.com SEARCH TERM. This is often a better way to find content or profiles than the site’s own search function, since Google has arguably the best search known to humankind. 😱

We can repeat this kind of search inside of website subdirectories, too. Searching site:gigloft.com freelance will return every instance of the word “freelance” on our website, but site:gigloft.com/teaches/ freelance will return only the instances of “freelance” on URLs that contain “gigloft.com/teaches/”. (Meaning our freelance guides, like this one!)

Excluding search terms

Googling the term marketing director phoenix is a good way to return pages that must contain both “marketing director” and “Phoenix,” but we mostly get job listings and salary data:

google search to find marketing directors in phoenix but returns jobs instead

Adding -job to the end of your search, we can filter out most of the job stuff to leave only profiles or pages talking about marketing directors in the Phoenix area (below the paid job listings):

google search to find marketing directors in phoenix with correct exclusion filter

Requiring specific words or phrases

We can use quotes around terms to make sure those words are included. For example, the search some random search term returns a bunch of random results that sort of match the words “random” and “search” or “term.”

google search without quotes returns many generalized results

But if (for whatever reason) you were looking for webpages that exactly matched that query, you’d use “some random search term” in quotes, and get results that contain that exact phrase:

google search with quotes returns specific results

Searching with AND / OR operators

The AND operator is useful when you want to force-combine two terms that normally don’t go together. By now, Google has pretty much figured out that freelance cambodia is the same query as freelance AND cambodia so it’s rarely necessary to use AND anymore. Search either of these, and we get fairly similar results—jobs and freelancers located in Cambodia.

The OR operator is still very useful—it returns any page that matches either “freelance” or “cambodia” in whichever order those pages would rank normally. Search freelance OR cambodia and we get Cambodia-specific websites, as well as freelancer.com at roughly result #5 at the time of this writing. These sites have nothing to do with each other, and this can be a useful trick when you want to compare search engine rankings of different pages that don’t normally go together. Try it if you’re curious!

Finding potential clients’ email addresses

If you’re smart, you’ll use email in addition to social, not instead of it. Business people live in our emails, sometimes to a fault, and a well-crafted, well-timed email can sometimes be the perfect way to get on someone’s radar to start a conversation. Remember, we’re always optimizing to start a conversation, rather than trying to get a client right off the bat. We must make it easy for them to respond, and let the conversation develop naturally.

Tools to find email addresses

Of course, in order to reach out via email we’ve got to find those email addresses. Tools like Hunter let us find email addresses from websites extremely quickly, and even try to guess the address if it can’t find someone’s email specifically using the “most common pattern” logic:

email hunter chrome extension showing email addresses

Its results are not always perfect, of course, but they’re a great start to finding—or guessing—the right person’s email address.

Another great tool is GetProspect, which works on LinkedIn and is free for the first 100 emails per month (at the time of this writing), plenty for a solo freelancer growing her client base.

Tools to verify that email addresses won’t “bounce”

If we send too many emails that bounce, meaning didn’t have a valid recipient, our email addresses can get flagged as spam—and you do not want that. It basically ruins your privilege to send email.

Most hunting tools like Hunter also verify emails, but you can also use more specialized software like Neverbounce to take advantage of additional features like list segmentation.

Tools to send email efficiently

Once you’ve got a list of verified emails, we first start by sending cold emails manually. Get a feel for the process of writing a cold email, and try to be personalized in your reach-outs. For busy business people, there’s nothing more eye-catching than receiving an email that speaks directly to us. If it drops a ton of value, even better.

Only when we’ve learned which reach-outs work best can we begin to scale our outreach efforts with mass email senders like Mailshake. The most valuable feature for solo freelancers is the ability to schedule automatic follow-ups. This way, we don’t have to constantly follow up… and follow up… and follow up—which is crucial to success with email outreach. More on that below.

Finding potential clients in real life (IRL)

Finally, the big doozy: real-life networking!

First, remember that it’s never required to put yourself in social situations. If you’re the type of person who gets serious anxiety from social interaction, skip it. Stick to online—mega-introverts and people with social interaction disorders can just as easily succeed with online networking only.

With that said, if you’re nervous or uncertain about networking, but are ready to push the bounds of your introverted self’s comfort zone, you totally should. 😊 Brandi Sea shares a healthy way for creatives to think about networking:

Networking is just hanging out with people you already have something in common with and getting to know each other.

Since the dawn of time, human beings have engaged in in-person interaction, and the core benefits remain just as true today as they were when we communicated with grunts and gestures only. Don’t let the Internet’s ease of access make you lazy: spend a significant portion of your time out of the house.

There’s something about real life interactions that just takes the cake. You get to shake hands, feed off the other person’s energy and emotions in real-time, take advantage of nonverbal cues, and so much more. That’s because, as Laura Vanderkam explains, the science of in-person communication goes back to our roots:

Human beings had little ability to communicate with those who weren’t physically close to them until the past century, and our brains don’t evolve as rapidly as technology.

By taking advantage of the benefits of in-person interaction, we can have better interactions, conversations, and outcomes in our freelance careers.

Top places to find your ideal clients in real life

Again, the biggest thing to ask yourself in this case is, who are your ideal clients? Think critically about your audience, and come up with a list of interests and activities they enjoy. Tip: start by listing your favorites, and perhaps your ideal clients share those interests. 😉

Niche events

Look up niche events that your clients might attend, and attend them. You can meet tons of design leaders by going to Design Week, a UX design meetup, etc. You can meet motivated content managers and overwhelmed business owners trying to learn at marketing conferences. The more you know about your target client, the easier it will be to find them.

Popular places to work remotely

More and more people work remotely. Look up the hottest coffee shops in your area, go work there, and be open to interaction—opportunities to meet the regulars. Make a list of every coworking space in your area, and try to get a free day pass to each one. Just remember that these are places where people are trying to work—try to avoid interrupting or bothering them. Find organic opportunities to interact, like when someone is ordering coffee or looking for an outlet.

Your own hangout spots

What do you do when you’re not at home? Enjoy rock climbing or lifting weights? Don’t just show up at the gym with your earbuds in and avoid eye contact. Again, find organic chances to talk with others. Learn their names. Become someone they say “hello” to when they see you.

Push yourself to spend time in various kinds of places and interact with the other people there (without interrupting or bothering, of course).

With these various places to start, you’ll begin learning which kinds of people spend time in each, and who is most receptive to new connections and conversations.

 Lesson 

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How to stand out and earn your prospects’ attention

attention grabbing image of female model silhouetted on bright pink neon background

Start by being interested, not by trying to be interesting.

This idea comes worded this way by Ty Bennett, but has been true since the dawn of humanity.

Think of it as talking less, and listening more. Bennett explains it this way in his aptly named article Be Interested, Not Interesting:

Influence comes from making it about others. When we are genuinely interested in someone else, they will love us for it.

A superpower in life is being curious—asking lots of thoughtful questions. We should always be interested in others, and not just because it leaves positive impressions on the people we talk to.

The reason this works is that people love talking about themselves. When you’re eager to learn and listen to others share their life story or elevator pitch, they’ll leave the conversation feeling like you were very interesting. Something inside them may feel like they owe you.

Learn to have great conversations

Listen to Celeste Headlee share 10 rules for having better conversations. The meat & potatoes starts at  4:00 —and pay special attention to what she says around  5:27  regarding true listening.

I’ll underscore what I believe to be the most important takeaway. Celeste says it herself—it all boils down to the same basic concept: being interested in people.

True listening requires a setting aside of oneself.

So let’s talk less about ourselves, our own companies or products or services. Instead, let’s ask questions, be curious, and make friends, not connections.

 Lesson 

📫 Back to top

️The ancient art of following up… and following up…

(Coming soon! Get on the waitlist to know when this is published)

 Lesson 

🏆 Back to top

️The final stretch: how to negotiate & close deals!

(Coming soon! Get on the waitlist to know when this is published)

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