If you're a new freelancer, you're probably wondering how to find your first jobs. But even if you've been self-employed for a long time, customer acquisition is certainly an ongoing topic for you. We'll show you which channels you can use to acquire clients and give you tips on how to be successful.
The basics: positioning and target groupThere are many developers, designers or copywriters. If you stand out from the crowd by specializing, you often have better chances when it comes to customer acquisition. If you bring exactly the skills that the customer is looking for, they are more likely to choose you. They will also have greater trust in you because you are an expert.
For developers, specialization often manifests itself in programming languages, but it can also involve certain additional skills, such as knowledge of machine learning. Copywriters usually focus on a specific subject area or industry. And designers may stand out with their own style or decide to specialize in logo design, for example.
Do you have an extended portfolio? Still commit to a few key areas in your communication. For example, you can concentrate on the fields for which you receive the most requests anyway. Or you can choose a specialization that is currently in high demand and for which you can charge higher fees. Nobody forbids you to accept orders from other fields, which may come up through contacts, for example.
Your main target group is also an important basis for successful customer acquisition. Only if you know who you are targeting can you determine the appropriate channels.
Decide, for example:
- Do you want to work primarily with startups?
- Or perhaps you would prefer to work with large companies?
- Are agencies primarily attractive clients for you?
- Do you want your clients to come from a specific industry?
- Who are the decision-makers, and where are they based?
These questions will help you to tailor your activities to your target group. You can design your website accordingly and focus your acquisition channels on those that are really promising.
Here you can learn more about positioning.
For the start: clients from your private life
"You're a web designer, can you create a site for me sometime?" Many freelancers get started through a question like this from friends or acquaintances. Often, they then start part-time and eventually realize that their part-time work is becoming more and more lucrative.
Full-time freelancers can also use this way to get their (first) jobs. Inform your environment about your self-employment and tell them what you offer. Even if it doesn't lead to something right away, your acquaintances will pass on the information when they hear about someone who could use your services.
However, you shouldn't rely solely on this channel in the long run. At some point, it will probably exhaust itself, and you will have designed a website or done a photo shoot for everyone who is interested. Besides, there is always a certain tendency among acquaintances to offer the services at a special price. So, in the long run, it will be difficult to raise your prices and grow your business.
Former employers as clients
Here, of course, it depends on the relationship as well as how the employment ended. In many cases, however, it can be worthwhile to ask former employers. After all, they already know you and your work, and you have a trust advantage over freelancers who introduce themselves to them.
You can simply ask without obligation if they currently need support. If you don't want to contact the management or HR department directly, you may have contact with former colleagues instead. They may be able to give you an initial assessment of whether an inquiry is worthwhile.
But be careful: If you are working for your immediate last employer, and they are your main client, this can be interpreted as a sign of false self-employment in the event of an audit. For the examining institution (often the pension insurance), it can then look as if your former employer wanted to save social security contributions by employing you as a freelancer and no longer as a permanent employee.
Job postings for customer acquisition
See an exciting job offer that fits your qualifications exactly? Even if it's a permanent position, it can sometimes be worth asking. Perhaps the company is also open to working with freelancers.
The success rate here is usually not very high, because many companies really want employees for the advertised positions. Your chances are best if your profile fits very well and if the skills are in high demand. Then the company may not receive enough interesting applications and is open to other models.
Find jobs on freelancer platforms
There are a variety of portals where clients and freelancers can meet. Some are comprehensive, others specialized in a particular area. Using the search function or by browsing, you can find projects there for which you can usually apply. Alternatively, clients can contact you directly via your profile.
In our article, you'll find out how to create the perfect freelancer profile.
This model is particularly attractive for beginners, because a profile can be set up quickly, and you don't need your own website, for example. Payment is more secure because it is made via the portal, and you don't have to chase after customers.
Here you can find our comparison of the top freelancer platforms.
However, many portals have a disadvantage when it comes to fees: there is often a lot of competition from freelancers from low-wage countries who can offer very low hourly rates. Therefore, the earning potential on the classic portals is rather low - unless you have very sought-after skills. At least when you apply for projects, you also have to expect a certain amount of time, which is often better invested elsewhere.
By the way: At 9am you get the advantages of a freelancer platform and at the same time you can count on exciting jobs and reasonable fees. Learn more.
Getting agencies as customers
You would like to present your services to companies, but don't know where to start? Often you will have good chances with agencies. There are always bottlenecks, for example when a new large project is pending and the internal capacities are not sufficient. Or if a client comes from a special field and industry knowledge is in demand.
So it can't hurt to be in the freelancer pool at several agencies. This way, orders can come up again and again without you having to do much. Medium-sized agencies are particularly promising: they are big enough to land exciting projects, but often don't have enough staff to handle them.
Your own website - your business card
There are freelancers who are very successful without their own website. But if you want to build a successful business in the long run, it offers many advantages:
- You position yourself as an expert and appear more serious to some customers than without a website.
- You will be found better on Google.You have versatile possibilities to present your portfolio.
- The channel is yours, and you are not dependent on updates on social media channels that can negatively impact your visibility.
- You have a home for your self-created content, for example a blog.
- You can clearly present your offer and save yourself a lot of questions in initial meetings.
Of course, whether you can attract new customers through your website alone also depends on how much work you put into things like SEO and content. If you opt for a simple one-pager, the site may be more sales support and not a full-fledged acquisition channel. But that's also helpful if it makes a potential customer perceive you as more professional, for example.
Social media as an acquisition channel for freelancers
Being active in social media can be very rewarding for freelancers. Of course, this is especially true for business networks like LinkedIn and, in certain areas, Twitter. You can write posts and comments on your topics there and gradually position yourself as an expert.
Personal branding is a long-term strategy and probably won't bring you customers right away. But it's sustainable: once you've established your expert status, you don't have to worry much about attracting customers, and you can charge higher fees.
But these channels may also be worthwhile in the short term, because companies or employees keep posting there that they are currently looking for freelancer support. So if you keep your eyes open, you might find some interesting jobs.
Networking: clients from your network
When it comes to social media, networking is of course a must. A well-maintained network is very important for many freelancers when it comes to winning customers. Every contact is a potential customer or a multiplier who can recommend you to someone. So make sure your network knows what you offer.
In addition to social media channels, events are also a great way to network - both online and offline. Attend trade shows or meetups on your topics, for example. Ideally, you won't just be an audience member there, but will exchange ideas with other participants. This significantly increases the likelihood that you will be remembered.
A general networking tip: Don't just network with potential clients, but also with other freelancers or like-minded people. This way, you can build a community that supports you and will probably get you a job or two in the long run.
Cooperations for more clients
You are a web designer and know a good copywriter? Wonderful, why not refer customers to each other? If you're having a new website designed, you'll often need professional texts as well - and vice versa.
With a network of partners, you not only increase your own chances of getting new jobs. If you can recommend good freelancers for other areas, your reputation with your clients will also increase. Of course, this can also backfire if you recommend unreliable people. So choose your partners carefully.
Find customers through referrals
If you've been in business for a while, you probably have some happy customers that you've worked for or are still working for. These customers can become multipliers by recommending you to others. Often they know people in similar situations, for example other CTOs, project managers, marketers or start-up founders who are also looking for support.
Often, however, your customers won't even be aware that they could recommend you. So remind them at appropriate times, such as when the project is completed or - if you're working for them on an ongoing basis - when you've achieved success together. A simple "If you were satisfied, feel free to pass on my contact to other people" is enough. But it's better not to ask too often or too vehemently for a referral. That could make you look desperate and unprofessional.
By the way, testimonials from satisfied customers also look great on your website or LinkedIn profile.
Draw attention to yourself with ads
Even as a freelancer, you can use ads to attract customers. You can do this online via Google Ads or in social networks, as well as in the traditional way in local newspapers or the industry press for your field. To be successful, however, the ads have to be really well done, attract attention and focus on your specialization. However, it can't hurt to test a few variations on a small budget. Maybe you'll find the perfect approach and win a few customers.
Cold calling as a freelancer - does that make sense?
This form of customer acquisition is controversial and unpopular with many people. Those who make cold calls contact people they don't know and offer their services - often by phone. You will probably only be successful with this if you are a "salesman type" and enjoy advertising yourself and your specialization. You'll also need a thick skin and a positive attitude, because you're bound to get some rejections.
You increase your chances if you are well prepared. Find out more about the company and find a connecting factor, for example, your thematic specialization. You can also research the appropriate contact person and ask for this person directly. It's best to practice your telephone pitch so that you can get to the point quickly and appear confident.
Keep in mind, however, that cold calling often takes place in a legal gray area and not every contact is allowed. In B2B, this is often a bit easier than in B2C. While cold calling consumers without their consent is prohibited, you are allowed to call companies if they might be interested in your services. However, this is a matter of interpretation. If you want to be on the safe side legally, you can seek advice from a lawyer specializing in competition law.
Continuous customer acquisition
The topic of customer acquisition should accompany you continuously and not only become interesting when there is a lull in orders. If you have permanent customers in the pipeline, you are more relaxed and don't have to worry about your income for the next few months.
It's best to plan fixed times and resources for acquisition. Especially long-term activities like networking, social media and possibly blogging should be part of your daily routine and not just start when you need clients. And often customer acquisition is particularly pleasant when you have enough clients, because you are not under pressure. This way, you also avoid having to settle for poor fees due to a lack of alternatives.
Customer retention is the best acquisition
It's logical: The longer customers stay, the less often you need new ones. Long-term projects make it easier to plan and reduce your acquisition effort. Upselling and cross-selling are also attractive ways to increase your sales with a customer. Maybe they are interested in similar services, or they were so satisfied that they want to hire you on a larger scale in the future. When you get a chance, let him know what else you offer and what you might recommend.
Also, existing clients are more likely than former clients to have you on their radar for a referral. After all, they're working with you right now, and you deal with each other regularly.
Checklist: Customer acquisition for freelancers
- Adapt acquisition channels to positioning and target group
- Use orders from the private sphere as a start-up aid
- Inquire with former employers
- Use job postings as a starting point
- Find jobs on freelancer portals
- Get into the talent pool at agencies
- Create your own website
- Use social media to position yourself
- Networking with potential clients and other freelancers
- Cooperate with partners for client referrals
- Ask satisfied clients for referrals
- Draw attention to yourself with ads
- Cold calling as a channel - but only carefully and prepared
- Take care of customer acquisition on a permanent basis
- Use customer loyalty as a component
Want to know more about client acquisition? Check out this webinar recording with Emilia Zainel, who tells us how to generate leads and find customers as a freelancer: