How Do You Find Freelance Clients?

Moderated by Raymond Lee, Founder, UXr Guild
This is an abridgment; view the full video presentation here.

How to Identify Your Ideal Clients

If you have not done so previously, take time to clearly define your offering and identify your specialty areas. Once that step is complete, it’s time to search out your ideal clients. Your ideal clients are those who are closely tied to projects you’ve done before; they are the clients who would like you to come and do the very same project for them.

To zero in on who your ideal clients are, consider the following:

  • Take a look at which companies fall within your domain or specialty. Each specialty can have its own group of clients. Where have you spent most of your time as a researcher?
  • As part of your basic marketing plan, build an ICP (Ideal Client Profile) based on your specialties to find clients that need what you are offering. 
  • Always remember that your product is not you; it is the services you offer and can deliver. 

What is the Difference Between Marketing and Sales?

Marketing is to a group, where you try to build interest, hoping that they will reach out to you. The goal of marketing is to build awareness and demand and try to generate inbound interest from that group; the intent is to reach out to a broad audience with a focus on mass distribution. Marketing is high leverage, but there’s always the chance that your efforts won’t reach any of those ideal clients you have identified. 

Sales, on the other hand, is to individuals; you have to reach out to them. This makes most of us uncomfortable, but it does give you the best chance to tap into your ideal clients. It’s low leverage but you know you’re going right to the person and if you’ve identified them correctly, then when they hear from you they will be interested in what you have to offer.

The two approaches are very different: marketing goes out to the masses, while sales targets individuals. But both have their place in your marketing plan.

Marketing Channels – In-Person versus Online

Within your marketing plan, you have essentially two options: reach out to others in person, or make contacts and connections online. Let’s examine the in-person option first.

How to Market Your Freelance Services In-person

Most people would agree that face-to-face interaction is powerful. There is nothing quite like sitting down with someone to introduce yourself. The past two years have shown us the value of such interactions. So, where can you have these conversations and build relationships in person?

These interactions can take place at meetups, events, conferences, and even volunteering opportunities. These are some of the best places to get to know people, build trust and make connections.

But in-person also refers to anyone who knows you: hopefully, past employers, those who think favorably of you, are some of your best prospects. And don’t forget former colleagues. You may not be at the same employer anymore, but they know you and what you have to offer and can be some of your greatest allies.

The following list contains the most important people in your professional network. Be good to these people and seek to never burn bridges with any of them. You never know when they might be just the contact you will need in the future. 

1-Research hiring managers
2-Research colleagues
3-Product colleagues (design, engineering, marketing, product, etc.)
4-Other work colleagues, personal friends, and school friends.

Employers tend to hire people they know, like, and trust to get the work done – thus maintaining a good working relationship with everyone you work with now or may have worked with in the past.

How to Market Your Freelance Services Online 

Building your online network is a gradual process with many avenues to market yourself. The key is finding and then nurturing those online networks that work best for you. Don’t be discouraged if nothing happens right away. It will take time to see the results of your efforts. But it is still worth doing.

Here are some tips for marketing yourself online.

  • Build your online network using LinkedIn, Slack, Twitter, Facebook, etc. 
  • Set networking goals; it can be as simple as adding a connection each day. 
  • After a meetup or conference, add more connections. An event can expand your connections and network.
  • If you decide to search out people you don’t personally know, look for things you have in common with them, such as research, employers, city, school, major, language, interests, etc.

Now that you have that online presence, post content regularly. Consistency beats quality. Build a 30, 60, or 90-day calendar. This content could include ideas and articles about conferences or events you attended, or projects and tools you have had success with. It could even be a repost of something meaningful to you.

If you’re not careful, you could spend a whole lot of time doing this without a guaranteed return on any of your efforts. Consider maybe 30 minutes per day, and then move on to other more productive methods.  

What are those more productive options? Your LinkedIn profile and resume, and a polished portfolio including your case studies need your greatest attention. Your case studies should support your specialties. If you are having difficulty identifying your specialties, take a look at your case studies. They will point toward where your focus has been. 

Marketing Ideas for Freelancers

This is a lot of content creation that can occupy your time. So how do you know where to focus your time and energy? Only do things you’re passionate about. You will then do them well.

Do you enjoy writing? Consider a blog. How about public speaking? Create a podcast or webinar to share your ideas with an online community. Do you enjoy helping others? Be a mentor. While  you won’t be paid for this, it could be a way to connect with others as you help them on their paths. Or create an ADP list session and invite others to join in. This won’t connect you with hiring managers, but it can still be a way to expand your network.

Lastly, consider putting together a website – a one-stop place for all this content and more, including your case studies. A professional website is a focal point for freelancers. It is searchable and managers very often just go to Google and type what they are looking for. If you can carefully craft your offerings, set up your keywords, and present them in a searchable way, it will make it that much easier for a UXr manager to find you.

The following is a great exercise to create those keywords. Write out three Google search strings that you’d like to find you. Share with a colleague or business partner and refine them together. Check your LinkedIn, resume, and website for those keywords. This is the time to be specific, not just generalize. Focus on the bull’s eye. Then you can work on the rings. While you may have some interests but are not yet qualified in those areas, don’t be tempted to list those on your website. Managers are looking for expertise. But on the other hand, don’t be shy about what you have done. Include any or all experiences you have had that will point to those specialties that are supported by your case studies. 

How do UXr Managers Hire Freelancers?

Their first priority is to find researchers they’ve worked with previously. People who have performed well for them and whose work they can count on. How can you get on that known list? That is one of the reasons to reach out to those that you have worked with before. And then, once you are on that list with a manager or company, be sure to never let them down. Make sure they know that you’re freelancing and looking for work. Maybe they’ll remember when work comes up.

Secondly, managers will look for referrals from staff and researchers they contact. The staff  knows what is needed and has their own networks to draw from. You may not be in the network of the managers themselves (which is a third way that managers look for researchers), but if you are in the network of those who work with or for these researchers, that puts you one step closer.

Other routes that managers might take to look for researchers include the following: 

  • Turning it over to HR to do the searching
  • Calling an agency
  • Searching online by posting on Slack, job boards, Craigslist, Upwork, etc.
  • Searching on Linkedin or Google

This is the hierarchy that managers will use to find researchers. The key is to put yourself as high on that hierarchy as you can so they can find you. 

How to Identify Individual Sales Prospects

Sales, while perhaps more intimidating, is underrated yet very powerful. Once you know your ideal customer, those that fit in your Bull’s eye, it’s quite efficient to target companies that you know, particularly those in your local area. Why start there? Because more than likely, they will favor a local researcher. Once you’ve identified these companies, discover who the UXr managers are and start a relationship with them, through cold connecting with them on LinkedIn, through a mutual acquaintance, or by meeting them at conferences, meetups, or UX groups. You don’t know when they will be ready to hire a contractor, but when they do, you will be in a much better position to be considered for the work if you have previously connected with them.

Another route is to look at job postings in Indeed, Linkedin, or Slack. You can apply for those jobs if you qualify, but exploring these openings is also a great way to find out who the managers are and to see what their needs are. Even if you are not interested in the full-time job they are offering, the posting will give you a lot of information as a freelancer. If you have the necessary skills, you can offer your services to fill in as a freelancer until the position is filled. There is nothing lost in making these connections, and your efforts will once again put your name in front of these managers.

What are A Freelancer’s Marketing Priorities?

With so much to consider, let’s dial this down a bit to focus on what your priorities should be:

  • Refine your offering, specialty, and differentiation.
  • Strengthen and use your in-person network.
  • Participate in UXr slack groups and on LinkedIn
  • Refine or create your own website (SEO first, then creative)
  • Be active in meetups, webinars, conferences, etc.

There are many ways to succeed as a freelancer. Choose the ones that fit you best. You only need one great channel to be successful: whether in-person or online; marketing or selling. Be patient and give yourself time. But if you are diligent, consistent, and focused, the work you desire will eventually come.

You may also want to take a look at this list of UX Research Specialties according to NN/g, Nielsen Norman Group –

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