One of the perennial questions for the independent web worker is “how do I find customers?” This question has been on my mind again lately, because I’ve had a few extra hours to sell. As a longstanding freelancer, I’ve faced this issue more than once over the years; thankfully those times have been balanced out by the times when I’m overwhelmed with inquiries. While I can’t tell you exactly where your next client is going to come from, I can tell you the steps I follow when I’m hunting.
1. Make progress every day. There are two parts to this: first, resolve to make some progress towards landing your next client, and second, follow through on that. Paradoxically enough, the times when you’re not working are the worst times to relax; unless your bank account is overly healthy, you really need to focus on getting back to whatever your definition of full employment is. I make it a practice of never going to bed until I can explain what I did that day to become more employed. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to make progress, take a look at our recent piece on using your down time effectively.
2. Buff up your image. Before you start a heavy-duty search, make sure you’re presenting yourself as best you can. Update your resume with your most recent achievements (and while you’re at it, take another proofreading pass over it). Fill out your LinkedIn profile (or join LinkedIn, if you’ve been putting it off). Line up references so you can supply them to potential customers without a delay.
3. Network, network, network. By far the majority of my incoming work over the past decade has been because someone ran across me on the web. These days, you can (and should) use your busiest social network sites to make sure that people know about your availability. You might lose a few Twitter followers or Facebook friends if you mention too often that you’re on the market, but this is liable to be outweighed by inquiries from people who didn’t know you were looking. One tip: this only works on networks where you’re already an active participant; just parachuting on to a new site and posting nothing but job pleas is not likely to be successful.
4. Monitor the job sites. No, not all of them – but there are probably some job boards that are specific to your own industry or specialty. You should keep an eye on those targeted forums (RSS feeds are your friend) and be prepared to send an email to anything that looks like a good fit. I’ve generally found this to have a lower chance of payoff than lightly-directed networking, but it takes almost no time to send an email with a few paragraphs and a link to your online resume.
5. Be active in your community. That’s your web community, not your physical one. Slack time is a great time to give something back: helpful forum answers, user group talks, open source code. This sort of thing makes you more visible on the networking level, and it also gives you extra achievements for your resume. Particularly if you’re trying to break into a new area, you may have to invest some free time to prove to potential clients that you can do the work.