Career AdviceHow to Generate Passive Leads as a Freelancer


Jacob McMillen
writes on May 18, 2016

Generating passive leads is one of the best ways to stabilize income as a freelancer.

There’s a lot to love about the freelance life.

  1. Freedom
  2. Diverse projects
  3. No income cap
  4. No office politics

But there are also some major disadvantages, most notably including a lack of guaranteed income. For many freelancers, the fear of not being able to acquire enough work is a daily issue.

Yes, you may have acquired enough work to pay the bills this month, but what about next month? What about the month after that? What about making MORE than you need so you can start saving?

As an employee, you have the luxury of predictable income. You can budget and plan a set income amount. But as a freelancer, you often have no idea how much money you’ll make next month.

In my experience, the best way to stabilize freelance income is to build a system for generating passive leads. Thanks to the work I’ve done over the last few years, I now have so many people inquiring about my freelance copywriting services each week, that I actually have to refer some of those jobs elsewhere.

While my work as a writer makes this a bit easier, there are a number of things any freelancer can do to generate passive leads, and that’s what we’ll be talking about today.

1. Built-In Referrals

The easiest place to start generating new business is with your existing customers. If you’ve never asked your past clients to refer you, stop reading this article, open your email client, and send out a few emails.

But while asking for referrals is better than nothing at all, you ideally want to have a built-in system in place for generating as many referrals as possible.

For example, let’s say you offer a $2,000 web design package, and a typical client will hire you to make edits from time to time, adding an extra $100 every three months or so. Why not offer 6-12 months of free basic updates in exchange for 3 referrals?

Yes, you might be forgoing a few hundred bucks, but if you land even one of those referrals, you’re looking at an extra $2,000 and the potential for another 3 referrals. Furthermore, if the client has a good experience getting updates from you during that initial free period, they are likely to continue paying you to do their updates long term.

Another option is to request referrals when you send your invoice. If the client is really pleased with your work and the value you provided, this will be a good time to elicit an action on their part. However, if the goodwill isn’t quite that strong, you can always motivate them by offering a slight discount in payment in exchange for referrals.

The referral system fails or succeeds based on how much your clients love you. If you’re the type who makes everyone fall in love with you, referral business will come easily if you ask for it. If the opposite is true, you might need to essentially buy referrals like you would other leads.

2. Regular Guest Blogging

One of the best ways I’ve found to land clients is to get my work in front of them. I am usually hired by marketing agencies and SaaS businesses, so I make a point of regularly writing for some of the most popular blogs in those spaces.

This has both and short term and a long term benefit. When a post first goes live, I typically get a small influx of website visits. While the numbers aren’t very impressive, these visitors are hyper-targeted, which makes just 100 of them far more valuable than several thousand visitors from a site like Reddit.

The long term benefit of these guest posts is typically derived from SEO. If the website is prominent, it will get search traffic to my guest post continuously, which translates to continuous referral traffic for me. Additionally, the backlinks to my website boost my own search engine rankings and by extension, my incoming search traffic.

Guest blogging is one of the few avenues where you can place your brand directly in front of your target market, and with the right SEO, the combination of multiple guest blogs across multiple sites aggregates for a steady flow of passive leads to your website.

3. Complete Inbound Marketing

While guest blogging is a strategy in and of itself, it is even more effective if you are willing to incorporate it as part of a complete inbound marketing campaign.

Part of the reason most freelancers struggle is that they don’t think of themselves as business owners. Online business owners need to setup a guaranteed, scalable process for generating new leads and customers.

One of the best ways to do this is through inbound marketing, and this is equally true for freelance service providers. What this means is that you have a system in place for channeling visitors to your website and converting those visitors into leads and customers.

This doesn’t have to be complicated. The basic system you need looks like this:

  1. Channel traffic to your website
  2. Convert traffic into leads
  3. Use email marketing to convert leads into customers

It’s that simple.

To use myself as an example, I use my paid writing assignment as well guest blogs, SEO targeting, and social sharing to channel traffic to my website. My site is stocked full of its own compelling content and designed to resonate with business owners and marketing directors. I offer a number of free resources they will want in order to capture visitor email addresses and then I follow up via email with content that adds value to their work and encourages them to hire me.

If your freelance business isn’t web design, the idea of setting all this up might be daunting, but it’s super easy and relatively cheap. Here’s a breakdown of what it costs me to run my own inbound marketing.

As you can see, you can run inbound marketing through your site for only $35 per month, which is practically nothing.

With this low-cost setup, I’ve been able to leave cold-calling behind. New leads now show up in my inbox without me having to do anything.


Many freelancers are stuck in the mentality that they will always have to prospect for new work, and that can be tiring, frustrating, and unproductive.

While every new business needs effective prospecting to begin, you goal should ultimately be to generate a steady flow of passive leads interested in your work. This allows you to transition from hand-to-mouth into business building.

If you aren’t quite sure how to turn incoming traffic into leads, I’ve put together an extensive list of 20 proven techniques for converting visitors into subscribers.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. What are some strategies you’ve used to generate passive leads for yourself?

If you’d like to learn in-demand programming skills and become a certified developer, check out the Treehouse Techdegree Program.


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15 Responses to “How to Generate Passive Leads as a Freelancer”

  1. I really don’t known about these methods to generate passive leads as a freelance service provider. Thanks for sharing great information. It is really worth for me.

  2. Thanks for these tips, I didnt know anything about inbound marketing, I just discovered amazing stuff.

  3. Just curious to know what your strategy is after capturing email. Are you sending out personalised follow ups or are you adding them to a newsletter list?

  4. Nice tips! In theory these all sounds great, but coming from someone who started out as a freelancer I can assure you it’s not that simple. I found that my best approach was to aim to send a certain amount of proposals each day. Most days I would aim for 10 high quality, well researched proposals, over time I would start winning these projects and by far the best source of leads were coming from referrals after that.

  5. Well, nice tips to generate leads for sure…

    But, the problem faced by one and all is all about the quality and grandness of the portfolio. A very few of them are able to represent and showcase them even after having skills and talent.

    • Hey Amit, having a great porfolio certainly helps, but it’s not necessary. If you feel it is vital to what you want to do, you can always pitch free work to your idea portfolio client in exchange for the ability to display what you do for them.

  6. Get on Yelp. Lookup bigger companies that don’t have a website. Or goto Angie’s List or and look at all the local business industries. Do a local search such as “Boston plumber” or “Chicago wedding photographer”

    If there’s someone with a crap website or none at all but only a listing from some other site, call them up and tell them how you can help them do more business. DO NOT just offer to make them a website. Offer to get them more leads and customers.

    You’re not a web designer!! You’re a lead generator!!

  7. Great suggestions, but I have a question. What if our website doesn’t utilize a CMS? Are there any good jQuery plugins you’d suggest for the inbound marketing? I’d love to use these techniques to build a clientelle, but without unnecessarily adding a large load-time to my website for use of a CMS.

  8. George on May 19, 2016 at 5:23 pm said:

    Thanks for the insightful article Jacob. I will put these useful techniques to use on my businesses.

  9. This is awesome ! Had the exact same thoughts about freelancing but your post helped me diversify my approach in terms of investing in social tools. Thanks Dude ! Have bookmarked this page. 🙂 ♫

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