So you’ve decided to try your hand at freelancing as a web developer. Congrats! Now comes the challenging part: finding clients, your bread and butter. I promise, finding your first freelance client is not as hard as it sounds.
Your network — even if it’s small right now — will be your most prominent source of clients for the entirety of your career. Building a strong network will prevent you from having to rely on freelance sites, waste time applying for work and risk getting stuck with bad clients.
When I first started, I didn’t think I had a great network. I was new, young, didn’t have any contacts in the industry and wasn’t sure where to start. This wasn’t true, though — I knew lots of people. Literally anyone can help you find your first freelance client. All you have to do is talk to them.
The Importance of Weak Ties
There is a concept called “weak ties.” These are people you are familiar with, but with whom you don’t have a strong bond. These people might be friends of friends, parents of friends, more distant relatives, former coworkers, acquaintances.
The idea is that connecting with your weak ties can provide great benefits socially and professionally. This is because your strong ties — your best friends, your family members — are often a lot like you. You have similar networks or are in the same peer group. As a result, your strong ties are more likely to have the same access to ideas, information and potential clients as you.
Weak ties, on the other hand, have access networks of people and information that you do not. They might know of a company that needs to hire a web developer, or know another freelancer who needs a subcontractor. Weak ties can lead you to opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise know about.
How to Leverage Weak Ties
You will be relying on weak ties throughout your career. That’s why your first task is to literally make a list of them.
Think about who you know. When I went through this process, I identified a wide range of people. A former boss — an owner of a small business — that I had a positive relationship with. An aunt by marriage who worked for a small marketing company. The mother of a close friend, a journalist. The father of another close friend, a musician. My mother’s hair stylist.
For my first clients, my goal was to acquire work, build my experience and get paid. Soon. I knew that bigger clients and bigger jobs would come quickly once I had smaller jobs under my belt. So when generating this list, I included anyone who might need an update to their website, might need a new website or might know someone who needed a website.
Make your list of weak ties. Write their names down and their contact information. Then, one by one, contact them and share your story. This might seem tough at first, but you’ll quickly find a groove that works for you. Leverage technology that’s comfortable for you. Facebook chat and email are unobtrusive and casual. For some weak ties, texting can be a great way to reach your contact quickly and directly without putting too much pressure on them. LinkedIn can be another tool to use, but I’ve found that LinkedIn messages are much more likely to go ignored.
Your goal for each message or phone call is to let your weak tie know what type of client you’re able to help and what type of work you’re able to do, and ask them to keep you in mind.
That’s it. Once you’ve made contact with someone, cross them off your list, and don’t stop until you’ve gone through every single one. This process helped me get three clients in my first month. These clients referred me out for more work, or hired me again for additional projects.
You’re already more connected than you realize
Through my aunt, I was able to make a connection with the owner of the company. We had a couple of introductory phone calls that led to an in-person meeting. Because I was so green, we agreed to a paid trial project that if successful would lead to regular subcontracted work, mostly assisting their web designer with more advanced PHP and CMS work. Pitching a paid trial project is a great, low-stakes way to woo potential subcontracting clients, especially when you’re very new to freelancing. Use the project to really showcase your communication style, work ethic and skills to make up for a small portfolio or resume.
My former boss had been toying with the idea of redeveloping her company’s website to help boost online sales. Since she knew I was already very familiar with their products and web content, she decided it was the right time to bring focus to that project, and hired me.
Your network of weak ties and the referrals that come from it that will ultimately be your bread and butter. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how connected you already are and how quickly you’ll find your first freelance job.