Freelance Marketing Series #3: Where to Find Prospects

Welcome back! It’s time for Part 3 of the Freelance Marketing Series! On Sunday, we talked about getting your online space ready for clients. Yesterday, I showed you how to use Google Forms to create an efficient and flexible prospect list.

Angry female with a binoculars
You don’t have to look so hard. Prospects are everywhere!

Today, I’m going to show you my process of finding prospects to put on that list.

“Where do you find work?” Aside from marketing and pricing questions, it’s probably the most-asked question given all the things people ask me about freelancing.

It might seem like clients are a concept more than an actual thing. I mean where in the world does a person find a client? How do you make sure you’re finding the right clients? How can you minimize your risk of being taken advantage of?

The truth is, clients are everywhere. I mean everywhere. You drive past them on the way to work, you see them online a thousand times a day, and they’re super accessible.

If you don’t believe me, it’s probably because you don’t have the tools you need to search for and find high-quality work. Or, at the least, you don’t know where they are.

So, without further adieu, here we go. This is the step-by-step approach I take to finding clients.

Visualizing Your Perfect Client

Before you go on a prospecting spree, you need to know who you’re looking for. Lack of clarity is one of the main reasons that freelancers end up with sub-par clients. If you think your perfect client is anyone who will pay you, you’re on your way to some seriously disappointing end results. Getting paid is necessary, of course, but other factors need to come into play.

Think of it this way. When you go out to eat, eating is the main goal. But you’re still not going to take food from anyone who offers it, right? You’ll be discriminatory and make sure that you’re going to enjoy the experience, get the most for what you’re putting into it, and not wind up with food poisoning. To that end, you’re probably going to pick the nice diner down the road instead of the sketchy, lone taco cart with the dude you’ve never seen before. Right?

Same goes for finding clients. You need to know who it is you want to pitch to, which really means you need to figure out who it is you want to work for. What kinds of clients are going to make your life as a freelancer enjoyable?

It’s just as important to know who you don’t want on your list as it is to know who you do want. Think about some of the following things when deciding on the types of clients you’d like to pursue:

  • Do you like working on a few long projects or many short ones?
  • Do you like writing technical or editorial pieces?
  • How much do you want to make per month?
  • How many hours a month do you have to devote to your freelance business?
  • Do you like to work on certain types of content, or do you prefer certain subject matters?
  • Are you comfortable creating contracts, or would you rather work in a more casual environment?

Answering these questions will help you come up with a list of criteria by which you can judge your prospects as to whether they’ll be a good fit for you or not. For instance, if you only have a minimal amount of hours to devote per month but you need a higher income, you might want to pursue longer projects that pay more. Similarly, if you’re not comfortable working with contracts, you’ll probably want to go for smaller jobs since most high-figure jobs will require you to create and negotiate a contract to avoid any problems down the road.

Take some time and get a feel for what you want your freelance life to look and feel like, and then go on to the next step.

Coming Up With a List of Criteria

Now that you’ve got an idea of the type of clients you want to look for, create a list of criteria. You can narrow down your prospect pools by judging each prospect against the list you’ve created.

For instance, I typically look for clients whose companies gross over a certain amount per year so I know they have the budget available to hire me. I also look for clients who already have content on their website, but who could use more. Additionally, I look for clients in certain sectors (like finance). The reason I take industries into consideration is because some of them are more prone to need whitepapers, corporate histories, annual reports, and other content I specialize in than others.

Your list of criteria can be as small or as large as you like, and the more experience you get, the more you’ll learn what you want to include and what you don’t need.

Here are some ideas for criteria you might want to consider.

  • annual revenue
  • type of business
  • location
  • number of years in business
  • number of employees
  • whether they have an existing blog
  • where they rank in search results
  • current types of content in use
  • if they’re hiring or not
  • if they have staff writers (not a deal-breaker, but you might be less likely to get in)

Once you have your criteria list in place, check out the following places that I frequently use to search for clients. Most of these places allow you to filter your results by any number of criteria, which makes it even more beneficial for you to have a criteria list in the first place.

The Top 10 Places I Look For Clients

Inc. 5000

The Inc. 5000 list is one of the best places to find clients. Even if ten freelancers searched for prospects there at the same time, it’s unlikely that all of them would come up with the same list of prospects. That’s where having a list of criteria can help distinguish you from other freelancers. This list is updated annually, and it’s relatively easy to find information for the management-level employees of the highest ranking companies. I’d search for those ranking 1,000 and under (which is actually above, i.e. first through thousandth company on the list), but it’s completely up to you.

Manta

Manta is another great place where you can search for companies by category, location, and other qualifying factors. It’s not as user-friendly as some of the other places listed here, but it’s still a helpful tool. I usually only look for Manta-verified companies (the ones that have the Manta logo) because if the company isn’t managing their Manta profile, it’s likely that a lot of the information therein will be missing or inaccurate.

Google*

I put an asterisk next to Google because there’a s light caveat here. Google is only helpful if you use it the right way. You are NOT looking for any and every company in existence. Instead, you’re looking for companies on the 7-15th pages. These are companies who are probably doing a decent job of running their site, but if they’re not on the first couple of pages it’s probable that their content needs some work. Look for blogs that haven’t been updated in awhile, page content that isn’t as good as it could be, or content that isn’t updated. You can probably do a lot to help these companies, and if they’re ranking in the first 15 pages or so, they probably have the budget for a decent web designer and marketing efforts, so they can probably pay relatively well. Use some of the other sites listed here to do additional research, though, as well before you pitch to them.

Hoovers

Most of the resources on this page are free. However, Hoovers is a site you pay for. You can purchase lists of companies that fall within certain criteria. (See why that criteria list is important?) The cool part about Hoovers, though, is that you pay per list, not per month or week or year. So if you only need a couple of lists in a year, that’s all you pay for. I once paid just $10 for a small list that ended up earning me $500. I’d call that a pretty good return on investment. I know of another freelancer who spent $200 on a list and ended up landing $30,000 in work. Obviously nothing is a guarantee, but it can work pretty well.

Twitter

Believe it or not, but Twitter is actually a great way to contact prospective clients. If there’s a contact at a company you want to speak to about freelance work but you can’t find their email, PM them on Twitter. It’s actually a pretty simple and, nowadays, common way to contact prospects. Make sure you’re using your freelancing account and not your personal account when you reach out.

LinkedIn

Similar to Twitter, LinkedIn is a great way to connect with influencers and prospects, build relationships, and find clients. Sometimes you’ll find out information on LinkedIn that you can use as a personal touch in your email, like the fact that your point of contact runs marathons like you, or that you both hail from the same university. Little things like that can go a long way to helping your first contact with a prospect work out well and feel less like a cold contact.

Job Boards

Have you ever thought of looking on Indeed and other sites like it for clients? Maybe not, but it’s actually a great idea. Even if you’re not looking to become an employee, if you find out that certain companies are hiring, it probably means they’re growing, which means they’ll likely need content to help with their marketing efforts. Also, if they’re hiring for content or marketing professionals, why not offer your services in the interim while they search? After all, if they’re looking for a content manager or a social media marketing expert they clearly have work that needs to be done in those areas. Email them, and ask them if they’d consider using a freelancer until they find a permanent person for the job.

Writer’s Market

Writer’s Market is just $4.99 per month for a digital subscription, and it’s the best five bucks you’ll spend all month. Well…unless it’s Pumpkin Spice Latte season at Starbucks. Then clearly it’s the second-best five bucks you’ll spend. Priorities, people. In any case, Writer’s Market is great for finding journalism work. You can also find competitions to enter and book publishers, as well as trade magazines and other sources of work. Even if you think journalism isn’t your thing and you’d rather work for clients, it’s worth a shot to see what’s going on in that area of freelancing. If you decide to pursue journalistic work, check out ProfNet. Sign up as a journalist (it’s not as official as it sounds), and you can find experts who will help you make your pieces shine.

Guest Blogs

Guest blogging is a great way to increase your exposure and make money in the process. The question inevitably comes up: should you guest blog for free? In my opinion, you should never work for free. However, if you feel that it will substantially increase your prospect pool and you’re likely to get work out of it, you could try it out. That being said, with all the paid guest blog spots available I’d certainly seek those out first. A Google search for “blogs that pay writers” or something similar will usually populate some decent results.

MeetUp

Finally, get out there and meet people on sites like MeetUp. I know, I know. Asking you to leave the house? What kind of sociopath am I? We’re writers, after all. We thrive on our cave, our coffee, and the solace that we don’t need to see actual, real people. But sometimes it’s not a bad idea. MeetUp has some great networking groups, and so far it seems that they don’t bite. In fact, most of the people there are probably just as nervous as you. Networking groups are great ways to meet new people, practice your social skills, and maybe even land some work.

That’s all for today, folks! Hope this helps you as you journey into the world of marketing. Remember, my book A Freelance Writer’s Guide to Marketing is still available on Kindle, and if you missed Part 1 or Part 2

you can click on the respective link and find them.

Also, make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss anything. Until next time, happy writing!

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