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Finding our first freelance project is hard. Creating a stream of prospects and new customers can feel impossible. And this is why creating a steady stream of paying clients is usually the biggest challenge freelancers face. But, once we embrace this challenging reality, we freelancers can overcome it by passing the following four powerful checkpoints.

Actively find new projects

There is the first client, and then there are the many inconsistent ones to follow. The key here is knowing our selling strength and tackling the easiest sources first.

Make selling predictable

Once we’re confident in our ability to get and take care of a client, we’ll need to embrace the numbers game so we can make that inconsistent sales effort a reliable way of life.

Extend our sales efforts with a team

As a successful freelancer, our sales team will consist of friends, clients, and our network. To succeed, we’ll need to actively cultivate these relationships.

Establish a reputation where referrals seek us out

By focusing on doing great work, time will eventually build a reputation where people know and hear about us. When we have people seeking us out to help grow their business, we’ve hit a major milestone in creating a sustainable freelance income.

We're finding new projects

I remember the moment when I landed my first website customer. I had called through an Atlanta suburb’s business association directory. One of the owners I got on the phone happened to need a website and agreed to hire me. Wow, I was in business building websites!

While I garnered a quick win, I’d soon find out the challenge of selling. After moving to Atlanta from Arizona, I didn’t have a network, so I started attending many events looking for people in search of websites and marketing support. I operated more as a “grill” type sales person seeking the opportunity and pushing for the close.

Fast forward to today and the past few years, I’ve operated more as a crockpot sales person slowly and steadily creating content and growing relationships. As a freelancer we don’t need many clients to sustain success, so we can realistically apply an inbound approach to growing.

There’s also an order of ease when it comes to finding new paid work. Getting more work is always easiest from our current clients. Finding it with strangers takes way more energy and resources. Unfortunately, it took me awhile to recognize and embrace this and I ended up spending way more energy finding and landing new projects.

Now that I’ve shifted strategies, I simply work through my contact list in the order listed below when I’m seeking additional paid work.

  • Active clients
  • Recently active clients
  • Inactive clients
  • Prospects & leads
  • Connections
  • Strangers

These simple insights and strategies are what freelancers need to create and sustain success. When we recognize how we're best suited to sell and run a strategy that tackles the low-hanging fruit first, we’ve got a plan to effectively find our first of many new customers.

Sales is a predictable process

Sales can feel like an abstract process, but the quicker we can make it concrete the faster we can take control of fostering a flow of new clients. And, the best part of all is we can actually map out our activity in a way that predicts the types of results we’ll have.

How many customers do you have right now? How many leads did it take to get those customers? How many meetings did it take to generate those leads? How many strangers did you need to network or call to get those meetings?

If you want five customers, figure out how many meetings you need to have to get them. When we’re selling, many times we can get too focused on making a sale, but it’s much more effective for us to know the actions we can take along the way and simply focus on doing those activities.

A clear understanding of what it takes to succeed is only the first step. To sustain the activity we need to not only survive, but thrive, requires fearlessness, discipline, and perseverance. The fires of freelancing will cultivate these attributes if we don’t bring them to the table on the offset.

We've built a team of advocates

While we as freelancers are lone rangers, we can’t succeed on our own. We need others helping to connect us with the right people. And there are three types of people that can elevate our independent career. Rainmakers, customers, and friends (or family) become our extended sales team.

Rainmakers are people we come across that send referrals our way. Happy customers are enthusiastic about our results, so they share away with their fellow business owners and friends. And trusting friends care about helping us and want to make it slightly easier.

Don’t go into freelancing without building your extended promotional team!

Referrals & leads seek us out

I remember the first few times leads came my way out of what seemed like nowhere. Several years back, I began working with a customer on the Hubspot platform. I was able to help him leverage the tool to the max and the Hubspot staff took notice and referred other small companies my way.

Great work done well over time leads to prospects seeking us out, and this example worked out well for me with several projects flowing my way from people I didn't even know. When strangers are you referring you, you know you've hit this checkpoint.

Sustain a sustainable freelancing business

Getting those first few clients, and channeling them into a predictable process helps us leverage the referrals from our network. As we serve these new customers well over time, we build a reputation where people seek us out to solve the problems we're an expert at resolving.

It isn't easy, but the steps are fairly simple once we get out of our head, face our fears, and make it happen.

Jason Scott Montoya is a full-time freelancer, author (Path Of The Freelancer), husband, and father (4) located in Atlanta Georgia. He helps grow small business income, teams, and owners. On his blog, he shares stories & systems to live better & work smarter.