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Maintaining an active blog (and portfolio) can be one of the most lucrative investments toward building a steady flow of inbound freelance clients.

Four years ago when I launched my blog, I set out to use it as a destination for publishing real-life portfolio examples of the kind of content I’d offer prospective clients. As a new freelancer, this was a must for me in the moment because I didn’t have other work to showcase. Over time, my blog grew into a six-figure acquisition channel for my business.

With the goal of highlighting my content marketing services, I’ve been regularly writing deep-dive articles documenting my personal experiences and lessons learned in the industries I enjoy writing about (business, finance and freelancing). Since starting my blog, I’ve been able to grow it to more than 2 Million yearly readers, 55,000 email subscribers, 150,000 podcast listeners and a steady stream of inbound freelance clients.

While the journey hasn’t been without its fair share of ups and downs, almost all of my freelance clients throughout the years have come to me from my blog—all of which were fueled by exhaustive testing around the most effective ways to drive qualified traffic.

Here are my four most effective ways to start getting your blog content in front of new prospective clients (and actually convince them to start a conversation with you).

Guest post on well-established blogs

If you’ve chosen a clear niche to blog about, chances are high that there are at least a handful of other (already more established) bloggers and industry publications out there in your space who’ve built an audience of readers and clients you also want to reach.

When I first started blogging, the best advice I was given from fellow bloggers was to focus on getting my content in front of the right audiences. So, I began pitching guest posts on the topics I already wrote about, like the most realistic side business ideas, right away.

I’d create spreadsheets of the websites that had strong content in my niche, and a high probability of access to readers who’d have their own content needs. Next, I’d reach out to the editors (or blog owners) asking if they’d be willing to take a guest post from me.

Initially, rejection was the most common response to these cold outreach emails I was sending, but over time as I landed my first handful of reputable guest posts and had more content samples to highlight on my own blog, it became much easier to pitch my offer. Plus, there was a definite tipping point after getting my first guest post published on the Buffer blog, which significantly increased my authority as a writer.

The most important takeaway for this strategy is to identify the authoritative blogs or industry publications where your target clients already spend their time—and to do whatever you can to make yourself present there. Pitching and writing guest posts is unquestionably a lot of work, but my early guest articles are what helped me land my first handful of freelance clients that were already convinced of my worth.

Leverage (the right) social media channels

An obvious place to turn for driving traffic to your blog is social media—but it only works well as a sustainable traffic source when done right. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat: there are lot of options out there.

The right social channel to invest in is whichever platform best suits your niche and shows promising signs to have a high concentration of your ideal readership. It’s a waste of your time trying to promote your content on every social media platform.

Take a look at what you’re doing today and identify the one channel (maybe two) that gives you the most engagement and go all in on that platform for the coming months.

The key is to experiment and see what works for you over time. Each social network naturally appeals to a certain type of reader. This is fairly broad, but generally speaking, here’s what works best on each social platform today:

  • Facebook: Videos and curated content
  • Instagram: High-res photos, quotes, and Stories
  • Twitter: News, blog posts, and GIFs
  • LinkedIn: Professional content and career news
  • Pinterest: Infographics, step-by-step photo guides, visual content
  • Google+: Blog posts you want to rank well on Google
  • Reddit: Comments about topics in your niche

Luckily there are lots of powerful tools, like Quuu, Buffer, and MeetEdgar, that can help you manage your social media content throughout the week and increase your level of exposure to relevant audiences.

Contribute to relevant online communities and forums

Taking an active membership in the right online groups can net you a hugely positive return in terms of driving the right blog traffic, and is an especially powerful investment if you’re still working to develop your style and messaging.

But remember, it’s equally as important to avoid the decision-making deadlock of worrying about which groups your dream clients will be in—look for just a small handful of active groups you can join on Facebook, LinkedIn, or other more niche-specific sites that have a high concentration of interest overlap with the topics you know your clients care about.

For example, if you want to land food blogs and publications as clients, you could consider joining Facebook groups like Recipes for Home Cooked Meals (1.5 Million+ members), Healthy Food Bloggers Recipes (19,000+ members), and Healthy Recipes for the Busy Life (15,000+ members) to see who’s regularly sharing in these groups. If your content is relevant to anyone looking for inspiration around healthy home-cooked meals, you're sure to reach new readers—and prospective clients looking to scale their production of similar content.

If your search doesn’t come up with any Facebook or LinkedIn groups with a decent number of members (5,000+), there are plenty of other options. Look for more general Facebook groups that relate to your broader topic area of cooking, or for more forum-style communities around the subject matter on sites like Reddit, Chowhound, Genius Kitchen, or Food52.

Remember though, these aren’t just places to shamelessly promote yourself. First, you need to show up and provide value before asking for anything in return. Build real relationships and engage with fellow group members.

Forge partnerships with relevant brands

Building relationships with other bloggers and brands (that you’d love to work with) in your industry is one of the best ways to test the waters and demonstrate proof of your value without immediately asking to become a paid contractor.

These relationships that can start as simply sharing each other’s content can open up possibilities for paid partnerships, regular contracts, content sharing swaps, interviews, and more.

In my experience, the best way to start conversations with well-established bloggers or brands—and actually capture their attention—is to proactively provide value to them first. The easiest way to do that is to mention them within the content you’re publishing on your blog whenever you write something new.

Then after your content is published, you have an exciting reason to reach out to these sites without immediately asking for something in return. Just send them a short email to give a quick heads up about their mention on your blog, without any other strings attached.

This is an important caveat. After years of honing this strategy, I’ve come to learn that it’s always best not to immediately ask your prospective client to do something on your behalf within the first outreach email you send.

Your goal at this stage is to establish a connection based on the value you just provided them in the form of the free mention on your blog. An abrupt ask will sour the relationship before you’ve even gotten to chat about something larger together. So, if they reply to your email, then you can ask if they’ll share your content, accept a guest post, or be willing to talk about paid contributions.

At the end of the day, strategically growing your blog traffic and using it as an inbound lead generation channel will depend heavily upon how much people are resonating with what you have to say.

Be exciting, stay engaged, keep establishing new mutually beneficial relationships in your niche, and always continue experimenting. Do that, and the traffic & leads will come.

Ryan Robinson is a freelance writer for the world's top brands and growing startups. On his blog, he teaches more than 200,000 monthly readers how to start a blog and grow a profitable side business.