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An Ex-Freelancers Guide to Getting Your First Clients

Jamees Bedford
Engineering Manager @ Attest - Previously Engineering Manager @ Monzo & Front-End Lead @ Mango
ใƒป5 min read

I was a freelancer for nearly five years of my life.

One of the things you learn fairly quickly, is freelancing isn't just about being an awesome developer, it is about becoming a good salesperson.

That's right... a salesperson ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

Typically when I think of a salesperson I think of this guy:

Alt Text

A typical snake-oil salesperson. Someone who will pounce upon you and bully you into buying something.

But it doesn't have to be like that at all. In fact, my partner works in sales, she is shy and introverted however she excels at her job. She is the sales manager of a large company and has won many high-brow projects.


When I first started freelancing and realized that no one was flocking to me to chuck their cash in my face for my awesome skills, I realized sales were going to be key to my success.

I spoke to my partner and we had a good conversation about what she would do in this situation. She gave me these tips:

  • Go where the market is.
  • Find a problem, and offer a solution - If you try and sell someone something that they don't necessarily understand will benefit them, they won't go for it.
  • Find a way to be competitive without under-selling yourself.
  • Build long-lasting relationships.

I am going to tackle each of these points below in a dedicated section.

Enjoy! ๐Ÿ˜‰


๐Ÿค Go Where the Market Is

It's tempting to say "Everyone is on UpWork, I will go there"!

However, after spending a couple of weeks on the platform there are a few things I decided.

  • It's too competitive.
  • There is too much noise.
  • Lowest cost of living (often) prevails.
  • I am unable to build relationships because clients details are kept largely confidential.

I fell into a bit of a trap and mainly spent the first two weeks writing detailed proposals. I only heard back from one, a fairly basic website to be made for ยฃ100. I went through the process, spent a couple of days putting together some designs. The client was really happy, paid me my ยฃ15 as agreed and I carried on building only to never hear from them again.

I needed to rethink because this wasn't sustainable. All of this for ยฃ15!

โœ… So what works?

I decided to follow my partner's advice. I needed to find somewhere where there was going to be work, but not a lot of competition.

Then it hit me. Instagram.

Take five minutes to look up small companies, tradespeople and other professionals in your area. There are LOADS.

Plumbers, electricians, window fitters, make up artists, hairdressers, cake makers, dog groomers, wedding videographers, photographers... They are all on there plugging their services.

I felt I was on to something.

These people have taken the time to set up an Instagram account to try and promote their business where peoples attentions are at. They understand the importance of being present on social media, yet many of them have websites that are not mobile responsive and therefore cannot convert sales from Instagram.

I'll repeat that - many of them have websites that are not mobile responsive and therefore cannot convert sales from IG.

We have found our audience, and we are starting to find they have a problem that needs fixing.


โš’ Find a Problem - Offer a Solution

I'll repeat the line I left you with for a third and last time...

Many of them have websites that are not mobile responsive and therefore cannot convert sales from IG.

This automatically gives you a hook that you can get people in with.

"Let me build you a website that looks nicer than the one you have now" will not work.

Business' are tough. They have margins to meet and often making things look pretty comes much later. However, if you can find a problem, and then offer a solution to that problem and tell your potential client exactly how it will benefit them, then you are on to a winner.

This is the tactic I took - I would look up small companies in my local area, check their website, if it was good I would move on, if it wasn't mobile responsive, or if they were selling a product and would benefit from E-Commerce, then I would use that as a selling point as well.

Here is an example of a DM I would send:

Hi ๐Ÿ‘‹๐Ÿผ I was just looking through your page and you have some awesome products! I couldn't help but notice though that your CTA/website is not able to be viewed on mobile. It seems a shame that you will potentially be missing out on the people visiting your website who are viewing Instagram on their phone!

If you want to have a chat about sorting a solution for that, then feel free to give me a ring or we could chat over coffee.

Thanks for your time!

The ultimate aim here is to get the person speaking on the phone or meeting the client in person.

Sure it won't work for every single message sent, a lot of people will refuse or at least will keep you in mind for future.

When you have a client on the phone, however, the next stage comes in to play ๐Ÿ˜€ Converting!


๐Ÿ’ธ Find a Way to Be Competitive - But don't undersell yourself.

As many people as I ask will always take payment upfront for a website. Sure, they will split the payments down into different stages of the build, but it is still a lot of money upfront.

Being competitive will mean trying to undersell everyone else around me, and there is nothing to say that a potential client won't check online or elsewhere for a price check.

That got me thinking... Is there another way to be competitive without knocking my prices down?

Monthly payments.

Not only does this make the barrier to entry lower than an upfront cost, but it is also a tactic that makes you much more accessible for business'.

Would you rather pay ยฃ2000 upfront, or split the cost to ยฃ500 and then smaller monthly payments over the year.

I was sceptical at first, would it work?

I can safely say that this was possibly what transformed by freelancing to new heights. Clients were much more happy to sign a contract to pay me monthly, whilst I updated and maintained their website.

Rather than going through the complications of a hand-over and trying to work to using a CMS that the client knows or understands, then the ball is kept in your court. Use the tech-stack you like, keep the website on GitHub. Awesome ๐Ÿค™๐Ÿป


โค๏ธ Build long-lasting relationships.

This is made slightly easier than the fact you will be keeping in contact with the client because they are paying you monthly but still needs to be mentioned.

Now that the client knows you are trustworthy and offer a great service, they are more than likely to come back to you, or even recommend people to you. I had a client once who recommended me, and in the space of two months, I had three more clients purely from the fact he had mentioned what I had done for him.

It doesn't need to be anything special, but dropping in a phone call every now and then or meeting up for a bit of lunch will help build those relationships. If you sell your client a website and then drop off the face of the earth you are going to come across as being untrustworthy.


I hope this helps some of you in the same way it helped me! Ultimately there will be a lot of failures and you will get things wrong at times.

Freelancing isn't easy! It likely never will be either!

But hopefully, with these few tips, you will be able to get yourself a few clients and start generating that income!

Discussion (40)

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chrisachard profile image
Chris Achard

Nice post! Very interesting advice about using instagram and monthly payments... I don't think I've thought about it that way before! Neat.

I would add - for anyone looking to become a freelancer - make sure you have some money saved up first! Your story here about doing a bunch of work for only ยฃ15 is great, because it illustrates that with freelancing, you may not get paid for awhile, and when you do - it might be not what you expect :) So you definitely need a runway to get started.

Thanks for the post!

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jameesy profile image
Jamees Bedford Author

Thanks for the reply Chris!

That is such a good piece of advice. I definitely reckon people should have AT LEAST a few months worth of wages saved up and really try and cut all their living expenses down to a minimum. It's hard out there!

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Jesus Mendoza

Say you have a client and you charge him 6000โ‚ฌ for a project, thats 500โ‚ฌ a month. How do you manage to live with 500โ‚ฌ the first month or until you find more clients to earn enough money to sustain yourself?

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Benjamin Wanicur

I would be VERY careful about charging a flat rate for a project. I know many people do this, but I it can be incredibly dangerous. Money is often paid upon "completion" of the project, or at least a majority of the payment. The definition of "complete" can change drastically. Especially if you have clients who are new to web development and do not appreciate the amount of planning required to budget correctly. In short, the client can change the definition of complete, getting more and more hours of work, essentially for free. Charge hourly!

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Emanuele Sabbadini

this is a really good point!

I think that the best solution to manage customer requests (and avoid continuous modifications for free) is to prepare good and detailed specifications.
in this case the monthly payments can work fine.
when an extra request comes, you evaluate it hourly and charge the customer outside the original contract.

do you think it could work fine?

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jameesy profile image
Jamees Bedford Author

The aim is to have numerous different clients all at the same time.

As mentioned to someone else here in a comment, I had enough money saved up to live off of for about half a year. I strongly recommend you were to do the same.

I have also found that some people will carry on in a full-time role until they have enough clients that they can comfortably leave.

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Phil Tietjen

This is a brilliant post. I tried looking into freelancing on the side for extra cash and thought Upwork and Fiverr seemed like the platforms to do that on. I was shocked to find both platforms completely saturated with from lowest cost of living areas. Even if their ads looked bad along with their portfolio, it's hard to beat $10 and even trying to match I found myself flooded beneath still.

I had decided to give up and just work on my skills as I was still fairly Junior at the time.

More recently I've felt the itch to try again but wasn't sure where to look or how to sell. Your advice definitely seems like a great place to start!

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jameesy profile image
Jamees Bedford Author

I'm really glad you found the advice helpful Phil!

All I would say is don't feel tempted to jump ship completely, but you seem to have made that decision which is very sensible! Many people think it is one or the other. All you need is an hour or two in the evening to start getting yourself out there in front of some clients.

Yes, give it a go! :) Let me know how you get on

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dirman8 profile image
dirman8

Nice post, James!. Yeah, I think besides becoming a good salesperson, we need to become a good entrepreneur. I love to read Brian Tracy's book in sales topics, he advises to talking more about customer problems so much than our product or service.

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jameesy profile image
Jamees Bedford Author

Thank you!

They sound like interesting reads. Is there one you recommend?

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Yonny Vizcaya

Hey man!... Great article. Really like the idea of โ€œgo where the market isโ€. I also think those freelance websites are so saturated with competition and there are many people in our communities needing solutions for their business that clearly is a good strategy to go where they are and offer possible solutions.

Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

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jameesy profile image
Jamees Bedford Author

Glad you enjoyed it ๐Ÿ˜€

Yeah, I think as developers we are so used to having a platform and doing things through a platform it can be intimidating to just work off your own back and find your own clients.

I mean even just going down my road there are so many self-employed people. The lady next door is a florist, the other side is a gardener. I'm sure the same can be said to loads of people.

It's reaching out to people like this, even off of the internet that will make the difference!

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m121 profile image
Mateo Perez Salazar

Thank you for your advices. I am trying to init in freelancing but for me it is so imposible. In many sites ,the advices are always the same, go to a freelancer website, build a good portfolio and start to look for jobs. But those websites have a lot of good developers with great rating, it is almost impossible find a job without stars or finished jobs. Thanks a lot for your original advices.

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islam profile image
Islam Sayed

Thanks for the tips, James. Regarding the monthly payment idea. If in some cases your client wouldn't need any extra services after getting his website done, how the payment would be arranged?

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jameesy profile image
Jamees Bedford Author

That's ok :) You are very welcome.

I usually sell on the fact I will be maintaining and updating content.

If that isn't the case though it is a good selling point to say that monthly payments will cover the hosting/domain costs, and that the client has the option to update content if need be.

It also means that you can lower their original monthly cost, so be upfront about that. If they don't like the monthly payments and would rather pay the full amount upfront then thats ok too.

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islam profile image
Islam Sayed

Thank you!

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Pete Deane

Thanks for this great advice James.

I'm in the early stage of setting up my own web development business and will 100% use your advice to get started.

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Jamees Bedford Author

You're more than welcome!

I hope this tactic allows you to flourish ๐Ÿ˜€

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davidmm1707 profile image
David MM๐Ÿ

Thanks for this post, James.

A question:

How do you find clients from outside your city/country/area? Do you use too the IG approach?

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jameesy profile image
Jamees Bedford Author

Yes, I don't see why not!

I am lucky in the fact that where I live in the UK there are a lot of towns and cities within an hour radius of me and I end up targeting these places usually because I like meeting up with clients.

Is that not possible for you? It actually doesn't change the strategy at all.

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davidmm1707 profile image
David MM๐Ÿ

Yes, it is possible but as I live in a low-densely populated and agricultural area in Spain, working for European/American clients is more attractive.

Glad to know this strategy can work in my case too :)

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ogaston profile image
Omar Gaston Chalas

Great post James,

I'd like read more post like this, about freelancing experience. i considering become a freelancer in the next year and i'd want to be more aware about how to do it well.

Btw, Thanks for sharing!

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Seanmclem

Why are you no longer a freelancer?

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jameesy profile image
Jamees Bedford Author • Edited

I plan to go into this with next weeks post actually!

Ultimately it comes down to several factors:

1 - I like having a secure salary.

2 - I felt my skills become stagnant, I was trying to get work finished as quickly as possible to get a paycheck and that left me no room to experiment and try and grow my skills.

3 - I missed working within a team. Freelancing is lonely.

4 - I became sick and tired of having to chase clients for money and various other things associated with freelancing that people don't mention. I am still owed about ยฃ5000 from my freelancing stint from various clients and it has become likely I will never see that money.

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Patrick Stephens

I know it may be moot but is there any action you can take as a developer to recoup the 5k? Say take down their website until it's paid? I know it's unethical but Just thinking of ways to protect the freelancer against this practice of not paying for a service.

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Misael Taveras

It is really difficult for many people (myself included) to sell themselves or their services, as we may often think of being "not good enough" or just feel awkward talking about money or making connections with clients. But if you put it that way, doesn't look bad at all. We should think of us as a solution for someone else problems instead of a product, that may help to reprogram our brains

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Tim JK Strickland

This is awesome. I'm just now starting to look for more freelance gigs, and the Upwork onboarding experience basically gave me an anxiety attack.

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jameesy profile image
Jamees Bedford Author

Yeah man it is NOT the one ๐Ÿ˜‚

Hopefully these tips will get you on your way!

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Florin Pop

Nice post! I really enjoyed it! Thank you!

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jameesy profile image
Jamees Bedford Author

Your welcome buddy!

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Tanmay Naik

This is some really good insight. Thanks for this! :D

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jameesy profile image
Jamees Bedford Author

You're very welcome!

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Thabo Pali

This is really great advice. Thank You.

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Jamees Bedford Author

You're very welcome! Glad you found it useful.

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Renato Byrro

Very useful post, thank you!

May I ask why did you leave the freelancing market? Also, would you say freelancing is something sustainable in the long run (for a decade or more, for example)?

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Stu Finn

This is really great post. Like others commenting here, I'm just getting started with freelancing and will definitely be following your advice. Thanks!

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Visakh Vijayan

nice read

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Bernardo Gomes

Cool Article ! Thanks for Sharer your history.

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Abduraimov Mo'minjon

I really liked these tips! This is dam* good! Thanks))