How to Find Local Clients for Your Freelance Business

By / Apr 7, 2010 / Tips
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Finding clients is one of the toughest things for most small businesses. Many people are looking for projects online these days with the widespread use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites that allow you to connect and chat about business opportunities. These are great ways to find new business across the country and even in different countries, however finding business locally is equally important. Staying local is becoming a big thing today with “being green” becoming increasingly popular.

Reasons for clients (and you!) to spend locally

local clients

Spending money locally helps build your own community. If you spend your money locally, your tax dollars stay there, helping to fund schools and road construction. When a local client commissions me to do a project and then I buy something from a store down the street, our money circles through the community, boosting everyone’s business. We’re all helping each other by spending locally.

Networking in your community

local clients

There are tons of ways to network within your community. Large metropolitan cities offer more options but you can certainly find other businesses to network with anywhere. Search online for small business groups, they provide an excellent avenue for quick leads. As a designer, tons of startups and new businesses need our help right away. They need a logo, business cards and a website to get off the ground. Even after they have been in business for a while they may need help marketing their services or a website redesign because they went the cheap route in the beginning. Even if these business don’t need your services, if you make a good impression they may refer you to someone that does need a designer. Meetup.com has lots of small business groups that meet and trade business resources and opportunities, and can be found in tons of cities.

Getting your name out there

local clients

Tons of people are looking for quality businesses to work with and a growing number of people are looking for design work, especially websites. Spreading the word that you have a great business that creates high quality work is the key! Hold a booth at local shows, conferences and expos, it’s a great way to spread the word to a large group of people in a short amount of time. People at these types of events are looking for businesses to work with, so you’re hitting a good target audience of people that are focused and ready to do business. You can hand out flyers and business cards as well as talk to people directly about the services you offer. A less direct method that spreads the word to a number of people is to set up a fishbowl at a local restaurant or coffeeshop. Ask people to leave a business card in the bowl and then draw a winner at the end of the month, giving away a free dinner or some movie tickets. Also leave your information with the fishbowl, so people can see who sponsored the giveaway.

Show your expertise

local clients

A great way to market yourself and find business is to establish yourself as an expert in the field. You could teach a class at a community college or be a guest speaker at an event. College classes and community groups are always on the lookout for knowledgeable people to come in and do guest lectures on marketing, advertising, and other business-related topics. You could also set up a workshop for people to learn from you. You could teach people how to use Photoshop, the basics of html, or any topic that would be relevant to a group of people in the community. Business may not come directly from the workshop, but it will get your name out there and show that you’re a knowledgeable business person worthy of a referral down the line.

Directly solicit business

local clients

Cold calls and emails are usually not the most fun way to get business but it’s a great way to target specific people. If you have a niche that you work with, like restaurants, get a list of all the restaurants in your area and call them, asking if they are in need of a new website. Be sure to look at their website before you call and find something new that you could offer them. Maybe you offer a content management system, which makes it really easy for clients to update and maintain their own content. Or maybe they have a small site with hardly any content, tell them you could assist them with a new search engine friendly design and some SEO advice. Make sure they understand what it is you offer, and how spending the money with you will benefit them.

Be on the lookout for business opportunities

local clients

I love collecting business cards and I have a large stack at home of good and bad cards that I’ve collected over the years. So I’m always on the lookout for a business card when I walk into a new business. If I don’t see a business card or their cards are less than stellar, I offer to leave my card with some kind words (it’s very important to not insult them here!) about how I could help with any design services they need. Be sure to have a great 10 second pitch ready about what you do, but don’t insist that they call you. They’ll contact you if they’re ready.

There are so many ways to find business locally and network with people in your community. You just need to get your name out there and find avenues available in your town. Marketing your business creatively and effectively is the key to succeeding as a small business, and helping to build your community is an important step for anyone.

About the Author

Shannon Noack is a designer in North Dakota and the Creative Director of Snoack Studios. Designing is her passion in life, she loves to create websites, logos, print work, you name it. She blogs regularly on the Snoack Studios Blog and you can connect with her on Twitter as well.

30 Comments

  1. Hexacreative
    April 7, 2010

    This article nice for freelancer start up. Thanks WDD!

    Reply
  2. Julio Fagundes
    April 7, 2010

    Nice article!!
    i´ve been searching for this.

    Reply
  3. Julio Fagundes
    April 7, 2010

    Nice article!
    *was looking for it.

    Reply
  4. Lee Greenhill
    April 7, 2010

    Great article Shannon. It’s interesting that you’ve put networking as the first means as this is exactly where I’d have put it. This is absolutely invaluable but does require work as networking is either something that you’re a natural at or you need to work on. The best book I have that improved my skills is written by Gael Lindenfield called Confident Networking for Career Success and Satisfaction.

    Reply
  5. Dustin P.
    April 7, 2010

    Great article Shannon!

    Reply
  6. Web Design Maidstone
    April 7, 2010

    Some great tips, I gave my time for free to a community website project and as such have many new clients

    Reply
  7. Sean Rice
    April 7, 2010

    Good tips! I’ve found that getting involved in the community helps a lot by getting you connected with others. I sometimes do pro bono work for my church. Also leaving a card with local businesses works too, especially if you are a frequent customer!

    Reply
  8. AnggaRifandi
    April 7, 2010

    Wow, I get another useful information related with my dream job (web design/dev freelancer)

    Thanks WDL and Shannon Noack for this great tips

    Reply
  9. Tim
    April 7, 2010

    Good tips, I’ve found networking really useful.

    Reply
  10. BizCoachJason
    April 7, 2010

    Great article, Shannon!

    This is exactly why I created a local networking group in my community of Oak Park, IL: http://www.meetup.com/OakParkSmallBiz

    I hope things continue to blossom for you in AZ!

    All the best,
    Jason

    Reply
  11. liz
    April 7, 2010

    This is a great list. I especially like the meetup.com idea for networking.

    Reply
  12. Shannon
    April 7, 2010

    Thanks for great feedback, glad you all found the article helpful.

    @Lee Greenhill – I agree, networking is so important and is often dismissed by designers because they don’t want to do it. So many people are looking for valuable local businesses to work with, and it’s a great way to get your name out there.

    @Sean Rice – Getting involved with the community is an excellent idea, as well as pro bono work for non-profits you believe in or companies that just need help. Thanks for your ideas!

    Reply
  13. Garrett
    April 7, 2010

    No mention anywhere here of Facebook Ads or Google Adwords. C’mon.

    Reply
  14. nasim
    April 8, 2010

    Great for start-ups. Simple and down to the point.

    Sometimes going local is not the easiest, but it has its benefits.

    Reply
  15. Jeremy Bayone
    April 8, 2010

    Good read. I was just thinking earlier today of ways to get more local clients.

    Reply
  16. Jordan Walker
    April 8, 2010

    This is a very important aspect for freelancers. Thanks for the excellent points.

    Reply
  17. Will
    April 8, 2010

    Dude so buying locally is good so we can help schools and ‘road construction’. I’m sorry, the education system you talk about has been declining and failing for over 40 years(You support that?). WHY would you say to spend locally to fund construction jobs. There is no innovation in that industry so what happens when everything is built? I don’t think the american dream was to DIG DITCHES. So in the future please don’t put out false information acting like you know what your talking about. That said, you do GREAT work in design just don’t put out bogus information.

    Reply
  18. Jamie
    April 9, 2010

    @Will, you’re the one talking out of your anal passage mate. Shannon’s point is that by supporting your local market, you’re therefore supporting your own country’s economy. Don’t even start on any political spin – tax misappropriation happens everywhere but the majority of tax funds are spent with the best of intentions. Once you get out of school ‘dude’ perhaps you’ll realise the impact your business can have on your community. About 50% of my work is local – the rest comes from clients in USA. Shannon, well said! I completely agree as local business (that I worked hard to get) accounts for half of my income; the other half comes from US customers fed up of dealing with people like Won’t (sorry, Will) ;)

    Reply
  19. inspirationfeed
    April 9, 2010

    Great article, you really got to try and find customers, rather than them finding you.

    Reply
  20. Issa
    April 13, 2010

    Nice sharing you’ve got, thanks! I think when people are faced with the huge possibilities of finding clients across the globe through the worldwide web, they often forget going local. I guess, it’s never too late to start tapping potential clients right in my own community.

    Reply
  21. Tiago Duarte
    April 23, 2010

    Hey there guys, 1st post over here :)
    Anyways, i’m starting to do some freelance work, yet, i would like to know how much money should i ask for these first jobs.
    I mean, i’ve done many websites for myself, and i have a lot of experience with Web Dev, yet never for a client.

    Your help would be appreciated,
    Thanks :)

    Reply
  22. Shannon
    May 24, 2010

    @Will – I’m sorry you don’t support your local economy and what they are doing with your tax dollars, but for the rest of us out there, staying local really does benefit you! Not only that, but it’s nice to see someone face to face and deal with people that are helping build up your local community.

    @Jamie, I completely agree with your statements! Glad you’ve found success finding clients locally.

    @Tiago Duarte – Pricing is another topic altogether! It’s not an easy thing to figure out but lots of research will help you get together prices, there are tons of good articles out there dedicated to helping designers figure out fair pricing. But do remember, don’t go too low in order to be super competitive and win all jobs, more valuable customers won’t value your services because you are so low. Hope that helps.

    Reply
  23. Hanibaal Diab
    July 30, 2010

    Word of Mouth .. ALWAYS do a good job with your existing client and certainly they will promote you

    Reply
  24. Ryan
    March 3, 2011

    Even starting a small website guide with “your service” in “your city” should help since there usually isn’t all that much competition.

    Reply
  25. Abhinav
    March 15, 2011

    Great article Shannon! This sounds like a very useful advice, but I am always apprehensive about calling somebody and offering them my services. I mean, I don’t like people(telemarketers etc) calling me to offer their stuff…

    Reply
  26. Jodi
    May 22, 2011

    This was really helpful, and I really hope to put the advice in to play, I also forwarded this to one of my friends who is a freelancer that fixes computers. Sometimes you just need a little bit of advice to getgoing… It was very motivational for me Thanks!

    Reply
  27. Kiran
    December 9, 2011

    Great Article…Definitely Helps….

    Reply
  28. Jose Magana
    April 27, 2012

    Great article Shannon! This is exactly what I’m trying to do. I’m just starting out and trying to build a reputation in your local community seems like a better start than trying to build one online. There also seems to be a lot less competition locally. Another great thing is that targeting local clients allows you to meet in business owners in person, which is a major advantage over online competitors.

    Reply
  29. George Kahari
    May 14, 2012

    Hi Shannon

    I feel this is one of the best articles i have read in ages. You touched business marketing fundamentals in minutes.Basically in order to grab your prospect or existing clients attention,you have advertise your services in a strategic way, like the fish bowl concept ,leaving your cards at a local restaurants.

    I am not much into website creation but business start up and i do refer my clients to web developers and i am sure they need to read this invaluable information

    Reply
  30. Kenn Schroder
    January 20, 2014

    Hi Shannon … I did some cold calling, it was ok, scarier than I thought, and well you can’t expect a sale every time because you’ll be talking to prospects who just don’t need your help now.

    If you are niched (a great move in my book, and I wrote a few articles about this stuff) it is much more comfortable.

    I also did a cold walk in and got one of my first bigger clients, just ate at the restaurant, and saw the owner and asked how he was doing with his site … then offered to chat about it – kept it light, then over time plenty of work and income.

    ~ Kenn

    Reply

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