I have no idea how everybody else finds clients. Before I started freelancing I just assumed people had nice former employers who gave them work. Often because they got pregnant and didn’t want to be in the office anymore. At least that was the only model I’d seen presented in real life.
However, the number one way I got clients was through former co-workers, not former employers. I had been in editorial departments of one kind or another for about a decade when I got laid off. My employer in 2008 opted to operate their magazine without any writers or editors on staff. My employer didn’t even extend freelance opportunities to their newly unemployed but entirely trained staff! They opted to use a press release writing service for their articles–one that I wouldn’t have price matched if they’d offered.
So, it was my husband that initially contacted one of our friends to ask if her company needed any help because I was looking for freelance editorial work. I wanted to but I was nervous. And I was mad at him for doing it at the time! Of course, that first client is now my employer so I owe him one, I guess.
From that confidence boost, I contacted a ton of friends, former co-workers and acquaintances, only a handful of whom were in a position to hire me. I spent a lot of time laying groundwork that went nowhere. But when a lead paid off? It really paid off.
I made a list of writing and editing skills (based off my own resume) that were selling points. I knew how to write and edit about architecture and construction in addition to book editing (mostly romance and non-fiction sex self-help). So I researched companies and made a list of publishers that meshed with my areas of specialty. I also kept several lists I found online of top indie publishers and other “top” lists that I would use as my own private job leads list.
I sent queries when I had downtime. Most of those never panned out or paid poorly or had completely insane editing tests. But a couple did pan out and made the efforts worth it.
Overall, I wanted to send out feelers to what I considered to be top tier clients. I wanted to work with editorial professionals who understood the process, who paid on time, who paid reasonably well, and who gave realistic deadlines.
LinkedIn ended up being a valuable tool! Weird, I know. I reviewed tons of profiles of freelancers and, this is probably awful to admit, any that listed their clients I copied over and kept the company names in a Word doc. Now, I was not looking to poach their clients! That’s not my game. However, I figured it gave me a nice list of companies that I knew for certain had worked with freelance professionals at some point. And perhaps they might need someone in the future? I also learned a lot just from reading freelance profiles and looking at freelance editing websites.
Additionally, I joined LinkedIn groups that I thought might be of value. And then I watched the postings. Some were worthless. A couple offered real leads and one group landed me an association that needed editors who had a basic understanding of construction and felt comfortable with construction and health care terminology. It was a complete cold call and it ended up working out beautifully. I went from doing piecemeal work, to a long-term project and, eventually, weekly work.
For me the goal was to have a solid foundation of clients. So nailing down regular work was always a huge victory that was supplemented by piecemeal projects.