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Finding freelance clients in a budget-conscious market

Lucy Miller 31st May 2020 4 Comments

Reading Time: 6 minutes

If you’ve used recent months of lockdown and furlough to start your freelance business idea, that’s great! But how do you find freelance clients when everyone’s tightening their purse strings?

Lots of businesses are feeling the pinch at the moment, with redundancies and furlough schemes placing constraints on their finances. Unfortunately, this can have a knock-on effect on the freelancers that work for them too. Freelancers might have projects cancelled or postponed, or might find that they’re being asked to accept lower rates than usual. Finding freelance clients in this kind of market might seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be this way. 

Below we’ve set out a few things that you should think about to ensure you don’t need to compromise your own worth (and the amount you’re being paid) in these potentially tough times. 

Make sure your digital channels are up to scratch 

Finding freelance clients isn't as hard as you may think

You probably don’t need us to tell you this, but it’s vital that your website, online portfolios and social media channels are up-to-date and include all your recent work if you’re going to attract the kind of clients that you want. Here are some questions that you might want to ask yourself: 

  • Have I included my most recent projects on my LinkedIn profile, on my website, and in my online portfolios? 
  • Could I ask for more recommendations or testimonials from colleagues or friends? 
  • Do my social channels still display the message that I want to portray? 
  • If I have a business or a limited company, is everything up to date with my current branding?

If you’ve got some down time between jobs and whilst you’re waiting for work to come in or for people to get back to you, this can be a perfect time to get these essential aspects of your marketing up-to-date. 

Finding freelance clients via online networking  

Even though traditional networking meet-ups are not currently taking place (and we have no information on when they’ll start again), you don’t have to forgo networking completely. Here are a few ways that you can keep your foot in the door and make sure your name and services are still in people’s minds whilst we’re socially distancing: 

  • Be part of the conversation online: make sure you have an opinion on current debates within your industry, and that you’re available to offer interesting points of view on trending topics. A viral retweet is worth a lot in our incredibly social economy!
  • Join virtual networking events: these might be for freelancers in your local area, or within your specific industry. Search online, and make sure you contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way once you’re there. You’ll find that there are more virtual industry events than you’d expect!
  • Reach out to old clients: this might be as simple as a quick email to see what they’re working on, how their business is going, and whether they need any extra help. If they haven’t got business for you, they’ll appreciate your efforts to stay in touch. They might, though – and if they do you’ve just scored yourself some extra work!

If you’ve got a decent audience, why not host your own virtual networking event? Set a theme and a date, and invite those that you know within your industry to get involved. This can be a great way to get to know new people and potential clients, and position yourself as a leader in your field at the same time. 

Set your terms early on

Finding freelance clients means strong contracts

You need confidence in yourself and your offering if you’re going to pull in clients that pay you the right amount of money in a post-Covid work environment. One way to do this (a very important way) is to be clear on your prices. 

To do this, you should set a day rate based on what you would be earning if you were employed by a company. From this, you can work out your hourly rate. You can then weigh up whether the work that comes your way will be worth your time. 

For example, if your hourly rate is £20 per hour, your day rate (based on a standard eight-hour day) should be £160. If you know a project will take you two full working days, you should charge £320. 

If the client believes that this is too much for their budget, you’re very much within your rights to stand firm. Use the following to politely remind them of your fees: 

“Thank you for coming back to me on this. As a freelancer my day rate is set at £160 per day, hence the pricing I’ve set on this project. Do you have any flexibility within your budget? I’d be very happy to discuss this further.” 

If they come back with a compromise or with a price that’s close to your day rate, it’s up to you to decide whether these terms are going to work for you. If they aren’t, you should walk away (and never accept a job that’s far below your day rate – it won’t be worth your time). 

Consider asking for other benefits

Sometimes, you’ll find a client you really want to work with who just doesn’t have the right budget. This happens a lot with charities and startups in particular. Here, it’s a good idea to consider asking for other ways to receive benefit in return for a reduced fee. For example, if it’s a charity, ask if you can have an article about your work for them put on their website. Or, if it’s a startup offering software, request free access to it. Perhaps there is a direct skill-swap possibility too. If you’re a graphic designer, for example, perhaps you could work with an accountancy firm for a reduced fee in return for your tax return being completed pro bono!

Finding freelance clients via recruiters 

It’s always a good idea to have someone else on your side, especially if you’re looking to find new freelance clients in budget-conscious times. Contacting recruiters and getting on their books can provide you with long-term project and contract work, which you can work on at the same time as any other freelance projects that you have on the go. 

There are lots of benefits to finding work through recruiters, including that potential clients are very unlikely to try and underpay you when they have to go through someone whose job it is to ensure that that doesn’t happen. Once you’ve found work through a recruiter they are more likely to put you forward for other projects in the future, too. 

The main downside of working via an agency is that, typically, they set your rates. You may have to accept a lower daily rate in return for guaranteed regular work. Alternatively, some agencies take a percentage from your fee when they place you – if this is the case, raise your rate! Agencies are, however, most often paid by the client – so they’ll be charging the client more than your day rate to make a profit themselves.

Working for free 

Working for free is something that many people will tell you never to do. It’s something that we wouldn’t encourage in general, either. However, there can be some occasions where it might be helpful to you. These are very specific though, so don’t let anyone take you for a ride! 

You might consider working for free if: 

  • You’ve never worked in the industry before and need to build a portfolio to prove yourself 
  • You need to make edits or changes to work that you previously completed, as per the terms of your freelance contract (although always try to negotiate an edit fee in this case – it can’t hurt to ask!) 
  • You’re in a secure financial position, and you have the time and resources to offer your services either pro bono or to charities for a specific purpose 

Do not work for free if: 

  • The client has promised you paid work “later” (this is unlikely to ever materialise)
  • You have a lot of experience and proven work in the area in question, unless you’ve made a conscious choice to give your time to a charity or non-profit (as mentioned above) 
  • You are promised “exposure” or “contacts”, or told that this would be a “great opportunity” for you. This might be the case, but it’ll still be true if they pay you (and exposure, of course, doesn’t pay the rent) 
  • You’re working for a corporate company that makes a profit, e.g. a bank  

Chat to other freelancers for more ideas!

Other freelancers are a great way to finding freelance clients

One of the common misconceptions about freelancing is that everyone is super-competitive with each other. You may be surprised to learn there are lots of supportive online communities for freelancers! Many will share referrals from clients, or share larger projects with the freelancers they know.

Our Magpie Messageboard is a great place to start! Jump onto the self-employed forum to ask your burning freelance questions – you’ll be answered by other Magpies, the MoneyMagpie team, and vetted experts.

More useful reading:

Feeling inspired? Perhaps you’re looking for guidance on the technical side of going freelance. Try these articles to get you started!

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3 years ago

I love this also!

3 years ago

A very useful article

4 years ago

A very useful article.

4 years ago

As part-time freelancer I can certainly recommend much of this info.

Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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