How young professionals can gain clients (and pitfalls to avoid)

I got laid off 10 months into my first job out of college. I've been job hunting doing all of the things you're supposed to do while building up a small client list in the meantime. While by no means am I ready to start my own agency, I have learned a lot working with small businesses and sole proprietors over the past 7 months.

If you're looking to freelance outside of your current role and you are still early in your career, learn from my seven months of trials.

Getting started

Register a DBA

It's quick, nearly free, and let's you register your business in your state of operation. It's a tax thing.

Get your name out there.

Some of your first clients may be people you've met or family friends who need some help. Use them as an opportunity to build your portfolio. By showing what you can accomplish for others, you'll have a better shot at convincing clients they should invest in your services.

Remember to network the old fashioned way too: by showing up to events and talking to people about what you do. Meeting people in person can help show them exactly who you are much more quickly than a series of emails or your website.

Don't freak out!

Sometimes client relationships don't turn out as you hoped. Sometimes deadlines and potential opportunities keep getting pushed out. It's ok, it's just business as usual. Don't hang your schedule around potential clients. Get people who need your services to close so you can get started, rather than relying on the potential big fish that may swim your way.

Find your peers and learn from them.

Continue growing your network of marketing peers. That way, when a client needs design work you can refer them to someone you trust. You can also collaborate and learn since freelancers are happy and willing to help. It's not about stealing clients from each other, it's about helping everyone grow their businesses and develop synergies to help each other succeed.

Keep in mind

You attract what you track. - Being Boss

I didn't start really thinking about this until recently, and have started implementing it in a very small way. Now, I keep track of what customers I am currently working with as well as the ones that may be coming on board. This helps me to prioritize my time and answer:

  • Do I need to start gaining more clients? or
  • Can I grow my current client work by speaking to my clients about additional services that would help them?

Failure means you're showing up. - Brene Brown

I have failed and failed a lot. Keeping your head up, even when it gets hard can seem difficult. Remembering that failure is a part of the process, rather than the outcome of it, can make each failure seem like a step forward. Especially when it comes to securing your own work and selling your ideas, prepare yourself to be criticized. Your client is going to let you know what they think so:

  • Acept that meshing two visions won't be perfect on the first (or maybe even tenth) try
  • Do your best to make their dream project come true
  • Remember it's not about you.

Find people that are great at what they do.

Learn from the best so you can deliver it to. Surrounding yourself with the right people will help you and your work succeed. Whether that's a mentor, a professional inspiration, or just someone who can help you vision your side hustle, believe in the ability of others to help and shape your success.

It may take some of their time, but think:

  • People enjoy giving back to people who are hustling too
  • The worst that can happen is that they say "no"
  • Even 15 minutes of advice can help you grow into a more successful professional

Give it away for free. - Being Boss

If you're an expert on something, let people know everything that you're capable of. Start a blog, podcast, or video series to help teach people something you know. While it may not be the money-making portion of your business, you might be able to monetize it later. In the meantime, it will draw in people who may need your services and it will allow potential customers to see just how knowledgeable you are.

Some pieces of advice that helped me grow in this space include:

  • Don't hoard your ideas! This changed my approach to content. I kept worrying that I would run out of ideas. Instead, it opened me up to much better inspiration and topics.
  • You can and should use your voice. Just because you're not foremost in your field (yet!) doesn't mean you don't have great advice to offer.
  • Everyone was once a novice. People started blogs about blogging when the internet was new and they were learning along just with everyone else. Starting NOW rather than "someday" will help you grow much more than never starting.
You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.
— Stephen King

Gain more experience.

Never stop learning how you can improve and what steps you can take to make things go more smoothly the second time around. Keep volunteering for experience even if that means learning how to deal with difficult clients, realizing that you need a more set process, or developing additional skills or contacts to help you succeed.

Even if it's just realizing there so much you don't know, step up and keep on trying!

While no one is successful all the time, learn from people who do what you want to avoid some of the possible pitfalls of freelancing.

Pitfalls I've experienced

Show me the money.

I am very trusting. But realize when people are trying to take advantage of you and your services. If they are cagey about payments, don't seem to agree with your pricing, but are trying to get your to work for them without defining the engagement - just say, "No."

Define your process.

It may feel weird at first, especially when it comes to friends, but don't forget that the onboarding process is what helps you do your best work. By not asking all the questions, you are not setting you or your friend up for success. To help define the process, think, "How do I want people to interact with my business?"

I heard this piece one Being Boss and immediately sought to define how people find me, how I gain leads, and how I onboard clients. By setting a formal process in place, it can keep leads from being lost or from a lag in communications. This way, you're prepared for different sets of inquiries and can focus on helping your customers rather than the email you need to reply with.

Set expectations.

Let clients know how you want them to interact with you. Define a scope of work and stick to it. This is where contractual agreements can be a blessing because they are agreeing to the type and price of engagement. Don't skip this step since it can be a great way to outline the relationship so that both sides know what to expect and can plan for success together.

Fire clients.

This may sound counter intuitive to building your business, but it's sometimes necessary to fire clients. For every client taking up your time that doesn't respect you or is not interested in paying you what your time and effort is worth, they are taking the place of a potential dream client.

Don't forget that any toxic relationship, even one that is bringing in dollars, is not worth it. You come first.

I've learned a lot in the past seven months. What have you learned from your freelance experience?

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