One of the most common questions new freelancers ask is, rightfully, “how do I get my first client when I have no experience?”
Concerned that their lack of previous clients will deter all future clients, they become convinced that they’ve been slapped with a big neon sticker that says “NEWBIE”. They feel sure they’ll be laughed out of the room when they attempt to do business.
This “what comes first, the chicken or the egg?” scenario leads some writers spiraling into paralysis. They end up taking no action at all because they just don’t feel confident enough to ask someone to pay them for writing services.
If you feel this way, you’re not alone.
But if you think about it, everyone has to start somewhere. Every successful freelance writer began as a newbie, unsure of the outcome ahead. Every top earning copy or content writer had that awkward first chat with a client.
Being new at something does not mean you’re undesirable or that it’s not worth trying.
If that were the case, humanity would never progress in any way!
I’m here to suggest you embrace the blank canvas of your career—and your status as a new freelance writer. Don’t worry about others having more experience. The day will come when you’re well-established and you may even feel nostalgic for those early days and all of the possibility you now have before you.
This is your time, and you get to write your own story. Sit with that for a minute! It’s beneficial to appreciate the journey and each phase of your career. Not only does it make the entire process more enjoyable, but it helps you stay conscious of the lessons you’ll learn.
Are you embracing it? Really embracing it?
Okay, good. Let’s dig into the specifics of how to get your very first freelance writing client.
Before you pitch, you have to prep.
Before you can jump from an aspiring freelance writer to a veritable client-magnet, there’s some work to be done. If you don’t “feel” ready to pitch your services, it’s probably—at least partially—because you’re missing some key tools of the trade.
I created something called the 5-P Method that I want to share with you now. Each of these P-words stands for one phase of building a successful freelance writing career.
The 5 P’s I teach are:
Prep: Establishing your niche, rates, policies, services
Presence: Creating your website & profiles, establishing yourself in industry conversations, being seen as an expert
Pitch: Initiating business relationships with high-quality clients
Please: Being an exceptional freelancer to work with & building long-term relationships, getting referrals
Process: Optimizing client leads and onboarding, creating systems & up-leveling your income
As you can see, “Pitch” comes after two other steps entirely. I believe there’s foundational work to be done if you want to work with high-quality clients from the start.
Even if you don’t have experience, “Prep” and “Presence” can pave the way to seamless conversations that land you awesome gigs.
While a lot of online “experts” talk about the shortest possible path to getting a first client, the shortcuts and hacks I see often result in crappy pay and less-than-ideal terms that leave freelancers frustrated and disheartened.
I recommend we embrace our inner calm and thoughtfully build our careers from the ground up.
If you’re eager to get moving on “Prep” and “Presence” so that you can get to “Pitch”, you can learn how to work on them here:
You are an expert. Start acting like it.
Starting from today, you’re not a freelancer looking for work. You’re an expert in your niche. You’re presenting thoughtful written solutions that will help your client’s business thrive.
You have to solidify this concept in your head and infuse it into your online presence, from website to email signature.
This will change both the way you perceive yourself and the way potential clients perceive you.
Up until now, you may have complained that no one wants to work with you “because you’re new”. But let’s try a little exercise to test out this theory in the real world:
You’re walking down the street and you see a brand new cafe on the corner.
Let’s assume this imaginary cafe has all the makings of a favorite working spot just waiting to be discovered.
The outside looks sleek, but welcoming. There are some faerie lights and plants hanging in the window (just my preference, imagine whatever floats your boat!). Upon first glance, you can see there’s space to set up your laptop and that they’re selling your favorite blend of coffee or tea.
The menu outside says they’re doing opening week specials and the Wi-Fi is free.
Do you refuse to visit just because they’re new?
No. You’re like, “Cool, a new cafe!” And then you run to the front window to browse their menu—maybe even peer inside to see what’s going on.
You do this because the new cafe has all the signals of being a potentially good experience for you.
Now, imagine that this cafe is a half-finished shell of a building. It’s windowless and visibly under construction. There’s no menu so you can browse their offerings, nor any kind of indication that they’re offering something you want.
Are you going up to the door and calling inside to see if they’ll make you a coffee?
No. That would be ridiculous.
In fact, you might walk by and not even realize it’s a cafe. Even if a makeshift sign read “CAFE” above the door, it would most certainly seem risky to go inside.
After all, what if it’s a scam?
The way we perceive businesses on the street and make decisions about patronizing them is similar to how clients perceive freelancers. Presenting yourself in a way that conveys expertise can help you avoid being seen as a risk—or missed entirely.
The human brain wants to recognize and categorize signals like “you can trust this” and “this might benefit” you.
When a client’s brain is getting those signals, they’re far more likely to collaborate with you.
Put in the effort into those “Prep” items mentioned above and see how your prospects begin to take notice.
Swear off templates. Write like a human.
Clients want to work with the best freelancer for the job (that’s you!), but finding them is tricky. In the loud, busy, messy, confusing world we live in, it’s hard to know who to place your bets on.
The internet is even worse, because people can say anything they want. Figuring out who to trust is a stressful part of the process.
(This is why, once you establish a relationship with a client, you have a higher chance of fostering a long term working relationship with them.)
Let’s examine the process of freelancer-sourcing from the client’s end so we can understand how YOU can do better:
When a client needs a freelance writer, they might post about an opportunity on a job board, on Upwork, or their own company website. Then, predictably, their inbox will fill up with a cascade of replies from hopeful writers, all eager to snag the opportunity.
After hiring writers myself, I can tell you from first-hand experience that this is an overwhelming moment for business owners—and it’s not because there aren’t any good options.
On the contrary, it’s because there are many! But 90% of freelance writers seem to suck at the thing they’re supposed to be good at: Writing in a way that builds genuine trust and connection.
Most of them use pre-written templates and sound like robots.
Few of them read entire job descriptions.
Even fewer do some research to see what the client is all about.
There are plenty of freelancers touting years of experience, claiming they’re experts in X, Y, and Z, and waving around diplomas from So-and-so University.
And then there are writers who say things like “It’s always been my dream to work with a company like yours”, which just sounds like bad poetry.
Clients wade through an endless sea of identical messages full of cookie-clutter credentials and idealistic projections about perfect collaborations. They moan, groan, and ask their assistant to pick one.
What are most writers getting wrong here?
Instead of writing something that sounds like it’s from a human, they copy and paste a response that makes them look like a job-hunting machine.
They base their entire message on themselves instead of focusing on the client.
They don’t bother looking into the client’s business before firing off that email, so they don’t have anything personal to say, or any way to customize their reply.
Thus, they blend in with every other hopeful and decrease their chances of working on the project.
As a brand new freelancer, you have a chance to shine here:
Do you know how refreshing it is to be addressed by name after 50 “To whom it may concern” or “Dear madame” replies? Or how engaging it is for the first sentence of a reply to be about your project and not some random writer’s hopes and dreams? Or to see a writer with the exact same niche as the work you’re trying to accomplish?
Include those things in your responses to clients and you’ll stand out instantly.
If the client wanted to hire a robot, they’d just have AI write their copy and content.
Relevance (almost) always beats experience.
It can be hard for many new freelancers to swallow this one. I think it prevents them from confidently pursuing work in the beginning, and I don’t want that to happen to you.
High-quality clients know it’s more important to find the a specific kind of writer than to count the years they have under their belt.
Let’s build off the scenario above, where the client is reviewing many different replies to their job posting.
We’ll imagine that the client is looking for a freelancer to write content for their tech company’s blog. The client narrows the pool down to you—a tech content writer, for example’s sake—and a general content writer.
The content writer is a generalist and claims to have experience in ten different industries. They can adapt to anything.
Your title reads “Tech Content Writer”. The client sees that you’re familiar with their industry lingo, with the concept of writing optimized content, and that you took the time to write a thoughtful reply (because you followed the tips above, naturally).
Do you think they’re going to care if that generalist has several years of experience?
Your competition did not given any clear indication of how they, specifically, are the right writer for the job.
The client will likely reply to you because you’re the obvious choice for them. And that’s what we want to be: The obvious choice for our IDEAL client. Not for everyone (which is what the generalist is trying to do, to no avail).
So how does this factor in when you’re new and you can’t “prove” your relevance with samples and testimonials?
In this case, I direct you back to our cafe example above. Did the cafe’s newness deter you from entering? Or were you sold on the offerings, the perks, and the convenience of having found something right on your corner?
When we’re new and we don’t have a portfolio bursting with samples, we have to make sure we’re “Prepped” and our “Presence” is on point (see above).
That means having a strong, defined niche, well-thought out services and policies, a clean website, and an overall online presence that says “Hey, I’m a professional human being with integrity. I know my stuff. You can trust me.”
(Also, what’s stopping you from creating an awesome sample just for the opportunity you’re interested in? Problem solving!)
Once again, paying close attention to those pre-pitch steps doesn’t just give you a slight advantage over those who are winging it. It gives you a huge advantage.
Sidebar! Now, since I’m keeping it real with you guys, I want to tell you a story about a time when I did not get the gig and it was because of my supposed “lack of experience”.
See, sometimes you’ll run into clients who only care about years of experience, contradicting everything I said above. But you’ll find that they aren’t ideal to work with anyway. They often have other priorities skewed as well.
I once had a potential client invite me to her Manhattan office. She treated me like her new favorite partner. We talked for two hours about a project (and her entire business history), until she got on her laptop and saw that my Upwork hourly number was only in the double digits.
I laughed it off, explaining that I had many years of freelance experience doing this exact kind of work, not reflected in Upwork hours. She could see all of these projects on my actual resume, as well as brands aligned with her industry, samples that reflected the work she wanted, etc.
But, nope! No dice. She couldn’t get over that hourly project number. She abruptly decided, after two hours of revving our collaboration up, that it wasn’t a good fit.
I smiled, thanked her and left.
At first I was bummed out, but I realized shortly after that I had dodged a bullet. This client’s decision showed how she handled her decision making process. She was making a face value decision about a random number that didn’t reflect my ability to do the work at all.
She also didn’t even notice this number before taking the trouble to invite me to her office and spend the afternoon essentially assimilating me into her brand.
I eventually thought, “Is this the kind of person I really want to work with?” The answer is no.
That client was a really nice woman, but she was professionally scattered and (as was made evident) prone to changing her mind on a whim, without examining all the facts.
Building trust is an absolute must.
Like I’ve mentioned in this post, the internet is a crowded, noisy, busy place.
So what are you doing to inspire clients to trust you when everyone is using the same “tactics” to gain their favor?
We’ve discussed a few already. By having your online presence refined, the structure of your freelance business solidified, and connecting with them on a human level, you’re ahead of the game.
These are fundamental things that can increase the trust factor over the internet.
Another way you can convey how trustworthy you are is to believe it yourself. And I know that’s a little meta, but hear me out.
One of the quickest ways to build trust is to check the kind of energy you’re bringing to your interactions with potential clients.
Are you approaching conversations with an “I have no idea what I’m doing, omg, omg, what if they don’t pick me? What if they DO pick me and I mess up? Omg” energy?
If so, they’re picking up on it. And they won’t like it.
Remember: Desperation and frantic energy does not inspire collaboration. No one is here to pay your rent or make your life easier. If a client decides to work with you, it’s so you can make their life easier somehow.
But no client wants desperate energy in their business interactions (and you probably don’t either, it’s icky).
You must believe, with every bone in your body, that you worthy of their trust, their time, and their money.
If you don’t believe it, why would they?
This mindset shift is sorely needed in the freelance community and could help so many talented writers connect with dream clients.
Take a step back and examine the energy you’re bringing to freelance conversations today. Are you a calm, collected professional who knows what they bring to the table? Are you a frantic newbie who is worried someone will “find out” you don’t know what you’re doing?
Be honest with yourself. Take an accurate reading of the energy you’re giving off.
If it’s hurting you rather than helping you, examine which external and internal adjustments need to be made so that you can step into that professional mindset and emit consistently trustworthy energy.
“Cool, but WHERE do I find clients?”
Job boards, career websites, your network, Google, LinkedIn, Upwork, Craigslist, your alumni job board, and everywhere opportunities are found.
Online writing work is no longer scarce or hard to find. It’s everywhere.
You can (and should) also reach out individually to businesses that you wish to work with.
Feeling overwhelmed? Start here, and look out for our post about non-job board resources (and long term strategies) for finding clients independently, coming soon!:
Before I wrap this up, I want to remind everyone that you don’t 100% need all of these things in order to get clients and launch your career. And I’m going to keep saying this until everyone in the FWC has it memorized:
It IS possible to take shortcuts and find clients who will work with you, despite not having these basic things in place.
But we are not here to experiment with doing the bare minimum. We are here to put in the smart, strategic work, cover our bases, and amp up our chances for success from the very beginning.
We’re here to be thorough, patient, and dedicated to growing remote writing careers that allow us to live the lives we truly want—whether that be relaxing at a beach cafe or lounging on the couch at home.
Finally, check out this video I made for the Facebook group. It’s a little unpolished, but it breaks down an important mental shift freelancers need to make in order to get that elusive first client:
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Want to add to the conversation? Comment below or join us in the Freelance Writing Cafe Facebook group. Wishing you guys ALL of the success and prosperity in the world.