This simple method got me 46 client intros last year.
The #1 question I hear from new freelancers is this: How do I find clients?
This makes complete sense. You didn’t start freelancing because you love sales. You started freelancing so you can work for yourself, practice your craft, and get paid to do it.
But unless you’re incredibly lucky, chances are there won’t be a line of clients beating down your door to write you five-figure checks when you first start out.
You have to find them. But landing your first client doesn’t have to be a Herculean task. While most freelancers take a variety of different approaches to finding work, there’s one tried-and-true method I see freelancers using again and again.
Piping Hot Leads
Let’s face it: you don’t just want a couple leads. You want more leads than you can handle.
And you want them to be piping hot! You want leads that feel a burning need for what you’re selling. Leads that are desperate for your help. Leads who trust you.
Cold pitches don’t yield leads like these. Neither do networking events, forum posts, LinkedIn Mail, job boards, or most of the other tactics people tend to suggest freelancers use.
So how do you find leads like these? The answer is simple: volunteer to help.
Each week, I spend an hour volunteering to help businesses—both small and large—with free advice. I call this time office hours.
Sometimes I do this virtually over video chat, other times I do it in person at a coffee shop or co-working space. Either way, executives at companies can stop by, share their problems, and ask for help.
Imagine having 3-5 prospective clients walk through your door every month to share their buring problems with you. Talk about hot leads!
So how does it work?
Where and When to Hold Office Hours
The logistics of holding office hours might seem a bit murky, but they’re actually pretty simple.
Where to Hold Office Hours
If you live and work in a big city, holding office hours in person can be a huge win. Face-to-face interaction with clients builds trust, and there’s something special about sharing a cup of coffee with someone.
If you have the opportunity, hosting office hours at a co-working space or coffee shop is a great bet. Simply grab a small table and prepare to post up for an hour or two.
But if you don’t live in a big city, don’t worry! Virtual office hours can be extremely effective. In fact, I hold virtual office hours at least once a month so I can meet clients from across the country.
I use a combination of calend.ly and Google Hangouts for this, but there are plenty of options available..
When to Hold Office Hours
People’s work weeks have a natural ebb and flow. Mondays are usually hectic, and people tend to leave early on Fridays.
Your best bet for holding office hours is on a Tuesday or a Wednesday mid-day.
I’m on the east coast in Boston, so I typically hold office hours on Tuesdays at 1pm. This is a great time for people in my city, and it also works well for people on the West Coast when I do virtual office hours. They’ve had time to grab their morning coffee and get into the swing of things before we meet.
Your mileage may vary depending on your industry, so be sure to try a few different times.
Publicizing Your Office Hours
For office hours to work, you need to get the word out.
Many co-working spaces have online forums and in-person notice boards, and these are fantastic resources for getting the word out. You can also talk to the co-working staff and ask them about sending an email around.
If a co-working space is out of your budget, or you’re running virtual office hours, online public Slack groups can be a great option for publicizing your office hours.
I recommend posting a couple times (no more than once per day) in 2 or 3 Slack groups on the days leading up to your office hours.
Simply state what you do, let them know when your office hours will be held, and give details about how to opt it. Remember: be respectful and don’t spam.
Here’s a typical message I send:
Hey all! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Tim Noetzel and I’m a UX Design and Marketing consultant. This Wednesday, I’ll be hold virtual office hours this Tuesday at 1pm EST.
You can sign up via my calend.ly link (LINK) for a 15 minute video chat to talk through any business challenges you’re facing and get free advice.
If this time doesn’t work for you, feel free to PM me and we can set up another time.
What to Expect
Sometimes you’ll strike gold and get 5 or 6 meetings on your first try. More likely, you’ll get one or two. Occasionally, I have a week where nobody signs up.
Regardless of what happens, don’t worry. You get more than one shot at this. Even if nobody responds, people notice and appreciate that you’re volunteering to help.
Frequently, I get emails or PMs several days later asking to set up a time to talk. After holding office hours once or twice a week for a month, you should be able to talk with 3-5 potential clients.
Running Your Office Hours
Make the most of these meetings!
This is your opportunity to hear people out and provide some much-needed help. This isn’t a sales meeting. Don’t pitch people. You’ll do that later.
My process for running these meetings is simple:
- Introductions – Introduce yourself briefly and ask the person who you’re meeting with to do the same. Find out who they work for and what their role is.
- Ask How You Can Help – Sometimes people come with a concrete agenda. Sometimes they want to show you something and get your feedback. Sometimes they just want to get to know you because they anticipate they’ll need somebody with your talents soon. Listen politely. Take notes.
- Ask Follow-Up Questions – The most important part of this meeting isn’t the advice you’ll give. It’s the questions you ask. This is your chance to demonstrate that you’re thoughtful and strategic. If they have a specific business challenge, ask about the context and their goals. If they just want to get to know you, ask what types of consultants they’ve worked with in the past and what needs they might have in the future.
- Provide Some Ideas – If you’ve got thoughts or feedback, give them your honest advice. Do so respectfully and be sure note that these are just initial thoughts. Ask them whether your ideas are helpful or if they’d like a different type of advice.
- Ask to Follow-Up – Your final task here is to ask for their contact information. Tell them you’d like to give their problem some further thought and follow up with more ideas. Ask for their business card or email address.
And there you have it! After a few days, you can follow up and set up another meeting or call. With just a little effort, you’ll be generating 3 – 5 solid leads per month, and you’ll be armed with great information about their problems and needs.
This is the exact process I used to generate 46 leads last year, so I can tell you first hand that it really works.