A simple guide to marketing for new freelancers

Want to know the 3 biggest marketing secrets?

Well, if you insist…

  1. Everything works for someone
  2. Nothing works for everyone
  3. There is no magic marketing bullet – if there was, the person who invented it would be richer than Bezos and far fewer people would be flogging get rich quick schemes.

So don’t waste your money on £17 courses that promise you’ll make a million a month without having to do any work. If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it.

But, I have got some good news.

While there isn’t a secret sauce for marketing, there are some things you can do that will increase your chance of success. And that’s what I’m going to cover in this simple guide to marketing.

Table of Contents

5 ways to get your first few clients quickly

If you are new to freelancing, your first priority should be getting your first few clients under your belt.

It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many new freelancers faff around with stuff they don’t need.

Things like branding. A logo. A fancy website. Professional headshots. Tone of voice guidelines. Glossy brochures and promotional merchandise. 

Those things are nice to have, but they’ll be a waste of money if you don’t get any clients.

So don’t worry about branding. Don’t focus on long-term strategies like content marketing. Don’t worry about your website being perfect.

Instead, get out there and get yourself some clients.

Once you’ve got a tried and tested product and some client feedback, you can start investing more time, money, and effort into your marketing.

So how do you get those first few clients? 

Tap into existing contacts

Utilising your existing network is the quickest, easiest, and least scary way to get started.

Plenty of freelancers start out by getting work from ex-employers, past colleagues, or connections they’ve made during their careers.

You might also have some friends (or friends of friends) who need (or know someone who needs) what you offer.

Let people know you are available for freelance work. Make sure all your friends and family know what you offer.

And don’t just stick a post out on your social media pages announcing your freelance services – ask people directly if they know anyone who needs your services.

It’s easy for people to skim past your post without giving it much thought, but if you ask them a direct question, you’re more likely to get a positive response.

So when you speak to people ask them “do you know anyone who needs X?” and if they do, ask them to put you in touch.

Attend local networking events

I met my first client at a networking event – he’s still a client at the time of writing this almost 10 years after we met.

I’m not saying you’ll have the same result, but networking is a fantastic way to build your connections. People are more likely to remember you if they’ve met you face-to-face and had a conversation with you.

But don’t just run around every networking event in town, thrusting your business cards at everyone there.

Do some research and find events where your ideal clients are most likely to be.

Prepare for the event – make sure you can articulate what you do clearly and concisely so when people ask you, you sound confident.

Do some cold outreach or direct marketing

If you’ve never worked in sales then cold calling probably doesn’t appeal to you. Trust me, there are plenty of experienced salespeople who would prefer to avoid it too because cold calling is hard – you have to be resilient.

But if you are happy cold calling (and you’re good at it), it can be great for getting those first few clients.

However, if you don’t like cold calling, you’ll be pleased to know, there are other methods of direct marketing you can try:

  • Direct messaging on social media
  • Email outreach
  • Direct mail
  • Door drops
  • Paid ads

I’m going to cover these in a bit more detail shortly, but if you don’t have much of a budget, I’d start with direct messaging and email as they are free.

But go for quality over quantity. It can be tempting to create a single message and send it to as many people as possible, but generic messages often get ignored.

Instead of going for the spray and pray approach, make a list of 10 people or companies you would love to do business with and create a personalised message. You’re more likely to get a response.

Use freelancer sites

I’ve never used freelancer job sites personally, but I know people who get good results from them.

The downside is you’re competing for projects. And that can mean going up against more experienced freelancers or freelancers in less affluent countries who can work at a much lower rate.

However, if you are willing to put a bit of time in, it is possible to find some decent projects and build your portfolio.

This article from Webflow lists some of the top freelancing sites.

Offer free work or exchange of services

Free work is not something you want to do on a regular basis, but if you don’t have a lot of experience, it can be a good way to build a portfolio and get some reviews.

Don’t just offer your free services to all and sundry though. Be selective.

Perhaps a local charity would benefit from your services. Or maybe you have a friend who would be happy to provide a testimonial in return for your services.

Do you know anyone who would trade services with you? I’ve written copy in return for design work, website support, and mentoring in the past.

If you do go down the route of exchanging services, make sure you are both clear on what you are providing for each other and ensure you both get value from the exchange.

If none of the above options are feasible, look for companies that could put a lot of work your way in the future.

Alternatively, provide a free trial or free sample to someone who might go on to offer you paid work as a result.

The right option for you will depend on what type of service you offer.

But remember the idea of free work is to get experience, feedback, and (hopefully) referrals. You should not be offering free work without something in return.

And free work or low-paid work is definitely not something you should offer long term.

Longer term strategies

Once you’ve landed your first few clients, you’ll start to get a clearer idea of the type of work you want and the type of clients you want.

Now you can start thinking about a longer term marketing strategy.

And there are plenty of options to choose from.


As I said earlier in this article, a website shouldn’t be your first priority, but I do recommend having one.

Social media accounts can get blocked. Networking groups can dissolve. Freelance sites can close down. Your website is the one thing you have control over. There are still risks, but there are things you can do to mitigate these risks.

And you have control over the content. You can present the information however you choose. You can add client feedback, a portfolio, blog posts, or videos. You can sell products through your site, create member only sections, or add email sign up pages. You can use it as a brochure, or as an online shop, or as a resource centre. It’s entirely up to you.

But start with what you need.

At first, that might be a simple one page site explaining who you help and what problems you solve for them.

You don’t need anything super fancy or expensive when you’re new to business, because it’s likely your business will change a lot in the first few months or years.

I started with a basic drag and drop site that cost me about £80. It was pretty crappy (my design skills are questionable), but it did the job. It gave people somewhere to go to check me out. To see if I was credible.

It had some services pages, an about page, a blog, and some client feedback.

As my business evolved, my website changed. Different designs, different hosts, different content, different functionality. That’s the beauty of websites – you don’t have to stick with the first one you get.

Websites are like houses – you don’t need to move into your forever home straight away. You can start small and upgrade when the time is right.

So don’t blow all your budget on an all-singing, all-dancing, bells-and-whistles affair – start with the basics. A place to promote or sell your products and services, demonstrate your expertise, and share feedback to establish your credibility.

Related article: How to make your website copy count

Social media

Social media can be a fantastic marketing tool when used correctly.

Unfortunately, too many people focus on building a following and getting lots of engagement but don’t have a strategy for converting followers into customers.

This can result in a lot of wasted time and effort. Likes and views don’t translate into cash in the bank, so if you’re using social media for lead generation, don’t get caught up in vanity metrics.

Do a little research into which platforms your ideal clients are using and the kind of content they engage with so you can tailor your strategy to them. And don’t lose sight of why you are there.

Related article: Simple social strategies – how to post with purpose


Email can be a great way of getting in front of your ideal clients if you have a way to get their email addresses. You can do this through research, by purchasing a list, or by building a subscriber list.

To build a subscriber list, you need to give people something in return for their email address. For example, exclusive offers and discounts, regular news and tips, or some kind of content (a free eBook for example).

I have a free email series to help people improve their marketing content and sales copy. Once the sequence ends, readers start getting my daily email. This gets my ideal clients on my subscriber list and then they see my name in their inbox every day until they are ready to buy (or unsubscribe).

Content marketing

Content marketing is about nurturing your ideal clients, building trust and credibility, establishing your expertise and generating interest in what you offer.

You still have to convert your readers or viewers into customers at some point, but your content can do a lot of the legwork when it comes to selling.

Creating quality content is important, but you also need a plan for getting that content in front of your ideal clients. Social media, email and paid ads are all great for distributing your content.

Related article: Guide to content marketing


Search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) both work well for the right business, but which is right for you? That depends what you sell.

Let’s say you sell emergency boiler repair. You could do some Facebook ads, but the chances of them being on someone’s feed at the exact time their boiler breaks down are slim. And if somebody’s boiler does break down, are they going to scroll through Facebook trying to find that ad they saw three weeks ago? Probably not.

What’s more likely is they’ll type “emergency boiler repair” into Google, which means SEO or Google ads are probably a better use of your investment.

However, if you sell a service such as web design, you could do either paid ads or SEO.

There are two ways you can utilise SEO and paid search.

  1. You can get found when people are searching for your services:
  • Accountant for small businesses
  • Web designers in Manchester
  • Finance recruitment
  • Logo design for new business 
  • Business coach for construction companies

You would then have a landing page promoting this specific service.

  1. You can get found for search queries relating to what you do:
  • What should I include in a job ad?
  • How long should a blog post be?
  • How do I get ISO accredited?
  • What is Agile?
  • What makes a good logo?

You then create content that answers the question in detail and links to your products or services.

Both SEO and paid search can be a huge waste of time and money if they are done badly. If you’re new to freelancing, there are better places to start. But if you do go down this route, learn the basics first or hire an expert.

Direct mail

If you know exactly who your ideal clients are and exactly when they need what you offer, direct mail can be extremely effective. For example, if you sell office furniture and you know a company has just signed a deal on some office space, send them a letter.

Letters can be highly personalised – you can even handwrite them if you really want to stand out.

And direct mail will often get a much higher response rate than email. Plus, it’s easy to test different versions and track results.

But there is a cost – you need to pay for printing and postage (unless you hand-deliver).

And if you have zero copywriting experience, it’s easy to get it horribly wrong. So if you want to go down the direct mail route, learn how to write direct response copy or hire a copywriter. 

Door drops

Door drops are non-addressed items delivered to homes or businesses in a specific geographical location. For example, local takeaway menus, leaflets from estate agents, flyers from window cleaners.

Door drops are good if your services are restricted to a certain location, you want to start locally, or you want to target specific neighbourhoods (for example, homes in affluent areas).

Although there is a print and design cost involved, it can be a great way to get new customers.

The upside of physical marketing is people can keep it – most of us have somewhere we store things like menus, brochures, and leaflets about things we might need one day.

Paid ads (online)

I’ve already touched on pay-per-click ads, but there are lots of opportunities for online advertising.

  • Social media ads
  • Google ads (or other search engines)
  • Google search ads or display ads
  • Banner ads
  • Sponsored posts
  • Video ads
  • In-app ads

If you have budget for paid advertising, it can be a great way of getting your business in front of the right people. But do your research – if your market is competitive, online ads can get expensive. Don’t rush into online ads without a proper plan. 

Paid ads (offline)

If there is a lot of competition in your industry, you’ll struggle to compete with bigger companies when it comes to things like Google ads. You might find it more effective and affordable to start with an ad in your local free paper or an industry magazine.

If you are going down the print ad route, choose publications your target audience actually reads. 

For example, if your target audience is law firms, look at buying ad space in a magazine for lawyers. 

And if you have zero design or copywriting experience, get help. 

As well as standard ads, some publications offer opportunities for advertorials – an advert written as an article. These can be a fantastic way of demonstrating your expertise. 

You can also advertise using billboards and posters, or by adding flyers or ads to third-party packages. If you are collaborating with a third party, make sure they have a similar audience to you. 


I’ve included face-to-face networking on the list as I do think it can be a good way to spread the word about what you do and get feedback and advice from other business owners.

Some people rely solely on networking for lead generation, but I’d never recommend putting all your eggs in one basket.

Networking effectively can be time-consuming, and you’re relying on other people to find you referrals or give you business. By all means, go out and connect with people but have a backup strategy in place.

You don’t have to do everything (but you have to do something)

The list above only touches on some channels – there are loads I haven’t covered.

The good news is you don’t have to do everything.

But you do have to do something.

Clients don’t just turn up at your door. You have to let them know you exist. You have to be visible.

Even the biggest companies in the world like Coca Cola, Amazon or McDonalds still invest in advertising.

So you’ve got to do something – whether it’s spending an hour a day on social media or paying someone to do your marketing for you.

But be careful not to invest in the wrong things. You can spend hours creating content that never gets seen, waste time scrolling aimlessly through LinkedIn, or spend a fortune on Google Ads that don’t convert.

Learn the basics of marketing so you don’t get ripped off.

How to avoid getting ripped off

It’s not uncommon for people to feel let down, ripped off, frustrated, disappointed or completely exasperated when they work with marketers, whether it’s a full-service agency, a web designer, a social media company, an SEO or PPC expert, or a videographer, content creator or copywriter.

And it makes me sad.

Marketing is an unregulated industry. Unfortunately, it means anyone can wake up one morning and decide they want to sell some kind of marketing service.

Sure, some people have professional qualifications or formal training in their specific areas, but even those guys can get it wrong sometimes.

But here’s the thing – marketing isn’t actually as complex as it seems. It doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. And you don’t have to get ripped off.

Why are you getting ripped off?

First up, let’s look at why people get ripped off so often

Yes, there are some absolute charlatans out there who will take your money with no intention of getting you results. But these aren’t as common as you might think. And they aren’t the biggest cause of the problem.

Marketing is a big industry filled with lots of specialisms – designers, copywriters, strategists, social media managers, content creators, and on it goes.

Even within each specialism are more specialists. Copywriters who specialise in direct mail. Social media experts who specialise in a single platform. Web designers who specialise in eCommerce sites.

And some of those specialists only understand the area they specialise in.

They can create awesome content for you, but it’s up to you to work out how to get it in front of the right people.

They can build you a brilliant website, but you need a plan to get people to that website.

They can build an audience for you on social media, but you need to have an offer good enough to convert followers into customers.

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand they are only investing in one part of the marketing and sales process. And so, when the thing they have invested in doesn’t generate lots of new leads or sales, they think it has failed.

But has it really failed?

If you get a fancy promo video, but don’t have a strategy for getting it in front of the right people, has your videographer ripped you off?

If a web designer builds you a brilliant website, but that website doesn’t get any visitors, is that web designer rubbish?

If you pay a social media consultant to build a social media following for you and they grow your audience, but none of your followers become paying clients, has the consultant failed?

You got the thing you asked for, just not the results you wanted. So who is at fault?

Yes – marketers should ask the right questions to ensure they are able to deliver what you actually need or want. But you also need to be clear about exactly what you want to achieve.

And to do that, you need to understand how the thing you’re investing in fits with your marketing and sales process.

It’s too easy to jump on the latest trend or do something because it works for other people without considering whether it’s right for your business.

Even if you aren’t paying an expert, you’ll get better results from your marketing if you understand the basics of marketing and sales.

Marketing and sales simplified

When you look at marketing and sales, it’s one big process. You might hear it referred to as a marketing funnel or a sales funnel – I hate the term funnel, so I refer to it as a process. But whatever you call it, here’s how it works.

First, something gets the attention of a potential buyer – a social media post, an ad, a direct message, an email, a leaflet through their door. This is the attract stage – you attracted their attention, got on their radar, made them aware of your existence.

So they follow you, connect with you, click through to your website, subscribe to your emails, download your brochure or make an enquiry – and now they are in the nurture stage.

This is where you get them interested in what you’re offering, make them want it and earn their trust enough for them to buy from you. You can do this with your website, brochures, social media content, videos, blogs, emails, webinars etc.

Then comes the conversion part – getting them to take action, agree to your terms, and part with their cash.

How long they stay in the nurture stage depends on several factors, including what you sell and how urgently they need it.

For example, if you offer urgent boiler repair and someone has a broken boiler, they will usually make a buying decision pretty quickly. This means you’ll probably focus most of your marketing efforts on the attract stage – investing in SEO or ads to make sure you’re in front of them at the right time.

If you sell coaching or consulting, you might need to spend a little longer showing people the benefits of working with you and gaining their trust through your content.

Understanding your customers will help you figure out the best marketing activities to invest in at each stage and how to join them up so people move through the process smoothly.

How to increse your chances of success

Successful marketing pretty much boils down to one thing: Get the right message in front of the right people at the right time.

That’s it.

It sounds easy, and it can be. But only if you know who you want to attract, how to appeal to them, and where to find them.

Target the right people

The key to marketing is working out who your ideal prospects are.

And I can tell you with 100% confidence your ideal clients are not “anybody”.

You have to narrow it down or your marketing messages will be vague and generic. And vague and generic messages don’t appeal to anyone.

It is impossible to write a message that appeals to everyone. Just as it is impossible to make a movie, write a book, or create a song that every single person likes.

So before you invest any money into your marketing, figure out who your ideal clients are.

Are they business owners? What size is their business? What industry are they in? How old is their business? What’s their annual turnover? Where are they located?

You don’t have to go as far as listing their favourite colour or what type of car they drive (unless you sell cars), but at least identify a few key details.

Create the right message

Once you know who you are trying to attract, you can create the right message.

What is going to get them interested in buying from you?

What are their motivations? What problems can you solve? What is going to make them say, “I need this in my life”.

Your marketing should always be about your ideal clients, not you.

Be in the right place at the right time

The final piece of the marketing puzzle is getting your message in the right place at the right time.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to know exactly when our ideal clients are going to be in the mood to buy and that’s why consistency is key.

Because it’s rarely a single thing that leads to a sale. It’s a culmination of things – a chain reaction.

A video leading to a connection, leading to an enquiry, leading to a sale, leading to a recommendation, leading to a profile view, leading to another enquiry, leading to another sale.

And the more pieces of content you have working for you – videos, blogs, social media posts, emails – the more chance you have of starting those chains.

Remember, you don’t have to be on every platform or doing every kind of marketing activity, but you need to be doing something.

Think of marketing like playing the lottery – you’ve got to be in it to win it. You might play the same numbers for years, but if you haven’t got a ticket on the week your numbers come up, you can’t claim the prize.

You never know when your prospects will wake up ready to buy from you, but it helps if you’re there when they are.

Create stepping stones (marketing funnels)

If you engage with your audience consistently – through social media or via email – you increase your chances of being in the right place at the right time.

Think of marketing like a huge river. Your ideal clients are all on one side, and your products and services are on the other.

You need to figure out how to get your ideal clients across that river. And the more ways there are for them to cross – the more bridges, stepping stones and boats – the more likely they are to make it.

In other words, the more marketing processes (or funnels) you have in place, the better chance you have of winning more of the clients you want.

For example, one of my previous mentor clients saw a post of mine on LinkedIn (first stepping stone). We weren’t connected, but it somehow made it into his feed and caught his attention, so he connected with me (another stepping stone).

He then saw a post where I promoted my free email series, so he clicked through to the sign-up page and subscribed (another stepping stone).

After receiving all the emails, he contacted me and booked an initial consultation call, and following that call, he signed up for my 12-week programme. My stepping stones got him across the river.

Each stepping stone should move your prospect closer towards buying from you.

And the more stepping stones you put in the river, the more chances you give yourself of getting people across.

Think about who you want to work with and what problems you can solve for them, then create content around that.

Promote that content, then have a process for nurturing your audience.

Invest in your own marketing skills

I’m a huge advocate of outsourcing to experts – it’s why I have an accountant and a business mentor and hire graphic designers, videographers and other experts when I need them.

But I also think developing your own knowledge of marketing is invaluable, especially if you are new to business.

If you understand the basics of marketing and learn how different channels work, you can make more informed decisions about where to invest time and money.

And one of the most valuable skills you can learn is copywriting.

You probably think I’m biased because I sell copywriting training and mentoring, but think about it. Almost every type of marketing requires words – emails, social media, websites, blogs, video scripts, articles, white papers, ads. And the words you use can make the difference between browser and buyer.

Do you really want to lose out on potential customers because your website copy is confusing or your ads don’t grab the reader’s attention?

Are you going to hire a copywriter every time you want to send an email or put a post on social media?

Of course not, so why not learn how to do it yourself? You can bring in the big guns for the bigger projects, but understanding how to attract, nurture and convert through any marketing channel you choose is a fantastic investment.

Marketing trends and fads come and go, but the basics of marketing stay the same: right message, right people, right time. And the right message requires the right words.

So if you want to get your marketing off to a good start, sign up for my free Get Copy Confident course below. 

Hi – I’m Lisa

If this is your first time here, thanks for reading. 

I’m Lisa – owner of Make Your Copy Count Ltd, and author of the ‘A-Z of Blogging’ and ‘The Freelance Fairytale‘. 

I help freelancers and small businesses attract more of the clients they want by providing copywriting training and business mentoring

If you’d like to get to know me a bit better, sign up for my daily email here