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6 unconventional tips for finding new clients

By Liz Melton · September 5, 2023
Hero image with an icon of customers

As a small business owner, you need to find your own clients. No clients, no business. There are some tried and true ways to do this—joining online communities, building a social media presence, and reaching out to past clients—but I wanted to explore some more unconventional ideas.

I reached out to other freelancers and small business owners, and based on their ideas and my own experiences, I've come up with six new ways you can stir up business. 

1. Sign up for VC newsletters

If you serve tech companies, this can be a fantastic way to find new clients. I subscribe to StrictlyVC. Outside of giving an overview of what's happening in the tech world, they list funding rounds, big and small. Startups with fresh funding probably still have a small team and may need my help getting their content marketing engine going or getting their partner program off the ground.

If you're not already doing it, consider setting a Google Alert for a subset of your niche, like "series B funding healthcare startups." You may get a ton of notifications at first, but try refining it over time to create a potential outbound list.

You could even use AI to automate your outbound strategy. John Pennypacker, VP of Sales & Marketing at Deep Cognition, suggested using a tool called Turbo Pitch. He told me: "Turbo Pitch is a great AI platform for freelance writers and marketers to find new clients. It allows users to set up an account, create customized marketing messages, and send them out automatically over email or social media, saving you time and energy in the long run."

Just be sure to add a little bit of personalization to each message.

2. Look at your clients' partner lists

Your clients are likely partnering with great companies in an adjacent field—and those partners may also fit your client profile.

Do some Google Searches for phrases like "[client name] technology partners" or "[client name] integrations," and you'll probably find a whole list of potential clients (here's an example).

mParticle's partner list

You could even use AI to scrape these repositories using specific requirements or filters and narrow the list to your best-fit prospects.

If, after some research, you decide to pitch one of them, let your client know. If they love your work, you may get an extra bump from their recommendation.

While you're at it, get certified in the software you or your clients use, and join the product's partner program. It's good to be certified on principle, but you might also gain access to resources, get invites to events where you can meet new clients, lock down speaking opportunities, and get other useful perks.

Lauren Loreto, founder of Brand Good Time, likes this strategy: "Obviously, this adds a leg-up against competitors who may not be certified, but in some cases it also allows my website to receive backlinks from the software companies as an official educator or partner (in my case, upwards of 100+ referral hits per month)."

3. Express your true self on social media

It's always a good idea to build a personal brand. You're getting yourself and your thoughts out there for the world—and new clients—to see (it's something I'm actively working on!). But what about showing your real self, not just your work self? For some people, it works wonders.

Take Douglas Paton, for example. He told me, "I posted a short video of me playing guitar online. Someone saw it, reached out, and became my client." 

You never know who may have the same hobbies or interests. A fun conversation starter could easily end in a pitch. And sometimes, clients will just reach out to you directly.

Remember to experiment with different social media platforms to see what works best. Freelance writer Rosemary Egbo prefers Twitter (X): "I like Twitter because I get to see the playful, sarcastic side of folks rather than the less professional than LinkedIn. If you reach out to someone, try to mimic their style and tone, maybe throw in a joke."

4. Make your clients' customers your customers

Just like your clients' partners, your clients' customers are an excellent source of new business.

For example, freelance writers often interview subject matter experts or customers as part of their blog or case study workflow. If I'm vibing with the interviewee, it doesn't hurt to ask them if their company is looking for writers. This exact process has gotten me clients, and it's scored a lot of my colleagues work too. 

Freelance writer Rosanna Campbell has a warning, though: "You don't want to be gross with this! But if you've had repeated quotes from them and you've built up a working relationship, it can be a good idea to just quickly ask if they might need a freelance writer. I found a dream client this way."

5. Strike up conversations with your dentist (and any other small business owner)

Everyone says to tell your family and friends when you launch a business, but don't be afraid to mention your services to your plumber or mechanic or the owner of your favorite restaurant. 

Lauren has had success striking up a conversation with her dentist and even her wedding photographer. Here's what she told me:

"The most tried and true customer acquisition strategy over the years has been capitalizing on businesses I've frequented. When meeting someone new, it's not uncommon to get into what you do. In just two visits, I turned my dentist into a client. My wedding photographer also signed on for two separate projects shortly after my wedding. A big part of signing clients is talking about what you do, and leaning into your own consumer choices is my favorite way to do that."

See if your local paper or a magazine is looking for small business features, too. You never know if they might need help or know someone who's looking for your exact skill set.

And one last related tip: add your website (and maybe even a testimonial) to your personal email signature. I can't tell you how many times people have clicked on my portfolio and inquired about my services.

6. Leverage your alumni network

If you went to college, your alumni network likely has a job board, and your dream client could be looking for help. Set up some filters and sign up for alerts for jobs in your domain. Feli Oliveros suggests reviewing a company's LinkedIn page after you see their job post to see if they work with freelancers.

"It's not foolproof, but taking a look under the People tab can give you an idea of whether a company works with freelancers, how big their freelance roster is, and how big their freelance budget is."

Feli also advised finding a company contact with the ability to make decisions about their freelance team: "For example, as a freelance writer, I'll search a company's Linkedin page for senior content roles, editors, or even marketing lead roles (especially at smaller companies without a dedicated content team)."

Even if you see a full-time role, shoot your shot—the hiring manager may need contract services to tide them over during their search for an FTE.

Although you may not have a personal relationship with these prospects, you do have something big in common. And if you reach out to an alum, you're way more likely to get a response—even if it's a no. If they let you down easy, ask if they know anyone who needs your expertise. Similarly, if an alum works for a company or publisher that produces a piece of content you resonate with, try reaching out.

Let the leads roll in

One or more of these techniques is bound to work for you. And when you start reeling in the big leads, it's important to have a solid management strategy in place, so you can respond quickly and get new clients onboarded effectively.

So before you launch into one of these headfirst, make sure your process is tight. Here are just a few resources to get you started:

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