Attracting future clients on autopilot—that’s the whole point of your website, right? Most freelancers accept the story that great work attracts leads, but I’m going to be straight with you: clients have no clue you exist. What usually tips the balance isn’t your portfolio—they see plenty of those.
Not many people talk about failures they had promoting their products and services. We struggle and we hide it. It’s one of the reasons I hate to read marketing “success stories” and “How to drive traffic and make money!” posts—they seem hollow and vaguely manipulative. They also invariably circle around an answer we already know: The key to attracting non-referral clients is making it easy for them to discover you.
Simple as that is, we fail for two reasons:
Most freelancer websites are only concerned with showing portfolio work.
We haven’t figured out who we want as clients, what makes them tick, or how they solve problems.
We’re focused on showing, not serving.
Serving hits the ground running—it answers a question, solves a problem, satisfies a curiosity. There’s a difference between saying you will and proving it with a real takeaway during the first impression. Portfolio-focused sites also don’t give Google much content to index and rank, lessening your chances of ever getting high in organic search results, much less on their radar.
Designers are “supposed” to do certain things to find clients. Well, I did all that, for years. And I had a pretty depressing success rate, considering how much time I put into it. Then I tried one thing that single-handedly turned around my freelance career. I started blogging with clients in mind.
Do it your way
Let me tell you about Brian Dean.
Brian Dean of Backlinko gets 130,000 monthly uniques. Want know how many articles he has on his blog—in total?
30. That’s right, 30.
Readers aren’t coming because he publishes frequently—they’re coming because he writes about what they want to know and because every piece he’s got is the best on that given subject, hands down! He keeps visitors coming back to the same posts because he’s constantly improving the material little by little to ensure it’s always the best that’s out there.
As people come across it—web professionals, curious readers, and potential clients—it’s building up his reputation and making it easier for people to find him via search and re-shared content links.
You don’t have to write regularly. Or much. And you don’t need an industry-rocking idea. With your expertise, you have what it takes to say something that other people consider valuable.
The key to success is making a target, then sticking it out for a few rounds of research + content creation + promotion to start. The more posts/articles you create, the more properties you have on the Monopoly board called Google. Having a few widely shared articles also kicks off a virtuous loop where all your subsequent articles get a jump start from your existing traffic. This approach is repeatable and scaleable.
(One quick heads-up: you can also expect your content to attract the “wrong type” of visitors, such as recruiters and people looking to hire someone for low-end, piecemeal work. It’s possible to turn these inquiries into opportunities by politely refusing their offer and asking if they know anyone who is seeking the type of work you do provide.)
Pre-planning your content
As you know, Google determines how high your page ranks for certain search terms based on factors like:
Whether your page content is relevant to the search term
How many other quality, relevant sites link to your page
How well-made readers think your content is (i.e. how long do people spend reading your content).
Translating that, your goals are to:
Create content that is relevant to search terms visitors use
Create high quality content that invites re-links and social shares
Ensure that time-on-site for the specific piece of content is high.
It may feel a bit unnatural to create content around ranking well on Google, but you’re actually just creating a really valuable article that answers all possible questions a reader is most likely to have about that topic.
Know what matters to clients
Instead of randomly choosing a topic, it helps to be a bit strategic. After all, it’s a way to get discovered by the right people.
First, know—and learn how to write for—your intended audience. Almost any topic about your field would interest fellow professionals. But let’s recall, who is it you want to attract, first and foremost? Clients. So how do you find out what they’re searching for?
When I started doing this, I began by listing questions a new client typically asks, such as:
How much do your services cost?
How does your
[service] process work?
To see the types of questions business owners and entrepreneurs ask most often, take a look at community sites where they hang out (Fig. 1). Good ones include:
Based on the questions you find, you could brainstorm three topic ideas that relate to each one, or even split larger topics into separate articles. For example, instead of writing one giant piece on how much web design services cost, write about one service in each post, such as:
How much does a landing page cost?
How much does custom website cost?
They should be written in the style of a comprehensive educational guide that teaches the visitor everything they need to know about the topic.
How much does logo design cost?
This article could cover:
The reason rates vary so much among designers
The different types of designers they can hire (freelancer, agency, etc.)
A description of the creative process for designing a logo.
Write a better article
Now that you’ve settled on a topic, it’s time to create a comprehensive leave-no-stone-unturned piece of content about it.
What’s “comprehensive”? It’s helpful to set a benchmark for yourself by researching other popular articles that have already been written about it. Use them as inspiration, then go and create an even better version. This both demonstrates your command of the topic and attracts links from relevant, high authority sites (which signals to Google that your site contains high quality content, triggering it to bump your page higher in the search results for those keywords).
After you create an account, enter a topic you’re considering, then select “Traffic” in the Sorted by dropdown. (Fig. 2)
Here are some of the highest trafficked articles on “web development cost.” (Fig. 3)
Analyze each article and write down every single point that’s covered. Your goal is to be just as good when it’s your time to address each one. You’ll then brainstorm at least five original or interesting angles they didn’t mention or tackle extensively. This “value add” is your selling point when the time comes to start promoting the piece.
Another way to dig deep is to learn more about the authors. For instance, how does their expertise differ from yours? This can help you catch things they didn’t cover. You can also pull up every article a specific author has written on a subject, such as this topic search for journalists and bloggers writing about “web development cost.” (Fig. 4)
Other effective ways to juice up your content
Use compelling (and/or controversial) examples
Buttress each major point in your article with compelling (and if possible, controversial) case studies and examples.
For example, here’s an excellent analysis of the controversial logo design for the London 2012 Olympics (Fig. 5). It explains why (despite the negative public reaction) the versatility and instant recognizability of the logo actually make it an example of great identity work.
Use visual assets with your article
Visual assets make your article easier to read by breaking up chunks of text. For images, choose ones that instantly convey the emotion or message of a major point you make (Fig. 6). For infographics, choose ones that visually illustrate and compare data or statistics you mention in the article. A good visual asset also attracts social shares.
Interview someone interesting (and influential)
Seek out people who can contribute an interesting insight or experience related to your topic. Not only does this add perspective to your article, you can ask this person to share the article with their audience (which may give you a nice traffic boost).
Capture every question
Before you start writing, make a list of every single possible question someone could have about this topic. Based on your research of existing articles, also include details and angles they don’t.
For example, if you’re writing an article about logo cost, details and angles that many other articles miss are:
Reasons why corporate logo designs cost so much
The psychology behind how logos affect brand perception
Conversion stats before and after logo redesigns
Why negative public reactions don’t necessarily mean the logo design is bad.
Add a call to action
Avoid losing potential clients who would have contacted you later—if they hadn’t forgotten. Add something encouraging them to act right away by making it a simple click, such as a call to action (CTA) banner in every article. (Fig. 7)
Promoting your article the right way
Promoting your content may feel uncomfortable, but it’s important to reframe that in your mind. Instead of “Marketing your content,” you’re “Helping people by educating and inspiring them with your well-researched, well-written information.”
Clients who don’t know about your site won’t magically enter your URL into their address bar—they have to discover you through some other source (other websites, search engines, social media). That’s why promotion and outreach are so important, and why it pays off to ask other sites to link to your content.
To kick off the first wave of traffic, it helps to win a few links and social shares. From there, the new people who discover your post may also link to or share it (which in turn boosts your article’s ranking on Google).
Let’s look at a few effective ways you can promote your content.
Take the URL of one of the articles you found in the previous section (when you were choosing a topic to write about). Try to pick the one with the most shares.
Go to Buzzsumo and enter the URL to the article (use the 14-day free trial they offer to do this step).
In my case, I chose this SEO techniques article because I’m looking for clients who might be interested in my SEO consulting. (Fig. 8)
Next, click the “View Shares” button to see a list of everyone who shared the post on Twitter. You can then click on the “Followers” filter at the top left to sort by users who have a sizable audience (i.e. enough money to pay you for a service). (Fig. 9)
Now you have a list of people who have already shown an interest in the topic, you could reach out to them individually and see if they’d be interested in sharing yours, as well. The following example highlights a number of points.
Don’t just join—leave meaningful comments. If you do that, most groups will start to see you as a valued contributor and won’t bat an eye if you to post something that mentions your own content once in a while, like this example from a private entrepreneur group (Fig. 10)
When you do share, be sure to mention a few points you’ve covered that would be highly relevant and valuable to that community.
For example, if you write an article about web design, a business community may be most interested in how to evaluate web designers in order to find one that’s reliable. Conversely, a marketing community may be most interested in how to design funnels that convert more visitors into subscribers and customers.
You can also ask a question related to your article topic to kickstart a discussion, then offer to answer any questions a group member may have.
Share your links with family and friends
The easiest, non-intrusive way to do this is by posting it on your Facebook feed. Add a description highlighting a few points a general audience would find interesting and worth the effort of clicks and likes.
Add interesting visuals to illustrate your points
Add relevant illustrations and pictures throughout your article to break up the text and keep your visitors engaged. Bonus points: use relevant visuals from your own portfolio so it does double duty prettifying your article and showcasing your skills.
Improve your search ranking with some SEO basics
Focus on one search keyword or phrase you want your article to rank for, then use different variations of it throughout your article, especially in your article headline and section headings.
Make sure your pages and articles load fast; you might consider caching your pages with something like CloudFlare (they offer a free plan) to speed up load time. (CloudFlare shows cached versions of your files and images so visitors don’t have to wait for them to load real-time from your servers.)
Compile a list of relevant sites to ask for links
Remember how you looked up the most popular articles on Topic X? If you find out which sites link to those articles, why not ask them to link to your (much improved) version, too?!
Go to each site and find the names of either the site owner or, if it’s a company, the person in charge of marketing.
To find their email address, enter their site domain into AnyMailFinder or Email Hunter. These sites will tell you the most likely email format (for example: firstname.lastname@example.org). Based on the most common email format the site or company uses, you can “smart guess” the likely email of the person you wish to contact.
You can send them a personalized version of this template1 to ask if they may be interested in linking to your article:
Remember that infographic I mentioned earlier, the one you could create to accompany your article? You can also ask some of the other sites you found in the Backlinks tab to include it in one of their existing or future articles and credit you (earning you a link this way).
If you develop websites (for example), find Facebook groups that discuss web development, have 500+ members, and show signs of recent activity. For a few weeks, post meaningful comments every once in a while and start interesting discussions to provide value to the community. If the group guidelines allow it—and if the timing is right—share your own article now and then, but make sure you ask a question in your post to spark a discussion. This will help the post stay on top of the group feed and members’ newsfeeds to bring you more traffic.
Content creates visibility outside your network
It’s becoming tougher and tougher to stand out these days—there’s a lot of noise online. For a lot of freelancers and part time contractors, DIY service platforms and online hiring marketplaces have become the status quo for finding gigs. The quality of clients drawn to these hubs is very mixed, unfortunately, and most come because they want to pay as little as possible for the work. It is also very challenging for freelancers who don’t already have a presence there to start gaining leads right away.
Freelancers relying on word of mouth referrals also run into pitfalls. Nurturing those opportunities can be just as time intensive, not to mention leave you with limited control over when they actually convert into meaningful business.
These conditions should prompt every freelancer to try something outside the box, to find uncrowded spaces for meeting and gaining clients. Strategically creating content can consistently attract the right kind of client. When a prospective client reads your article, she’ll learn something immediately useful from you and see you as a knowledgeable pro, which creates a solid start for a client-freelancer relationship.
It’s a way for you to have something in common, something to prompt a conversation. Imagine yourself at a conference talking to a person you just met—would you rather discuss an article you wrote or dive straight into discussing your hourly rate? Of course you’ll want to show off your know-how before you talk about prices!
Writing content to attract customers is a perfect strategy for this—it engages people and generates higher visibility for your work, both within and outside your network.
Ok, I’ll hand this off to you now; it’s your turn to do the research and write one article in the next three weeks. That’s my challenge to you. One article in the next three weeks on your site. Are you up for the challenge?
Post in the comments which topic you would like to write and I’ll comment back with my feedback and thoughts.