Freelancing 101: How to Get Your First Paying Client within a Month

Learning an art, craft, skill, or trade is the easy part. The hard part is finding someone who will pay for that service. Read ahead and discover how to get your first paying client by the end of this month.

You determined becoming a freelancer is a smart career move for you. You’ve learned a new skill. Against all odds, you taught yourself how to be productive at home. At last, it’s time to make some money! Create a new income stream in these three steps.

1. Keep your day job.

I don’t believe in burning bridges. If you’re a brand new freelancer, it would be foolish to march into your boss’ office and proclaim: “I quit!” (unless you have enough money to live on until you get established).

How much is “enough?” It depends on several variables including your cost of living, current lifestyle, financial situation, and whether or not you have a family to support. So, let’s keep it simple…

Don’t quit your day job before you have the funds to cover six months of expenses plus an extra $2,000 for any unexpected car/home repairs or medical costs that could arise.

Alternatively, you may quit your job when you’re making enough money from freelancing consistently (i.e. for at least three months in a row) to replace that income stream.

2. Build a strong portfolio.

Your work should speak for itself. When that becomes true, you’ll build a steady client base in no time.

You must demonstrate your expertise before you can expect to get paid. Period. Full stop. End of story.

Is that fair? Wrong question. Instead, ask yourself: “Why do I feel as if the universe owes me anything?”

There’s no escaping the reality that you’ll have to put in some unpaid hours to create solid work samples before anyone will trust you with a paid assignment. Follow these suggestions to speed up the process.

Want to be a photographer?

Find a friend who is getting married within a month or so. Offer to take pictures during their wedding.

Provide the same service to a friend who just had a baby. Showcase the best photos on a basic WordPress website. Collect leads with a simple contact form.*

*Note: This is a best practice for any freelancer, no matter what service they offer. The process of contacting you should be as easy as possible. Make it so!

Want to be a web designer or developer?

Invest in a premium membership on Codecademy. You’ll receive access to application projects** that can be presented to potential clients who ask for work samples in the future.

You could also create a free web design for one of your friends who owns a business and/or provides a service. Ask them for a glowing testimonial in exchange for a basic website. Win/win!

**Note: The Odin Project provides the same thing without a fee; but if you’re a beginner, I recommend starting with the free lessons in Codecademy since those don’t require complicated software installations.

Want to be a freelancer writer?

Here’s a neat trick I picked up from my friend James Johnson. Do a Google search for “write for us” + (insert topic you can speak intelligently about here). Find 5-10 websites that accept outside submissions on that topic.

Read their guidelines for useful details RE: tone, style, formatting, reader demographics, subjects of interest, and etc. Submit a killer pitch that meets those criteria. Repeat until you get a minimum of five guest posts published.

Create an online portfolio that contains the link, title, website, and share count for all of those posts. Feel free to use mine as a template. When you contact potential clients,*** attach links to any content that’s relevant to their project.

***Note: I recommend playing with different freelance and job posting websites until you figure out which ones are the most fruitful for you. Looking for suggestions? Try ProBlogger, Freelance Writing Gigs, Upwork, and Freelancer. Track how many pitches you submit per week and how many result in paid assignments. Adjust based on results.

3. Get in front of the right people.

You must know your audience. What are their urgent needs? How much will they pay to have those needs fulfilled? Where do these types of people hang out (both online and in-person)?

Want to be a social media manager?**** Introduce yourself to a local business owner or service provider every week. Ask them, “Have you ever tried to market your business online?”

If they say yes, follow-up with: “What was the most confusing or frustrating part?” If they say no, respond by saying: “What is holding you back from giving it a shot? Be specific.”

After you have enough conversations like this, you’ll begin to identify the common pain points of your target market.

Armed with that information, you’ll be able to present your offer as an obvious solution to their problems.

****Note: This tactic also works well for web designers and developers. If you’re a freelance writer or photographer, implement the action steps already described in point #2 to apply the same philosophy in a different way.

Share this article with any wannabe freelancers you know so they can learn how to get their first paying client, too.




  1. Home Working Club

    13/07/2017 at 5:35 pm

    “Don’t quit your day job until you have the funds to cover six months of expenses”

    Have to say I think this is utterly unrealistic for most people. Becoming self-employed means embracing risk and uncertainty – people who don’t make the jump find they’re still doing the same job years later.

    • Daniel Wallen

      19/07/2017 at 5:54 pm

      Valid point, Ben. This is why I added the alternative of “quitting as soon as that income stream may be replaced (consistently).” Failing to apply that advice got me in serious trouble when I was a newbie, which is why I err on the side of caution.

      • Ben

        02/08/2017 at 9:10 pm

        Fair comment :-)

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