For creative entrepreneurs and freelancers who cater to a local market, moving to a new city can be an exciting adventure… and also, completely anxiety-inducing. That’s why in today’s post, I’m recapping my own experience of moving to a new city as an early-stage freelancer — plus, the six strategies I used to get my first clients there.
Side note for new freelancers: these strategies will work even if you’re not in a new city. Run with a couple of them to start building your client base when you’re just getting started!
Here’s my story and the strategies I used to find clients when I moved to a new city:
1. Join organizations and groups. And get involved.
I went to college near Amarillo, Texas. As a student, I started freelancing to make extra money while improving my design skills. Four days after graduation, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Alone. Where I knew nobody.
I had landed an internship with a church. I really connected with the people there and still attend as a member. It was my boss from that internship who ended up sending me my first freelance client in Atlanta.
Your Get-Clients Game Plan #1: Find any group or organization that interests you and connect with people. Even if you don’t immediately have a “role” in the organization, get involved beyond just showing up for regular meetings. It’s a great way to connect with new people who will ask about what you do (probably five seconds after you tell them your name). And they, or someone they know, could potentially want or need your services.
2. Connect with Connectors
Since I was completely new to Atlanta, I had no idea which restaurants to try, what to do on the weekends or even where to get my hair done. But one day as I was scrolling Twitter, I came across this guy who tweeted updates about local people, places and various events. So, I started following him, and eventually we ended up connecting about my services.
Years later, this same guy refers clients to me all the time.
Your Get-Clients Game Plan #2: Look for well-connected locals on social media. Start following people who post things that interest you. Engage with them in a non-creepy way and see where it takes you. Simple as that!
3. Keep business cards handy
One practically effortless thing I did was put my business card on bulletin boards at my favorite local spots. I’d leave a few cards here and there as I was going about my day, so doing this didn’t require a lot on my end.
It’s also helpful to have cards on hand because you never know who you’re going to meet. And people you meet almost always ask about what you do.
Your Get-Clients Game Plan #3: I doubt I need to spell this one out for you, but I will or the sake of consistency. (Any other OCD creatives out there?) If you haven’t already, get business cards printed (if you only want to work with local clients, consider including the name of your city on the card). Keep several of them on hand day-to-day and notice if the restaurants, stores, salons, etc. you frequent have bulletin boards where people put their cards. If so, attach yours.
4. Target Facebook Ads to local Pages with a similar target market
I ran a Facebook Ad specifically targeting people who liked my church’s Facebook page. To be totally transparent, I’m not sure if I saw a return on that investment. But at that point, I didn’t have any experience running Facebook Ads. Now, there are lots of courses and free content out there to help you come up with an effective strategy for running Facebook Ads to build a local client base.
Your Get-Clients Game Plan #4: Do some research and find tips to help you run your first Facebook Ad. Invest a little bit (maybe $50) to target a local Page’s audience (with a similar target market). From there, see what works and run with it
5. Focus on SEO
Improving my local search rank helped me end up on the first page of Google. SEO can be tricky and it’s tough to understand; plus, depending on your website platform, there are countless ways to improve your SEO potential. Still, I’ve had many clients find me via Google search, so I think it’s a great way attract a local market if you’re willing to do some initial research.
Have a Squarespace site? My eBook on Squarespace SEO is a great starting point.
Your Get-Clients Game Plan #5: Research SEO. Learn how you can improve your ranking among local competitors, then implement the tactics and strategies that make sense for you.
6. Engage with local hashtags
I’ve done this from time to time with event hashtags and local business campaigns. Not only has it helped me connect with business owners in Atlanta who need my services, it’s allowed me to build and engage my own local following on social media.
Your Get-Clients Game Plan #6: Follow relevant local businesses/people on social media to discover the hashtags they’re using. Then, use those hashtags in your related social posts. For example, if you’re a photographer who wants to take senior photos. Find out hashtags associated with local high schools and include those when you post an Instagram that would appeal to that school’s students/parents. Don’t forget, here’s how you can find MORE hashtags to use.
Of course, some of these tips might require you to venture outside your comfort zone. Since you’re already adjusting to a new environment, pick 1-2 of the tips/strategies above to get started. You can always try the others later.