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Freelancing Tips & Secrets: How to Freelance Like a Pro

Expert insights to get your freelance business booming

A photo of freelancers Marcy Chu, Paige Slaughter, and Mari Backus sitting together at a table.

For many freelancers, finding consistent work (especially if you’re just starting out) can seem like a daunting hurdle. Though the benefits of freelance life—increased flexibility and independence—are enticing, even the most seasoned pros understand that growing their businesses requires a steady, concerted effort.

We asked 3 veteran freelancers—Mailchimp partners Marcy Chu, Paige Slaughter, and Mari Backus—to share their tried-and-true tactics to get a steady stream of projects. No matter where you are in your freelance journey, these tips will help ensure you’re on the right track.

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How to find clients

It can be difficult to know where to begin when trying to win and onboard new clients. Here are 3 strategies to help you streamline the process.

1. Tap your network

Networking is vital to building your business. Although the idea of getting started might feel intimidating, connecting with potential clients can be surprisingly easy. In fact, you may already have some in your contact list! This was true for Mari Backus, founder of the North Carolina-based Stay Collective Co, who started out by completing projects for organizations and companies that she worked with during her previous job. The result was a snowball effect of new business. “As I continued taking on more projects, many clients would refer me to their friends or colleagues, continuing the growth of my clientele,” she explains.

2. Build your portfolio

When you’re just starting out, it’s hard to market yourself without a portfolio that shows off your great work. Just ask Marcy Chu, a freelancer based in Venice, California, who encountered this very obstacle when she was starting out. As an upfront investment in herself, Marcy decided to offer her services for free. “After the free work, I started taking projects on Upwork⁠⁠—at a super reduced rate⁠⁠—and slowly raised it over time.” Now, Marcy’s an established marketer with an enviable client roster that includes an Ivy League institution.

3. Market Yourself

Putting yourself front and center may not come naturally to all freelancers. If you’re not comfortable in the spotlight, you can always let your work speak for itself. Once you build out your portfolio, Marcy suggests promoting your projects on platforms—like the Mailchimp experts directory—designed to connect Mailchimp partners with clients.

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How to manage workflow

Once you’ve started building your client base, it’s important to set boundaries to avoid getting overwhelmed. Because everyone’s ideal workload looks different, our expert freelancers all stress the importance of learning what works best for you—mostly by good old-fashioned trial and error.

1. Tackle time management

When it comes to managing your time, there are different strategies and tactics you can implement to maximize your productivity while avoiding overload. Marcy, as well as Paige Slaughter, founder of Fruition Studio, both organize their time based on the depth of the work, from one-off projects to long-term marketing initiatives. Marcy blocks off at least 2 days a week for her ongoing clients, using the remainder of her time to take on new business. Paige offers her services at project-based (rather than hourly) rates, so she knows exactly how much time to dedicate to each client.

2. Up your billing

Billing can be a difficult topic for freelancers to tackle. Even the most experienced marketers can struggle with pricing. The Mailchimp & Co Benchmark Report recently revealed that freelancers with a high conversion rate (i.e, freelancers who are often landing new clients) are probably charging too little. For how to best structure your billing and to compare your hourly rates (and yearly revenues) to other freelancers from around the world, download the Benchmark Report.

3. Draw up contracts

Getting project details laid out on paper is an important step when onboarding a client. Not only does it clearly outline your deliverables, it also helps clients understand what’s expected from them, too. Being clear about the parameters of your projects from the outset means you won’t suffer scope creep.

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How to keep your client pipeline flowing

Learning how to get more business when you need to is a crucial skill to have as a freelancer. These 3 strategies will help you identify when, how and where to seek out new leads.

1. When to look for new business

Client pipeline management is an essential skill. Take on too much work and you’ll feel like you’re drowning in deadlines. Fail to plan ahead and you might suffer from a dry spell. Mari can usually tell it's time to seek out new leads when she doesn't have a lot to do for several consecutive days. But signs of a slow period may look different depending on the kinds of projects you do. “I don’t like to use income as an indicator because with multiple one-time projects, looking at monthly and even quarterly income is more important than weekly,” she says of her strategy.

2. How to look for new business

You never want your pipeline to run dry, but networking and self-promotion takes time. How do you make the most of your efforts? Referrals and client testimonials might be a key. Our Benchmark Report reveal that 37% of freelancers said the #1 way they won new business was through referrals from existing clients.

3. Where to look for new business

When it’s time to drum up more clients, building a strong community is important. Mari’s methods include contacting past clients, who may be interested in doing more work, and reaching out to members of entrepreneurship groups. Paige also likes to take a community-based approach in her search for more clients: she regularly attends local networking events and conferences, and also sponsors a weekly newsletter for a co-working space in her area. “It’s a great way to give back to the organization and present Fruition Studio to a community of local entrepreneurs,” she says.

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Build community, not just business

Although there are many benefits to freelance life, it doesn’t always provide the structured social environment that traditional jobs offer, so it’s important to keep some boundaries and challenges in mind. That’s why our 3 expert freelancers often turn to their communities—both local and virtual—to interact with like-minded people and share experiences.

“At the end of the day, business is about relationships,” says Paige. “Finding and creating community has helped me thrive as a business owner and as someone who wants to change the world.”

If you’re a freelancer looking to learn new skills, build your reputation, and connect with industry peers, we invite you to join the Mailchimp & Co community.

Not only is our ready-built network excited to welcome you, membership also gets you access to client management tools and other resources designed to help you grow your business your way.

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