Ask A Freelancer: Your First Client

One of the biggest struggles I’ve heard a lot from readers is how to get clients. This topic is a huge one and everyone has their different ways.

Referrals, social marketing, blogging, friends & family….the list goes on and on.

I plan on covering my take on different strategies a lot on the blog. But I’m just one person, and I know there is so much more wisdom out there than just little ol’ me can try and provide. So that gave me the idea of this new series.

Introducing: Ask A Freelancer.

We can learn so much from others and it’s always great to hear advice from successful freelancers you look up to. So in this series I plan on asking freelancers just one simple question, and sharing with you their response.

This week’s question:

How’d You Get Your First Client?

Whether you are just starting out, or in the market for some new clients, these answers might give you some ideas of where to look next!


Michelle Martello“So before I “officially” started my business I was doing work trade from my favorite yoga studio (I designed and maintained the website and in turn got free yoga.) Well, this owner had been working with a business coach who loved my work. This coach then sent me my first two paying clients – and it snowballed from there – he still sends clients 7 years later!

That one yoga site connected me with dozens of clients (many of whom attended the studio – and one client generated over 200k worth of work!) That’s why you always have to be proud to say what you do and be willing to talk about it with anyone – you just never know where it might lead.”

Michelle Martello,

Alison Monday“Like most freelance designers, my first paying client was a friend who needed a website + knew that I “did that sort of thing.” I felt like never working with a client before meant my prices had to be dirt cheap, so my estimate was too low for them to resist. Consider that a lesson learned!”

Alison Monday,

Suzi Istvan“LOL! My mom! She was bragging about me to her hairdresser, her decorator (she was planning a renovation at the time), her favorite bakery, anyone who had a crappy website and would listen to her. Then she’d call me and say “I have a client for you.” For the first few months of my business, I feel like my mom was my agent!”

Suzi Istvan,

Maria Gil“After doing tens of free sessions a fellow Bschooler {online business course} came up to me and said she wanted in. Paying. Still shocked today.”

Maria Gil Ulldemolins,

Dave Conrey“When I first got started as a graphic artist, I met someone that could definitely use some design help with their print advertising, but didn’t understand how good design could improve their ROI. I volunteered to do the first ad for free, and I made sure they added something in the ad so they could track performance.

They had a 10% increase in calls in the first month after the ad broke, and I got the majority of their design projects for the next few years.”

Dave Conrey,

Amanda“My first paying client was through networking with other web designers and that’s how I still receive many of my referrals. I’ve never viewed them as competition. They’ve been my biggest mentors + source of knowledge + work along the way.”

Amanda Klausmeier,

Torie Mathis“While going to college for Advertising, I worked as an office manager. A contractor doing work at the office heard and asked me to design business cards for his company. I not only designed them but arranged printing too. In retrospect, they weren’t that great, but he was thrilled with them. Hey, we all have to start somewhere.”

Torie Mathis,

Marama“My first paying client was a practitioner that worked out of the natural therapies practice I ran before getting into webdesign. Whether you are just starting out or been going for years it’s so often who you know and who THEY know. Referrals are by FAR the main source of clients for me.”

Marama Carmichael,

Ellissa Jayne“My first paying client was my best friend from high school’s housemate from 10 years ago! It’s amazing the random connections you have as s freelancer!”

Ellissa Jayne,

Natalia Real“I got my first client through a coworker of my mother’s. Don’t be afraid to have your family and friends pimp you out!”

Natalia Real,

AmandaGenther“Referral from an internship I was already doing. Joining a design agency is a great way to get big name clients on your roster.”

Amanda Genther,

Good stories huh?

I hope this helped give you some ideas about where you can find your next client. They’re out there, you just need to get yourself in front of them. Think outside the box 🙂


Leah Kalamakis Leah Kalamakis is the founder of The Freelance To Freedom Project and a web designer/developer for brilliant entrepreneurs. When she’s not hanging out in the FTF Community, you can find her people watching on the streets of NYC. Come say hi on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.


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{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Tyron Janse van Vuuren

    Great stories. When I went from permanent employment to freelance, my first paying client was my previous employer! Because I already had a relationship of trust with them, starting out this way really smoothed my transition to the freelance life. Thanks for the article!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Love that! And more and more employers seem to be on board with going that direction. A great reason to not burn bridges when you leave. Thanks for your comment Tyron!

  • My first paying client came from making a service I knew the people in my entrepreneur Facebook group would need. It was only $75 for a shit ton of work but I sold out the 5 spots in a week. It was such a great feeling! 🙂

  • A few weeks after getting into university, I joined a student organization, told them what I did in my free time, and they immediately made me their new web designer and webmaster. That was pro bono, however on of the guys from the org. had a company, and a few months later asked me to design a website for him. He had a $200 budget. I said yes, because it was my first paid design work ever.

    My second paid client story is kind of funny. I stumbled on a website of a web development studio that was looking broken in Firefox (that was ages ago, when people still used IE6 as their primary browser). I sent them an email chastising them for doing such a poor job at making their own website compatible with other browsers, while they’re supposedly a professional company. (I was 19 and spent my teenage years arguing over the internet, so somehow I thought this was acceptable behavior).

    The result? Company owner responded with grace, and asked if I was available for work on a new client project they had. I said yes, and did another 2-3 projects for them after that.

  • I got my first web design client while I was learning to code and driving for Uber! I had passengers in the back and picked up a second passenger and we started talking and it turned out both she and her husband needed websites for their businesses.

  • Thank you so much for this post! It’s been really helpful.

    Does the neighbor next door who needed the six year old to pull up their trash cans count? 🙂 I’ve always worked jobs like that, but my first ‘real’ client was from an internship that I worked at and loved to pieces!

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