how to get your first paying client - MyStartupLand

You have been thinking about it for a while now. Getting on a freelancing gig and following your passion. Be it photography, content writing, web development or anything else. There’s only one problem, you don’t know where to start and how to get your first paying client.

It’s great that you have been thinking about getting out there and follow your dream. However, you have never sold yourself, nevertheless your passion. On top of that, you kind of hate salespeople. So, how do you get started?

The first thing you need to understand, before jumping into this, is that you cannot avoid sales (nor marketing for that matter).

Yes, take a deep breath. Inhale slowly and while you exhale repeat with me… “I can’t avoid sales“.

Now, you don’t have to like it. You don’t have to become a salesperson. However, you need to realize that to get freelancing gigs, you will need to

a) present yourself properly

b) sell your services to get clients

Here, I will focus on 6 activities you need to start doing to get your first paying client.

#1. Nail a Niche

First of all, niche doesn’t mean small. If you want to start somewhere, you need to start to identify a niche within your specialty.

Let’s say you are a photographer, ask yourself what do I like to take pictures of? Is it people, landscape, food, weddings? Or, let’s say you are a translator. What do you like to translate? Is it comics, fantasy, adventure, or perhaps technical documents?

Think very well about what you like, but also what you are good at. Identify a niche that you want to nail and then become a specialist in it. Aim at becoming the go-to guy/girl for it.

Remember, if you nail a niche, you are not thinking small, you are not reducing your opportunity. You are focusing. At this stage, and until you don’t nail that specific niche, being focused is going to be key to your success.

#2. Identify Your Ideal Target

After you have understood what niche you want to focus on, you need to move to the audience you want to address. There are few questions you want to ask yourself:

  • Who are the people you want to talk to?
  • Where do they hang out?
  • How can you reach them (phone, email, advertising, meetups…)?
  • What problem do they have and how you can help them solve it?

This step might seem a little bit abstract, and perhaps non-sense. After all, you are thinking: “why do I need to limit myself to a specific type of client? If I find someone who wants to buy my service I will just go for it.

Although it might seem logical to think that way, it is crucial to understand that focus is the key, especially at the beginning. Identifying your ideal target is directly linked to nailing a niche.

Spread and pray doesn’t work in sales. Having a focused and organized approach will get you results instead.

#3. Create A Portfolio

Before “going to market”, you need to create a portfolio. There’s a way for you to have an “MVP” or minimum viable product before you approach your potential clients, even if you haven’t had one yet.

For example, let’s assume you are a translator and you decided that your niche is comics. The first thing to do is to get down on it and translate a couple of your preferred comics in your spare time. Once you have done that, put them on documents that you can share with potential prospects.

Another example, you are a photographer and you want to specialize in food pictures. Considering the high competition you might find on Instagram, I would suggest you take a more creative approach rather than just plain simple food pictures. For instance, think about the composition of the picture, get creative and go beyond the basic idea of food pictures.

One last example, you want to get into content creation. Let’s say your niche is leadership and management, there are several ways you can create your own portfolio. One is to simply write two or three articles and reach out to few blogs out there and get it published. There are literally thousands of small/medium blogs that accept guest posting (we also accept external contributions). Another way, perhaps a bit more complicated for the less tech-savvy, is to create a website and publish your content there. Your website will become your portfolio.


These are the first steps to get you started, without these 3 points, you cannot move forward. What comes next is key for you to get your first paying client as a freelancer.

#4 Talk With Friends & Family

Start spreading the word within your network that you are going to make the jump. Start with the people you trust and know best. There might be a chance they would appreciate your services. The important thing here is that you don’t sell to them yet.

Remember these are your friends, you don’t want to bother them. You want to focus on good potential clients. Try to find the right way to talk about your passion and explore, rather than sell.

If you land one gig with your friends and family, don’t consider that a sale, even if they pay you. Consider this an unofficial client. It will be up to you if you want to charge them for your service. If you decide not to, make sure you get a reference. A written testimonial will get you a long way at the beginning of your freelancing career. This is even more relevant if you are on some freelancing websites. Ask your friends and family to book a gig through the website and leave a reference. Start establishing your brand.

I wouldn’t generally suggest giving your service away for free. At the end of the day, you are doing a job and you want to make sure that people understand that, even if they are your friends or family. Perhaps, you can charge them a “friend price” or just give them one session for free, if your service is based on multiple interactions.

#5 Get Referrals

After you have spread the word within your network and found your first unofficial client, ask for clients referrals. If they are happy, they will gladly refer you to some other people they know. In case they are not fully satisfied, ask them for feedback.

A key thing to keep in mind when selling your services is always about asking.

Ask for referrals.

Ask for a sale.

No one will give you the answer you want if you don’t ask the right question.

Referrals are the best way to get your first paying client. They come in with a positive image of you and your services, so usually, the sales cycle should be very simple and intuitive. Remember though to stick to your niche. This is fundamental for your client portfolio and your focus.

#6 Get Involved In Meetups

In case you can’t access friends and family, meetups are another great sources of contacts. Depending on the city you live in, you can find meetups about everything. Try to combine generic meetups about your passion and, if possible, specific about your niche.

Meetups are the only occasion where you can go broader, rather than focusing on a niche. This is about meeting people, getting out there and start learning what other professionals are doing.

As said above, it’s also a good idea to get into niche meetups about your specialty. You might end up meeting a lot of your “competitors”, but that’s totally fine. Learn from them and ask questions, you might get some interesting ideas as well as potential collaborations. From collaborations, you can get your first paying client as well.

Final Thoughts On How To Get Your First Paying Client In

Getting started is usually the most complicated thing. Once you get the ball rolling, you will see how things will fall into place and the process will become smoother. There are few things to keep in mind when (thinking of) starting:

  • Give yourself time
  • Don’t give up too easily or at the first problem
  • Before you jump, make sure you have a monetary safety net
  • You can start all this while you have a stable job

The key to sales is about being focused and having an organized approach. You don’t need to be a sales guru to get your first paying client. You don’t have to like sales to do all this. You are already doing it when talking about your passion. You just need some structure to it.

Luca is an experienced sales executive and business coach with a background of over 10 years in sales and management. When not working, Luca runs one of the leading online magazines for startup knowledge, MyStartupLand, with the aim of providing meaningful and helpful content to startup founders and business people.


  1. How can I ignore potential customers even if they don’t fit in my “ideal target”? Wouldn’t it be crazy to say ‘no’ to money?

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