How to land the perfect clients (and avoid the bad ones)

Clients are our best friends and our worst enemies.

From the client who pays on time and has clear project briefs to clients who always pay late and try to increase the scope, freelancers are bound to deal with all types. Some clients are a joy to work for and some clients make you wish you’d never started freelancing.

A note from Preston: Alex is a new member of the Millo team and has been very masterfully curating some of the best freelancing content from around the web at our new sister site, The Freelance Report. I’ve asked Alex to take the nuggets from what he’s learned every so often and share them with us all here at the blog. Thanks, Alex. Back to you.

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Landing a client you actually want to work is something we should all strive to do.

  • When you can enjoy the work you do, you’ll naturally produce better results.
  • When you believe in the client’s mission, you’ll want to do your best to help them succeed.
  • When you land a client that you’ve wanted, you’ll be motivated to work harder.

All of this leads to a satisfied client, which in turn can lead to more work that you actually want to do; whether it’s from them or a referral.

Through searching the web for the best resources on finding and working with clients I love and curating them at TFR, I’ve put together a roundup of what I’ve learned.

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In order to land great new clients, check out these 4 main points that will help you get work you’re excited about doing. (Have a tried and true system? Drop us a note in the comments!)

1) Be prepared

Before you approach a potential client, you NEED to be prepared.

If you have a website that showcases what you do and who you are, you’ll need to make sure that you’re website is sending the right message. Your site should not only explain what you do, but more importantly, it should explain how you do it.

  • What is your process?
  • What value do you bring to the table?
  • What sets you apart from everyone else?

These two posts have some great information and tips on how you can make sure your website will shine.

You’ll also want to be familiar with writing contracts and should know what to do before hand to ensure that you’ll get paid.

It’s extremely common for freelancers to not begin work without a deposit.

(I never start a job without a 50% deposit; that’s my policy and I stick with it. So far, I’ve not had a client complain.)

Getting a deposit provides a small safety net in case the client disappears, runs out of money, or flat out refuses to pay. To ward off these issues, check out this post:

Finally, if a client contacts you, you’ll want to know what questions to ask during the initial conversation. If you can separate the bad clients from the good clients early on, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, frustration, and money.

Check out this post to see what types of questions you should ask to weed out bad clients.

2) Get out of the office

Finding clients though, can be difficult; especially if you’re just starting out.

Many freelancers starting out (myself included), tend to only look for work from the comfort of their own home.


Because putting yourself out there is a scary thing. What if someone tells you no? What if someone laughs at your work? What if someone tells you that you’re not worth your rates?

If that happens, you brush it off and move on (you probably didn’t want to work with them anyway).

While you can definitely land a lot of jobs through advertising, social media, job sites, and your website, meeting face to face with a client shows your determination, character, and willingness to help them build their business.

Here’s how I do it:

  • I have a list of potential clients that I plan on meeting in the coming months.
  • The businesses on my list are local businesses that have a weak or non-existing web presence and from the look of their print materials, have not invested any time in message that their brand is sending.
  • I’ve tried to focus on businesses that probably won’t see me on the internet, so I want them to see what I can do in-person.
  • These are places that I want to work for, places I get excited about helping.

Am I nervous about approaching them? You bet.

However, I see the situation as a win-win. If they say no, then I’m right back where I started and I’ll leave my card with them. If they say yes, then I’ll have a job lined up that I am looking forward to doing.

Here are a few great posts that take an in-depth look at finding and landing clients.

3) Show the client the value you provide

When you land that client that you’ve wanted, you need show prove to the client that they made the right choice in hiring you.

Go above and beyond to make sure that they’ll say “I LOVE IT!” when you show them your work.

Not only with this likely turn them into a long-term client, but they’ll rave about you to their friends. The more people they tell about the awesome job you’ve done, the more opportunities you’ll get to land clients.

When it comes to your creative business, your reputation is everything.

Because the majority of creative work comes from referrals, it makes having a good reputation crucial to the life of a freelance business. Clients are looking for someone who has proven themselves, who is a joy to work with, and who provides top-notch work every time.

It’s important to always be at your best so that as your reputation grows, it always shines.

Read through these posts to see how you can secure long-term clients and a great reputation.

4) Don’t be afraid to say no

Being busy is not always a good thing. Many people are extremely busy, yet unproductive.

If a job you were initially interested just doesn’t feel right or if you are already booked up, don’t be afraid to tell them no.

Remember, if you’re constantly saying yes to jobs that you don’t want, it’ll be hard to find time to do the jobs that you do want. Being consistently productive is a good thing, but being overly busy may not grow your business and could possibly hinder you from working for the clients you want to.

Pro tip! If it’s a client you might want to work with in the future, don’t just tell them no and leave them high and dry. Let them know when you might be available for more work, or possibly refer them to someone else.

Final thoughts

The beauty of freelancing is that you are your own boss.

YOU decide who you do and don’t want to work for.

You are in control of your business and your future.

Make a list of potential clients that you want to work for, be prepared, go out and get them, and show them that they made the right choice in hiring you!

I want to hear how you’ve landed clients you love, leave a comment and lets keep the conversation going!

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  1. Spot on.

    I’ll never forget my first good client. We super-served her and she ended up referring me to a couple other clients. It snowballed from there.

    I was nervous approaching her because she’s a very well-respected businessperson in my city, but she recognized that I had a solid product and gave me a shot.

    Now, she not only continues to refer us (my freelance business has become a small agency) but she’s a close friend.

  2. Hi Alex,

    Great Article, it’s always good to get tips on getting clients. I’ve started freelancing a few months ago and a lot of what you wrote will certainly help me. But I wonder if you have any advice about getting more from your clients once you get them, and how do you get them to behave the way you want them to?

    The reason I ask is I have recently found myself doing a lot of extra work which I feel is not on the initial brief but somehow my client feels it is! This has happened more than once so I’m starting to feel it’s something I’m doing wrong.

    Does anyone find this difficult as well? Do you have any tips how I can ease my pain?

    I was also curious about how you get briefs from your clients. Do you have a template you get them to fill out or do you work with what they give you? Do you spend time working a brief together with them. Do you charge them for this?

    Thank You!

  3. Great article. Looking forward to reading the links too.
    Just want to ask — Is there such a thing as frightening away potential clients by getting down to business too soon, or am I frightening away what would be bad clients?

  4. This is a really fantastic read! I wish i’d actually come across this article when I first started freelancing 🙁
    I agree with you, everyone needs to be confident in turning away work that doesn’t suit their abilities. The key is just not to be disheartened when your turned down!

  5. When recently contacted by a prospect about a logo design, I could tell immediately he was doing nothing more than “price-shopping” and knew this would not be a good fit. Weeding out the bad clients early on is so important otherwise you are wasting valuable time! Rhonda’s “5 questions to ask…” has become a standard for me as part of my potential new client intake process. Priceless!

  6. It seems to me that many beginner freelancers are somewhat afraid to charge in advance. It’s like they’re scared to loose the client if they write out their demands. It’s important to know that the sooner you learn the basics about freelancing the better, especially about charging. It will save you a lot of unnecessary hassle.

  7. Hi Alex!
    Congratulations on writing the article. You covered a really important part of what being a freelancer really means. I am talking about the necessity to go out there and network in order to find clients. I’m not saying that you cannot have a successful freelance career only by working with clients you never actually meet, but there is certainly a different feeling when you talk to people face to face and understand their problem.

    I am looking forward to reading your future articles, as well as following your work on the freelance report!

    1. Hi Mazilu!

      I really appreciate the kind words! You’re right, you can definitely have a successful freelance career without meeting many clients face to face, but you can convey so much more in person than you can through email or a website. I feel that as the internet continues to grow, people tend to forget that you can still get yourself out of the office and meet people who aren’t behind a screen. When you begin to do that, a whole new pool of clients can open up, who you probably wouldn’t have reached otherwise.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

  8. Great article! I need to get better about meeting clients face-to-face, or at least getting to the point where that’s an option. I definitely have plenty of clients in my teeny tiny town that don’t have a web presence, so maybe I can start with them.

    1. Thanks, Jonathan! Meeting clients face to face is something that is still difficult for me. I never want to come off as a cheesy salesperson, but I’ve found that if you really focus on the value that you can provide to the client’s business and understand that you really are helping them, it definitely makes it easier. Going after clients without a web presence is great place to start as well. Those types of clients tend to be more traditional and many of them prefer a face to face meeting (at least initially). Good luck! I’d love to hear how it goes!

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