Why you shouldn’t let geography hold you back + how to go beyond local

Local clients.

If you are a big fish in a small pond and are making it work, good for you.

But I see comments like these below from freelancers all the time:

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“People won’t pay top dollar where I live so I can’t charge a lot.”

“In my area, people aren’t paying big bucks for design.”

“I’m feeling like I can’t go too high because of the area of the country I live in.”

To which I always say, “What is stopping you from working with people outside your local area?”

Are you The Handyman?

Seth Godin describes 5 levels of freelancing and one of them is what he calls The Handyman.

“The handyman gets the gig because she’s easy. Right around the corner. She’s handy.” says Godin.

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When you are living in a place that has a lot of people looking to hire for the type of work you provide (an urban area for example), you are fine. You can make it work, so long as you have enough volume.

Or, if you are the only one in town (the small town dentist, local plumber, etc.), it can also work.

But if you are getting the gig only because you are close by, beware. You are making yourself vulnerable to the onslaught of the internet age—the time when almost anything you need is just a click away.

Geography doesn’t matter in Freelancing

Someone who used to hire the local graphic designer can now go on Upwork and hire the same job for half the amount they used to pay.

Being local or nearby can no longer be the only reason you get the gig anymore. You’ve got to do more to attract clients to you from places outside the area you trade in.

They need to want to hire you for a reason other than proximity or because you’re the easy choice.

They’ve got to want to work with you based on something they see in your work or—even better—the belief that you’re an expert who can help solve their business problem.

If the only people you work with are local clients, sent your way via referral, it’s a sign that you need to consider specializing.

How to move beyond local clients

To move beyond local clients, you have to serve a niche. You need to decide on the type of service (the discipline) and/or for who you do that service for (the marketplace).

Once you’ve done that, you’ve now got a beacon for potential clients to hone in on and say, “I’ve found what I’m looking for.”

If you serve a niche, it doesn’t matter where you are located. If you make yourself visible enough, they will find you.

When you do this, you are no longer the generic website designer, you are the specialist who designs WordPress membership sites.

The difference between generic and specific

The other day, we planted a small garden of tomatoes and some other veggies.

While at the store for potting soil, I had a choice of generic Potting Soil or Tomato and Veggie Potting Soil.

The tomato and veggie soil was more expensive, but which do you think I chose?

When you find something that is exactly what you are looking for, the price becomes a bit of an afterthought, doesn’t it?

The price factors in, but when you compare the two options—and your main goal is to solve a problem or get the best result—you are gonna wonder if the generic option will do the job or not.

The specific option, on the other hand, gives you that feeling of, “I’ve found what I’m looking for.” 

Make yourself findable

Once you’ve decided to specialize, you need to create content around that specialization.

Content is what attracts the world to you. You can’t be found if you are not visible. Content makes you findable.

My prefered medium for content creation is to write, but you can create video (for Youtube), you can create images (for Instagram or Pinterest), or you can create audio (for Podcasts) as a way of proving your expertise in your specialty and making yourself findable.

Specializing also makes it a thousand times easier to create content compared to when you are a generalist. Because, what do you write or create content about as a generalist?

Broad topics, like branding or marketing, don’t easily allow for focused content. There are a million possibilities to write about, and faced with so many options, you probably choose none.

When you specialize, you know who you are targeting and you can create content around their needs.

The other benefit of specializing is you get to earn more for your services.

Clients will seek out and pay for the best

An orthopedic surgeon who is known for being the best will attract the top athletes looking for the best advice. People will travel across the country to have a consultation with him and pay top dollar for his services.

Conversely, a general practitioner doctor has no one specialty. Nobody travels to see him.

He attracts local business because he is close by. Nothing wrong with that — but he doesn’t earn in the top of his field.

The specialist does.

Find your focus

You’ve got to figure out your specialty. It’s not enough to say you are a Graphic Designer, or a Writer, or a Developer.

What kind of work do you specialize in and who do you do it for?

Once you can answer that question, you can begin to work on a way to attract clients from across the globe by creating content that illustrates your expertise and allows them to find you.

It doesn’t mean you never work with local clients again. In fact, becoming known as a specialist will also increase your appeal with local clients.

But you’ll be sheltered from the effects of a local recession and never have to worry about charging too much based on where you operate from.

What tips do you have for reaching clients beyond your local town? Please share with us in the comments!

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About Ian Vadas

Ian Vadas is a designer and the author of Work With Clients You Love. Get the eBook to learn how to select clients that pay well, treat you with respect and allow you to do your best work.

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  1. Great article Ian, specialization is always the way to go!

  2. how should i decide what my niche is as a web designer/ seo / ppc free lancer?

  3. Thanks Ian for the great article!

    This is totally my everyday thought. My current location is about 2-3 hours from the major metropolitan areas here in Texas. Reaching out to those areas has been a struggle for me. With a saturation of freelance, and graphic design firms in those areas, its tough to get in.

    I am also with Joe on his comment. For me, its hard to find a niche with the wide range of design projects I have worked on throughout the years.

  4. Hi. Your article is excellent and hit home for me on so many points. While staying busy through local referrals, I’ve been wanting to pursue out-of-area work for an age to garner more interesting and better paying work. My question is, do you have some recommendations for ways to effectively connect with or promote to ‘non-referral’ potentials? I know some designers who are circling back to unique direct mail pieces, since email and social media outreach can sometimes be ineffective for cold-calling. Appreciate the feedback. Thanks!


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