Attracting future clients on autopilot—that’s the whole point of your website, right? Most freelancers accept the story that great work attracts leads, but I’m going to be straight with you: clients have no clue you exist. What usually tips the balance isn’t your portfolio—they see plenty of those.
Not many people talk about failures they had promoting their products and services. We struggle and we hide it. It’s one of the reasons I hate to read marketing “success stories” and “How to drive traffic and make money!” posts—they seem hollow and vaguely manipulative. They also invariably circle around an answer we already know: The key to attracting non-referral clients is making it easy for them to discover you.
Simple as that is, we fail for two reasons:
- Most freelancer websites are only concerned with showing portfolio work.
- We haven’t figured out who we want as clients, what makes them tick, or how they solve problems.
We’re focused on showing, not serving.
Serving hits the ground running—it answers a question, solves a problem, satisfies a curiosity. There’s a difference between saying you will and proving it with a real takeaway during the first impression. Portfolio-focused sites also don’t give Google much content to index and rank, lessening your chances of ever getting high in organic search results, much less on their radar.
Designers are “supposed” to do certain things to find clients. Well, I did all that, for years. And I had a pretty depressing success rate, considering how much time I put into it. Then I tried one thing that single-handedly turned around my freelance career. I started blogging with clients in mind.
Do it your way#section2
Let me tell you about Brian Dean.
Brian Dean of Backlinko gets 130,000 monthly uniques. Want know how many articles he has on his blog—in total?
30. That’s right, 30.
Readers aren’t coming because he publishes frequently—they’re coming because he writes about what they want to know and because every piece he’s got is the best on that given subject, hands down! He keeps visitors coming back to the same posts because he’s constantly improving the material little by little to ensure it’s always the best that’s out there.
As people come across it—web professionals, curious readers, and potential clients—it’s building up his reputation and making it easier for people to find him via search and re-shared content links.
You don’t have to write regularly. Or much. And you don’t need an industry-rocking idea. With your expertise, you have what it takes to say something that other people consider valuable.
The key to success is making a target, then sticking it out for a few rounds of research + content creation + promotion to start. The more posts/articles you create, the more properties you have on the Monopoly board called Google. Having a few widely shared articles also kicks off a virtuous loop where all your subsequent articles get a jump start from your existing traffic. This approach is repeatable and scaleable.
(One quick heads-up: you can also expect your content to attract the “wrong type” of visitors, such as recruiters and people looking to hire someone for low-end, piecemeal work. It’s possible to turn these inquiries into opportunities by politely refusing their offer and asking if they know anyone who is seeking the type of work you do provide.)
Pre-planning your content#section3
As you know, Google determines how high your page ranks for certain search terms based on factors like:
- Whether your page content is relevant to the search term
- How many other quality, relevant sites link to your page
- How well-made readers think your content is (i.e. how long do people spend reading your content).
Translating that, your goals are to:
- Create content that is relevant to search terms visitors use
- Create high quality content that invites re-links and social shares
- Ensure that time-on-site for the specific piece of content is high.
It may feel a bit unnatural to create content around ranking well on Google, but you’re actually just creating a really valuable article that answers all possible questions a reader is most likely to have about that topic.
Know what matters to clients#section4
Instead of randomly choosing a topic, it helps to be a bit strategic. After all, it’s a way to get discovered by the right people.
First, know—and learn how to write for—your intended audience. Almost any topic about your field would interest fellow professionals. But let’s recall, who is it you want to attract, first and foremost? Clients. So how do you find out what they’re searching for?
When I started doing this, I began by listing questions a new client typically asks, such as:
- How much do your services cost?
- How does your [service] process work?
To see the types of questions business owners and entrepreneurs ask most often, take a look at community sites where they hang out (Fig. 1). Good ones include:
Based on the questions you find, you could brainstorm three topic ideas that relate to each one, or even split larger topics into separate articles. For example, instead of writing one giant piece on how much web design services cost, write about one service in each post, such as:
- How much does a landing page cost?
- How much does custom website cost?
They should be written in the style of a comprehensive educational guide that teaches the visitor everything they need to know about the topic.
- How much does logo design cost?
This article could cover:
- The reason rates vary so much among designers
- The different types of designers they can hire (freelancer, agency, etc.)
- A description of the creative process for designing a logo.
Write a better article#section5
Now that you’ve settled on a topic, it’s time to create a comprehensive leave-no-stone-unturned piece of content about it.
What’s “comprehensive”? It’s helpful to set a benchmark for yourself by researching other popular articles that have already been written about it. Use them as inspiration, then go and create an even better version. This both demonstrates your command of the topic and attracts links from relevant, high authority sites (which signals to Google that your site contains high quality content, triggering it to bump your page higher in the search results for those keywords).
A popular tool for doing this research is Ahrefs.
After you create an account, enter a topic you’re considering, then select “Traffic” in the Sorted by dropdown. (Fig. 2)
Here are some of the highest trafficked articles on “web development cost.” (Fig. 3)
Analyze each article and write down every single point that’s covered. Your goal is to be just as good when it’s your time to address each one. You’ll then brainstorm at least five original or interesting angles they didn’t mention or tackle extensively. This “value add” is your selling point when the time comes to start promoting the piece.
Another way to dig deep is to learn more about the authors. For instance, how does their expertise differ from yours? This can help you catch things they didn’t cover. You can also pull up every article a specific author has written on a subject, such as this topic search for journalists and bloggers writing about “web development cost.” (Fig. 4)
Other effective ways to juice up your content#section6
Use compelling (and/or controversial) examples#section7
Buttress each major point in your article with compelling (and if possible, controversial) case studies and examples.
For example, here’s an excellent analysis of the controversial logo design for the London 2012 Olympics (Fig. 5). It explains why (despite the negative public reaction) the versatility and instant recognizability of the logo actually make it an example of great identity work.
Use visual assets with your article#section8
Visual assets make your article easier to read by breaking up chunks of text. For images, choose ones that instantly convey the emotion or message of a major point you make (Fig. 6). For infographics, choose ones that visually illustrate and compare data or statistics you mention in the article. A good visual asset also attracts social shares.
Interview someone interesting (and influential)#section9
Seek out people who can contribute an interesting insight or experience related to your topic. Not only does this add perspective to your article, you can ask this person to share the article with their audience (which may give you a nice traffic boost).
Capture every question#section10
Before you start writing, make a list of every single possible question someone could have about this topic. Based on your research of existing articles, also include details and angles they don’t.
For example, if you’re writing an article about logo cost, details and angles that many other articles miss are:
- Reasons why corporate logo designs cost so much
- The psychology behind how logos affect brand perception
- Conversion stats before and after logo redesigns
- Why negative public reactions don’t necessarily mean the logo design is bad.
Add a call to action#section11
Avoid losing potential clients who would have contacted you later—if they hadn’t forgotten. Add something encouraging them to act right away by making it a simple click, such as a call to action (CTA) banner in every article. (Fig. 7)
Promoting your article the right way#section12
Promoting your content may feel uncomfortable, but it’s important to reframe that in your mind. Instead of “Marketing your content,” you’re “Helping people by educating and inspiring them with your well-researched, well-written information.”
Clients who don’t know about your site won’t magically enter your URL into their address bar—they have to discover you through some other source (other websites, search engines, social media). That’s why promotion and outreach are so important, and why it pays off to ask other sites to link to your content.
To kick off the first wave of traffic, it helps to win a few links and social shares. From there, the new people who discover your post may also link to or share it (which in turn boosts your article’s ranking on Google).
Let’s look at a few effective ways you can promote your content.
Offer your actual article as a service#section13
This is an old timer technique that still works amazingly well—one my very good friend and coach Brian Harris wrote about on his blog. I like to alter the technique just slightly, but here’s what to do:
Take the URL of one of the articles you found in the previous section (when you were choosing a topic to write about). Try to pick the one with the most shares.
Go to Buzzsumo and enter the URL to the article (use the 14-day free trial they offer to do this step).
In my case, I chose this SEO techniques article because I’m looking for clients who might be interested in my SEO consulting. (Fig. 8)
Next, click the “View Shares” button to see a list of everyone who shared the post on Twitter. You can then click on the “Followers” filter at the top left to sort by users who have a sizable audience (i.e. enough money to pay you for a service). (Fig. 9)
Now you have a list of people who have already shown an interest in the topic, you could reach out to them individually and see if they’d be interested in sharing yours, as well. The following example highlights a number of points.
(I’ve collected examples that seem to work really well for people; you can check out those posts here: cold email templates and business email templates.)
Join some groups where your potential clients hang out#section14
I listed these community groups earlier, but it’s worth mentioning them twice:
Don’t just join—leave meaningful comments. If you do that, most groups will start to see you as a valued contributor and won’t bat an eye if you to post something that mentions your own content once in a while, like this example from a private entrepreneur group (Fig. 10)
When you do share, be sure to mention a few points you’ve covered that would be highly relevant and valuable to that community.
For example, if you write an article about web design, a business community may be most interested in how to evaluate web designers in order to find one that’s reliable. Conversely, a marketing community may be most interested in how to design funnels that convert more visitors into subscribers and customers.
You can also ask a question related to your article topic to kickstart a discussion, then offer to answer any questions a group member may have.
Share your links with family and friends#section15
The easiest, non-intrusive way to do this is by posting it on your Facebook feed. Add a description highlighting a few points a general audience would find interesting and worth the effort of clicks and likes.
Add interesting visuals to illustrate your points#section16
Add relevant illustrations and pictures throughout your article to break up the text and keep your visitors engaged. Bonus points: use relevant visuals from your own portfolio so it does double duty prettifying your article and showcasing your skills.
Improve your search ranking with some SEO basics#section17
Focus on one search keyword or phrase you want your article to rank for, then use different variations of it throughout your article, especially in your article headline and section headings.
Make sure your pages and articles load fast; you might consider caching your pages with something like CloudFlare (they offer a free plan) to speed up load time. (CloudFlare shows cached versions of your files and images so visitors don’t have to wait for them to load real-time from your servers.)
Compile a list of relevant sites to ask for links#section18
Remember how you looked up the most popular articles on Topic X? If you find out which sites link to those articles, why not ask them to link to your (much improved) version, too?!
Use a backlink checker tool such as Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs. (Fig. 11)
Go to each site and find the names of either the site owner or, if it’s a company, the person in charge of marketing.
To find their email address, enter their site domain into AnyMailFinder or Email Hunter. These sites will tell you the most likely email format (for example: firstname.lastname@example.org). Based on the most common email format the site or company uses, you can “smart guess” the likely email of the person you wish to contact.
You can send them a personalized version of this template1 to ask if they may be interested in linking to your article:
Remember that infographic I mentioned earlier, the one you could create to accompany your article? You can also ask some of the other sites you found in the Backlinks tab to include it in one of their existing or future articles and credit you (earning you a link this way).
Here’s the template link Luke from Pest Pro App used:
Promote it in relevant Facebook groups#section19
If you develop websites (for example), find Facebook groups that discuss web development, have 500+ members, and show signs of recent activity. For a few weeks, post meaningful comments every once in a while and start interesting discussions to provide value to the community. If the group guidelines allow it—and if the timing is right—share your own article now and then, but make sure you ask a question in your post to spark a discussion. This will help the post stay on top of the group feed and members’ newsfeeds to bring you more traffic.
Content creates visibility outside your network#section20
It’s becoming tougher and tougher to stand out these days—there’s a lot of noise online. For a lot of freelancers and part time contractors, DIY service platforms and online hiring marketplaces have become the status quo for finding gigs. The quality of clients drawn to these hubs is very mixed, unfortunately, and most come because they want to pay as little as possible for the work. It is also very challenging for freelancers who don’t already have a presence there to start gaining leads right away.
Freelancers relying on word of mouth referrals also run into pitfalls. Nurturing those opportunities can be just as time intensive, not to mention leave you with limited control over when they actually convert into meaningful business.
These conditions should prompt every freelancer to try something outside the box, to find uncrowded spaces for meeting and gaining clients. Strategically creating content can consistently attract the right kind of client. When a prospective client reads your article, she’ll learn something immediately useful from you and see you as a knowledgeable pro, which creates a solid start for a client-freelancer relationship.
It’s a way for you to have something in common, something to prompt a conversation. Imagine yourself at a conference talking to a person you just met—would you rather discuss an article you wrote or dive straight into discussing your hourly rate? Of course you’ll want to show off your know-how before you talk about prices!
Writing content to attract customers is a perfect strategy for this—it engages people and generates higher visibility for your work, both within and outside your network.
Ok, I’ll hand this off to you now; it’s your turn to do the research and write one article in the next three weeks. That’s my challenge to you. One article in the next three weeks on your site. Are you up for the challenge?
Post in the comments which topic you would like to write and I’ll comment back with my feedback and thoughts.
Ready? Get set. Go.
29 Reader Comments
Great article! I love the useful points you make here.
I’ve been creating an online course on content strategy, so I need to up my blog game in this area.
I was thinking about compiling a list of the best courses in content strategy–from traditional university courses to shorter, immersive courses. Most are in-person, so I’m not worried about pointing folks to the competition.
Love to hear your thoughts! Thanks.
Thank you for this insightful article! I wrote some articles to attract clients when I first started out but never got very far. Then I found clients through other (more time consuming and soul crushing) ways and too busy selling my hours for money to get back to blogging properly. Your article has some great tips for finding the right topics and promoting intensively. I think I would take the challenge and create one blog post in the next three weeks. Cheers again!
@Melanie – thank you for the kind words, happy to help!
I love the fact that you have a course you’re building. When I was building my PR coaching program https://prthatconverts.com/ I used PR in the following way:
1. I would take one of the lessons in my course and would repurpose it into a blog post, an article, a SlideShare presentation or a podcast interview.
2. I would use PR and exposure tactics to drive folks to consume this content and help them implement it, I outline some of these here: https://www.criminallyprolific.com/pitch-journalist-press/
3. I would ask people who read or consumed my content on other mediums to subscribe to my email list to get more tips and tricks similar to this lesson
4. I would repeat this for two or three lessons.
This brought me a large number of people who were interested in my course and PR coaching program and would become my very first paying students.
Does this help answer your question?
Is the course what you’re mainly focusing on now?
@Quynh Thank you. I’m happy my article got you back to writing! Writing can be an overwhelming task which would make you put it off until later. I know I’ve done it quite often in the past, (I still do from time to time haha!)
Don’t forget, all you need to do is write one quality piece per month or two, you don’t need to go for volume, as you know it’s more about quality.
I would dedicate 30min to 1 hr a day on working on your next article, timebox yourself, I actually do this a lot myself to stay focused. Here, perhaps this might help, my article about strategies I use while working remotely and staying focused (for writing or other tasks): https://lifehacker.com/eight-proven-strategies-for-better-remote-work-1786346960
Quality over quantity for sure! Great read. Thank you for sharing this, it is reassuring. Also challenge accepted. Topic: Still uncertain at this point.
Thanks for sharing your advice Dmitry! While at a high level I agree — we should use our sites to showcase ideas as well as our portfolios — I’m not sure I agree with the methods you advocate later in the article. Anyway, you challenged us to write something, so I did just that: https://paulrobertlloyd.com/2017/04/blogging_to_attract_clients
Is this what you were expecting? 😉
Hi Paul! Thanks for you note and I’m happy to see you actually take the challenge, this is exactly the type of thing I was expecting you to do! Write about something you’re passionate about and engage in a dialog with folks by including your article as a relevant example!
Nicely done, haha! I tried to comment on your article on your blog as well as here but could not do it, looks like you don’t have comments? Or they are hidden?
1. You had a question about the advice I gave to find topic which is going to rank really well on Google and write something about it. The trick here is to first find a topic which you are passionate to write about and only after try to find what has already been covered and written about extensively and what hasn’t? All I am trying to tell you, write something unique which hasn’t been said before which you think is valuable to people. Don’t just write about something which has been talked to death already on every single blog. Make sense?
2. You had a question about the advice I gave about promotion of your article. These tactics are meant to help you think of ways to gain traction for your article. I 100% agree with you that you should not do anything which seems disingenuous or fishy or spammy, the ideas I share are just tactics to inspire you to promote your article once you write it.
What you are doing here is perfect, comment on relevant articles with your response, great way to get traffic back to your site and promote your blog.
The thing is, most people write an article on a topic they feel very passionate about and forget about it. They don’t have any promotion strategy for the article and they think that the more articles they write the better traffic they’ll get on their blog.
It’s actually quite the opposite. The more thought you put into writing the article and promoting it the more exposure you’ll get on your blog.
So all I’m trying to say here is you need to think of a plan of how you will promote your article.
3. You had a question on the “finding someone who tweeted a similar article and contacting them” advice. Again – you are not emailing them to ask for a backlink, what you’re doing is you’re starting up a discussion with them on Twitter or on their blog by reacting to their tweet with something complementary and possibly better which you have written. The idea is to get them to possibly promote your article by tweeting as well. And again, only do this if it feels genuine and makes sense. If you are actually referencing someone in your article it makes perfect sense to let them know and reach out to them.
Much like yourself, I hate the crazy amount of cold email I get asking me to comment or promote someone’s articles. I’m not suggesting you spam a bunch of people with your article. I’m just suggesting you do what feels natural in terms of promotion, starting up conversations with relevant people who you mentioned in the article is a good way to do so.
Sorry for such a long comment. Does this make sense?
Thanks for taking the time to reply to my post.
In many respects, you could say that in writing my response, I was following the spirit of what you are suggesting, if not the exact techniques!
Ultimately, I guess it’s a question of personal ethics.
The thing is, you happened to touch on a trend that I assume is considered best practice for getting inbound links. It used to be the case that people would be encouraged to write comments on blog posts, feigning interest and then linking to an article on your own site.
Because people like me got tired of all this behaviour — in amongst the lower grade spam — and turned off comments, the advice now appears to engage with site authors over email, i.e. “I noticed a typo on one of your articles”, or “I just shared an article you wrote” and after a few messages, ask for a link to be added. It’s actually hilarious the lengths people will go to now to get a link added!! It seemed like your article was basically offering the same advice. If that’s not the case, regardless, I’m afraid it will soon become ineffective because people will again get tired of entertaining these methods. Make sense?
Anyway, as I said, some useful tidbits in here. For the rest of the advice, I’d just edge closer to being less interested in looking for Google-juice as an outcome, and more focused on building lasting relationships based on shared interests. That way, the links will flow naturally.
Hey Paul! All good! Thanks for the response. You might have missed the point of my marketing advice in the article, I’m precisely of the same opinion and mindset as you.
A link these days is not very important actually. If you read this study below it shows you why topic depth is the factor which is responsible for your ranking more than links and other factors:
Links are not that valuable anymore.
What I’m trying to say in this article is to focus on
1. your content first
2. topic depth second
3. mix in some promotion for your blog posts third (only after you nailed #1 and #2)
And of course stay away from spammy disingenuous promo, it’s about building real relationships not about getting a bunch of links.
This is why my advice is not for you to email a bunch of people telling them you shared their article and then ask for a backlink.
Instead my advice is to interview or ask for feedback from people/influencers you want to build a genuine relationship with who might or might not promote you in the future.
Hope this helps!
@Dmitry – Yes that’s very helpful! Thank you.
Yep, the course is my main focus at the moment. I mean, I do have a full-time job which I love. The course is my main side hustle. I’ve been doing a lot of researching into marketing and selling a digital product, and it’s quite a production. It’s fascinating though!
I’ve just set up a separate site for the course at ContentStrategy.Academy. Still working on it.
I appreciate all your help!
We’ve utilised a content marketing strategy on our company blog and seen traffic increase by 30% for our app development company. Thanks so much for the tips Dimitry!
Blimey – coming late to this article but lots of very practical, useful advice.
One thing which did strike me is the template email – personally I think that is probably too long (I’d tend not to bother reading an unsolicited email which is any longer than a few lines). Granted links are provided to other examples.
Thanks again for the article, I’ll be trying this out.
@Melanie – Sounds great! Nice site! I see you’re using Teachable, they’re good friends of mine, not too far from me here in NYC. A quick piece of advice, instead of just have a paid course, have a free version of your course where people get a taste of your content and then have a premium version which you would upgrade the free students to. Make sense?
@Matt thanks for the shout. Happy it’s working for you, the trick is to always have a good goal you’re working toward. Stay in touch!
@Leo – thank you for the note and the kind words. The template is simply a starting point for you to modify accordingly. Happy to assist as you modify and change it!
So many people under look the power of blogging. At VandeyarGroup we believe that the more value we give out to people, the more value we will recieve.
Thanks Dmitry for your post – most appreciated the thorough illustration and i will definitely apply to my own blog
Solid stuff Dmitry. While I totally agree with you that shifting to more actionable type of writing like how much does a website/landing page, logo etc. cost for your blog. I think the key to attracting new clients using your blog is to better promote the things you post. Simply hitting publish and praying that that blog post will attract visitors via search or social won’t cut it any longer. Content promotion via email outreach and/or contributing guest posts on authoritative and relevant sites is key! Just my 2c 🙂
What are your thoughts on Guest Blogging? This can be a way of finding a new audience that might in turn atttact new clients?
The problem we find is that the “guest posts” that are submitted to us are merely a mediocre piece of content with the sole intention of dropping a link to an oftentimes un-related website – time wasters basically.
How do you only attract relevant good quality articles?
Some really good stuff here, although this type of content creation is getting harder all the time, as Google has got so good at understanding intent & tailoring it to devices that I’m not sure there are that many things left to write about?
Unless you research & write any article really carefully, you may as well not bother, whether you’re passionate about it or not, as it’s so unlikely to outrank any of the existing best articles. I’m not sure that some of the social processes will get the desired effect either. Depending on the difficulty of ranking/getting traffic for a niche, the domain authority of the hosting site becomes vitally important, sometimes the quality of the publication & the strength of the domain you’re competing against means you’d either need to do something like PBN work, or large amounts of backlink work to rank your articles.
We are currently offering free help & support, plus tools to help people with web development, SEO & marketing, as we have offered these services to corporate clients but wanted to offer something similar to smaller businesses. But despite coming at this via a different angle to most content that is already out there, interest from other sites has been relatively muted, we are working on new content & outreach currently, but no one should be under the impression it’s easy!
Great insight! Thaks for sharing.
I am loving the posts on this website
That’s a wonderful piece, very insightful indeed!
Thanks a lot for this great article.I f you have to do the right SEO you have to give the clients what they need and that is information about different factors to attract the clients and you can also do this with Seo practice in a right way.Many companies do great SEO in Toronto
for only informational purposes to attract new clients and give them the piece of their own mind.
This is really nice information about Blogging and Blogs.Currently, I am founder of 5 to 10 Blogs and only 1 Blog is getting traffic.The problem which I am facing is to attract new clients.But after reading some information which will help me to attract new clients to my Blog and my Business.
Quality content is still the best way to bring targetted visits to your website. One problem I see in the web design industry is people writing about web design. No business is interested in web design except maybe the price, even that’s iffy though. Responsive web design? That’s just jargon and business people don’t know or care what it is.
Writing helpful content always comes down to writing about the ultimate goal a person wants to accomplish. Someone looking into web design is trying to solve a problem (maybe to grow their business?) and it’s our job to help them solve that problem. We can provide free resources for them that will make their journey to success easier but it all comes down to helping them to build trust and get their business. In the end, you must deliver something that meets and exceeds their business goal though.
Anyway, great article I just think the beginning of it was a bit off the mark on what a business owner would look for. The rest of it was on point for getting the traffic though. It takes time, quality content, and regular quality content.
Your hand health has really been a successful project
this is very goodcomment…. i like this…i am very poor person …i dont have enough money to leed my family…please help me for help one human..please grow your humanity…………..
Yes. I agree with the author. But I mainly focus on the content with must be attractable to users
may be some news, Technics or ways to success
This is a very informative post. I was searching for this information and now It is quite easy for me to do my work. I have a website https://www.lyricab.com/ but I was unable to do SEO on it and lot more. With this article of yours, I can seriously do much better things on my website. Thanks a lot for such an amazing post.
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