How to build an audience as a freelancer and get referrals

Freelancing has become an increasingly popular way of working, with many people opting for the flexibility and control working independently offers. However, building an audience as a freelancer can be challenging considering the competition in the industry, especially when you are starting.

As a freelancer, building a strong audience and receiving referrals can be the lifeblood of your business. But where do you begin?

The good news is that with the right approach, it is possible to cultivate a loyal following and a referral system. One that guarantees a steady supply of jobs and therefore, more profit for your business.

In this article, we will explore the key strategies that top freelancers use to build their audience and get referrals, and how you can incorporate them into your own business. Let's get started!

How to build an audience as a freelancer

Wondering where to begin? Below are steps you need to take to build a loyal audience.

Identify your Target Audience

The first step to building an audience is unsurprising — identify the audience you want to target. While this might sound very intuitive and straightforward, a lot of freelancers get this first crucial step wrong. Who are your services for? How can you access them?

To identify and target an audience, follow the steps below:

Identify your niche

Before embarking on your quest to find clients you need to identify a niche where you will pitch your tent. This is usually up to your personal interest, passion or skill.

That said, there are numerous niches and the truth is, some are more popular and hence more lucrative than others. The top freelance jobs include:

  • Copywriter
  • Web designer
  • Digital marketing consultant
  • Social media manager
  • Editor
  • Web developer
  • Media buyer
  • Photographer
  • Data analyst
  • Business Consultant
  • Programmer
  • Videographer
  • Accountant
  • Virtual Assistant
  • Public relations manager

Research your target audience

After picking a niche that suits your skill and motivations best, the next crucial step is to research the target audience— within that niche.

Search platforms, sites and other forums where your potential clients are likely to be found. For instance, a freelance designer would likely have better luck finding clients on Behance, Dribbble, etc.

Identify their pain points

When you find your target audience, ask:

  • What are your potential clients looking for?
  • What do the jobs they post tell you about their needs and pain points?

Identify these pain points and tailor your offerings as a freelancer to capture them. People will come to you only if they feel you have value to offer them. So, make it clear that you can solve their problems.

Develop a strategy to reach and engage them

Before you approach potential clients, it is recommended that you build a personal brand as a freelancer, this is more crucial for those running their freelance services on their own instead of a freelance platform. A brand is a face and a voice behind your business. It is easier for people to associate with and trust brands.

A few tips for building your personal brand as a freelancer involve:

  • Define your unique selling proposition (USP) — what are you doing differently from a ton of other freelancers like you?
  • Develop a consistent visual identity— your branding needs to be consistent: logos, brand colors, imagery, etc.
  • Create a professional online presence, a recommended way to do this is by creating a personal website.
  • Use social media to market your brand. Consistently post your work on your social media handles.

Finally, develop a strategy to reach and engage your target audience, you can reach out to or find potential clients through a variety of methods, some notable ones include:  

  • Cold pitching/ sending cold emails
  • Applying on job boards
  • Online freelance platforms  
  • Running Ads

When communicating with your potential clients it is necessary to empathise with them and make them see that you understand their pain points. A good strategy to help better understand and relate with people is by building a customer profile or personas. That way it is easier to walk in their shoes and create fitting solutions to their needs.

Create High-Quality Content

After building a personal brand as a freelancer, the next thing is to consider effective ways to put yourself before the right eyes — business positioning. Content marketing for freelancers is a tested and trusted way to do this.

Below are recommended steps for creating valuable content that can position you as an expert in your niche:

  • Develop a content strategy and consistently stick to it.
  • Create valuable content that addresses your target audience's problems.
  • Use different types of content to engage your audience, e.g, videos and images are known to capture people's attention better than text.
  • Promote your content through various channels, e.g, your social media platforms, websites, blogs, etc.  

Network and Collaborate

To gradually build yourself up to the stage of being considered an authority in your niche, you need to devise ways to connect with professionals in your niche.

Below are a few freelance networking strategies:

  • Attend events and conferences for freelancers/professionals in your niche.
  • Join relevant professional associations.
  • Participate in online communities.
  • Collaborate on projects with other freelancers.

Provide Exceptional Service

Even with all the right strategies in place, failing to deliver anything short of outstanding results to your clients could hamper the growth of your business. The best way to market yourself is by delivering exceptional results and maintaining good communication.

Here are a few tips:  

  • Focus on providing value to your clients instead of financial benefits.
  • Exceed client expectations. Go above and beyond for them.  
  • Encourage feedback and implement changes.
  • Be professional in your communication.
  • Provide excellent customer service.

Build a referral system

Finally, with a working strategy and a budding audience, it can be beneficial to devise ways to ensure a steady— and somewhat automated — supply of new clients. Building a referral system works.

Below are a few ways you can do this:

  • Make it a habit to ask for referrals from satisfied clients.
  • Provide incentives for existing clients to refer others, e.g, a discount on fees.
  • Create referral links/codes through which new clients can get discounted services.
  • Recommendations and ratings help boost your reputation, politely ask new clients for them.  


The importance of building an audience and getting referrals cannot be understated, especially for independent freelancers. While this is often seen as a herculean task, following well-known strategies such as researching your audience, creating a brand presence and delivering exceptional results can help you achieve great feats in that regard. Finally, it is important to note that it takes time to see results, so be patient.