James Taylor SEO

8 proven ways to grow your freelance business

Looking for ways to grow your freelance offering?

For the purpose of this post, this is more about digital marketing freelancers, or even more specifically SEO freelancers (as that’s where my experience lies!).

This isn’t to say that this list can’t be used in other business areas, just that I’m only writing about the ways that have actually proven useful for myself.

Let’s get to it.


1. Agency/Freelance Referrals

I’ve put this one first because when you’re starting out, you’re generally going to have to rely on existing partnerships and the people you know in the industry.

Think about how much more likely you’d be to go off a referral for a service from a friend or colleague, compared to searching for a service and hoping for the best. Your chance of closing a lead that has been referred from a trusted source is much higher than someone landing on the contact form of your site.

So, how do you know who to approach for a referral partnership? Personally I targeted:

  • Agencies who offered the same services as me, but were much larger and would no doubt not be able to service some of the (often smaller) leads that would come to them organically
  • Development agencies such as Gooey who run referral programmes so that they can pass work on to freelancers when their clients enquire about an add-on service. For example, when they build a website then their clients are nowhere to be found organically, they’ll ask for someone who does SEO
  • Freelancers in the same industry as myself, who may be swamped with leads and crying out for a reputable third party to pass the work on to

You’ll then have to work out what you’re going to give these agencies or freelancers in return for the lead. Make it worth their while. Personally I’d suggest 20% commission for succesful leads, however at the start you may want to up the commission so you can be sure you’re offering more than anyone else.

The biggest reason I love this is, particularly when receiving leads from large agencies, clients will tend to at least have more of a realistic budget than someone searching for a freelancer. This isn’t always the case, but usually when someone is searching for ‘freelance + service’, they just assume freelance = cheap. Let’s not get started on that one…


2. Freelance Sites e.g. UpWork (don’t hate me yet)

Disclaimer: I hate these types of platforms as much as the next person. It can be incredibly frustrating to spend time on your People Per Hour/Fiverr/UpWork/Shitesitethatripsoffeveryoneinvolved profile, only to be stuck with jobs that are looking for your services for $3 per hour.

This is not to say that you can’t get good clients from these profiles, just that they’re few and far between, and you’re going to have to take cheap jobs to begin with to build up your profile and create a presence on the platforms (UpWork is arguably the best out of these types of sites, but still has its major flaws).

In this past 2 years I haven’t really touched these platforms, but have still had:

  • One retained client from PPH, who I asked to contact me away from the platform
  • £400 from a month of writing local SEO landing pages on Fiverr (these leads quickly dried up)
  • The occasional bit of work from UpWork (emphasis on occasional)

Still, it’s worth experimenting with. There are also new platforms from genuine agencies who work with freelancers only, who are always looking for talent. Sites like Croud and my own Dispense Digital are always after quality freelancers. Drop me a message to find out more about either of the two.


3. White-Label Partnerships

There’s the commission-based referrals like in the first point, then there’s white-label partnerships. All white-label means is that you as a freelancer will work for someone else or an agency, but as far as their client is concerned, they are doing the work.

This usually comes with signing an NDA too, which should be enough to deter you from getting in touch with the client (but why would you want hassle from a client when it can be avoided…).

White-label work can be incredibly beneficial for both parties, and easier for you as generally you won’t be speaking to a client. However, you need to ensure that budgets are correct. There’s no use taking on white-label work for cheap just so the referring party can make as much as possible. Charge what you usually would, in order to achieve the results or final piece of work you know the budget allows.

Plus, if you do a good job, it’s then easier for them to pass more work on your way (and they also make money). Happy days.


4. Do SEO for your own site/brand

This one sounds very obvious, but it’s one we often miss out on. We get way too busy with that initial flurry of work, only to stop 6 months later and wonder where the leads went.

What you’ll usually find is that people will search for a service, say freelance SEO consultant, and receive localised results either way. So, if you’re going for freelance terms it’ll be much easier for you to rank for ‘freelance Magento developer Manchester’ than ‘Magento Manchester’.

Create a simple site, get your citations, links, content and everything you’ve heard a thousand times before. Having a city-centre registered business address will also help your GMB to rank for local results which, coupled with reviews, is a fantastic trust signal and source of leads.

It’s easy to write all day on this one, but the hardest thing is just getting started. Focus on ranking locally for long-tail keywords first, and take it from there.


5. Affiliate Sites

This is way more geared towards digital marketing freelancers, however if you have even a simple grasp of SEO and an idea of how to write good content, it’s certainly something you can look in to.

Straight away, let’s clear this up. Affiliate sites are not get rich quick, they’re not totally passive, and they do take a lot of work. However, they’re also incredibly rewarding and, if done right, can bring in recurring monthly revenue that will allow you a safety blanket whilst looking for quality clients.

I’m going to do a series on affiliate sites, but for now take a look at some of the people who are absolutely smashing it:

Starting an affiliate site can be daunting, but it’s 100% doable, and also a fantastic addition to a growing business (especially if you can start to build a portfolio of affiliate sites).


6. (Relevant) Networking

If you’re like me, the words ‘networking breakfast’ or ’60 second pitch’ will be enough to strike fear into your heart. However, if you’re going to be building strategic partnerships, you’re going to need to leave the house and meet people at some point.

To break yourself gently into the world of networking, I’d recommend going on Meetup just to find networking events related to your industry first. Chances are, everyone else there will be finding it as shit as you to begin with, so just get talking to people. You never know who could be looking for what you’re offering, or know someone else who is.


7. Appear bigger than you are

Your personal brand is a signal of trust, and so is your business brand. Many freelancers will register their business with a business-sounding name (for example Dispense Digital Ltd instead of James Taylor SEO Ltd), therefore it simply makes sense to build yourself a corporate website, and brand it as such.

This is something that has worked for me, to the point where I do now have a remote agency alongside the consultancy side of things (and I mostly have referrals to thank for that).

Also, most people do this at the start, whether they admit to it or not. Just don’t make your ‘About Us’ team pictures of your mates after a night out…


8. Offer Related Services

Again, this one is more geared towards SEO freelancers, as it’s something I’ve specifically seen work (although there will obviously be your own related services in your industry or niche too).

If you’re an SEO freelancer writing content for your affiliate sites, why not offer that as an additional service? This could be in the form of:

  • Copywriting for affiliate website owners
  • Content strategies for agencies
  • Pre-made affiliate websites with optimised content already live

It’s also good to take the enjoyable parts of what you’re already doing, and try to grow that as a service.

For me, I like copywriting and waffling on (incase you haven’t guessed), so it makes sense to offer copywriting services as part of a larger SEO scope of work, or as a singular task.



Hopefully the above points helped! You’ll no doubt see this ripped-off in a video format by yours truly, so keep your eyes peeled for that…

If you have anything else to add that has been missed, drop me a message. Best of luck.

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