Choosing freelance projects and clients

Choosing the projects you take on and the types of clients you work for are both important in building your freelancer business.

Choosing Freelance Projects

It’s tempting to just take on every project that comes your way, especially when starting out. This can lead to problems though if you take on low paid, difficult projects that stop you working on more attractive projects. A common mindset is that clients are doing you a favour, but the project needs to be attractive for both parties. You don’t have to take on everything and can (and should) choose what you want to work on.

For example, I choose not to work with anyone offering ‘alternative’ therapies, pyramid schemes, religious organisations or politically oriented projects. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with these clients or projects, but I choose to not take them on as I don’t enjoy working with clients in these markets.

The ‘opportunity cost’ of being tied up with a troublesome project or one that you are not fully engaged with can cost you time, money and peace of mind. It’s also not fair on your client if you’re not giving 100%.

As we’ll come back to in another blog post, your energy and motivation are important resources and unsuitable projects or clients can drain both.

Choosing Your Target Clients

As a freelancer, you won’t be able to serve all types of clients effectively. You are better specialising in one particular market or type of client.

Doing so will give you more specialised knowledge which will help you gain new clients of this type or in this market as you understand their jargon and they will see that you’ve worked for similar businesses.

It’s also easier to optimise your marketing for a more niche phrase related to a type of client or a particular market rather than ‘web design’ in general.

You are also likely to be spending a lot of time working on a project, so feel free to decline things that will be hard to get excited or motivated about. If you love dogs then working on dog websites/marketing/design will be great fun, not so much if you hate them with a passion.


It’s your business and your life, so choose what you offer and who your target clients are to get better outcomes for you and your clients.

Increasing freelance work via referrals

It can be difficult to market your freelance services for a number of reasons. Making headway against established companies and freelancers can take time, and actually trying to market yourself can result in hitting emotional barriers.


Referrals have been the number one way of gaining high quality business. Since I went freelance, offering a referral fee has resulted in most of my new clients coming from recommendations from existing clients. Referrals act as a vote of confidence and the potential new client will usually be aware of the freelance work you did for the person who referred you.

This has a secondary benefit, as contacts of existing clients tend to be of similar success and attitude. If someone is good to work with then the chances are their contacts will be too. On the flip side, low quality clients tend to refer other low quality clients!

Sources of referrals

Your friends and family might be able to put you forward for jobs, as well as your existing clients or professional contacts. You can also approach businesses that deal with your target clients (accountants and other business services are good) to work out a deal for freelance referrals.

Tips for successful referrals

I have found the cost of paying the referral fees is a great investment. Be clear about how much the referral fee will be and when it will be paid to keep things running smoothly. If you do staged payments for larger jobs, tying the referral fees to the payment stages can help everyone’s cashflow.

The amount and type of referral fee may depend on the nature of your services. For a large project you may offer a percentage of the project cost, or a flat fee. For ongoing work you might offer a cut of the ongoing fee or a flat “finder’s fee”. You may offer a combination of the two.

Tracking referrals is easy using a Google Sheet where you can list the projects referred, the status and details of the fees payable and whether they have been paid or not.


We’ve described how referrals are a great way of developing your freelance career, along with some ideas on who to approach to refer you and how to manage referrals when they happen.