Owning Client Relationships & Generating Referrals without Freelancer Marketplaces

It can be tempting to stay on freelancer marketplace platforms, where clients are plentiful. But if you own your client relationships, you'll get a lot further.


Claire Glisson



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I’ve been freelancing since 2014. I started freelancing when I was a graduate student, and I cringe to think about the pennies (ok, it was $15/hr) I charged for video editing work. Had I been on a platform like Upwork, I may never have realized that I can, and should, charge more. After graduating with a master’s degree in brand strategy, my services evolved, and so did my pricepoint. I took the plunge to freelancing FT in 2019 and doubled the salary I had made working full-time for someone else the previous year.

Finding Clients Is Scary At First

When I took the plunge, my main concern was about finding clients - was my network good enough? Was my work good enough? While it took time to feel confident that I could keep the work coming in consistently, I started to realize something: I’m good at what I do. And my clients know it. My clients often refer me to others in their networks, and more often than that, several have asked me to come on full-time. The first few times these things happened, I figured it was a fluke. But once the pattern emerged, I dropped the imposter syndrome I’d been carrying for years, and realized that I’m good enough to let my reputation carry me forward.

I’m now at the stage where I don’t do marketing, and I don’t pitch. All of my work comes from a handful of small brand consultancies and friends in my field who refer me when they’re overbooked. I get to work directly with clients whose mission I value and who value my expertise, and I typically work on a project by project basis, so I can decide how to manage my time and my bandwidth.

Freelancer Marketplaces Can Be A Crutch

Had I come to rely on freelancer marketplaces, I may never have gotten to this place. I may have seen every project as a one-and-done. I may have cautiously approached every client relationship because I wasn’t sure if I could trust them to value my time-honored knowledge, respect me enough to keep the work in scope, and pay me what I deserve.

My advice to marketplace freelancers who wonder if they can do it without the marketplace: you can. Take that client who’s come back for a few projects off platform and see where it goes. Chances are, they don’t want to use the platform either. Chances are, they also hate the fees (on their side and on yours). They may dislike the rigidity of the communication structure, and realize that the work could be done more transparently and efficiently with best-in-class tools at your mutual disposal. 

It takes confidence to realize if you’re good at what you do, success will follow. Building my network and really relying on reputation and my skill set to pave the way gave me that confidence.

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