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I've set up a company and I'm paying an accountant monthly to help me with taxes, then I have to also pay taxes, recently I had to pay a lawyer to help me with drafting a contract template for future clients.

I'm having a very hard time finding clients / projects.

One option is going through job platforms but I'm finding there are many downsides:

  1. The job platform is charging a 10% fee (relative to the project's value)
  2. For some projects I'm not eligible to bid because I'm located in Eastern Europe and some clients are placing a restriction on the geography (I lose around 15% of projects this way alone)
  3. The site only allows me a small number of bids. I get charged further fees to purchase additional bids
  4. I have to reissue/regenerate the invoices the freelance job market generates for me because none of them has my fiscal code on them
  5. There's a lot of work involved in winning bids. From previous experience I have to place around 15-20 bids to win 1 or 2 projects, this is a very time-consuming process that I would rather have spent in actual client work
  6. The project budgets are really low value, much below market value
  7. There's a lot of risk involved in dealing with unvetted clients (with no previous projects or reviews). I've had one client last month simply refusing to pay their invoice even though the deliverables were to spec. This comes after multiple progress meetings with them where I demo'd deliverables
  8. There are many communication delays involved so I have to multitask between trying to find clients and doing actual work

I'm writing to ask: How should I find clients outside of these online job markets, preferably with a steady stream of projects, and communicating with them directly? If there are contracts to be written, that's not a problem, but it seems like just finding interested clients. I was told that I should somehow use referals but honestly I don't know how that would work in practice.

Another way would be for clients to find my services, but that also doesn't seem to be easy or efficient in any way (even when using blog posts as a way to advertise services offered), as most seem to be interested in hiring people, and I'm just trying to do contracting-based or consulting work.

A related, more quantitative question would be: After how many blog posts (that advertise services) should I be expecting to connect with a potential client for example on Linkedin? Is this even viable? I don't know if this question has an answer but I'd be interested to read any thoughts on that.

Thank you in advance for any thoughts you'd like to share about these questions

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  • If you're finding that all of the jobs that are on offer are "below market value", you may need to rethink what you consider the market value to be. – Valorum Apr 28 at 21:55
  • @Valorum Maybe I should've been more specific there: The vast majority of the fixed priced projects are below market value of what one would be paid to do the same as an employee. But also a large part of the hourly-rated projects are below market value. As subjective as that may sound, I know for sure some of the projects were quite involved and the project value was very low compared to the number of work hours required (even if you have wide expertise on the specific problem domain the projects were refering to) – wsdookadr Apr 28 at 22:01
  • "How should I find clients outside of these online job markets, preferably with a steady stream of projects, and communicating with them directly?" - Well, that's the dream isn't it. If just anyone could do that, we'd all be millionaires. – Valorum Apr 28 at 22:08
  • I think there's enough fees, charges, taxes and hours wasted to keep us safe from becoming that. Even weaker goals than those outlined in the question (just finding clients/contracts) seem very hard to achieve.. – wsdookadr Apr 28 at 22:17
  • I've flagged this as "too broad". You're asking about five different questions here and narrowing it down would allow us to answer you more effectively. – Valorum Apr 29 at 8:35
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You are asking how to be in business. According to Peter Drucker, a business needs two things, marketing and innovation.

Marketing is what we do to identify who to sell to, what to sell to them, and at what price point. You are finding out that marketing is a lot of work. Exactly. That is why businesses spend so much money on marketing.

In my experience, what worked in marketing last year does not work this year. Marketing is not a "linear" process where we do X and get Y result. It is where we do X, Y, and Z and a customer finds us via B. It is a whole process that may or may not work.

In my experience, marketing has to fit who you are. Trying to do something that someone else does may or may not work for you. Yes, there are a lot of different techniques out there that someone is using to get customers. But, that does not mean that those techniques will work for you. It takes time and experimentation to find what works for you.

In my experience, a good customer is one that A. knows they have a problem, B. has the assets to spend to fix that problem, and C. has the willingness to spend to fix that problem. There are many people with problems who are not willing to spend. One way to test that is to ask for a down payment. People get a whole lot more honest about their willingness to pay the moment I ask for money.

You talk about wanting to spend the time on doing the work instead of this marketing stuff. Being in business means doing this marketing stuff. Often, a business will spend 25-30% of their time and assets on marketing and perhaps less than 40% actually doing the work. A service business needs to mark up the cost of providing the service by 2.5 to 3 times in order to stay in business.

Edit: corrected attribution.

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