The vast majority of my work comes from recommendations/word of mouth, obviously that wasn't the case when I first started.
Having been involved with buying & selling domain names for a couple of years now I made a few contacts through that, and traded design work for domains, which helped me build up my first freelance portfolio, I was also very active on business forums to make some initial contacts.
Other than that I contacted local companies to offer my services, my first tactic with this was to check the local papers for companies that could afford the big adverts, I knew then that they would probably be spending Â£500+ on an advert each week, so a similar figure for a website re-design would be easy to pitch. I looked for companies that already had a website (that I believed I could improve on) as felt this would be an easier target than educating a company about why they should have a website + domain name, etc. half of my battle was already done with companies that had sites. More often than not they were out-dated and one of those jobs that had been on their to-do lists for a while! Best results came from direct calls, I would explain that I'd seen their ad in the local paper (they then knew I was local & they also then think their ad must be good) and that I was a freelance designer starting up who could help develop their website. Found that with vast majority of local companies, e-mails won't reach the right person, or will get ignored, so ask to speak to someone about the website, get a name and contact number if they're not available.
Thanks for enabling the poll feature Greg - I was having a little think this morning while writing my business plan and was wondering how others got work. Not necessarily to use the same methods, as we're all different, but to understand the trends and see what is suitable for my line of work.
I'm much like you Greg, I'd like to redesign previous efforts if I can see a business opportunity and something which will make an improvement for the prospective client. Whether it's a site or a catering menu there's little difference in my mind.
My past work has been through direct contact (co-workers, friends-of-friends etc) and am now looking to network, advertise and approach the clients of my competition.
It's very competitive there Tom, lots of design companies on the forums, and you'll need to pay about Â£30/year to get premium membership for the tenders section (I used to be quite active on there, but decided not to renew my membership as it just wasn't worth it any longer). From my experience smaller/more focused forums are the way to go, whether thats niche for an industry or a specific location/area.