I was recently asked about using Elance [now Upwork] to start a freelancing business. Upwork played a big part in helping me start my business.
Upwork is a solid getting-started tool for marketing consultants. It does take some time to set up your profile and get verified. It also helps to take a few Skills Tests.
After that point, you are ready to begin pitching jobs. Your pitch is everything, so spend time on this.
You'll have potential clients invite you to jobs once you have a bit of Elance street cred. You earn street cred on Elance by bidding low to land a few small one-time gigs on Elance. Be sure to get a good rating and a review from the client.
Elance doesn't like it when you take clients off Elance, but that's how I've established my own client base outside of Elance. Most of my clients found me on Elance and decided to "take the job off Elance" to cut costs and avoid the platform limitations.
Those are my best getting started tips, but I'm happy to answer any further questions. It's an unconventional approach to launching your freelance business, but one I'm REALLY happy I followed myself. I would love to know if you have had experience with Elance? If so please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And let us know of other ways that you’ve obtained clients to start a business.