I agree with @TR1 brand identity is number 1. Your website and brand need to stand out and be on point because otherwise why would another company trust you with theirs?
Sounds harsh but it’s what I found when I was freelance. Otherwise you attract lots of dreamers, time wasters and those who expect something for next to nothing.
I’d also look into some CMS systems (like Wordpress) because people like the idea of being able to do bits of updates themselves. This is a big selling point because they don’t have to pay you every time they want some words changing
Lastly. Word of mouth is what got me by too, it just starts snowballing from there. To start with though I’d approach those who use @yahoo.com email addresses for their business, but be prepared for a long battle because this is a sign that they’re not that tech savvy and won’t see the need for a website
I’d also look at doing some small freebies to build up your portfolio so you can show people what you can offer them. Perhaps some charities or very small local businesses who would like a 1 page design?