I’ve been asked a lot recently how I ended up getting my first client.
The truth is that I had very little to do with this AND I had no clue what I was doing.
A little backstory:
This blog started out as Bright Cents, a place where I shared all about how I pay off my student loans, being better with money and I even shared debt reports (you can still find them here).
Running a personal finance blog introduced me to many extremely talented and smart people within the personal finance space. Even though we only knew each other online – I started building a lot of friendships with people, and ended up going to the personal finance bloggers conference AKA FinCon in 2015.
That conference changed everything for me.
Among other things, I got to meet a lot of people I had already known online, and meet a lot of new folks as well. But I went there solely as a personal finance blogger, I don’t even think I mentioned my digital marketing background at all while I was there.
About 6 or 7 months later I changed my LinkedIn to include my new position of helping with AdWords and SEO for the company I worked for. One of my friends from FinCon liked the status update – and I thought that was cool, but thought nothing of it.
About a month later I get this notification that a friend tagged me in a FinCon post. I opened it up thinking it was strange and saw that quite a big named blogger posted in the FinCon community asking for recommendations on someone who had experience with AdWords. My friend had commented and recommended me.
I had never helped a client with AdWords – only the large company I worked for. Sure I had experience, but NOT with managing clients, helping people outside my day job, etc.
Hell, I’d barely made $100 total from my blog at the time – so I wasn’t experienced in how to invoice or any process parts of how to do this.
What is a proposal?
A good invoicing template? I didn’t even know awesome software existed to help with this.
How much do I charge?
Those and about 900 other questions were running through my mind.
But I went on and had the call with the person -it actually went pretty well. I charged well below what I do now and thought it was a lot at the time.
But I WAS SO NERVOUS, and almost backed out many times.
I went ahead and googled “proposal templates”, found a bunch of crappy ones, and thankfully remembered that some online course I was part of had a template.
I used that template, changed the services, my name, changed the prices (about 100 times) and sent it out.
I was sweating the whole time.
Then the person wrote back and said “looks great!” how do I pay?
“Oh….ummm…Paypal? Here’s my email.”
This whole thing still makes me laugh. I got a referral from someone, didn’t even offer the services to clients or know what to include, and charged way too little for my first client.
How Can You Get Your First/New Clients?
“Cool Chenell, you have this hilarious story about your first client, how do I recreate that?”
Well you probably can’t recreate that on purpose, but here are some ideas.
1. Check Job Boards/Freelancing Sites
There are loads of job sites out there, like Upwork or oDesk
Upwork, Freelancer.com, and the multitudes of sites like them have jobs you can bid on.
Keep in mind that there are a lot of people around the world who will work for a lot less than you would ever consider, so unless you’re willing to work for pennies, it may take a bit of time to get accepted for a job. But if you have something compelling to offer (which you absolutely should) and some testimonials on your side, you should be getting a decent response rate.
Fiverr is another option if you’re literally willing to work for $4 ($1 fee goes to the site). If you can break your work up into meaningful, easily delivered tasks, it can be a great place for some (mostly) automated revenue to come in. I don’t advise making this your whole business, unless you can really systematize it to where it makes sense for you. Most one off projects really aren’t worth your time (until you have your first bigger paying client).
You’re pretty much bidding to the bottom with these sites at first, but for getting a testimonial they can be a great place to start.
2. Do More Networking Offline
The power of networking cannot be understated. That’s why I made it one of my main goals so I can keep growing my business in 2018.
Don’t sit there and tell me you’re introverted or scared. Me too. You have to get out there in some fashion and meet people. It’s just part of the business thing. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.
One of the best ways to do this is go to Meetup.com or Eventbrite, and search for events happening in your area. You can also search Google for “business events this weekend” and it will pull from a variety of places for you. Pretty cool huh?
3. Reach Out to Your Existing Contacts
My second client was my stepdad. He started a flooring business and knows nothing about digital marketing, so I kind of told him what we needed to do and started building him a website. He pretty much had no choice 🙂
When I say reach out to your existing contacts, it’s not just family, but you absolutely should tell them what you’re up to (at least the ones you’re in good standing with).
As for friends and other folks in your contact or address book, shoot them a quick email or message them on social media and say
“Hey, I’m starting a new business helping people with X. If you come across anyone who might need something like that, feel free to send them my way.”
Of course, you know these people and what wouldn’t come off spammy to them, so customize that as you see fit.
I would advise against contacting people you haven’t talked to in years. One of my biggest pet peeves is being reached out to by people you haven’t talked to in 15 years to have them tell you about this “AMAZING” product from MLM they just joined.
In my opinion, there is no faster way to get yourself blocked, and your name battered. <end rant>
4. Work For Free
Did I really just put the word “free” in there? Heckyea.
If you have no experience, no clients, and no way of getting clients – reach out to someone you know that needs help and offer to do something for them for free in exchange for a testimonial.
Most of the time you will get a yes, but you will get your fair share of no’s too – a lot of people are hesitant of free work, so you might have to do some convincing – that’s normal.
Bonus points if you can get a client who has a decent following, and their testimonial or reference would really help you get future clients.
5. Set up a Landing Page and Run Ads to it
I’m not a huge fan of this because a lot of people don’t understand how to make a compelling ad, PLUS the money barrier might hold some of you back. If you know what you’re doing with paid advertising though, it can be beneficial.
Throw up a quick landing page explaining exactly what the client gets, how they will benefit from working for you, and a price (or at least price range). Send paid ads to your exact perfect customer and see if you can’t bring in some leads.
6. Let People Know You’re Looking for Work
Aside from just reaching out to people manually, update all of your online profiles, especially LinkedIn. This was how I got my first client, and am quite positive it’s had an impact on the clients I’ve received after that first one.
Add your side business as a new company, put your title as “Website Designer” or whatever service you offer, and describe exactly what you do for people.
Getting above the magical 500+ connections number too and having some recommendations on your profile won’t hurt either.
7. Cold Outreach via Email or Phone Calls
If you’re really passionate about helping a certain type of client, let’s say a local photographer. Go online, Google photographers in your area, then go to page 2 and on, and cold call those people to let them know you can help with marketing or website design, whatever you’re offering.
Here are a few examples of people you can ask for referrals:
People you meet at networking events that take interest in your work but might not need it themselves. Be careful, it’s very easy to overstep boundaries with people you’ve just met so make sure you hit it off with that person first.
Contacts you have at local associations – chamber of commerce, the SBA, SCORE, etc.
9. Partner with Other Businesses
People who own businesses in similar niches are often great ways to exchange referrals and drive business to each other.
For example, a real estate agent could partner with a local coffee shop. They make sure to hold client meetings there, and the coffee shop could leave some of their business cards out for people to take.
A web designer could partner with a marketing agency who doesn’t build websites, and they can send them marketing clients, while the marketing agency can send the designer website clients.
10. Follow Up with Previous Clients/Prospects
We’ve all had someone who stopped using your services for a variety of reasons. We’ve also all had someone who didn’t sign up with us.
They could have experienced a downturn in business and needed to cut expenses, or they wanted to try something else, or they hired another company.
Swallow your pride and reach out to them to see how they’re doing. Not only will it remove any barriers that might have been placed, but you might actually win their business back.
Don’t ask for the sale on the first contact, instead genuinely ask how they’re doing, their kids, etc. Just get yourself back on their radar.
They say it’s much easier to keep a current customer than to get a new one – but I believe it’s also easier to re-sign an old client than it is to get a new one.
Of course, if you ended things on really bad terms and know they are not going to work with you again, reconsider this advice. However, if there is even a glimmer of hope, I’d reach out.
11. Be a Guest on Someone’s Blog, Podcast, or YouTube Channel
You likely know someone who is in your niche that is producing content regularly. If you’re comfortable writing, or being on their show, reach out and see if it’s a good fit.
I’ve gotten some good leads from being on a show in a similar niche.
When you reach out, make sure you are coming at it from a place of providing value to that person’s audience. Don’t just reach out and sell yourself and ask to promote yourself on their show – no one worth their salt is going to let you do that.
But, if you reach out with ideas on topics you can cover that will help their audience, they’re likely going to give it a thought.
Just remember that these people work tirelessly to build audiences, so make sure it’s valuable, relevant and worthwhile for them.
12. Test Out Coworking Spaces
If you’re working out of your home office, it’s going to be more challenging to meet people and get leads.
Most coworking spaces offer free day passes, and some up to 2 weeks for free. Take advantage of those offers and check them out. Coworking is a great way to meet people who probably know someone who could use your services.
They also generally offer free coffee, and sometimes even free beer and food. So even if you go spend a day somewhere and talk to no one else, it’s not all for naught!
13. Be Active in Online Communities
As you read above, I got a client from being mentioned in a Facebook group. But you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) wait until someone mentions you to get found.
Start answering questions in groups that your potential clients might be hanging out it. It may seem like you’re only reaching that one person, but there is a search feature in Facebook groups that allows people to go back and see if someone has answered a question in the past.
For example, I was mentioned in a Facebook group as someone who can help with Google Ads. 8 months later, someone else (a big name in that space) searched the group for “Google ads” and found out that I had been recommended.
They reached out and ended up becoming a client. You just never know!
14. Attend Conferences (AKA More Networking)
Conferences are a great place to meet people in your industry and possibly find new clients, or even business partnerships.
Not only can you meet people, but you can get some great ideas from some of the speakers who share knowledge. Now, some conferences are NOT worth your while. They are usually Free99 and when you sign up you’ll get about 100 emails prior to the conference.
When a large conference like that is free, it generally means they have to make up for lost ticket sales in offering sponsors the chance to speak and sell from the stage.
There is a national conference that tours many cities each year and the sessions are TERRIBLE. I actually felt gross walking around the conference seeing people taking advantage of small business owners who didn’t know much about marketing.
Off my soapbox, try to find one that charges at least a small fee to cover some expenses.
15. Hold Your Own Event
I talked about how some conferences are just not worth it- so why not create your own? You can speak, or invite others to speak and gather a group of people who are your target audience.
Promote this as an event where you teach XYZ about [your service/industry here] and you’re going to attract the people you want to reach.
Not only is this awesome way to meet people, but you’re essentially gathering a bunch of leads in one room.
Be Creative and Offer Value to People
There are tons of other ways to get your first customer, and honestly it’s going to depend on what kind of services you’re providing.
Just make sure you are offering value first, not just trying to sell right away. That’s not how good relationships work. Show up, give so much value people can’t forget you, and follow up. 95% of people don’t follow up, so that puts the responsibility on you to keep that relationship going.
Most of them involve meeting people and reaching out to strangers. But referrals are extremely powerful, so make sure you exhaust your personal contacts list as well as reaching out to new people.
If you found this helpful, I put together a 7-day email challenge about improving your business and growing it to a point where you can eventually quit your job. You can join that here.