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I’ve been asked a lot about 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 so it’s quite funny to look back and see how much of a newb I was.
Compared to now, when I’m making multiple six-figures from this client-based business.
If you’re curious how I got my first client, I get into it below (or you can just click here to go right to it).
Alright, let’s get into it.
How to Get Clients for Your Business
“Cool Chenell, you have this hilarious story about your first client, how do I recreate that?”
Well, you probably can’t recreate that exactly, but here are some ideas.
1. Be Active in Facebook Groups
Ugh, I have such a love/hate relationship with Facebook. But the most valuable part of it I think is the Facebook Groups.
If you read the intro, you know I ended up getting my first client from Facebook group, so how could that not be one of the first recommendations I posted here? But you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) wait until someone mentions you to get found.
Here are some highly recommended Facebook groups for freelancers and consultants that you can find.
Find groups that are relevant to the thing you do (if you’re a copywriter, find copywriting groups), as well as groups that have nothing to do with what you do but are relevant to the clients you want to have.
If you are a personal finance writer, join personal finance groups and other groups that your ideal clients hang out in.
The amazing part of this is the future search opportunities you get as well.
For example, I was mentioned in that 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 new client. You just never know!
2. Check Freelance Websites
There are loads of freelance job sites out there, like Upwork or Freelancer.com.
The multitudes of sites like these have jobs you can bid on. These are not my favorite places to look.
Fiverr is another option if you’re literally willing to work for $4 ($1 fee goes to the site) in the beginning. 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).
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.
While you are pretty much bidding to the bottom with these sites, they can be a great place to get a few testimonials when you’re just starting out.
3. Check Job Boards
There are tons of these out there, and a lot of really quality ones as well. Some of these will have full-time positions mixed in as well, so you may have to sort through if you want clients instead.
Job Boards for All Kinds of Freelancers & Consultants
Job Boards for a Writer
Job Boards for a Graphic Designer or Developer, or Marketing agency
4. Do More Networking
The power of networking cannot be understated. That’s why I try to make it one of my goals every year so I can keep growing my business.
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.
Networking isn’t just going to local meetups either, you can network online, but you have to be more intentional about it. Reach out to people in your space and stay in contact with them.
While this can be challenging during a widespread pandemic, there are a lot of virtual meetups you can take part in.
One of the best ways to do this is to 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?
Places to look:
- Google event search
- Lunchclub– this is an awesome service I found last year that connects you with people in your area for a phone call. You can put in what you’re working on, who you want to meet, etc. and it’ll set you up with a few calls during the week so you can virtually network. And it’s FREE to join.
5. 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 but to be my client. ?
When I say reach out to your existing contacts, it’s not just family, though 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 reputation battered. <end rant>
6. Work For Free
This might be the most controversial one on this list because people have all kinds of opinions about working for free.
Did I really just put the word “free” in there? Heck yea.
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.
You don’t need to run a full-fledged marketing campaign for them, but help them build a landing page, or do some small tasks.
Working for free helps you:
A. Build trust with them and maybe they will want to pay you for the full thing.
B. You get experience. And that is the name of the game when it comes to working for yourself.
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.
7. Set up a Landing Page and Run Paid 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 (you can do this something like Leadpages) explaining exactly what the client gets, how they will benefit from working for you, and a price (or at least price range).
I've been using Leadpages since 2015 and love it. The simplicity of being able to A/B test offers and the design of pages is great.
A great option for online business owners to setup great looking landing pages really quickly. Leadpages integrates with all kinds of 3rd party tools as well!
Send some Facebook ads (you can start with a really small budget – like $5 a day) to your exact perfect customer and see if you can’t bring in some leads.
Now, this is a little more complicated than just throwing up a video of you on a page and asking the client for the sale.
If you’re a graphic designer or web designer, offer something they can download for free that provides them with value first. How about “The 3 Things you Should NEVER Do Before Redesigning Your Website.” Make the page beautiful and showcase your skills. Make sure the content is valuable and shows you know what you’re talking about. Use your craft to your advantage.
Once they sign up for that thing, then you can start building a relationship via emails or ask them to jump on a call.
This is a great way to get new lead generation going.
8. Update Your LinkedIn Profile
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 for E-Commerce” 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. If someone sees a profile and you have 13 connections, that might be a red flag that you aren’t great with communication or have any past clients as connections.
Heck, you can add me if you want. 🙂
9. Let People Know You’re Looking for Work
This goes with the one above, but it’s not just for LinkedIn. If people don’t know you’re looking for more work, they’re probably not going to send you any referrals.
Here are some ideas for people to reach out to so you can get started:
- Family and friends
- Coworkers (if you know this wont impact your job)
- Current clients (if you have them)
- Past clients you’ve worked with – if they were happy with your work, they’re not going to hesitate to refer you to someone else in their network if they can.
- Your local [XYZ] person who knows a lot of people who might need your help
- Local networking community members
As humans, we generally want to see each other succeed. You’d be surprised how many people will rally around you and try to help you find clients if they can.
If you’re comfortable with it, let them know you’d be happy to pay them a referral fee for helping you out. You can give them $50, 20% of the first month’s bill once its paid, whatever you feel comfortable with. Money is a great way to get people helping you out 🙂
10. Cold Outreach via Email or Phone Calls
If you’re really passionate about helping certain types of clients (let’s say a local photographer), you can find quite a few potential clients by doing some cold outreach.
Go to Google (or another search engine) and look up 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.
Why page 2? Because they probably aren’t working with someone helping them with their marketing if they’re on page 2. It’s going to be harder as a newbie to get clients who already rank first for their main keyword.
And this can be a great way to start the conversation with potential clients because you can say “I noticed you’re on page 2 for this term, I’d love to help you rank higher.”
Small business owners are often open to some kind of chat if nothing else.
11. Ask for Referrals
I already covered how to improve your strategy for getting more referrals, but even just the concept of asking for them seems to turn people away.
Here are a few examples of people you can ask for referrals:
- Family members
- Current Clients
- Past Clients
- 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.
12. Partner with Other Businesses
Reaching out to people who own businesses in similar niches can be a great way 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 meetings with clients there, and the coffee shop could leave some of the real estate agents business cards out for people to take.
A web designer could partner with a marketing agency that doesn’t build websites, and they can send them marketing clients, while the marketing agency can send the designer website clients.
Get creative! This is a great way to help support small business owners while driving more clients to your own.
13. 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, 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. Also, if they are bad people and treated you poorly, don’t even think about reaching back out. You’re worth more.
However, if there is even a glimmer of hope, I’d reach out.
14. 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. And this often turns into new clients, but it can take time.
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 to potential clients 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.
15. Try Out Coworking Spaces
If you’re working out of your home office, it’s going to be more challenging to meet people and find potential clients.
Most coworking spaces offer free day passes, and some up to 2 weeks or more 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 and become a customer down the road.
The great thing about coworking spaces is that they are usually overrun by consultants, web designers, writers, developers, and marketing agencies. This is NOT a bad thing.
This can be great to start a client referral partnership with someone who doesn’t offer the same services.
Plus, you can get to learn from other freelancers about how they run their businesses.
They also generally offer free coffee, and sometimes even free craft beer and food. So even if you go spend a day somewhere and talk to no one else, it’s not all for naught!
16. Be Active in Online Communities
While this can be on social media, it doesn’t have to be. There are great Slack groups out there, and if you’re familiar with Circle, there are quite a few groups on there that have free membership options.
You can also find great forums or Reddit communities to be active in.
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 on most of these platforms that allows people to go back and see if someone has answered a question in the past.
Places to Look:
- Slack groups
- Groups you might be a part of from courses you’ve taken or conferences you’ve attended
17. Review Your Online Reputation
Interacting online is great, but if people Google your name what are they going to find? Do you have a professional website that showcases your work, the services you offer, and client testimonials?
Or do they find an old high school sports listing and a review you left for a local restaurant ten years ago?
This is important. If you don’t look professional enough for someone to hire you, they’re not going to. Having online properties like this helps you look like an expert or at least someone who knows what you’re doing.
Don’t spend ages putting together a website but you need to have your own website. Even if you’re not a graphic designer or developer, you can figure this out. Platforms like WordPress and Squarespace make it super easy to set up your own website.
Make sure you sign up for the major social platforms and post a little blurb about yourself there. You don’t need to be active on everyone, but if someone wants to hire you they are going to do their research.
If you Google my name, you see my LinkedIn profile, Facebook, Twitter, Medium.com, and my websites. This could be better, but it’s good enough for someone trying to get new clients.
This is especially important if you have been in trouble in the past. Those police reports are often published online, and if you have an uncommon name they’re going to show up. Make sure you are pushing those bad results to page two in some capacity. Signing up for social platforms can definitely help with this.
18. 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.
Cough cough the Small Business Expo (don’t waste your time).
Off my soapbox, try to find one that charges at least a small fee to cover some expenses, OR is put on by the local Chamber of Commerce or another entrepreneurship group who gets their funds elsewhere.
In times of COVID, there are tons of great virtual events popping up, and they’re starting to get better than just a Zoom call with 90 people talking at once.
19. 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 an awesome way to meet people, but you’re essentially gathering a bunch of leads in one room (or virtual 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.
How I Got My First Client
A little backstory:
This blog started out as Bright Cents, a place where I shared all about how I paid off my student loans, how to be better with money and I even shared debt reports.
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 Google Ads 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 post in the Facebook group. I opened the page thinking it was strange and eventually saw that quite a “big named” blogger posted in the FinCon community asking for recommendations on someone who had experience with Google Ads. The friend who had seen my LinkedIn update had commented and recommended me.
I had never helped a client with Google Ads – I had only run ads for the 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 (oh hey, Adsense) – 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 my pricing strategy (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…” after another Google search I replied with “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.