So you’ve started a new business and can’t wait to start offering your services and get paid!
Problem: you don’t have an audience or much of a marketing budget. What to do to get your first clients??
I’ve been hearing many people around me talk about feeling pressured or obligated to invest their time in social media marketing in order to grow their businesses.
I feel it’s a topic worth getting into because it can feel overwhelmingly like you’re dooming your dream business to failure if you don’t invest your marketing efforts in social media.
If you’re a creative entrepreneur, I’m guessing you’ve been inundated with posts and paid ads telling you that you just need this one magic formula, or maybe it’s not magic but it’s based on foundational marketing logic, or whatever it is, but this one strategy on this one social media platform is what will get you paying clients so you can finally sustain your business and start making a six-figure income and everything will be okay after that.
And here’s the thing. Social media marketing can be a valuable part of your business growth.
If it’s a part of your marketing strategy and it’s getting you the results you want, that’s great! If you have the time and money to invest and genuinely enjoy it, then keep at it and make it work for you.
However, if you’re overwhelmed by everything you already have on your plate, if you’re worried that you might not get your first client, and you don’t know what to focus on and where to go, adding social media to your action plan could do more harm than good.
Now, if you’re still trying to get your first few clients and you haven’t hit the point where they are rolling in and knocking on your door, I’m going to suggest a different strategy to consider. Without resorting to offering free services “to build experience”, set up a portfolio, or gather testimonials!
The three parts of this strategy focus on building relationships and networking versus marketing or advertising. There’s no batching or scheduling content, but you should set achievable goals to build momentum.
This is something that actually works for many people. The reason we don’t hear about it is that the people who succeed at it do it naturally. It comes easily to them and they don’t even think of it as a strategy, so they don’t necessarily talk about it.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are introverts or don’t feel 100% confident about offering our services and charging for it. We tend to ignore these steps (especially the first one) because it pushes us past our comfort zone.
Doing these things requires confidently pitching ourselves to people we know instead of advertising to a general, faceless public.
The aversion to reaching out might stem from a fear of hearing people we know saying no to our services. This in turn equates to a personal rejection, and somehow confirms that our business venture is a failure. We might know in theory that this isn’t true, but that doesn’t stop us from running in the opposite direction.
So, if you decide to try this, I encourage you to be bold, take action consistently, and keep at it. Especially when it feels scary and everything in you is telling you to bail. (And if you feel overwhelmed and need someone to talk to, send me an email and I’ll listen!)
The benefits of doing these three things consistently include:
- getting your first few paying clients,
- validating your decision to start your business,
- building long-term relationships with other entrepreneurs,
- growing your audience,
- and becoming the go-to person in your chosen niche for the services you offer.
Here are my 3 tips for a successful strategy to get your first clients.
1. Leverage your existing network
This was the scary one for me. I felt embarrassed telling friends and acquaintances that I had started a branding and web design business. I even felt awkward telling my partner! (It didn’t help that he’s in the tech industry and I was pushing hard against imposter syndrome.)
When you’re first starting out and you don’t have much of a portfolio or testimonials, and people haven’t experienced working with you in this new setting, you need to find people who already know and trust you.
Make a list of people you know. If they come to mind, write their name down.
Everyday, reach out to one person to let them know about your new business and ask if they, or anyone they know, might be interested in your services.
Accept introductions. Keep an open mind about the opportunities this might open up to you.
One of the top web design and marketing agencies where I live started this way. The founder made the decision to start his own business, sent an email about it to all his contacts, and secured his first contract the next day. It took me muuuuch longer, but FYI this is now an award-winning agency with an incredible team working on amazing projects!
Hot tip: fighting imposter syndrome and struggling to describe yourself in your new role or talk about your new services? Read this post on managing imposter syndrome and make it a point to complete the action items.
2. Build your professional network
I realized fairly early that most of my friends were doing very different things and we did not share remotely similar goals. So I had to find ways to meet people who do share my goals and dreams and experience similar challenges.
I needed to be able to talk to people who understood what I was experiencing, whom I could support and in turn be supported by.
These are people who you can learn from, who will teach you things, and who may lead clients to you.
Find groups, organizations, and events that cater to people who you share something in common with.
Start attending their events and make it a point to connect with one person each time. Introduce yourself, and learn about them and their business. Be curious, and courteous.
Hot tip: get their names/email address and connect online. This is a great way to actually use your social media accounts to reach out to someone (I love LinkedIn for this). Then, actually set up a virtual call so you can get to know each other one on one.
My own favourite group is made up of women entrepreneurs from diverse industries and at different stages of business. I have so much to learn from them during our networking events, and with time I got comfortable sharing my perspective and advice. I’ve also met potential clients through these events!
3. Grow your audience
Even if you’re starting with an audience of zero, this is going to be crucial if you want to grow your business and start working with people beyond your friends and family.
Reach out to people with audiences you can provide value to.
Identify people, businesses, or organizations whose target audience is the same as yours, but who provide different services than you.
E.g. if you’re a creative coach, perhaps you want to look at artist-run centres, community craft schools, public arts organizations, career coaches, etc.
Reach out and see if there is a way for you to get in front of their audience to share great content.
It could be providing them with a printable resource that includes information about you, hosting a workshop, or speaking at an event.
Brainstorm ideas that play to your strengths and give you the opportunity to show people who you are and what you do, and why they might want to work with you.
- Four strategies to help you become more excited and effective at building relationships by Harvard Business Review