35 Ways to Find Your First Clients

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Okay, let's be serious for a moment, ninja friend. Whether you're an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, the act of going out and "pushing" your products and services on a stranger is not necessarily your favorite activity. Sure, to "get your name out there" some active recruiting methods may be necessary at first, but you're probably also interested in setting yourself up with a long-term strategy of clients coming to you. I feel you. So, the list directly below shares 15 ways to get your first customers through active recruiting; the second list below shows 20 ways to begin to get customers to come to you.

Active Ways to Get New Clients

1. Get the word out to family and friends in a meaningful way.

I had a friend launching a business + blog who chose a method that I now love to use and help other people use: she wrote (actual) personalized + purposeful messages to each person. This may sound very "duh" to you, but make sure each time you reach out, you include:

  • a personal note that lets someone know this is not the same canned email/message 300 other people got; make a connection on a hobby, interest, desire, or need of theirs

  • a brief description of the type of work you are doing now and why it's so important to you

  • the ways in which your friend/contact can help you (Do you want referrals if your friend knows someone in need of your services? Do you want people to share your message?)

  • a clear way for people to practically do what you're asking/hinting (for example: if you're asking for people to share your brand on Facebook, give them a brief description and picture "if they so choose to use it" . . . or if you're asking for referrals from a good friend, give them an idea of what they could email out to others--and perhaps even give them a sweet freebie to distribute)

  • a sincere "thank you" for the person's time in reading your message and in helping you any way they see fit

Are you at a loss for where to pull personal connections from other than your phone's contact book and Facebook friends list? Think of people you may know through:

  • volunteer work you do

  • organizations you belong to (clubs, a church, associations, sports)

  • your spouse or family connections

  • former workplaces

  • friends of friends

  • former school buddies or connections

In general, people have a desire to help you in whatever ways are understandable and convenient for them. Your close friends will probably even desire to help you when it's not convenient. Either way, give people as many tools as possible and show how grateful you are for their time and whatever action they may be completing on your behalf.

2. Create a social crowdfunding campaign.

Sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are not just good for the $$, but also the exposure. Several products have become somewhat to all the way "Internet famous" after a crowdfunding campaign.

Why? Friends, and even people who don't know you, are motivated to share your brand and your campaign if they connect with something about it, or to simply support small businesses that provide something meaningful. You can use one of these sites to launch/re-launch a business, a book, a product, a product line, a creative project, really almost anything. 90% of the projects that I've supported are by people I don't know at all. Crowdfunding campaigns have a way of bringing out strangers and making them friends.

Crowdfunding even allows you to get out there and start providing consulting services if you want to. Two examples for ya: (1) A woman here in Austin "sold" $1000 consulting packages as some of the prizes for supporting her book release. No seriously, look at this thing. She raised almost $12,000. (2) A couple here in Austin who also listed $1000 consultations, among other prizes, for the release of their book raised over $10,000.

 Raise money through crowdfunding and get clients

Raise money through crowdfunding and get clients

3. Team up with an established brand/provider in the same field to tackle a larger project together.

Offer your services up to them as an independent contractor. For example: if you're a WordPress coach/developer, work with another WordPress consultant who may be able to use your help on a huge upcoming project.

4. Team up with an established brand in a complementary field.

If you're a social media strategist, team up with the WordPress coach in the example above to help clients with a full online presence.

5. Pro bono part of the project.

So, you want your clients to pay you, obviously, but what about making part of the project free? If you're teaching someone how to use social media for their business, why not charge for crafting the action plan and report you develop, but make all your check-ins and scheduled calls free for one month. Or, if you're coaching clients through home births, how about creating the plan for free and recommending the equipment they'll need, but then charging for the day of delivery?

Doing work pro bono is not a long-term strategy, simply a way to get paying/reviewing/excited initial clients in the door; people who will spread the word about you and help you add to your portfolio.

6. Do some good ol' fashioned advertising.

  • Facebook and Instagram ads (which can be targeted to a person's location, habits, interests, and preferences)

  • Google/Yahoo!/Bing

  • Craigslist

  • magazines

  • swag and promotional items such as vehicle magnets, if applicable

  • blog/website ads

  • etc.

7. Search Craigslist for people looking for a service in your area of expertise.

Don't just use Craigslist to list your services, use it to find people already looking for someone like you. A lot of the work people need can be done virtually, so search a few cities.

8. Contact past people you’ve done similar work for.

At a past job, or for a friend, or as a part of a former business idea, you've likely done work related to your current passion. Contact the people you've done this work for and check for three things:

  • referrals (to others that may pay you for your services)

  • testimonials (that you can add to your website or other materials)

  • new work from the person you're contacting (you can always phrase your communication as if you're only seeking referrals or testimonials, but you can also let your contact know what you currently do and show off your shiny new website and packages or free download in the hopes that they'll hire you for something new--you can also just outright ask if they need any new work done)

9. Update your personal social media circles in general.

So maybe you don't feel comfortable sending a personal message to everyone you know. Maybe you're like me and overwhelmed by the thought of emailing mere acquaintances about your new business. Well, update your social platforms with status updates viewable by anyone. Include a snippet of what you do, who you serve, and why you do it, along with pictures, freebies, and links to related resources and services on your website. Do this with the following platforms:

  • LinkedIn

  • personal Facebook page

  • Google+ page

  • personal Twitter profile

  • . . . and so on

10. Consider joining "online deals" or "specials" sites and programs.

Most sites like the ones above will send out discounts/deals to your products and services to a targeted list of consumers (who've expressed interest in your category of "stuff" and/or who live in your area). Make sure to include constraints on your offer such as a limited quantity so that you’re not overwhelmed by the response.

11. Send old fashioned and attractive mail.

If you are marketing to businesses or neighborhoods that you can easily look up addresses for, consider some purposeful and attractive mail pieces--flyers, invitations, offers, letters, a brochure/book of your services, etc. Below are some mail pieces I designed for this exact purpose.

 Get new clients through mail pieces

Get new clients through mail pieces

12. Ask for feedback when the answer is “no.”

If people decline your services, asking "why?" can allow you to clarify anything they're fuzzy on or present a more compelling case (or talk to a better audience) next time. But, you'll often find ways to make a sale (even if it's a less expensive package) to people who are hesitant to try something new at first.

13. Find online forums, sites, and groups where your ideal clients hang out and strike up conversations with them or answer their questions.

Forums like Quora, Facebook groups, and LinkedIn groups are a smart way to answer questions and provide value to your ideal clients, as well as to expand your network.

14. Email people with an "openable" subject line.

"I want to work for you for free," and "I'd like to give you a free website assessment," or a less-spammy version of the same, will likely grab someone's attention. Once they're interested, or once they have their free product/service in hand and love it, why would they not want to hire you?

15. Give free consultations at a local coffee shop or your potential client’s place of business.

Once you get "the sit down" with a potential client and prove you know your stuff and can think of ways to help them, you'll get more and more paying customers.

Ways to Set Yourself Up So Clients Will Find You

16. Give away a lot of value.

Whether you're attaching some freebies/downloads to your emails in #14 above, responding to prospect emails, writing a post on your blog, drafting a tweet or an Instagram post, or creating an epic image for Pinterest, build in a ton of free value. It is the stuff that makes people remember you; it is what makes people want to share you; and it also makes people want to buy from you instead of someone else who doesn't create as much value.

"If he/she is this helpful for free, what would their paid products be like?" <-- Is what your audience will think. Giving away value is your best marketing tool and best way to turn onlookers into participators and buyers. Not only does this make smart business sense in the long run, but it’s also just a great way to be a helpful human.

17. Create social media accounts and connections for your business or update your online presence for the ones you already have.

Having a branded Facebook page, Instagram account, and Google+ page is way different than overwhelming your friends with constant business posts on your personal profiles. So, you know, make it happen.

If you already have business pages/profiles, write some new more compelling social media bios and descriptions, spice them up with professional graphics, make sure they all work together cohesively.

For your personal social accounts, update your bios, create/add new pictures, a new email signature, a new LinkedIn job/position, a new Gmail chat status, a new Twitter background, etc.

Be active socially. Be where your clients are and don't be silent. (pssst. We teach how to create these graphics in our epic Visual Arsenal 3.0, which is only available to our SERVE Academy members.)

18. Add "shareability" everywhere for your brand.

Use services like ClickToTweet.com (which makes it simple to pre-compose an exact tweet for a reader, for free), or encourage people to "pin a post for later," and add simple share buttons on your blog site so that people will be reminded to share and will have an easy time sharing your brand. For WordPress users, you can also use the premium plug-in Social Warfare to make it even easier to share (and track shares for social proof).

19. Give free/affordable seminars on your topic at local colleges, community centers, meetings, or other venues of your choice.

I originally started doing seminars as a way to share my passions, but I started getting lots of referrals and clients from people who attended these events.

20. Give free online trainings in your area of expertise.

Bonus points if you subtly make it gateway content into some of your valuable packages or paid products. Consider using Zoom and/or YouTube to host these for free.

21. Build an email list and send regular, helpful emails.

You know, the kind where you give tips, encouragement, and resources that people aren't really going to find elsewhere . . . or that people won't find elsewhere in such an organized and humorous format. Writing regular emails that people actually want to read is one of the best time and skill investments you can make. Building an email list with a smart, human way with people who will actually buy from you is so important that we created a whole free 5-day course about it.

22. Create some online listings for your business.

Consider free places such as:

. . . also consider paid sites in your niche (if you think they'll be effective, but remember to track this through actual website analytics), or other free sites where your clients are likely to look up service providers or businesses.

23. Host a challenge/competition that gets people motivated to make strides on a goal that's in your area of expertise.

Make a group (on Facebook, Google+, or some other network), or host a challenge from your blog. Give participants resources, encouragement, and camaraderie as they accomplish their goals. If you're a personal trainer, think "ab challenge," or a diet coach might do a "cleanse group" while a social media manager might do a "Twitter Superstar in 30 Days" activity.

24. Host a plain 'ol giveaway.

This will spread your brand name, awareness of your services, and provide you with a lucky recipient who may hire you once they receive their free goodies and love you.

25. Guest post on related blogs and sites where your clients hang out.

This helps you reach an audience that you might not have otherwise gotten to speak to. When your audiences's favorite bloggers start to host you on their blogs, people are probably inclined to trust you (at least a bit at first) and like you.

26. Craft and release a social press release.

Which is like a regular press release, but done online and made to look amazing. Looking for ideas? Try pitchengine.com or pressitt.com.

27. Attend conferences and classes your clients are likely to go to.

It's certainly dandy to attend conferences where you meet people like you and get to grow and learn with others in your field. It can help you meet people for points 3 and 4 above, but, your clients typically aren't hanging out at these places. Go to the conferences your customers will be at.

28. Join associations or meetups your clients will be a part of.

Ditto above. The benefit is, you'll usually be the only person in your field who is at the meetup.

29. Use the power of social search to find people looking for the things you offer.

Search Twitter for a few key phrases and start interacting with (and helping) people who are saying these things. If you're a business consultant, you might search for people saying, "I need to start my own business," or "I hate my job," etc.

30. Develop a well-designed and well-written services page and PDF (to attach to emails or print out for potential clients) that clearly explain the benefits of working with you.

31. Build your testimonials collection and portfolio, constantly.

32. Write an informative and attractive blog post on your new services and/or your new business direction.

33. Become a sponsor of a blog or two that your audience frequents.

Bloggers will often promote you through unique posts (like DIYs), links in their sidebars, posts from their social media accounts, their newsletters, and even their videos.

34. Sponsor related events or events that your clients are likely to attend.

They'll get to see your brand name and meet you. Bueno.

35. Make a big deal out of your launch.

Throw a party, write a blog post, host a giveaway, do a month-long special sale and online event, put on multiple webinars, create stunning graphics for all your social media accounts, etc. Just be the big deal you are, okay?

P.S. The methods on this second list work so well to begin bringing customers to you because these actions are items that:

  • prove your willingness and strong desire to help others

  • show that you're an effective educator

  • prove you are a giving person and likely an enjoyable person

  • establish your expertise

  • get people excited about your paid products

  • give people joy in sharing such a useful resource

Whereas you want to use some of the methods in the first list above that lead directly to paying clients, you'll also want to establish a long-term strategy of building a brand that makes people come seek you out, that pops up in people's social feeds (in a good way), and that sticks out in online searches and accounts that your clients regularly use.