So, you've started your ideal business. Hooray!
Now: How do you find your first client? This is one of the most popular questions in many business and freelancing groups that I take part in.
As an entrepreneur and freelancer for 20+ years, I've gained clients in different ways. And, with several businesses started, I've found 'first clients' through various avenues.
Here are some approaches to starting and building a client base:
This is the absolute number one approach in my book when it comes to finding great opportunities. The best kind of people in your network would be more than happy to find ways to help you when you need the support.
So, yes, tell friends and family that you're looking for a client in your line of work. Let them know what you do. Start being comfortable in telling people your area of expertise. Be open about your need to find work or clients. You don't need to beg, just share. Just make sure you have samples of your work available for your friends and family to see.
When I first started freelancing, the internet wasn't mainstream yet. In fact, I didn't even know that such a thing could exist! So, I did my networking the old fashioned way. I started a small newsletter for my class that I edited and produced. Yes, using my trusty old typewriter and the university photocopying service! And, when a former classmate discovered my love for writing, she referred me to her cousin. That cousin turned out to be an award-winning writer who was starting as an editor at a new national magazine. They needed writers, so I started contributing stories. It was my first 'real' job outside of the family business.
This network approach to finding clients and jobs continue to this day for me. This time, on a much larger scale, thanks to the existence of the web, social media, and international contacts. For example, when I got laid off from a full-time job a few years ago, I didn't even need to ask my networks to send clients my way. As soon as people heard that I left my old job when friends and colleagues started sending work my way. Even helping to set-up appointments for me and giving me ideas on where I may be able to find work. I didn't even have any programs, business cards, and other promotional materials ready yet.
In the process, a couple of friends ended up hiring me through their companies at the time. And, someone in my professional network became my most valuable first client. This client even ended up helping me to secure another great client.
So, in less than a year, I was making more in my business working less hours than I did when I was employed full time.
I'm not sure if I do this out of habit, as I've always loved looking at the classified section for as long as I can remember. Some people enjoy the sports section in a newspaper, others enjoy the puzzles, comics, and crosswords. There are those who love the gossip and celebrity section. Me, I loved my classifieds even from a time when I wasn't even allowed to apply for jobs (I know, I was a weird kid. Still a weird adult.).
But, strangely enough, I have found some good clients through the classifieds and job boards. While most of them turn out to be just small, short-time clients, others can be quite lucrative. I landed writing/editing jobs at online publications through job listings. I even found my first book publishing deal (a tiny deal, mind you) through job ads many years ago.
Nowadays, you get a lot of good sources like LinkedIn Jobs. There are even job-specific groups on Facebook. In my line of work, I've opted to join these Facebook groups: Social Media Jobs (Worldwide, but mostly US-based) and Australian Social Media Jobs.
Apart from looking at general classifieds and job boards, one of my favourite ways to go about doing this is to look at "Jobs Available" or "We're Hiring" links on company websites that I like. If I already like the company, chances are, I can promote myself better.
But, do note that advertised jobs get more competition. So, it's harder to stand out. But, it doesn't mean it's impossible.
You can also look into freelance job sites like Upwork.
This is possibly one of the scariest approaches to landing a client or a job. But, they can also be the most exciting. I don't do this often, partly because as an introvert, I tend to be a wimp in these types of situations. Also, thankfully, I haven't felt the need to cold call all that much.
In the few times that I did, I started off by identifying a company that I wished to work with. For example, when I was living in Singapore, I came across Elle Magazine. It was a women's magazine that I wished to contribute to, so I contacted the features editor and asked if they would be open for me to pitch some article ideas. I was thrilled when she responded positively. It was tough to get an article get to print to start with, but once I found my groove, I ended up getting paid assignments on a regular basis.
Of course, this doesn't always pay off. I've been turned down a few times. And sometimes, in difficult and embarrassing ways. That's why I'm not so crazy about this approach. But, I do acknowledge that there are times when you do have to hustle and this is the only way to get yourself out there.
Usually, the best types of companies and organisations to cold call are those that you're already familiar with. So, if you don't know the business all that well, make sure you do your research first.
Building your online presence can definitely pay off in a big way, if you know how to manage your personal brand. That's why you need to make sure that your blog/website can represent you and the work that you do.
I've had various clients through this avenue. Some have hired me after watching me online for a period of time. Others have hired me after coming across a few of my written pieces and reading about my work experiences.
One editor of an in-flight magazine by an international airline once contacted me for a monthly travel writing job after they came across my work online. I believe I was blogging about travel and they found that post.
My blog/website was also the reason I ended up being a part of a VC-funded business that gained a lot of media attention.
So yes, you never know who will end up finding you online. The important thing to remember is that you first need to be found.
As an extension of having your personal networks and your blog/website, using social media effectively can lead you to your first client. And hopefully, more clients in the future too.
If you take part in online communities where you are able to showcase your skills, personality, and expertise, it is easier for people to see your value.
For example, when I did a call-out for coaching clients at one stage, I was surprised to hear from so many people. Even people who don't usually 'like' or comment on my posts.
That's one of the times when the importance of being a contributor on social media on different levels was highlighted to me.
When I say contributor, it's not just about sharing our work. In fact, it's important not to just ask for help or get people to 'like' or comment on our work. We need to be as generous as possible with our time for other people. We need to comment on, like, and share people's posts. It's good if we can contribute to fundraising calls whenever possible. And, to respond to those who leave comments and say thanks to those who give their time.
It all seems pretty simple and mundane, but all these things go a long way in establishing your personal brand online. And, ultimately, in finding the right first client for you.
Also read: 45 Secret Ways Social Media Can Land You A Job (Forbes magazine)
Do you need help in finding clients for your business? Let me know if I can help you as a coach. Send me a message and we can discuss your specific needs. If you have other questions about your business, leave a comment below or send a message.
How did you get your first client? How are you continuing to find new clients? Do you have other tips you'd like to share?
Shai has been managing and blogging here at ShaiCoggins.com for 17 years. Here, she writes about creativity, productivity, and how to recharge for a better, happier lifestyle. She is the author of Today: Life Journal, Colour Bliss: Kaleidoscopes, and a little known children's book. A serial entrepreneur, Shai also currently runs Vervely.com, a boutique digital media agency offering online content, community, and conversion marketing services. Her blogging experience and digital work have been featured in various media, including being listed in Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology" list. Originally from Manila, Shai lived in Singapore and the USA before moving to Australia with her British husband. They have two children, a pet bunny, and a rambunctious rescue Labrador.