Clients are truly everywhere, that is, if you know where they are hiding. As freelancers and entrepreneurs, we have to take responsibility and find these people in order to survive. You have to keep looking for clients even if you already have some, but especially if you do not have any.
You can feel like you are going in circles looking for clients and it will often feel like they are intentionally hiding from you. Fortunately, clients are not really hiding from you, it just seems like they are. It can often seem like your clients are hiding in the midst of misleading job ads, forums and networking events. The problem is that you are not promoting yourself, looking in the wrong places for clients, or just not being persistent enough. It is a challenging, but it it is something that you have to master in order to sustain your business. Here are some ideas about where and how to find clients for your business. These strategies can apply to almost any type of business whether it is graphic design, freelance writing, programming, or web design.
Your Personal Network and Beyond
A lot of times, your personal network may hold the very clients that you need so badly. Your personal network is not just the people that you know really well like your family members and friends, but it is inclusive of your neighbors and casual acquaintances around town. A Stanford research paper entitled “The Strength of Weak Ties” discussed the benefits of networking with those that you are not particularly close to. The basic premise of this study is that the assistance that your close ties can provide you is limited because their close proximity to you likely means that they have many of the same connections that you do. However, the people that you are not particularly close to have extensive networks that you have had no exposure to at all. They have new, ripe connections that can benefit you a lot easier because they are not hanging around the same people as you are. They know people and things that you do not know, which is what makes them better than your close ties. Definitely talk to your personal friends and family members to see if they may actually know of someone that may have a need for your services, but understand that the amount of assistance they can give you is limited. Going outside of your comfort zone will bring the connections that you need to find clients outside of your network.
Past, Present and Future Clients
Your past and present clients are one of the best sources of work. Keeping in contact with previous clients can be beneficial not only for networking purposes, but they can actually provide more work for you in the future. Sometimes the people you used to work for may relocate to other companies and help open doors for you there if they liked your work. It is also possible to earn even more income from just working with your current clients if you can expand your services. For example, if you are a graphic designer, you may be able to provide not only graphics for their website but also for their brochures. Instead of just doing individual projects, you may be able to get a retainer fee if you are on call for more work or advice. In terms of future clients, this means that you can call upon current prospects that you may have had some initial meetings with. Even if they are not interested, you can ask them if they know any other companies in their area that may have a need for these types of services. It sounds really innocuous and it is, because the worse thing that they can say is no.
It may also be a good idea to partner with another creative professional like web designer or copywriter to expand your client base and to provide package deals of copywriting, web design, graphic design and programming. Chances are that a copywriter or web designer may have a current stable of clients that may also need your services as a graphic designer. Some of your former colleagues may fit into this category, but you can also meet these people online or offline. Popular blogs such as this one can help you help you meet other like-minded individuals. Social media, forums and educational events can put you in contact with these people as well. If you happen to hit it off well some of these partners, you may even consider starting a business with them.
Former bosses and colleagues are another great place to look for clients because many of these people will probably have gone on to different companies. Keep in touch with the people you worked with as you move around because they may be able to open doors for you in the future or they may even be in a position to hire you themselves. Some of the people you knew may have started their own businesses, gotten jobs at Fortune 500 companies, or they may even have married someone like that. You never know, so just keep in touch and ask around. Since you have already worked with them, they may be one of the first places you could look for in terms of a strategic partnerships. You had the ultimate trial run with them at work because you know their personality, you know how they work and you understand their capabilities.
Local Chamber of Commerce
A chamber of commerce is a treasure trove of local businesses that can potentially use your services.
Yes, there is a nominal fee required in order to become a member and gain access to their services, but it is very much worth it. Becoming a member of your local chamber of commerce will not only present a valuable networking opportunity, but it will actually a a layer of credibility and legitimacy to your business. Businesses that are members of the the chamber of commerce are more respected and they tend to also do business with each other. You may receive some newsletters and resources when you joing the organization, but the main focus should be on attending the networking events that they offer. A chamber of commerce will usually offer a number of networking events every month where you can get to know other entrepreneurs, promote your businesses and even learn new business strategies and techniques.
Classes, Workshops, Conferences and Seminars
As an entrepreneur, you have to be on your toes and ready to learn. There should be no end to your education as it sustains you and improves your skillset. Attending workshops, conferences, classes and seminars are not only there further your skills, but to expand your network. You will usually not only leave these programs with new knowledge, but also new contacts. It should be your goal to attend at least a couple of these events every year to keep up with the latest news and techniques anyway. Why not just bring some business cards along with you to build your business at the same time? The key to thriving at these events is to never be alone during your time there. Never sit alone, eat alone, or stand alone. Break away from your friends if they are there and lean toward the unfamiliar. Anytime you are not learning, you should be networking with the other people in these events.
If you happen to be particularly skilled, you may even want to ask if you can possibly lead a workshop or presentation. As a leader, it will make you more authoritative and people will probably come to for advice afterward and they may even offer to hire you. Perhaps teaching may become a job unto itself if you are good at it because they will usually invite you back if there is a lot of positive feedback from your presentation. Also, be aware that you do not need to have business conference going on just to do this or even spend any money at all take classes. Most public libraries will allow you to host free events to teach and lecture on certain topics and you will also have the opportunity to promote your business in the end. Local colleges and universities can also hold similar opportunities as classes, lectures and workshops are offered all of the time. You can get paid to teach, but also find clients, network and learn something at the same time. Teaching is one of the best deals around if you can make it work.
Honestly, most job websites are a waste of time. Many of these websites have low quality prospects with high demands and little pay or they may even be scams altogether. They are to be avoided most of the time if you can help it, but there are occasionally some decent prospects to be found on these websites. The thing is that you have to have a strategy in place when you approach these websites. First of all, only spend a certain amount of time on these websites period. It is not worth your time to look at them on a daily basis, but rather do a sweeping search once a week for about an hour and then leave it at that. Be very selective in the jobs that you apply for and carefully read their description to see not only if you match the qualifications, but if the company can match your qualifications. Setting up job alerts can also help you save time and weed out the useless ads. If and when one of these companies does respond to you, keep your guard up, ask lots of questions upfront and have a contract signed before you do anything with them. Be on the look out for scam tactics and never do anything for free whether they tell you it is a test or a free sample. Inevitably, there will be a lot of rejection because the competition is fierce on these websites, but it will be worth it if you can find a couple of decent clients.
Quite frankly, social media is sort of overrated for most people. Yes, thousands of celebrities and businesses are there, but people follow them just because they are household names. If you do not have that type of brand recognition, it is unlikely that you will have the same types of followers that they have. Social media is a powerful influencing tool, but that influence needs to come from the outside in order to make a difference online. Your offline activities must balance with your online marketing strategies. It can be helpful to leverage your social media contacts and prospects, but it can be tough to get clients from these sites if you do not already have a strong presence. If you already have a lot of followers or connections on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, then chances are that you can use those contacts to reach out to businesses and find clients. However, if you are starting from scratch, just now joining these sites, or if you have a low key profile, there is very little that you can do to get clients right away from social media websites. It is not a good use of your time to spend hours and hours on Facebook looking for prospects because you can generate better leads elsewhere. Social media, like anything else, takes to time to cultivate. You can do it along the way, but don’t make it your primary focus until you have a significant following.
Old Fashioned Prospecting
Sometimes there is nothing better than good old fashioned prospecting. Yes, this the hard the part, but it is the one area where you should work on after your networking efforts. Prospecting is basically marketing for clients. This means reaching out to them in any way that you see fit. A lot of people are familiar with methods like direct mail, email marketing, cold calling and guest posting. All of these things can can work, but they all have varying levels of success depending on the person. It is recommended that you only focus on one or two marketing strategies to find clients initially. The strategy that you should use is the one that you are most comfortable with. If you do not like cold calling, then try direct mail or any other tactic that you can do on a consistent basis.
Finding clients is a never ending endeavor that you must explore for yourself. Any of these tactics can launch any number of projects, but it will be up to you to determine which strategies will be the most effective for you. Teaching, prospecting, networking, or even applying for jobs can yield valuable prospects, but you have to try out different techniques until you figure out which one is best for you. The biggest challenge in terms of finding clients will be that you have to continually motivate yourself in the midst of being told no. There will be rejections, meetings that lead to nowhere and prospects that string you along for weeks. Self-promotion is everything especially, if you are under financial pressure. However, look for a balance in terms of promotional activities to prevent burnout. Spend some time doing the activities listed above, but also continue to learn and pursue some of your own personal projects to boost your morale. Look for a balance that will enable you to do some profitable, yet rewarding work in terms of clients. When you finally find your clients, vet them carefully and check to see if they are really people that you want to work with. Negotiate for what you want and do not just accept the first offer even if you are in the midst of a dry spell. At the end of the day, you have to find the people and projects that enrich your professional and personal life.
Image Credits – 11/07/07 by Sagrado Corazón