The one question I get asked all the time is: “How do you find your clients?” It’s a loaded question for me, because I can’t answer it in one sentence (or even a few sentences!). I could talk about the ways I find clients literally for hours. If it were that easy to find new clients, everyone would have a booming business. There isn’t one extra super-special thing to say that will bring in a new client immediately.
A lot of small business owners or freelancers will start looking for work on their own, and when they have trouble finding clients immediately, they simply give up.
Sales is a process. Getting new clients is a process, and you have to be patient. You are planting seeds. A lot of times, I’ll talk to a new potential client and they may not be ready to hire me right away, but a year later, they’ll call me telling me they’re ready for my services. Sometimes, the people I talk to already have a transcriptionist, but when they’re looking for someone to replace that person, they’ll call me. Most of the time, my new clients come from seeds I planted several months (or even a year or more) prior.
If you’re constantly planting new seeds, then new clients will constantly come in. It’s not often I make a call to someone and they hire me on the spot. In fact, I can’t recall a time that has ever happened. But if you keep at it, eventually you’ll have a steady stream of new clients coming in ready to be served.
Personally, I prefer active marketing to passive marketing. I like to put myself in front of the client rather than throw up an ad. Not only does it work better, but most active marketing is free.
So, where do I find my new clients?
- In-person networking
I figure out where my ideal clients hang out and I put myself in that location. People are more likely to work with someone they have met and can put a face to the name. If you live in a small town, you may have to travel. However, I find most small towns even have networking groups. Not only is it a great place to find potential clients, but it’s a great place to meet new people and get business ideas in general.
A lot of people will say that the networking and meet-up groups in their area don’t have anybody in them who could be a client. Don’t discount it. Sometimes the people in these groups aren’t target clients for you, but their friends are. The more people you know, the bigger your sphere of influence is.
- Online networking
Join online forums and groups and interact there with the people. LinkedIn and Facebook are great places to start. There are also other online forums you can join if you look for places your clients hang out.
However, don’t join these groups and immediately start promoting your business. People need to know you and like you before they trust you. They’ll be very weary of the person who comes into their group and immediately starts selling. You can put in your signature what you do and a link to your website, so when you’re participating in conversation and people like what you have to say, they’ll definitely click on those links to find out more about you.
This is a process. Don’t expect to join a group and have people start hiring you after a week. You have to commit to visiting the group on a regular basis and participating. Eventually, people will notice you and you’ll get business as a result.
E-mail is another one of those methods you have to do correctly and follow the process. You can’t just blindly spam people with an ad for your business. You have to spark interest with people within the first two sentences and try to develop rapport, which is very tricky.
Do not send a canned e-mail to random people. Find common ground first. For example, if you are a bookkeeper looking for new clients, look for clients who you have something in common with. If, before you were a bookkeeper, you were a real estate agent, then e-mail real estate agents or brokers who may need a bookkeeper. If I were a real estate agent who needed a bookkeeper, I’d be more inclined to hire one who knows the business.
Don’t get frustrated with this process. Most people you e-mail will not e-mail you back or even read your e-mail in the first place. Some people will e-mail back thanking you for your e-mail, but tell you they’re not interested right now. Less than 1% will become a client almost immediately. However, what I have found is that another small fraction of people won’t respond to you immediately, but they actually do save your e-mail and when they have a need for what you do in the future, they’ll call or e-mail you back. I’ve had people call or e-mail me a year after I sent the e-mail.
As I said, you’re planting seeds. The results aren’t immediate, but if you keep at it consistently, you’ll eventually start getting in a steady stream of clients.
At first glance, this may seem obvious. The issue is people assume that if they do good work, people will refer them. While that may be true in some cases, in more cases, you’re able to get more clients by literally asking for a referral.
When a client tells you that you did great work for them, that’s your opportunity to ask for a referral. For example, if you do web design and the client voices that they are very satisfied with your work, you could say something like, “Great! Thanks so much! It always makes me happy when a client takes time out of their day to let me know they’re happy. Like most business owners, most of my new business comes from referrals. Do you know anyone who could use a website redesign?”
By asking a question, the client feels like they should respond. I always outright ask instead of saying, “If you hear of anyone looking for website design, please refer them to me.” That’s not a question, so it doesn’t require a response. Actually ask the question.
When you literally ask the question, people start going through their mental rolodex of who they can refer you to. They may say to themselves, “Hmmm . . . John mentioned a few weeks ago he had some issues with his website. I could fire off an e-mail to him.” They may not have thought of this if you didn’t ask.
Once I transcribed a telesummit for a client who told me they were very pleased with my work, so I asked if she knew anyone who had a summit coming up who could benefit from my work. Within ten minutes, she e-mailed me back the names of THREE people who had summits coming up. It’s highly unlikely she would have done that if I didn’t ask. I looked up those three people, called them and ended up securing one of those referrals.
This is the low-hanging fruit and many people don’t bother to reach for it.
- Freelance sites
Many people discount freelance sites because they assume clients who go to these sites are looking for people to work extremely cheap. While that may be the case for a lot of people, there are people who use these sites who are willing to pay a fair rate. Sure, you’re competing against potentially 30+ people, but remember you’re not just competing on price. I am one of the highest bidders on freelance sites and I still get jobs. No, I don’t get all of the jobs I put proposals on, but I am able to attain some.
I said above one of my methods was direct e-mail and I only get less than 1% of the people I e-mail to respond. I can tell you for sure I get more than 1% of the jobs I bid on. When you e-mail potential clients, you don’t know if they’re looking for the service you provide. However, if you go on a freelance site, you know for sure they are.
Yes, there are drawbacks with freelance sites. One of the drawbacks is the incredibly high percentage they take from the money you make. However, it’s the price you have to pay for them bringing you clients who are ready to buy. I’m happy to pay it.