One of my newsletter subscribers asked me:
Q: How do I find my first clients?
Every freelancer and consultant asks this when starting out. Either they have no clients or they have just a few to get them started.
Either way, everyone knows that they need to get more clients before the current ones finish up.
(The interesting thing is that this doesn’t change after you’re in business for awhile. You’re still going to be asking yourself where you get clients. Hopefully, by then you’ve learned some kind of repeatable marketing system so it’s less stressful.)
My previous employer
When I started, I consulted back to my previous employer. I left on good terms but moving to a different state meant that I couldn’t continue to work with them.
Fortunately, they had a few smaller projects that I could do on my own which would help them (and the development team I just left).
But in the grand scheme of things, they were only an okay client. They weren’t great. The projects were small and they use a different programming environment than what I wanted Little Stream Software to focus on.
Referral from a family friend
My next client is a better story. I meet them through a family friend. They needed just a basic brochure website, like under 10 pages, and there were no real requirements. I had full creative freedom.
I priced out a few options for them and they picked one (I don’t remember which one, it really didn’t matter). The project was a success and my client was happy with the final results.
It wasn’t a great fit though. At the time, I had a couple of years of Ruby on Rails experience and Rails was super-hot then (2007). I’ve already built and launched several successful Rails applications.
A static brochure site wasn’t a great use of my skills.
But it got me started and it was the first project where I won it based on my own personal skills.
After that second project, my confidence of talking directly with clients improved. I also learned that the great clients weren’t going to come to me just because I was “open for business”.
I needed a marketing plan or at least an idea of one.
At its core, finding your first or even your latest client is about marketing. You’re finding people with problems you can solve and you solve them the best you can. Marketing is the glue that connects your services to those people.
Do it and you’ll find clients.
Do a great job at it and you’ll find great clients.
Don’t do it, or only put in a half-assed attempt and your competitors will take that business away from you before you even know it.
The solid answer to the original question about how to find your (first) clients:
- find where they hang out and join them
- demostrate your value with a presentation
- build your professional network and get referrals
- write about what problems they have and how to solve them
Once you find a tactic that works keep doing it until it doesn’t work anymore.
For myself that meant starting from the stereotypical introverted-developer and becoming an entrepreneur who loves marketing as much as development.
Just how important is marketing?
Marketing is so important that the first time I held the Run Your Consulting Business training course I had to split it into two weeks, and I still couldn’t cover everything.
But I did cover the three most important marketing strategies for freelancers and consultants. If you’d like to attend the next session, I’d like to see you there.