MY ONE HACK FOR GETTING YOUR FIRST CLIENT
Hi everyone, Kristen here to talk a little bit about the early says of SHC. (Not called SHC back then, just called "Kristen Elworthy, girl with a plan.") We work with lots of new business owners or small business owners and we talk to a lot of people who want to own their own business or work for themselves some day, and one thing people always ask is how we got started. I think that's one of the hardest humps to get over when you work for yourself: getting the first client. The first person who will pay you to do whatever it is you do, not through a company you work for, but as yourself.
And to everyone who asks, I always say that it's a little easier than it sounds and less intimidating too. Assuming you have the skills, getting your first client just takes some patience, endurance and HUSTLE. Eventually, your business will get to a point where you'll get referrals or you'll network and learn to listen for when someone really needs your product or services, but at first, I say, go for the low-hanging fruit. Go out and find people or companies who are already looking for help.
How'd I get my first client--my first few, in fact? Craig's List job postings. I found some writing gigs on Craig's List and one of them--as the client learned more about me and my background--quickly stepped up into a PR gig and a regular retainer client. (They remain an SHC client today, more than 5 years later!) At another, I went into what was basically a cattle call for a full-time marketing person and explained to them how I could do what they needed at a higher level, for less money because I wouldn't be full-time.
Applying to gigs or jobs at first and then working those relationships to turn them into retainer clients helped me learn what the pain points of my client base would be. I was also able to hone my pitch around the value I added as a consultant as opposed to a full-time employee. Some of the postings were looking for FT and I really got a chance to explore how some or all of that work could be done in a consultant capacity.
Getting your first client or two by looking at job listings may seem counterintuitive. Um, aren't you trying to get OUT of that full-time job in an office working for other people thing? Well, no! A few reasons this works so well:
1. If you think you won't be working for someone anymore, then think again! As I always like to remind people when they envy the "flexibility" that comes with your own business - someone is paying the bills, right? No matter what you do, that person/people have expectations of you!
2. You can find your niche. I found mine - helping smaller and mid-size businesses, startups and nonprofits - because I found that I was nimble and able to work in a way similar to an employee while functioning as a consultant. That was a major part of my pitch and it still is. Smaller companies need that flexibility, and bigger agencies can't always provide it to them.
3. You get used to rejection. Listen, it happens. It's kind of like dating. You're not going to be the right fit for everyone and doing this type of outreach and pitching helps you get used to learning what the best fit is for you and not letting it get you down when sometimes the client doesn't choose you!
A lot of people build up this idea of getting their first client into a big, scary event with lots of awkward networking nights or sales pitches. It's true - those are really legit ways to get clients, actually! - but in fact, looking for people who are looking for your skills already is a fantastic way of warming up, learning your sales pitch and figuring out what makes you unique when you first start. Eventually, business development will become second nature, but to start, it's great to have a built-in reason to call or email a customer.
So that's it - my one hack for getting over the hump of the first client when you go out on your own: the job listings!
PS - After a couple of years of solo consulting, I grew, SHC became official - and then business development started taking on an official strategy that included lots of networking, blind introductions and even more HUSTLE to get us where we are today and continue to grow to. The tactic above? A hack, not a strategy, but it's a great way to get started!
We'd love to know - how did YOU get your first client or customer? Was it easier or harder than you thought? Let us know in the comments!