You pull up your feed on Facebook and one of your designer friends has just posted about how she managed to snag another new client for her business. After reading her post, you do a quick tally of the real, paying clients you’ve managed to get so far: aside from designing your uncle’s website for his new cake shop, you realize you don’t really have any clients that have paid you for your work.
Landing your first paying client without any prior experience working with one can feel like a daunting process. It’s sort of like being a graduating university student looking for a job; a job requires experience, but you can’t get experience without a job. In other words, you’re stuck unless a miracle happens or you list your services on Fiverr.
Here are 3-steps that have been tried-and-tested you can take immediately to secure your first paying client:
1. Prove you can deliver
The reason many new freelancers or businesses struggle to acquire their first client is because they have little or no fodder to indicate that they can likely deliver on the service. They have no references, no past work samples or skill sets to back them.
Similarly to how you wouldn’t trust your health with a doctor with dubious credentials and no previous patients, you can’t expect prospective clients to trust you with their money if you don’t seem like you can deliver on what they’re paying for.
That said, there are always potential leads that are willing to take a gamble on you if you can cover all the stops in proving that you’re not going to fleece them and go missing:
a)You have people who can vouch for you
When working with new providers, naturally prospective clients are by default, skeptical. Personally, I’ve had numerous instance where we hired a freelance designer only to have the person go off-the-grid without notice when we need them to deliver on promised work. It’s no wonder that fresh professionals also get thrown into the same bucket by association.
Asking to be recommended by peers that believe in you and the work that you do can be an easy way to get your very first client. A warm recommendation provided by a trusted individual will significantly raise your chances of converting them into a paying client because the client automatically assumes you are trustworthy and lowers their barriers of skepticism.
b)You can demonstrate your abilities
If you’re a designer, you should already have a portfolio site or be on a platform like Behance or Dribbble for people who are unfamiliar with your brand to get acquainted with your style and abilities. If you’re a web designer, you should have some sample sites handy for reference. If you’re a photographer, it almost goes without saying that you should be able to pull out high-quality shots at a moments notice to showcase your skills.
My very first piece of commissioned work came from the owner of a Cheesecake company based in the United Kingdom, James Asquith. James took a gamble on me based on some work samples he saw on the now-defunct SlideShare.net. Without an existing body of work, I believe it would have been significantly tougher to get my first gig.
Like me, you may not have had the opportunity to produce commercial work till date, but you should be well able to demonstrate that if given the chance, you’ll be able to deliver on-time and in excellent quality. When starting out, a great way to build this identity is do work on personal projects that might not pay, but act as sterling examples of work that you can produce for new clients.
c) You appear trustworthy and professional
Having someone vouch for you and demonstrating your talent is important, but being able to build trust with your prospect in-person or via communication is even more critical. Be it Skype calls(for overseas clients) or face-to-face meetings, you’ll want to ensure that you always put forth a likable persona and appear professional in all instances. These factors can be anything from the way you word your emails to how you speak in person.
Email etiquette – avoid using slang, keep language formal unless client appears to be otherwise, always check for grammar or factual errors
In-person etiquette – be punctual, have a firm handshake on first contact, listen intently by giving eye contact, try not to interrupt or dominate the conversation, avoid bad mouthing anyone
Call etiquette – be punctual, let the client hang up before you do, summarize pointers at the end of the call
Social Media – Have a good, clear headshot of yourself, ensure you privatise any unsavoury pictures or posts
2.Be discoverable, both online and offline
If they have no way to find out about you, how are clients going to hire you? Many newbies fall prey to the deadly mistake of assuming that they can live in their own little bubble and by some miraculous means, clients in need of the service will trudge through the internet or via their peers to find and hire them as service providers.
Share on social media, strategically
Social media platforms are a powerful tool to get attention either via virality or peer-to-peer influence. A consistent action that is as simple as posting valuable advice about your line of work every week can open doors toward possible work opportunities. This is especially useful for introverts that might want to promote themselves but not in an offline, overt fashion.
That said, you’ll want to be careful with any public messages you have online that could sully your reputation and image.
Clients(and employers) are well known for doing their due diligence of providers on their individual social platforms and search engines. Any incriminating content or bad press could make the different between landing your first client or losing them to someone else because of what they found. Never air your dirty laundry online and avoid using profanities in a public platform.
Develop a portfolio site or blog
Experts say: 85.3% of buyers use the Internet before making a purchasing decision (Enquiro)
Nowadays, if you aren’t online, you don’t exist in the eyes of those that might purchase from you. In the 20th century, we’ve been lucky enough to have almost global access to the Internet and it’s high-time that small business owners and freelancers take advantage of this privilege to position themselves and get noticed.
Right now, there are various options and software services that enable even non-programmers to build websites from scratch(some even as easy as drag-and-drop). Services like Squarespace, Wix and WordPress let you put together a website in as quickly as a day with just a small investment.
Having a portfolio site or blog lets prospective clients learn more about your skills and work in their own time. It also acts as a credibility booster. It’s sort of how having a business address makes you look more trustworthy, just that this address is a digital website. Since you own your website, you can decide what to post and the best way to frame your services – the only challenge after is getting traffic to it.
Put yourself out there and meet people offline
Apart from utilising digital in marketing your services, you’ll still want to engage with collaborators and possible clients offline. Nothing beats feeling the warmth from speaking to another human being and after all, people buy people first. Unless you’re selling a commodity like a digital gadget or a toothbrush, prospects generally still want to know who they are dealing with and also hope to work with people that they like or enjoy being around.
After getting acquainted with a new prospective client, you can either schedule a follow-up meeting/call or send them to your website to learn more about your services before making a decision to hire you or not. Interactions in both online and offline settings will increase your chances of winning your first client.
3. Give generously and ask confidently
The last step to getting your first client is simple: Give first, and just ask for a sale after.
There is no need to be embarrassed about asking for business. A common mindset that new businesses and freelancers sport when working with clients is that the clients are doing them a favour by giving them business, when in fact, the converse is also true. As a service provider, you’re providing value to the client – that’s the only reason they’d pay you anyway. You should feel good about wanting to help them and know that getting paid is only part of the deal.
A way to ‘give’ that doesn’t cost you a penny upfront, is to provide your expertise and advice to the client when you first speak to them by asking good questions to help them unearth ideas and issues that they may not have been aware of initially.
For example, if you’re providing marketing services, putting together a brief write-up with campaign ideas for their company can not only help them get clarity on their actions ahead, but it’s also an opportunity for you to show them that you know what you’re talking about.
From the client’s perspective, they’ve gotten value from you even before parting with a cent. At this point, they have two options:
- To take your advice and take action all on their own, but possibly make costly mistakes and waste time along the way.
- Pay a professional(you) to execute on the plan and reap the return on their investment much faster.
You might not always get the client this way, but either way, they’ll leave with a much better impression of you as a professional and the service you can provide. They might even recommend you opportunities to work with their associates instead.
Naturally, there are many more nuances to securing new work from clients not written about in this article. When you’re just starting out without any experience, getting your first paying client can really accelerate your progress and help you acquire new clients moving forward.
Have any questions? Leave them in the comments below.