Clients

10 strategies to get your first clients

You have a great business idea, built a fantastic website and start offering your services, but there’s just one problem: you don’t have any clients.

Your first clients are the hardest ones to get, and unfortunately, no fancy marketing strategies will bring clients to your door if you just started business. Why? Because the first step to getting clients is building trust.

The main purpose of getting your first clients is not to make money; it’s to build trust in your business. Use these first clients to:

•    Build a portfolio
•    Add testimonials to your website
•    Get referrals and recurring work

AdWords, Facebook Ads, SEO, and a lot more advance marketing techniques require money, time and a good understanding to be effective. Even if they lead traffic to your website, your visitors won’t convert, because they don’t find any signs of trust. Who has used your services before? What was the outcome?

*crickets chirp*

In today’s post, I’m sharing what worked for my business and my clients’ businesses in this regard, so that you can save time and money trying to figure out how to get your first client.

 


1.    Email everyone you know

Your first client will most likely come from someone you already know that wants to give you a chance.

When I started my business I emailed all my friends and family members to let them know about my career move and my new business. I asked them for help to find my first clients and mentioned how they could help:

  • By following my business in social media
  • By liking and sharing all my posts
  • By keeping my business cards in their wallets just in case one day they found someone who could use my services.

And that’s exactly how I found my first client: my husband shared my business with everyone he knew too, and his boss’ wife was in need of a new website. (well done John!)

I designed that first website for a third of what I charge today for similar jobs but it was totally worthy, as it has referred me dozens of new projects since then.

HINT: When emailing everyone you know, don’t start with a ‘Hi everyone… blah, blah, blah… I need your help’ and copy everyone in the same email. Send personalised messages, one by one, and take that opportunity to show interests in your friends and families’ lives.

 

2.    Use your previous work connections

You may quit your job to take a completely different career path, but if your plans are to continue doing the same type of job that you were doing in your previous company, your work connections are gold.

They've already worked with you, so they know you and your work standards. If you were a good teammate in your previous job, you already have their trust.

Don’t just think about your old boss or work colleagues, but also about suppliers, sub-contractors and other people who used to work with you, and can now give you the chance to work with them on a new project.

This one was the sole strategy that my husband used when he quit his corporate job to work for himself and was effective enough for his business to take off.

 


3.    Introduce your business to your local community

Do you buy from or use the services of a small business in your neighbourhood?  Then bring your cards and some flyers with you and introduce your business to them. Small business owners love helping other small businesses.

Your local gym, your hairdresser, your newspaper agency… any of them could need your services at some point, and even if they don’t, they can still help you promote your business among their clientele.

When I started my business I offered my help to my boy’s childcare centre. Also, I never miss any of their parent’s events, always with a bunch of business cards in my pocket.

 


4.    Collaborate with a charity

I must admit I didn’t think about this option when I first started my business, but I was lucky enough to be found by Kelete Studio, a dancing school for kids with disabilities. Since I’ve been collaborating with them they promote my business everywhere.

Charities usually don’t have funds to hire a professional, but they can write testimonials, add jobs to your portfolio and spread the word about you, while you help a worthwhile cause.

 


5.    Offer obligation free consultations

One of the main concerns when hiring a designer is whether you will work well together. That’s why I offer obligation free consultations. Everyone can come and discuss their projects over a coffee, and decide after if we’d make a great team.

Use this consultation to answer your client’s questions and address their concerns. Be helpful, not pitchy or pushy. Give them some information to take with them, and let them make the final decision when they’re ready. This is a great way to build trust.

Small jobs can also let your clients try your services and decide if they like working with you. For that reason, it’s not a bad idea to start offering small design jobs at a low rate, so that people can sample your services and build trust in your business.

Some of my current clients started with just business card designs and other small jobs. Months later they requested an entire rebranding and new website.

 


6.    Network offline

Industry associations and meet-up groups can put you in touch with people who could potentially need your services at some point.

The main challenge here is to find a group where there are no competitors, only potential clients.

However, if you’re in business, then you’re in the business of building relationships. You never know where you are going to find a new client, so network even when you’re not.

When I take my boy to the park in the afternoon, I bring a brunch of business cards with me. You meet other mums at the park every day, so who knows if maybe one day I meet someone who needs my services there.

 


7.    Network online

Many business owners only use fan pages to find new clients. Wrong! There is a more effective way to find a client on Facebook: join relevant groups and participle in conversations.

I find many Facebook groups are a great source of information for my own business, but also a great channel to find new opportunities. I’ve also seen young designers offering free help with small jobs, just to add projects to their portfolios.

The trouble with Facebook groups is to find the ones that are actually useful. Some of them can be a waste of time.

On that note, Facebook groups have landed me a couple of clients so far, Instagram none, so:

Facebook 2 – Instagram 0

HINT: when joining Facebook groups; turn on notifications to not miss a thing.

 


8.    Team up with established agencies

Design agencies sometimes find themselves overcapacity and could need some extra help. If they like working with you, they can turn into repeat work and referrals.

If you are a new designer, working with other established businesses would also give you the opportunity to learn and grow by collaborating with more experienced professionals.

 


9.    Free speaking

Although I’m still fighting my fears of public speaking, some of my clients have mentioned many times how effective this method is.

If you can find a free space to host a seminar or workshop, don't hesitate to use it. People are usually quite interested in learning anything that can help grow their businesses and networking with other similar business owners.

If you don’t have a physical space, you can take your presentation online and organise a free webinar on a topic of interest for your potential clients.

You can also get in touch with industry organisations, such as the Chambers Of Commerce, as they like to bring speakers to their meetings.

 


10.    Pitch work in freelance marketplace sites

Although this wouldn’t be a long-term strategy, as jobs are usually low paid here, these sites can be a great way to find work quickly when you are just starting.

Some websites are Upwork, Elance or oDesk. I use Ozlance for Australian clients.

In summary, the only ways to get your first clients is getting out there and talk to people and spread the word because no marketing technique is going to bring clients to your door while you wait comfortably on your couch.


If you liked this post and want to learn to build and run a successful creative business, join my Creative Business School, where you can access all the must-know strategies and tools to explode your business growth in just 6 weeks.


How to streamline your process to impress your clients

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Behind any design project, there are a few essential steps that set the basis for a successful - or disastrous - project or client relationship. Many of these steps are project documentation and administrative tasks, which are usually overlooked when you start working with your first clients. However, they can significantly impact on your work, your professional image and your business continuity and success.

Many freelancers and small business owners learn these lessons the hard way, and I include myself here.

Nobody taught me how I had to manage an entire client relationship when I first started this business. So I had to make a few mistakes along the way to learn how to do it properly.

Almost three years after starting my business I now have a clear communication process in place which saves me time and headaches along the project development and leverages my client’s experience.

Today I’m taking you through my entire client communication workflow to show you how to streamline your business to deliver a great client experience. This process can be useful to any service-based business.

So let’s start from the beginning…

With every new project I always have 3 objectives to accomplish:

  1. Creating an outstanding product to impress my client as well as other potential clients.
  2. Making the project as enjoyable as possible for both, the client and myself.
  3. Getting more business from the client in future, as well as new referrals.

With these 3 goals in mind, I have crafted a comprehensive communication process that starts with the client’s first email and ends with a very happy client and even happier designer!

 

1.    The first email

Getting an email from someone who is interested in working with you is very exciting. This email can be the beginning of a new amazing project. But the reality is that not everyone who contacts you becomes a client.

Many people are just shopping around. They have an idea in mind, and want to get a better understanding of possible costs and timeframes, but are not ready to get their project started just yet. In some cases, that idea will never go ahead.

Although getting a lot of expressions of interest is great, you want to minimise the time spent in answering emails and questions from people who ultimately won’t become a client.

The answers to those questions frequently asked in these first emails should be on your website. This way a potential client can find all the relevant information in your site before contacting you, and you can minimise the time spent answering those questions by email.

If you get a lot of emails that don’t convert into projects, make sure you have two important pieces of information on your website:

  • FAQs page (see mine here)
  • Pricing page (see mine here)

Yes, I know every client is different and the total cost of a project can vary a lot from one client to another. And I’m aware of how much information you need to collect first to properly quote a design. But you can give your potential client an idea of the project cost simply by packaging your services.

Put together the most common things that a standard project involves. Make 2 or 3 examples of standard projects, a.k.a. packages. Set a fixed price for each package and publish your packages and prices on your website. You will significantly reduce the amount of time spent replying emails.


2.    Welcome pack

When you get the first email from a potential client there are 2 important things that you can do next:

  • Collect more information about the project, to make sure you understand every possible requirement that can impact in the project cost. To do that, send the client a design brief questionnaire.
  • Offer more information about your process, your fee structure and payment conditions, etc. To do this, I have created a PDF brochure with all the relevant information for potential clients.

Take this opportunity to schedule an obligation free consultation with your potential client, face-to-face or via Skype, if the client is not local.


3.    First consultation

Every long-lasting relationship starts with a first date to decide whether you and the other person are a good fit.

Sometimes the project may be too big or too complex for you. Others may require someone with very specific technical skills that you don’t have. So this first meeting is key to understand what the project involves and whether you will be able to help your client.

If you aren’t the right person for the job, you can still offer assistance to source the right professional/s and liaise with them to facilitate the process for your client.

During this first consultation your client and yourself can:

  • Discuss the project brief and fill in the blanks to ensure you understand all the requirements.
  • Clarify what information the client needs to provide beforehand.
  • Explain what’s included and what’s not in your service to manage client’s expectations.

After the meeting you can send a quick email to thank them for his or her time and outline next steps to get the ball rolling.


4.    Secure the project

After your initial consultation, the client has agreed to start the project. But a design project can take weeks, sometimes months, to complete and a lot of things can happen along the way, including your client changing his or her mind about working with you.

For that reason NEVER start a project without formally securing the deal through a design contract and a non-refundable booking deposit.

Signing a design contract

This document ensures a fair business relationship for both parties. Some of the benefits of having a design contract in place are:

  • You will look more professional and have your clients taking you more seriously
  • You ensure the client reads and understands the terms and limitations of your service
  • It protects you in the case of project cancellation, payment issues, and copyright and intellectual property issues.

Paying a booking deposit

This upfront payment is the best way to ensure that you get paid even if the client changes his or her mind about the project, finds someone else to work with or simply gets stuck on their own projects and forgets about yours.


5.    Manage your project communications

During the design and development phase there are two essential documents that will ensure you and your client are always on the same page:

The Design Proposal

The most common questions that a client always has about their project are: “How much is it going to cost?” “What will I get for that price?” and “How long will it take?“. The best way to give a concise answer those questions is through a design proposal.

This document also helps you double-check and triple-check the project goals and specs with your client before getting hands with the design.

A design proposal contains a lot of information about the project and has to be customised for every client, so you would typically have a proposal template that can speed up the writing process.


Project Plan

The best way to work collaborative with your clients and other virtual teams on the same project is by using a live project management tool.

I personally love Freedcamp to manage multiple projects at the same time and work virtually with my clients and collaborators. The benefits of using a project management tool are:

  • You can get the project documentation organised in the same place
  • You will be less dependant on email by taking project conversations and discussions in this system
  • The client can follow-up the progress of their project reducing the number of “how is my project going?” emails.


6.    Thank You Pack

The Thank You pack marks the closure of the project. It’s a sweet way to clearly estate the project is over and every extra task that needs to be done from now on will be billed separately. But it’s also your last chance to make your client fall in love with you.

Don’t just say good-bye, take this opportunity to strength to your existing relationship with your client and leave the door open to work together in future projects, as well as get new referred work from them.

Some things you can include in your thank you pack - or good-bye pack - are:

  1. Thank you note and a gift – make the client feel special by thanking them for their business and giving them a small gift.
  2. Email subscription - stay in touch by adding their emails to your newsletter list.
  3. Free premium content - Give them free access to paid content and private Facebook groups.
  4. Referral discounts - Reward them for any new referral with discounts in future designer jobs.

Take action

Download my Client Communication Checklist to streamline your workflow and deliver a great client experience.

If you want to see some real examples of these documents mentioned above, learn how to write effective proposals or working with project plans, and download templates to create your own client communication workflow join my 6 weeks Creative Business e-course! You will find all of this information there and much more! Coming soon in March.

If this sounds interesting, sign up with your email address to receive updates and sneak peeks of this course.


Common Problems Of Marketing Design Services

Something I learned from working with designers and creative businesses is that many of them usually share similar challenges marketing their business. In this post today I’m bringing five common challenges shared by many clients and industry professionals.

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Challenge 1  /  Finding Your Uniqueness

One of the biggest problems in the design industry is the over-saturation. There are so many designers out there that makes it really hard to get noticed.

People always have the same question about your business: “why should I hire you over thousands of other businesses in your industry?” Having an answer to that question is vital to your business.

Solution: If you want to stand out, find a specialisation

There two simple ways to find what makes you unique and different to everyone else:

  • Find a niche – take a look at your clients and see if you can identify anything in common, at least in some of them. It could be the same age range, same interests, same lifestyle, etc. If you offer services to other businesses, see if some of them belong to the same industry. If you find a pattern you can claim a specialisation in a particular niche and focus your marketing efforts on it.

For example, I focus on designers and creative businesses, as many of my clients belong to that industry. Having experience on that particular niche offers an immediate competitive advantage to new clients: they can benefit from the lessons I learned working with other similar businesses.

  • Find an area of expertise – As you cannot be an expert for everything narrow your offer to only those services that you know best. This focus will bring clarity to your business, and help you identify the skills you need to develop and master that particular area of expertise.

When I talk about specialisation, many clients get concerned. They think by claiming a specialisation they may lose business opportunities. Specialising yourself doesn’t mean that you wont be able to provide other services or work with other industries, but it will help you stand out in this over-saturated market.

In this other post I explain how offering a wide range of services was one of my own first mistakes and specialisation was one of the lessons learnt from my first year in business.

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Challenge 2  / Finding New Clients

Another common struggle for many small businesses is finding new clients. Again the market oversaturation makes it difficult for many new businesses to build a portfolio of clients. Tight start-up budgets makes it hard to invest in marketing and advertising which also minimises the opportunities to gain new clients.

Solution 1: get new leads by word of mouth

Family and friends can help promote your business by word of mouth. Also target your local community, small businesses like supporting each other. And above all leverage your existing clients.

Finding a new client is the result of many hours of work, communication efforts and meetings with prospects. It’s easier to sell a new product/service to an existing client than find a new one. Focus on giving your clients the best possible service, as chances are that they will use your services again in future or even refer some new business to you.

In this other post I explain how building relationships can help grow your business.

Solution 2: Share information and help others

Many of those who use Internet everyday are looking for answers to resolve a problem. Sharing your knowhow through your website or blog can help others resolve problems and help you build relationships with potential clients, while positioning yourself as an expert in that particular area.

Having a blog, writing a free ebook, creating video tutorials or offering free e-courses are different ways to share your knowledge with others in the Internet.

In this other post I share some useful tips to treat your blog as a business and make it profitable.

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Challenge 3  /  Keeping the cash flowing

Many small businesses constantly go from very busy to very quiet times. Unfortunately money stops coming during those quiet times and you never know when it will start coming back again.

Relying on selling only customised services to clients can be a risky strategy for a small business. Situations like not being able to find enough clients to support your business, losing some clients or needing some time off could have a negative impact in your cash flow.

Solution: Diversify your offer

If you find a niche, explore every business opportunity within it. Find other needs that this niche may have and that can be complimented with products.

Sell products, not just services. Those products can be physical or digital goods (i.e. anything downloadable), courses or subscriptions.

For example, I support my business by selling different types of digital products in third party websites. In periods of low activity I focus on producing new designs to add my catalogue.

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Challenge 4  /  Publishing Your Pricing

When someone looks for a design professional the first question in their minds is “how much is it going to cost me?” If you don’t have pricing in your website, many people might assume your price range is above the average.

However, quoting design services is a complex exercise that needs to take many different things into consideration. Every project has different specifications that need to be discussed with the client before you can quote their jobs.

On the other hand, charging your clients on an hourly basis can end up being unfair for the client. Experienced designers can come up with ideas quicker and can complete a job faster than a junior designer. Even if the hourly rate of a junior designer is cheaper you could end up paying more for their services.

Solution: package your services

Packaging your services as if they were products will allow you to set a fixed price. You can always re-calculate the price of any project that requires some extras or add-ons but at least the client gets an idea of how much your services can cost. It will also save you time quoting jobs and replying enquiries about your rates.

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Challenge 5  /  Being Over Capacity

This might actually be something very positive for a small business. The problem is that if you don’t have a team to support you in busy periods, you may struggle to keep up with everything on your plate.

How to manage several projects at the same time, look after existing clients, promote your own business and find new clients without losing your sanity? The answer might be ‘outsourcing’, but before thinking of hiring some extra help you can try something else more cost-effective.

Solution: build production processes

Organise your job in steps that can be repeated in every project. To do this, you can use the quiet periods to create templates of proposals, emails, etc that you can customise quickly for every new client. This way when you are overcapacity, you can save time in managing clients and projects to spend some more in providing a good service.

This other post by Lauren Hooker of Elle and Co. explains how to use 17Hats to organise your process and client workflow.

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Here is also another interesting reading found in Mighty Deals blog with six ideas for increasing your customers to your design services.

Surely, these are not the only challenges that designers and creative business have to face, or the only solutions to the problems above, so feel free to contribute! Leave a comment and share any particular challenge that you face or/and any solution that you came up with for them.