How To Get First Clients For A Freelance Or Agency Business

get first clients

When I started Smemark 3 years ago, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money right away in sales and marketing.

I had more than enough knowledge and skill for the services I was offering, but no big connections to speak of.

I had returned to India after completing an MBA program in the US, but I wanted to get clients from all over the world.

So to start earning something as soon as possible, I started doing small gigs on Upwork, PeoplePerHour and Fiverr, and learning to sell confidently along the way. Since then, I have come a long way.

Having worked with hundreds of clients from USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Korea, India and more, and at the same price as anyone would get in these countries respectively, I thought I can share some things that worked for me.

Credibility Comes First

When you start a business, it has no initial reputation of its own. So it’s derived from the founder. And that’s determined by what you have been doing before you launched this product or service.

Way before I started offering design, writing and digital marketing as a service, I had been doing all this for myself. During my college days, I had discovered a hobby that I fell in love with – blogging.

The little tweaks that I used to enjoy making to my blog, the pride I felt when I penned something down, and the thrill of knowing that I am making money from it – all of these factors paved the way for the career I chose in the future.

As I was already competent in the work I was offering, all I had to do was create some samples that I could show to potential clients. This means doing some free work, either on your own or for a potential client.

Free work is the way to earn credibility when you’re starting from scratch. And you don’t even need a client or anyone’s permission to do it.

The website I created for my business, the content I wrote on other sites as a guest author, the backlinks I built and more were solid evidences of my skillset and added to my credibility.

When you know your stuff and get out there in front of people, it’s easy to muster sincere enthusiasm and confidence in what you can do for them.

That matters more than being a slick salesman or a fancy talker. But without any work or credibility, people can smell someone who’s faking it from a mile away, no matter how great your brochures or business cards are.

Once I had a portfolio to show to potential clients, I started networking, telling friends and relatives, and being active on sites like Upwork, Fiverr and PeoplePerHour.

My first $1000+ per month deal, was with a business which hired me first to write a landing page copy for $20.

With the copy I wrote for the business, I bundled a small gift – a quick audit of the landing page too. As a result, I got myself into a detailed video chat with the owner and sold him on what I am capable of.

He was so impressed with that he hired me take over his entire SEO process per month, from copywriting and creating landing pages to outreach and link-building.

That’s when I knew the power of free work, along with upselling and cross-selling.

Yet another project came from an agency which first hired me for just $10, then started showering me with regular work valued close to $1500 per month.

Reach Out To Everyone You Can

Then there were clients who approached me simply because they knew someone who knew me. That’s another important key to getting more clients.

People are more inclined to buy from people they know. Being known by someone who knows someone is usually enough to establish trust and get your foot in many doors.

Over the years, I have got clients from friends and existing clients who refer me, from the social events and conferences I attended as a guest speaker and otherwise, and from relatives and colleagues from my previous employers.

The most qualified leads usually come from people you know and people who they know. And the biggest myth many people live with is that they don’t know anyone, and their network isn’t large enough.

Get References From Current Clients

Apart from your work, the most powerful indicator of credibility is who vouches for you. Always deliver on what you promise and make clients happy.

I have always been happy to go any lengths to satisfy a client who wasn’t 100% satisfied, even going to the extent of offering a full refund.

When you deliver a great outcome to one client, they’ll refer you to more.

But you can’t just sit back and wait for that to happen. You’ll have to be proactive about this. Ask them for references, and if they’d be willing to spare some time to help with creating case studies that you can show to other prospects.

In addition, remind them to give you testimonials, ratings and reviews on popular business directories and job portals, endorsements and recommendations on LinkedIn and so on.

Maintain Your Messaging

Everything you do, and not do, sends a message. And you want to make sure you’re sending all the right messages.

Flawless appearance and communication won’t guarantee client-acquisition, but looking shabby or careless would certainly cost you some projects you’d have gotten otherwise.

Always make sure you’re well groomed in the professional sense, with proper haircut, fingernails, deodorant etc.

Another important thing to take care of is your written and vocal communication. You should be a master of speaking and writing in a clear and organized way.

If you’re not familiar with the proper use of apostrophes or capital letters, for instance, then don’t be surprised when you’re judged negatively. There will be prospects you’ll never hear from again and they won’t be telling you why.

Be warned, however, that professional communication doesn’t mean big, fancy words or long rants. If you can say what needs to be said concisely, so it can be understood fast, you are more likely to be respected as well as heard.

Digital Tactics That Work

If you want clients as soon as possible and you’re trying to do this via things like SEO and social media, then you need a new strategy.

No doubt these tactics work but only when for the long term, or for already established businesses with a few clients or more under their belt. So approach these accordingly.

What has really worked for me to get immediate results is search engine advertising, but the downside is that Google Adwords can eat up a lot of money in the beginning. Bing Ads, though, not as much.

Look at what and where other companies like yours choose to advertise. And when you advertise, always test with small budgets.

Finally, you may already know this but I hope you’re not thinking of wasting money in status symbols like a shiny office or car right when you’re just getting started.

Dropping cash in this manner may be a good boost for your ego, but not for sales. I have been in business for 3 years with several recurring contracts and I still haven’t taken up an office.