Whether you’re contemplating a side hustle or starting your own company, one truth is undeniable. You need paying clients. sorry, Your Catch 22 is similar to the one about not being able to get a job without experience and not being able to get experience without a job. How do you get someone to pay you money for work you’ve never done before?
That first client is more than a milestone. It’s a pathway. Once one person compensates you and likes your work, you are on the way to owning and operating a profitable enterprise. Until then, little separates you from the idle dreamers clustering in coffee shops while trying to conquer the world with chit chat. If you’re worried about how to get your first clienthere are some tips from someone who has been right where you are.
Few want to work for free and it’s a terrible habit to develop. Still, the path to many paying jobs begins with an unpaid internship. Running your own company is similar. If you want to be a successful social media manager, blogger, or graphic designer you may have to offer your services for free at first. Make sure satisfied clients post on their own sites and offer testimonials you can put on yours. Be clear that you not only expect recommendations but that you’ll be using them as a reference. For online work, having a linkable portfolio will be all you need to get your foot in the door. Just make sure you have a clear idea of what you expect to charge once clients come in.
Join Freelancing Sites
Upwork, fiverr and others may not be lucrative but they are a valuable bridge between working for free and being paid your true worth. If you’re wondering how to get your first client who actually pays you, these sites are invaluable. The downside is their global nature means you will be competing with people who can literally afford to work for pennies. Plus, last year’s lockdowns sent many formerly employed people onto work-from-home sites so the competition is definitely fierce. Although often disparaged, with a bit of digging and due diligence you can find clients on Craig’s List. They won’t be high-performing, high-end companies but for freelancers ghostwriting a memoir or designing the cover art for a self-published e-book isn’t a bad way to pay the bills.
Although I generally recommend that freelancers track their time to determine what they are earning per hour, initially you may want to lose the clock. You want recommendations and higher pay which means making three dollars an hour might be worth it long term. Just don’t get so “busy” with low paid work that you stop hustling for new, more lucrative clients. Remember, occupying your time with low-paying clients is a massive opportunity cost. You need to devote a set amount of time each week to landing new clients–– hopefully ones who will appreciate your value and compensate you accordingly.
Be Active on Social Media
Facebook Groups Continues to be a great source of new clients for many smaller businesses. Twitter is ideal for making connections as is LinkedIn. The truth is, if you enjoy contributing content to a platform there’s probably a way to land clients from it. The opposite is true as well. If you are a late arrival to FB or Insta because of privacy concerns and dislike the platforms you’ll likely get little out of them. Use social media, don’t let it use you. That means recognizing when it’s a time suck and disconnecting on the regular. You may also find that advertising is a better (albeit more costly) approach. You can also find someone willing to run your SM accounts for a small fee or even a percentage of new business.
Networking, Meeting Up, and Attending Conferences
Although you may not have earned your first dollar from your business, that doesn’t mean you should act like an amateur. No matter how new you are to a field, there are networking events you can attend along with professional conferences. Although Meetup gets attention for its social element, there are numerous meetups focused on networking. One nice thing is that many of these forums have gone virtual so you don’t have much of an excuse for not attending. One tip. Instead of asking a potential client for business, ask for advice. Tell them you are new in the field and would love to hear how they got their first client. Every successful professional has a unique story about that all-important first job. Listening to it may not only earn you business but a new friendship as well.
Become Active in Your Community
Whether you coach softball or run a neighborhood watch, Being active in your community is an unsung way to get new clients. Don’t be cynical about it, don’t decide you love youth soccer because you know a player’s mom is an angel investor. If you are genuinely active in your town, it will build trust when someone considers you for a job. You may not even get a client directly but rather a recommendation from someone who knows your local volunteer activities. The more our lives move online, the more work we do globally, the more people value face-to-face interactions with someone who lives just a block or two away.
Getting that first client can be hard. Still, with enough hard work and attention to detail you may reach a point where you feel like you have too many clients to handle. Which is when you bring on a partner or start hiring. Great job!
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