In the last edition of Biz Notes I shared the story of how I started working for myself- the question I’m asked most frequently when I tell people I’m self employed. As promised, I said in the next edition I’d share the second most frequently asked question about my work, and that is “How do you get clients?”
Here’s the thing- the way in which I’ve acquired every single client is in no way novel. The methods are pretty basic and will apply to most creative businesses. But ten months back, when I was just starting out, I would have said no way- no way can these simple methods actually work- it’s too good to be true. I need to be pounding the pavement and exhausting myself with cold calls in order to get clients! That may be true (and if you’re thinking of working for yourself, you better be prepared to do that), but I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t had to do that yet. I’ve been able to support myself and garner enough work from old colleagues, employers, friends and family, and online/blogging connections alone. Here’s how I did it:
- Old Colleagues/ Employers Once my business site was up, I contacted all my old bosses, colleagues, vendors,employers, you name it, to tell them I was in business. I was in a unique situation as I was already freelancing when I launched, but I think you can do this even if you are still employed. I know the thought of telling your current employer that you want to leave and you plan on working for yourself is scary, but you need to pony up and do it. And here’s why: 1) It’s expensive to hire and train new staff- there’s a good chance they’ll look to you for outsourcing or ask you to consult part time 2) Even though you’re looking to leave- most people view going off to work for yourself as leaving on a positive note. People (for the most part) will naturally want to help you! Your employers will know other companies and people who could potentially need your services- and they’ll likely offer to connect you. Just make sure you follow up on those offers! (Connections through old colleagues/ employers accounts for about 60% of my business.)
- Friends & Family Remember when you were growing up and your parents, relatives, and family friends would say “Oh you should talk to so in so…. they’re in the same field, have the same interest, could help you, have this great connection”… yada yada yada. Now’s the time to meet with ALL of those people. Even if you can’t foresee any benefit, just do it. I’ve had amazing work come out of these meetings. And when you go be sure to thank those people and tell them how much you admire their work. And then send a hand written thank you note after the meeting. (Connections through friends and family account for about 20% of my business.)
- Online/ Blogging Lastly, a portion of my work comes from online and blogging connections (it makes up roughly the remaining 20%). I would say most creative businesses these days benefit from a blog. To be honest, when I first ventured out on my own, I felt a lot of guilt about blogging because I thought I should be devoting my evening or weekend hours to something more productive for the business. But then I started making connections and acquiring work through the blog- and actually having people tell me they wanted to work with me because of the content and aesthetic my blog. That was huge, and now I’ve really come to see this space as an extension of my portfolio.
Now, this is not to say the process of building my client base has been easy. In fact, in the midst of writing this post I decided the next Biz Notes post would be entitled “Keeping the Faith,” with my advice on how to weather the storm during tough times. But nonetheless, these methods truly have worked, and the biggest thing I’ve learned is to really own and be proud of what I’m doing within these particular circles and relationships. That has really made a difference when it comes to forging connections and building my client base.
Do you work for yourself? How did you get those first clients when you were first starting out? I’d love to hear!