How to Land Clients When You’re Starting out as a Creative Entrepreneur
I know how daunting it is to start your own biz, or to quit your corporate job (or both, ya, I’ve done it!).
And if you haven’t done it yet, but are thinking about it, what’s stopping you? I’m gonna guess it’s probably money. Knowing that your steady paycheck is gonna be out the window, and you have to rely on being able to get some clients to make any money.
That’s a lot of pressure.
I see a lot of brave, seriously talented and deserving people take the plunge, and not find much success. I’ve realized more and more in this small biz world, it’s not about how talented you are (but I’m sure you are) it’s about how much you work for it.
You can’t just start a business, post about it on Facebook once and expect people to come to you.
You have to work really hard for clients, especially in the beginning, because they don’t come easily.
But a bit of hard work in the beginning is the price you’ll have to pay if you want to run your own business (ps. It’s totally worth it).
And I can pretty much guarantee, as long as you put the hard work in, (and have just a little bit of talent, seriously, just a little bit is fine) you will get clients.
Once you start getting the clients, everything gets a bit easier and less stressful, your business will start to grow, and you’ll be able to pay your bills - win!
I get asked all of the time how I get clients and how I started my whole business (that’s a story for another day) and it’s not a quick answer, so I thought I’d get into all of the deets here on my trusty blog!
This post is about how I got clients right at the very beginning of my business, and although my business has grown a lot and I get more than enough clients now, I still use all of these strategies.
Tell everyone, and tell them again:
The fastest way to get clients in the beginning is by reaching out to family and friends.
Your family and friends will be your biggest cheerleaders, they want to see you succeed! (If they don’t, time to replace them...).
Not only will they be potential first clients, but they’ll also be the first people to refer you to their friends, or share your social media posts.
They’re going to be super helpful. You would do the same for them, wouldn’t you?
I know, it’s pretty daunting telling everyone that you’re starting a biz. To put so much pressure on something that may not work? It’s a bit stressful.
I remember feeling like if I told everyone and then my business failed, that I would be totally embarrassed. But here’s the thing, if you DON’T tell anyone, your business WILL fail.
Utilize your existing Facebook friends as potential clients. Do you see someone starting a new business? Private message them and see if they need a VA! Is someone getting married? Private message them and put your name in the hat for their wedding photography! Seriously, you have to have no shame here.
If you meet someone and they ask you what you do, tell them that you run your own business doing “......”. Don't underplay it!
When I started my business I didn’t preach it enough. Though, as soon as I told people, I got a bit of work lined up with family members, and my Dad also hooked me up with his business partners for even more work. Having this work in the beginning really tied me over for the first few months while I could work on getting more clients.
Build a portfolio:
No one’s going to want to work with you if they can’t see any previous experience or examples of your work.
(The only people who might consider working with you regardless of this are your friends and family. OR people who are getting your services for cheap or free.)
However you do it, you need to work hard to build up a portfolio before you get clients.
Create portfolio pieces from personal work, hobby projects, work you’ve done for family and friends for free or cheap. As long as it shows off your skills, experience and capability to your potential clients, then it belongs in your portfolio!
Create pieces that reflect the kind of clients you want to attract and the kind of work you want to be doing.
If you really want to be a wedding photographer, don’t go photograph a bunch of birds and put them in your portfolio. Photograph your couple friends, or take photos at a friends wedding.
Once you get the clients, your portfolio will build itself! Until then, this is an important step you need to complete before your potential clients will take your seriously.
When I first started I spent hours creating “mock” pieces for my portfolio. I created web designs, logo designs and brand designs and started sharing them everywhere, just as you would with regular client work. I spent the first couple of months in business creating pieces that would be for my *dream* clients. And it totally paid off. Once I had a full portfolio, people could see the style and quality of my work, and trusted that I was capable to do it. I’m still getting enquiries complimenting my “mock” portfolio pieces today, nobody really knows that those pieces weren’t even for actual clients!
Create a website:
Don’t freak, this step doesn’t need to be too complicated. A basic, clean website that shows off your portfolio, services, contact details, and about you, will do.
If you’re planning to offer web design as a service you might want to have a bit more fun with this step, but if you’re a VA, Photographer, Copywriter or anything else where you don’t need to show off you web design skills, a simple website template will be your best friend.
You need to have a website. People will not trust you or take you seriously as a business if you don’t have a website. Can you tell how passionate I am about this one?
You can’t miss this step. Seriously. If you plan to miss this step, you probably won’t get clients.
I use Squarespace for my websites, and if you’re planning DIYing your website, I totally recommend it. It’s fast and easy, and you can make a really simple and great looking website all by yourself, for a very competitive price.
Check out my Squarespace templates for a really simple, affordable and fast solution to getting a website set up for yourself!
In my case, I was offering Web Design services, so my website was a little bit more than a basic portfolio. Plus, I’m an online business, my website is my store front, so everything I do in my biz goes on to my website. I had a website before I had anything else, and all of my clients come through my website. Seriously. Important. Step.
Get on Social Media:
You’ve probably already done this, but if you haven’t, go and get your business signed up on Social.
Now, don’t get this confused with posting on your personal Social Media accounts about your new business. I want you to sign up to business accounts with your business name and details.
It’s free and it’s easy to get signed up. It increases your trust factor, your legitimacy and of course your reach. The more places you can be, the more potential clients you’re going to find!
But don’t go signing up to every social media platform just because you can. I recommend only signing up to the platforms:
That you like. If you don’t like a platform, you’re not going to be good at using it for your business
Most importantly, where your potential clients are hanging out. Are they on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn?
Pick a couple of platforms, research the best strategies, and do them well.
In my case, I chose Instagram first. I just always loved Instagram, and I knew that’s where my dream clients were hanging out. I’ve looked up Instagram strategies and have been working hard at growing my Instagram since I started it. I have a Facebook page too, but honestly I don’t do a whole lot on there, I just share my posts from Instagram, and use it as a place to collect reviews from clients.
For this step, you have to make sure you choose the right social media for you, don't just copy what I have done, otherwise it just won't work!
Blog and create awesome free content:
This is a step I think a lot of people overlook, and a step that I owe a lot of my business success to.
From the beginning of my business I have been blogging with educational content multiple times a week and creating freebies for my readers.
Blogging is time consuming, and sometimes pretty boring TBH. But, it brings in traffic (aka potential clients). It increases your trust factor. It shows to people that you’re an expert in your field. And all of those things together are a recipe for landing a new client.
Along with blogging, I create free downloadable content. With all of the freebies and free education on my blog, people visit. And the more eyes on my content means more potential clients.
I get around 30,000 + views per month. Most of that is from people coming to check out my blog and freebies. There’s NO way I would get even close to those numbers if I wasn’t blogging a lot. I believe there’s no way my business would be as successful as it is without blogging.
If you don’t know much about blogging, or why you should be doing it, I recommend reading this post for all of the best strategy behind blogging, because there is some! (aka, don’t just blog about your cats):
Post all of the above onto Pinterest
Create a Pinterest for business account. Post everything you do onto Pinterest. Blog posts, portfolio pieces, Instagram posts, facebook posts. Everything!
Pinterest is a incredible tool for getting traffic to your website. You can share something on Pinterest and it literally can live forever.
It’s free, easy, and incredibly effective.
This doesn’t come under the “Sign up to Social Media” section. Pinterest requires a section of its own. This also shouldn’t be an optional step. If you have a website, and you want to get eyes on your stuff, you should be Pinning to Pinterest.
I average around 400,000 views per month on Pinterest. That’s 400,000 new eyes on my content every month!
I’ve been using Pinterest to promote all of my content since day one of my business. It takes a while to get some traction, but once you have it, and have enough content floating around on there, you’ll be amazed at how many people are coming to your website through Pinterest.
If you want to know my complete Pinterest Strategy, check out the post below (I highly recommend you read it!)
The only reason I wouldn't spend time on Pinterest is if your target audience DEFINITELY isn't on there. But you'd be surprised to see the range of audiences Pinterest has!
Go above and beyond
Once you score your first client, make sure you go above and beyond for this client. And your next one. And your next one!
This will at least lead to a raving review, it probably will lead to more future work from them, and they will be willing to refer you on to others.
You need to over deliver on everything. Do you best to knock your first clients out of the water.
I mean, really, you should do this with all of your clients. But when you're first starting, I see it as totally OK to do a bit of free overtime or extras. You’re just starting, so as long as you’re learning in the process, and getting some great reviews, experience and portfolio pieces, then it’s worth putting in the extra unpaid time.
When I first started, I did anything and everything for my clients on their small budgets. I bent over backwards for them. I still bend over backwards for my clients, but now I make sure that I get paid for my extra time.
Making sure I gave my client a “premium” experience was more important to me than making good profit. I wanted to give my clients something to rave about. So then when I did put my prices up, people were willing to pay for it because they knew they were going to get a great experience.
You will likely be lacking a bit of confidence and experience right now. Even if you’ve been working on your craft for your whole life, you’re probably still not confident at running a biz, working one on one with clients or perfecting your process and systems. This all comes with experience. And it definitely WILL come. But until you have your processes seamless and clients fighting to book a spot with you, you’ll need to work your butt off to please them.
Define your Target Audience
Controversially, I have put this point at the end of the post.
Most people in business say that defining your target audience is something that you need to do before you even start. And I agree with that, mostly.
But to be honest, it’s not something I really did when I first started.
I didn’t know who I wanted to work with. I had a rough idea, I knew I liked working with females, and small businesses were perfect for the services I was offering. But that’s as far as I went at defining my ideal client.
This step is really easy to put off, because sometimes when you’re starting a business you just want to start the thing, and you want to be able to just go with the flow! (That was totally me anyway, in business, and in life...)
You hardly even know what services you want to offer let alone where your apparent ideal client likes to shop.
I believe you can put this off for a while. But not entirely.
Use the beginning of your business to feel out what you like to do and who you like working with. This will all come together with a bit of time and experience working on different projects and with different people.
You’ll eventually realise what you enjoy doing most, and who you like working with, and your business will start to really take shape then.
If your someone who knows exactly what you want to do and who you want to serve, move this baby right to the top of the list! Define your ideal client and then go from there. Because it’s so much easier to do all of the other steps if you have an audience in mind.
But if you don’t yet, that’s OK too. Because that’s what I did, and I’m proof that it can work!
But, you will have to define your audience eventually if you want to land your dream clients.
For me it was simple. I was probably about 6 months into my business and I wanted to expand my services and offerings, and I just knew exactly who my target audience was. It had finally just “come” to me, and I was ready to put it on paper. So I (literally) got out a piece of paper and I wrote down every little thing about them.
I felt really great once I had this down. Every business decision is easier to make now. My business is much more focussed and more successful. All of the points above (social media, the website, blogging) have much more direction now, and are more effective now I’m targeting my ideal client.
This is a REALLY important step. And you HAVE to do it if you want long term success in your business. But I understand if you have to feel your way through it for the first few months.
So, quick recap, this is how you get clients:
Be confident to tell your family, friends and every man and his dog what you do.
Build a nice big impressive portfolio, even if you haven’t done any work for clients yet.
Create a nice website that has all of your details (about, services, portfolio, contact) on it so potential clients take you seriously. Keep it simple and easy to navigate.
Sign up to social media, read up on the different strategies and go implement them.
Write blog posts and create content that will be relevant helpful for your potential clients.
Post all of your stuff on Pinterest to get more eyes on your content.
Work your a** off for your first clients and leave them so impressed that they tell all of their friends, leave you amazing reviews and hire you again.
Define your target audience. Somewhere along the line, start refining your ideal client. This will take your biz to the next level and attract *dream* clients!
That’s everything I did, and look at me now mom!
One last thing: keep at it. If you’re not getting any clients yet, use that free time to be doing one of these other things! Don’t just sit around, clients will not just come to you. This is the best time to be out there promoting yourself. There will be a couple of months where you have less clients than you want, but you need to use that spare time to work on these things.
Because if you do, soon you’ll have so many clients that you have no time left to do any of the above *points to self*
I hope you learned something from this post, if you made it to the end, kudos to you and great first step! You’re probably gonna be awesome at this biz thing, there’s a lot of learning involved!
Now, go out and get some clients!
Oh and make sure you let me know how you go in the comments below :)