How to Find Clients for Your Brand New Business
Probably the biggest concern and roadblock for many first-time entrepreneurs is how to find clients when they’re just getting started.
You have no email list. You have no referral system. You have…absolutely nothing.
I get it. I’ve been there.
There’s nothing more frustrating than launching your shiny new website, ramping up your social media presence, and hearing crickets in return.
The good news is that finding potential clients—or prospects—isn’t as mysterious or daunting as it may seem. But, you have to get creative, resourceful, and be willing to put in A LOT of boring prospecting work upfront.
If you’re a freelancer, consultant, coach, or creative, I’ve put together a diverse list of ways you can find clients. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Social Media. Let’s start with the first marketing strategy many people turn to: social media. While social media can be a great way to find and connect with potential clients (especially if you’re a B2C creative, like a photographer), you shouldn’t rely on it entirely. Twitter and LinkedIn, for instance, are great tools for supplementing other marketing efforts.
If you’re launching an Etsy shop, LinkedIn probably won’t be the best channel to leverage. But if you’re a freelancer or consultant, you need to get your profile to “All Star” status and optimize the hell out of it.
Make sure you have a clear, professional photo on your profile (those photo-less profiles aren’t doing anyone any favors!). Fill out every part of your profile—job history, education, skills, etc. Make sure as you populate these fields, you’re “spinning” them for the type of client you’re seeking.
In your intro area, pack your headline with keywords related to your services. For example, instead of just saying “Freelance Writer,” my headline says “Freelance Writer & Marketing Consultant | Copywriter, Blogger, Storyteller | Social Media & Content Strategist.” Keywords matter on LinkedIn; this is how you can get clients to find you!
Post updates about news or tips in your industry. Share blog posts you’ve written and articles you’ve had published. Take advantage of LinkedIn’s Pulse feature to increase traffic to your profile (you can even repurpose your blog content here).
Finally, join LinkedIn groups. There are TONS. And I guarantee there are plenty in your niche. You can join some groups related directly to what you do (say PR), but don’t forget to join groups related to who you serve. This is where your clients will be. Post relevant content within those groups, comment on others’ posts, and be helpful whenever possible. Engage and make connections. People will start to recognize you as the expert and the “go to.”
Again, add a good profile photo. This should go without saying for all social platforms. Like LinkedIn, make sure to include keywords in your bio that will help people find you. Add a link to your website or online portfolio. If you don’t have one yet, point to your LinkedIn profile! You just did all that work to optimize it; plus, it’s essentially an online resume where you share past projects and highlight your talents.
Share a mix of your content (blog posts, published articles, etc.), and content from others that your target market would find valuable. This will build your brand and authority. Don’t make the mistake of tweeting for other people in YOUR industry (example: you’re a photographer sharing content useful to other photographers)! Tweet for your ideal client. This is who you want to attract.
Another way to use Twitter is to connect with people who may be difficult to get a hold of via email. For me, as a freelance writer, it was sometimes easier to find and reach out to editors on Twitter. You should email them as well, of course, but communicating on an additional channel could help reinforce your brand in their brain. Plus, sometimes it’s easy to brush off an email, but social media tends to humanize us to others.
Ah Facebook. Where posts from small business pages go to die. Okay, that may be a bit dramatic, but unless they’re sponsored posts (i.e., you pay to promote them), it’s going to be hard to get your content in front of anyone when your business is still a baby. Even if you gained hundreds of followers, Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t prioritize your organic post in your fans’ feeds—they want paid content…surprise!
So you have couple of options. One: pay for ads. And two: join groups. Paid Facebook ads certainly have their place in the marketing mix, but if you’re just launching your one-woman-business, you could end up dumping a whole lotta money into ads for very little ROI.
Let’s talk Facebook groups. Like using LinkedIn groups for your prospecting, you’ll want to participate, engage, provide value, and generally just be helpful. Before long, people will be asking how they can work with you! A word of caution: You definitely don’t want to spam these groups with your offers. First of all, you probably won’t have much luck with that approach; secondly, you’re likely to get yourself kicked out of the group.
Instagram is still growing, and engagement there tends to beat other social platforms. But it’s definitely more time-consuming in some ways. You have to get your hands on quality photos day after day, you need to write compelling (usually longish-form) copy, and you have to utilize relevant hashtags if you want to see any kind of reach and growth.
It’s also not the top platform for certain niches. If you’re a photographer—a very visual line of work—using Instagram is a no brainer! On the other hand, if you’re an accountant serving lawyers…Instagram’s proooobably not your best bet.
All that being said, if Instagram appeals to you, you can absolutely use it to generate leads. Engage, engage, engage! “Like” and comment on photos posted by people in your target market. Reach out via direct message with something related to a recent post or Instagram story. Ask questions in your captions that encourage people to start a conversation with you. Build rapport.
The beauty of Instagram is that you can reach tons of people beyond those who follow you (for now anyway – knock on wood) by utilizing hashtags in your posts and stories, and by engaging with others #grammers.
Your Personal Network. Quite possibly the most overlooked and underutilized way to market your new business is through your personal network. How many friends do you have on Facebook? Contacts from previous jobs? Family members that might be able to refer you work?
Your friends and family may not have a need for your services, but they just might know someone who does. Reach out to your personal network via email, Facebook, LinkedIn, in person, wherever. Tell your professional colleagues your plans – you’d be surprised how many people might be able to make a recommendation on your behalf! You never know who your network knows.
Business Directories & Industry Lists. Want a super targeted way to find ideal clients? Who doesn’t?! Get your hands on even one business directory and you should be able to get enough work to keep you busy for a good while. Some lists you have to buy, but there are also plenty of places online you can mine for free. (Also, I know it’s, like, so old school, but the library usually has some, too.) Below are a few places I’ve used to find B2B clients.
My secret weapon. This massive online database from Inc.com contains the fastest growing 5000 companies in the U.S. and is updated every year. You can search the database by industry, revenue, number of employees…just about any metric you can think of. There’s so much useful information about each company, you should be able to do some super targeted prospecting.
Chamber of Commerce
Want to target local businesses? Check out your area’s Chamber of Commerce website. Anyone who’s become a member of the chamber will have their business information listed there. It’s usually broken out by industry, which is extra helpful. Starting local can be a good move, too, as people are generally more inclined to work with someone close by that they can potentially meet in person.
This one’s for the writers out there (shout out!). If you want to get your work published in consumer magazines and trade journals, grab yourself a copy of Writer’s Digest (and/or purchase the online subscription). Seriously, this will make your life so. much. easier.
Writer’s Digest lists publications by industry, and includes information like how much they pay, publication rights, the editor’s name, and what kinds of submissions they accept. This is how I landed my first-ever paid article! This gives you all the info you need to start pitching. What are you waiting for?
Networking Events. Networking events aren’t the most enjoyable thing for everyone—and they take a significant amount of time and energy—but they can be a great way to make a good impression and get your name out there. Just make sure you have some business cards ready if you take the in-person approach.
Chamber of Commerce
Again, check out your local Chamber organization. They typically have regular opportunities for business owners/members to get together and network. Sometimes they host bigger events as well. It’s worth looking into, especially if you live in a small town that doesn’t have a lot of other events come through.
Jump on Meetup.com and search your area for relevant events. There’s always something cool going on.
Like Meetup, Eventbrite.com hosts tons of events every single month. If you’re in a more urban area, you can find networking opportunities pretty much every week.
Search “Your City (or nearby cities) + Your Niche + Event” on your fave search engine and you’re bound to find a slew of events. Some might be hosted by the city itself, others may be sponsored by local businesses. This is obviously not the most efficient method, but you never know what you might find.
Old Fashioned Sleuthing. This approach can be a bit time-intensive, but the below are tried-and-true ways to find potential clients, particularly in the B2B space.
Google companies in your niche, find a contact name and cold email or call them. That’s literally it.
Wait…didn’t we already cover this one? Yes, but now you’re going to use it as a search tool. You can search jobs (including freelance gigs, contracts, and the like) and you can search companies in your niche. LinkedIn is a goldmine.
There are tons of job boards that list freelance and contract gigs, from Problogger to Upwork to Craigslist. Be cautious not to make this your entire client acquisition strategy, though, as there are often a lot of people vying for the same gig, and rates usually aren’t great.
I read a case study about a copywriter who leafed through magazines in her niche (equestrian publications, in her case) and wrote down all the companies who advertised in the magazine. Think riding clothing, equipment, horse care products, etc. She then reached out to those companies and pitched her writing services. Guess what happened? She lined up over $30K worth of work for the following three months!
Depending on your business model, this might be a worthwhile strategy. Think trade publications, consumer magazines, online publications—anywhere your ideal client may be advertising.
Advertising. If you’re willing to shell out some dollars, advertising is another way to go. This approach makes sense in some situations and not others; it all depends on what kind of business you’re running, who you’re targeting, and whether or not you’re ad savvy (a crappy ad or poorly placed ad won’t do you any good).
To be honest, as a newbie business owner, Google isn’t the #1 place I’d advertise if I was going to spend money on ads. If you’re not already a Google Ads pro or willing to hire someone who is, it can be quite a learning curve. But it’s an option, and depending on what kind of business you run, it might be worth it.
Want to start serving local clients? Consider placing ads in local publications. This is a good option for service providers like photographers, freelance accountants, web designers, marketing and PR consultants, coaches of all kinds…you get the idea.
Do you provide B2B services like graphic design for a specific industry? Your dollars may be well-spent with super targeted advertising in trade publications. There’s a pub for everything…boating, agriculture, construction…seriously, everything.
Remember those industry lists and business directories I mentioned earlier? Well, many of them offer advertising space or elevate/highlight your listing if you pay them. So if you can be strategic about what list(s) you appear in, this method might bring you some leads.
I’m not going to dive deep on Facebook ads here because that warrants a whole separate post (or let’s be real, series of posts!). But Facebook ads are BIG these days. Make sure to do some research on targeting and what makes a Facebook ad effective before you pour money into them, but don’t overlook the potential here.
Guest Posting/Getting Published. I’m sure you’ve heard about guest blogging and publishing as a way to build your audience and grow your email list. However, even if you don’t have an email list (though, you definitely should have one!), this strategy can help you attract clients.
Before I had an email list, I decided to start pitching some trade publications to generate awareness of my marketing and copywriting services and build some industry authority. I landed a successful pitch at HOW Design (and have since become a regular contributor). From that first HOW article alone, I had graphic designers reach out to me via email and on Twitter about helping them market their businesses.
My point is, you don’t need to get featured in Forbes or have a sophisticated list building funnel to make this method work for you.
Don't know what to pitch potential clients? I've got you covered!
I’ve got a swipe file of pitch emails that I’ve actually used to land clients – and it’s yours FREE!
Key Takeaways. Get creative and look for your ideal clients anywhere and everywhere they might “hang out.” Be there. Be present wherever your target market appears and you’d be surprised how many opportunities are out there. But don’t forget the most important step…
Take action. Reach out, engage, connect, and pitch!
In my next post, I’ll talk about ways to track and organize your leads, plus provide some tips for making contact. Keep an eye out for that in the next week or so.
What’s your best source of lead generation? If you’re still pining for your first client, pick three methods from the list above and get started TODAY – which 3 will you try?
Hi, I'm Erin!
I help creatives flee the 9-5, build businesses they love, and live life on their terms.
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