You took the leap, you started a business — now how do you get your first clients? Bootstrapping your business often means you’re starting out totally on your own. You’ve got a handful of testimonials or maybe even a small portfolio, but then what?
It’s okay to ask for help! Or just ask around. Here were my top client magnets when I first started out:
No, really! They say never work with family, but it’s certainly a good place to start, even if just looking for referrals. When I started out, a friend who needed a website told me that she didn’t like doing business with friends because it’s bound to get messy. And believe me, without clear agreements, that is often the case. Especially if you are a helper by nature! But stick to your guts; this is a business, after all!
You can muddle through and learn from your mistakes, or you can hire a business coach and a good business lawyer to make this learning curve easier. My coach helped me to find languaging around how to say things like, “yes, and since that is out of scope, I’ll follow up with a quote” and “That’s outside my wheelhouse and I have a great person to refer that work to”. Saying “yes” so that it makes financial sense for you–and the best outcome for the potential client!–will ensure you don’t start resenting your clients. It will also help you deliver in a timely fashion because you have the budget to hire or delegate without needing to attempt to “cutting corners”.
White labeling is when you perform specialized work or supply product under someone else’s brand. It’s great because you don’t invest in the time it takes to sell your product or service and, although you often can’t use the work in your portfolio, it can create nice chunks of money that you can then reinvest into your own business and brand recognition. Look to forming relations with bigger companies that do what you do, and see how you can help them! Again, clear agreements will make this relationship sing.
There are many from which to choose, and I joined a lot to start in order to find the groups that suited me and my brand, best. I ended up liking many for different reasons. Some networking groups I joined to help me find white labeling relationships. Others to find clients. Know what your goal is and keep that clearly defined in your mind, then find groups that have your target market. Develop these relationships strategically. Sometimes that means slowly–very few people like to be sold to right away–and sometimes that means finding fast friends who have the same target market, but maybe offer a different service or product. Alliances are golden.
The best–and scariest–networking group I joined was BNI Grand Fortune City. My first thoughts were “sounds like a cult, I’ll never join.” But I did see value in becoming a guest, which you are allowed to do twice in a 6 month period. And that’s what I did. I didn’t really love how it was scripted and that everyone repeated everyone else’s tag lines. I didn’t like that people only had 60 seconds to speak. I was painfully shy and found it all nerve wracking. However, the members were friendly and I liked the pre-meeting informal networking. It became quite clear very soon the advantage of joining. In my mind, tracking referral results made figuring out the ROI easy. I joined, and within two years, 75% of my revenue was coming from my BNI chapter. The bonus? They teach you how to network effectively, and these skills helped me in other networking scenarios. Now, I am known as a connector, and I will never give up my seat.
Did I miss a great, cost effective way to generate clients that you found useful in growing your business? Leave me a note in the comments below! We’d all love to hear it. And if you’d like to join me at BNI Grand Fortune City, I’m always happy to bring a guest.