A friend from college recently reached out to me on behalf of her boyfriend to ask about how to build a client base big enough that he could pursue his own consulting business. Admittedly, I’ve been very lucky in the past four months- every single client that I have has come to me, not vice versa. But, if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I believe in created luck: essentially, the concept that we create positive outcomes by being proactive.
Here’s what I recommend, based on my experience of building up a full client load in the first 2 months of starting CMR Strategies:
Build up network: Not, I repeat not, in the cheesy way you think of when you think of networking. Build real relationships- even if they’re online. Convey to people that you are willing to help them but please stay away from the phrase “How can I help you?” (Read: I’m saying that because I want your help).
Get on social: My friends like to remind me that social media isn’t for everyone, which I understand (I really do!). But if you’re hoping to do digital marketing and aren’t on social media- do it. Now. Be a resource- if you see someone looking for a website designer, connect them with one. Follow up with people you meet at networking events on Twitter. Follow hashtags to participate in conversations. Don’t expect an immediate pay off- but if you do it diligently, I have no doubt that it will pay off (shouldn’t Twitter pay me a commission?).
Shamelessly (and tactfully) promote: Guess how many people have emailed me to tell me about their exciting new business or lay-off? Zero. Guess how many I would have been willing to help? Anyone who emailed me! When I got laid off, I made the decision to tell everyone (seriously, everyone) and it panned out for me. Write a blog post, change your LinkedIn status, tweet about it, put it on Facebook, email your friends, family, and contacts- you never know who will see it and refer to you. Directly asking for help is underrated.
Reach out to businesses directly (and tactfully): Potential clients are everywhere- next time you notice a horrible website, a Twitter account with 23 followers and 5 tweets, or a non-existent blog, write down the name of the business and follow up with them to tell them about your services. Remember that digital marketing is a reflection of a business, so business owners may rightfully be sensitive- so be diplomatic!
Join a coworking space or digital marketing community: Working with referral/preferred partners is a very solid way to build your client base. People like me are overbooked and in need of talented professionals who can 1) take some of the workload and 2) contribute skill sets that we don’t have. Don’t view other people in the industry as competitors; view them as potential partners!
Read up- Then do! Use a feed reader like Feedly to subscribe to websites that you can learn from. Many sites like, Socia Media Today, are great for knowledge, but supplement those with sites that will give you ideas for building your business- like Brazen Careerist, where I recently read an article entitled 7 Innovative Ways Freelancers Can Find That Elusive First Client.
Consider a side hustle- If you’re employed and not ready to jump full force into a business, consider building up a side business before quitting. Calculate the minimum you can make to live comfortably, then set a goal to quit your job once you’re making that minimum just from your side business.
Start online: I prefer establishing what I consider more personal relationships with my clients, but there are tons of websites that can help build up your portfolio and earn you cash. Check out Odesk, Elance, People Per Hour, and FlexJobs for flexible, remote, and freelance jobs and projects.