Last week, we talked about The Imposter Inside you, a.k.a. “Imposter Syndrome” where you feel like a fake, but you really aren’t. The week before that, I shared with you A Comprehensive Guide To Outbound Prospecting to help you contact new potential clients via email and start building what we call in the agency business a “sales pipeline,” a list of potential prospects who might become a client.
Now that you’ve slain your inner imposter (you did the video exercise from last week’s post, right?), and you have an outbound prospecting process, it’s time to pursue clients and start building out that sales pipeline. Both beginners and veterans in the agency business need to do this to thrive and hit their net profit targets, but…for the beginning freelancer, consultant, or agency owner getting those first 10 clients is a big obstacle.
In this post and video below, I’ll share with you my personal story on how I quit my first job, landed my first client, and then parlayed that into my next 10. I’ll also share with you tips on how to get your first ten clients too. Even if you’re a veteran agency owner, you’ll find this video and post useful because the principles I talk about are universal across experience levels and niches. For example, if you’re looking to expand your service offerings and test the market then you’re going to have to find your first client for that service offering, and the next ten after that to see if the service will return a profitable return on investment in your business. Different stage in business, same principle.
Here’s how I landed my first client and the next ten after that:
Expanded Video Transcription
My first ten clients
When I first started freelancing, I was still working a full-time job as a systems administrator for a school district in Minnesota. Now I got this job after college, so like most, I had financial debt. The debt burden was crushing me. I wanted to escape. I wanted to be free. I needed to do something.
Then one day someone asked me if I could design a website for them and without hesitation, I said yes!
I took the opportunity.
I ended up doing the website for about $25 per hour. It wasn’t enough to pay down my credit card debt, but it was enough to be occupied, and be busy and have something to look forward to, and this person ended up giving me lots of work. This same person also started telling their friends, and guess what? People started talking.
So, that first client ended up becoming the first three websites I ever did, and actually the first three paychecks I got as a freelancer. I also started thinking about what else I could do on the side to earn additional income.
I ended up telling everybody that I knew about how excited I was to work on developing websites that were optimized for search engines.
I was excited!
People started to notice. My friends would tell their friends that I was GREAT at getting search engine results even though I’d only done it a couple times and that if they wanted I could work on their website too.
In short, I basically started doing SEO optimized website design for people on the side. I did as many gigs as I could get. Eventually, one gig became two gigs then it became three gigs soon I had other gigs doing other stuff. I was doing websites for restaurants. I was doing sites for home improvement companies. Basically, anyone who would listen to what I was doing.
And you know what happened over the next 12 months?
Eventually, I had five to ten clients that were paying me a good amount of money, enough money, that I was pretty confident that I could quit my job, and be a freelancer full-time.
It took me about 3 – 6 months from the time I landed my first client to start contemplating quitting my job. It took another 6 months to actually plan it out and finally walk into my boss’s office and do what every employee wants to do.
I told him, “Hey, I’m done. I’m leaving.”
The funny thing was that I thought my boss would be really upset instead he replied with:
“No this is great. It sounds like you thought this through, and like you have a lot of momentum. In fact, I would like to hire you as a contractor. I would like to have you keep your job, work fewer hours, but still get paid the same rate you are getting paid, and you can work from home, and you can work for us for another 6 months and have none of the stress of going into the job.”
I was surprised! I thought my boss was going to take my departure as bad news, but instead, my employer became an anchor client.
So that’s how it ended up happening with me to get my first ten clients.
Basically, I just kept on working hard, kept on telling everybody that I knew I was open for business. People started wanting to help me out, and they began to say to people that I was open for business too. They began to believe the results I was generating.
I started to believe the results I was generating – which is really funny because at first, I was like, “Yeah I think that I know what I’m doing,” but I wasn’t one-hundred percent sure, yet you do something enough times that you start to believe in yourself. That’s key when you’re starting out.
When you start to believe in yourself people want to work with you. People want to work with you all the time. Soon I went from pretty desperate to get out of debt to having my pick of high-quality clients. It didn’t take too long in the scheme of things.
It took me one year to get on my feet then the first year after that I had BLOWN away my original salaried income and paid off all my debt.
YOU can do that too!
4 tips to help you get your first ten clients
1. Find ONE client and declare you’re open for business
It all starts with getting one client. You need just one client to get started. Once you have one client, you can declare you are open for business like I did.
Talk about it.
Talk about it with everybody you can.
Share it on LinkedIn.
Share it on Facebook.
Let people know you are open for business.
Put yourself out there.
Tell people you’re ready to take on projects of your choosing. Tell the people in your network, it can be friends, co-workers, family, etc. Go to happy hour, go to events, go to trade shows, and tell people what you’re doing. That’s what I did, and it worked. I told everybody I knew in-person what I was doing for business, and it was enough for me to get going to start turning that one client into multiple clients.
2. Find an anchor client
An anchor client is somebody who you’ve worked with in the past and is willing to take a chance on you, and give you somewhere from 80 – 100% of your target income, but only make you work 50% of the time. When I first started freelancing, my employer became my first anchor client. You can do the same.
After you get your first anchor client, your next focus should be on getting past one client and having your first ten clients.
Treat each opportunity as a unique learning experience. Each unique experience molds you. It’s what makes you who you are when you’re in business, so if you take experience working on a website in one case or doing a search program or editing a blog, every one of those projects that you can do that someone pays you for is an experience you can learn from. Some of the things you’re doing you’ll notice you don’t like doing them, while others you’ll gravitate towards.
Having your first ten clients will show you which projects you have an affinity for.
Don’t focus on maximizing revenue right away. When you start freelancing or consulting you should optimize for learning and building relationships.
You really want to build relationships. You want people to know who you are, what you do, what you’re passionate about, and most importantly that you can deliver results.
You don’t have to maximize revenue in the short term because honestly it’s probably not going to be me much anyway. The revenue will come over time, and it will be significantly more valuable than anything you can do when you’re first getting started.
When you’re trying to get your first ten clients, it’s better to be cheap to get your foot in the door,
3. Play the long game
Think about it this way, you want to play the long game. You want to grow your experience, and you want to get to the point that everybody loves working with you.
Eventually, your first client will turn into three, then seven, and then ten. Suddenly before you know it you have 10 clients, and you have 10 experiences you can draw upon in your business to analyze patterns on what type of work you like. You can start to connect the dots, and say “I’ll never do this again” or “I think this is going to work out for me.” or “I’m drawing the line here, these are the only projects I”m going to take moving forward.”
After some time, you’ll be able to pick your niche and charge more, but you need to have at least 10 client experiences to know. Your first ten clients are going to tell you the direction of where your business is headed.
4. Be patient
Remember you are going to be there soon enough. You are going to have plenty of time to grow in the future. When you start your business, everything feels urgent, because you might think it’s not going to work out but if you stick with it and follow the tips I shared you’ll get to the point where you have your first 10 clients.
- Declare open for business and find your first client.
- In the beginning, it’s okay to be cheap to get client number one.
- Parlay your first client into your next ten.
- Optimize for learning and relationships, the revenue will follow later.
- Be patient and play the long game.
So, I’m curious…
Where are you in your business? Where are you on your journey?
Let me know in the comment section below this post.
This post and video was episode 13 in our 90 Day Challenge digital marketing series.
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