A few weeks ago, I did a video about how I would make $10,000 if I had to start over from scratch (you can check it out here if you’re interested). My biggest recommendation for hitting a certain income level quickly? Offer a service and work directly with clients until you’re in a spot where you’re financially able to invest in passive income. And I got a LOT of questions on this video asking me how to get your first client… so we’re diving into that today.
How to Get Your First Client
Want to watch a video version of this post? I've got you covered!
I talked specifically in this video a few weeks ago about how I would start a service. There were a lot of questions and misconceptions about starting a service in the comments on my last video. A lot of people assume that they need an audience to market a service – and the truth is, you DON’T!
The reason that I said you should start out by offering a service rather than trying passive income strategies (which I love) is so that you DON’T have to have an audience. Growing your audience takes a long time and requires that you throw some money behind it. If you start with a service-based business, you can start with 0 followers and make $10,000 per month.
There are people who make multiple six-figures every year without having a single social media platform that people follow them on. I have hired OBMs and VAs who do services because I know that they're good at what they do – not because they have an audience. Those are two totally different things.
So what do you need to do to get your first clients when you start offering a service? Let’s talk about it!
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How to Get Your First Client when Starting a Service-Based Business
Stop freaking worrying about the things that do not matter.
This is the first and MOST IMPORTANT piece of advice I have for you. What are the things that don’t matter when you’re getting that first client? Your website. Your social media. Growing an audience. Having an email list.
Those things do NOT matter when you need clients to make money. When you get that first client in a service-based business, it’s easy to get your second. Then, it’s easy to get those next two clients after your first two and so on.
Don’t worry about that social media platform you want to be on, or how to grow on Facebook, or that webinar you want to host in six months. Focus on getting that first client.
When you have removed those things that don’t really matter, it will be easier to get clients. I know people who have gotten their first clients from a proposal that they sent via a Google Doc. There are people who have client-based businesses who don’t even have a website. The important thing is that you have the skills to give to someone who needs those skills.
Put your feet to the ground.
What does that even mean, Jessica? Easier said than done.
Let me explain.
There are three or four real ways to put your feet on the ground, so I’ll cover each one in detail. You’re not making pretty Instagram posts and hoping people will hire you, or building the most beautiful website in the world and hoping that people will magically find you.
The world is different these days. Even pre-COVID, the world was different. We don’t network in the same ways that our parents or our bosses did.
Networking is any way that you can get yourself in the room (or digital room) with people who might want your services and knock their freakin’ socks off.
This could be a Facebook group full of your ideal clients where you consistently answer questions about your service without being pushy. Maybe it’s a literal networking event (when we actually get to do those again). It doesn’t really matter! In some way or another, you need to network.
You absolutely need to network with people who need your services. But you should NOT negate networking with people who do what you do/what you want to do. That can be just as important.
There were so many times when I was a web designer that I wouldn’t have time in my calendar to book someone as quickly as they needed. I wasn’t about to cross my boundaries and overbook myself. So, I would refer them to another web designer. How did I know those web designers would take good care of them? Because I had met them virtually or in-person.
Go out and network with people who need your services AND with people who do what you do.
I was listening to an episode of Rick Mulready’s podcast where he interviewed his personal copywriter. It turns out that he had reached out to another copywriter who couldn’t fit him into her calendar. She recommended another girl to him who she thought would do a really great job, who became his copywriter. Spoiler alert: the initial copywriter he reached out to didn’t actually know the person she recommended – she just knew of her work because she had seen her in other online spaces. Now, this girl got this MAJOR client in Rick Mulready from a referral when she was just starting out in her business.
Virtual networking has been around since I started putting my web design business online. You need to pick a handful of Facebook groups and be really engaged in there. Ask questions, be helpful, and make sure people get used to seeing your name in the group. (As a side note: don’t feel like you need to join 100 Facebook groups. Quality matters more than quantity here.)
I would recommend carving out 20 or 30 minutes – maybe even an hour depending on how hard you’re hustling – and do a keyword search for recent questions about your industry that you could answer. Show off your expertise! I do NOT mean for you to go into these online communities and spam with blog-post-length comments or just ask people to hire you instead of answering questions. What will get you hired is if you SHOW people how you can help them with their problem.
The person who’s questioned you answered may not even hire you. Someone else might see that post, recognize that you have skills they need, and hire you themselves. Having a great elevator pitch and showing that you are good at what you do will sell by itself.
I didn’t put confidence in this list – but confidence is CRITICAL, no matter what you’re selling. Even if you’ve never done the service before, if you are confident in your own skills and arsenal of awesomeness, people will notice. And they will not hesitate to hire you.
Let’s talk about the time I booked a speaking engagement after meeting someone for the first time at the after-party for an event…
If you don’t know Chris Krimitsos, he is amazing. He runs an event every year called PodFest. In the last several years, they have also incorporated a side event at the same time as PodFest called VidFest. They are targeted at podcasters and YouTubers. He has the sweetest wife in the world too, by the way. Her name is Katie Krimitsos and she hosts a podcast called Women’s Meditation Network that is lovely – you can check it out here.
I was at Social Media Marketing World last year. It’s the biggest conference for social media marketers that there is and it’s one of my personal favorite conferences to attend. It’s hosted by Social Media Examiner and Michael Stelzner, who is the creator of all the things. So I’m there and I’m networking like a boss. The group that I’m with gets invited to a very small and intimate after-party. While we were there, we ended up in deep conversations with Chris and his wife, Katie. At the time, I had somewhere around 30,000 YouTube subscribers.
I was talking to Chris about YouTube and explaining things to him confidently. And on the spot, without looking at my channel, told me he wanted me to speak at the VidFest portion of PodFest that year. The first time we ever met, he asked me to speak at his event.
I know that isn’t getting a client, per say, but networking got me a speaking gig. Not only did it get me one speaking gig, but it has actually secured me multiple speaking gigs. And I can’t even calculate how those speaking events helped me build my audience and how those people bought from me! That trickle-down effect all started by me going to this party.
You can do the same thing with your service. Go into the networking event or the party and be CONFIDENT. When people ask you what you do, don’t fumble and say “oh, I just run a little X,” or “I just started Y.” Confidently show up, explain what you do, and get that client.
Let people in your real life know about what you’re doing!
I know that this one seems really obvious, but two things often happen. One, people are afraid to let others in their real life know what they’re doing because they’re afraid of judgement. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! If someone doesn’t take you seriously or judges you for starting a business, then they weren’t going to send you business anyway. You don’t need those toxic people in your life!
You never know when someone in your real life knows someone who needs the service you’re offering. Your aunt that lives in Alabama has a best friend who needs copywriting services for her new business. That sorority sister from college might be working for a company who needs your services! Unless you put your business out there, you don’t know what people in your life might need.
Let people in your real life know what you’re doing! Post it on your personal Facebook page and personal Instagram. Tell people in your life to tell others about what you’re doing. The people who really show up and support you in life are going to be just as excited about this new thing as you are and they’ll go out and tell other people.
Make sure that people actually know about you.
I just said that you should make sure people in your real life know about your services, which is one way to get the word out. But there are 10,000 other ways.
Maybe you go speak at a Rotary Club event. You might not know a single person in the Rotary Club, but someone there who hears you speak might need to hire you or know someone else who does. Networking events can help you spread the word.
This one flows into the other ideas that we’ve talked about, but it’s so important. If people don’t know about you, they can’t hire you. You have GOT to make sure people know about you!
Cold pitch prospective clients. (Yes, I said cold pitch)
This is probably the most uncomfortable but coolest way you’ll get your first client.
Cold pitching is risky in that you take the time to do it and the person doesn’t even open your email or take your call. But cold pitching can also be really helpful and handy when you don’t have any other way to get clients.
Here’s the thing – you don’t JUST cold pitch. That feels sleazy.
First, if you’re looking to cold pitch a business, you might want to build a relationship with them or someone who works there before the pitch. That way, you have a warm relationship when you cold pitch, or at least have a foot in the door. If they have an Instagram account, you could start following them on Instagram and commenting on all of their posts or responding to their stories. Maybe you’re commenting on their YouTube channel. Start showing up as a follower online.
Another way to get your foot in the door is to build connections. If you are a copywriter and really want to work with a specific client, brainstorm ways to build relationships. Maybe you know that person X is on their team, and you are in a Facebook group with them. Start talking to that person on their team! That will make cold pitching easier.
Another great method for cold pitching is to perform some aspect of your service for free, without the potential client knowing about it. Then, send it to them with the cold pitch. I have seen this work time and time again with myself, clients, and friends.
Let’s say you’re a copywriter and you want to work for entrepreneurs. You could literally go to someone’s sales page, take a section of that sales page, rewrite it for them, and send it in a cold pitch. Let them know you wrote that for free so they could implement it and see if it helps make sales. If it does, you’ll be waiting for their call.
You don’t want to be rude. Telling someone they suck and you can make them better does NOT work. There are some great and kind ways to tell people that you think they can improve in a specific way, that you’re available to help them do it, and that you’ve even done something for them for free to show them how awesome you are.
I know several people who have been hired to turn people’s YouTube videos and podcasts into blog posts using this method. Imagine if someone is sitting there wishing they had someone to turn their other content into blog posts and then you send them an email with examples of how you have done just that.
Maybe you’re a web designer who wants to cold pitch. You could do a video website audit for potential clients. I used to do these often. Think of your ideal client, find five people who fit that description, and screen record yourself talking through some pages on their site. Tell them what they could be doing better on their site and how your services could help them without being too spammy or pushy. Bam, hired!
The examples I’ve given have all been with a B2B model, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take this same method and use it with B2C. Maybe you want to be a landscaper and you would love to work in a certain community in your area. You know that if you can get one client in that community, you can get five. Pick five homes that you think could improve their landscaping. Then, mock up a landscaping plan for them. Let them know that you would usually charge $500 or $1,000 for that service, but you knew that would love to see it and wanted to show off how amazing their front yard could be.
One more B2B example here because I love examples! If you want to be a social media manager, make a list of ideal people who you would love to work with. Then, go through their social media and find three-five things they could be doing better that would result in growth for their bottom line.
Getting those first clients isn’t about having a pretty website or nice social media feed. It’s about putting your feet on the ground, networking, telling people about what you do, and cold pitching prospective clients.