I tend to write about what’s going on in my life. For that reason, right now I’m constantly writing about my new business. I apologize.
As you regular readers of this blog know, I’ve already had to battle higher than expected start-up costs, knowledge gaps now that I have no support staff, and the expected self-doubt.
Yet, the hardest part of starting your own business is finding clients. As a late twenty-something professional who went “off on my own” without one single client, it was this worry more than any other that kept me up all night–and it is this worry that continues to keep me up at night even now, despite my finding some initial success. When I talk to my friends about the possibility of their starting their own practice one day, they always say the same thing: “I couldn’t do it. How would I find clients?”
I don’t profess to be a master at “rainmaking,” but here are some of the methods I have so far used to try and obtain clients, and the rate of success I have had with each. I have also rated each on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the highest, based upon time involvement, cash outlay, and overall effectiveness (and based only upon my own experiences).
1. Traditional Advertising – Advertising is difficult when you’re just starting out in a new business. It’s a low-time/high cost option, but most new business owners have more time than money. That said, I’ve tried to advertise here and there. It’s nothing that would excite Don Draper, but I figured a church bulletin here and a community college student newspaper there couldn’t hurt. Or could it?
Time Involvement: 3 Cash Outlay: 9 Effectiveness: 1
For me, I have yet to find a client from advertising. I suspect the advertising may help with visibility and that it takes several steps from knowledge to trust to purchase, but thus far this has been a big black whole of an expense to my fledgling business. As I sell high-priced professional services, perhaps advertising is less persuasive for my type of business.
2. Direct Mailings – Direct mailings can be effective, but it’s important to have a narrow target. Simply sending out a notice to everyone in your town may not be the most effective direct mailing method. An offer of a free consultation or some other “freebie” will assist in raising your direct mailing rate of return beyond the traditional 1%. Unfortunately, the cost of postage and the time spent in personally creating the mailings can be prohibitive.
Time Involvement – 7 Cash Outlay – 6 Effectiveness – 5
3. Referrals – The goal for any professional service provider is to create a referral based business. Referrals will be more likely to contact you and to then purchase your service. They are also more likely to treat you both with respect and in a professional manner. Although developing a referral system can be difficult, particularly in the beginning, it will likely be the lifeblood of any successful professional services business.
Some ways to find referrals are to utilize your natural network and to also try and get involved both within and outside your industry (think local Chamber of Commerce, local associations, church groups, rotary club, whatever interests you). Just remember to give more than you get and to not join anything just to try and find referrals. People will see through that. I also like going to lunch or coffee with people and trying to develop friendships. If they ultimately pay off with referrals or mutually beneficial business relationships, then that is all the better. The large majority of my clients have thus far come through referrals.
Time Involvement – 8 Cash Outlay – 4 Effectiveness – 9
4. Internet Presence/Blogging
As you’ve no doubt heard, today more than ever, people are turning to the internet to find EVERYTHING. If you’re in an industry that has been slow to move online, then you might be able to effectively utilize search engine optimization at little or no cost. Unfortunately, my geographic location and profession have made it difficult to rank in Google thus far. I’ve had a few clients find me through the internet, but the quality of those clients sometimes leaves much to be desired. That said, I know some people who are making a ton of money from their websites and blogs. But as I am basing my rankings upon my own personal experience:
Time Involvement – 9 Cash Outlay – 4 Effectiveness – 5
5. Speeches, Articles, Public Relations
As a professional, if you are seen as an expert within your field then that is more than 1/2 the battle. Writing newspaper columns, articles for trade publications, and/or giving speeches are just a few of the ways to show your expertise. They can also be tough to come by early in your career.
Time Involvement – 7 Cash Outlay – 1 Effectiveness – 8
For anyone who has started a business, how do my experiences mesh with your own? What is your best method for finding clients as a professional/provider of services?