One of the things many business owners struggle with is getting consistent clients. It isn’t a secret that word-of-mouth referrals are the strongest way to build a business. I have gone from in-house to freelance, to now running a full-service boutique agency built on strong relationships and referrals. My current clients always recommend new leads that will benefit from our creative solutions, are trustworthy and are a great personality fit for our team.
I have grown my business from the ground up relying on these strategies for attracting new high-quality clients, increasing word-of-mouth recommendations, and providing services that take clients beyond one project and into years of retention.
These strategies for growing your client list are proven and built from my own personal business success stories. You never know who will turn into a new client, when you are planting the seed for a large-scale VIP client down the road, or what crucial insight your client can provide you to prepare the strongest referral proposal. At every step, it is important to build genuine connections and use these strategies to grow your client list and your business.
Be helpful in casual conversation
Not every potential client has to start with a proposal, estimate or contract. Have you ever been getting a chiropractic adjustment and they ask you about a booth for the local marathon? Or been getting an acupuncture treatment and they ask what you think about their outside sign? I have. I answered, and gave them some additional ideas, and you can too.
Being helpful in casual conversation is effective. Now my chiropractor and acupuncturist, along with many other service providers are my clients, and they are great clients because it started with a genuine connection, trust, and helpfulness. When they had a specific project in mind and a budget, they knew who to reach out to. Which one of your service providers could use your creative abilities? Or a better website experience? Or content created to cut through the clutter and get noticed? Reach out to them or bring it up casually when the opportunity comes your way.
Count on your clients to always give the best referrals
There is something very powerful about building your business on referrals. Your potential client is already listening to their trusted sources speak to your quality of service and high-level creative solutions. That goes a long way while they are searching for an agency or reviewing multiple proposals. If you haven’t had any referrals yet, sometimes you just have to ask. Tell your best clients you have an opening in your schedule or give them a few extra business cards and let them know that you wouldn’t mind if they gave your number out to people that would be a great fit for your business.
Cultivate strong relationships and lay the groundwork
Have you dreamt of being an entrepreneur or a freelancer? You can work towards this goal while you are an employee without breaking any company rules. Before opening my own business, I worked with two in-house teams for over five years each. This gave me the experience to understand every aspect of a brand and allowed me to build strong relationships with industry professionals now within my vertical of services. I freelanced for both organizations after leaving and the connections I made that have moved on to new companies are now my clients. By laying the groundwork and continuing relationships, they will often reach out to you. Previous years of high-quality service and experiences are an easy sell to the decision makers when they are looking for new contractors or agencies. Who have you loved working with in the past? Connect with them today. Tell them you’ve enjoyed working with them in the past and let them know you are accepting new projects.
Connect with old friends and acquaintances
One of my favorite VIP clients developed from running into an old friend from college and reconnecting over lunch. Out of this lunch conversation came the question, “Do you know any freelancers?” Five years later, and countless creative projects later, we are still providing solutions as a strategic partner. Relationship building at every level is important. Reach out to three people and invite them to coffee to catch up.
Be positive, a go-getter and up for a challenge
Clients are often looking for a full-service agency to tackle multiple projects and provide solutions as a one-stop shop. Being excited about tackling new projects goes a long way with clients. Let your enthusiasm for what you do and the projects they have shine. Often this means being up for a new challenge of something new while capitalizing on your strengths or leaning on specialized contractors. Having a strong network of contractors can help you provide solutions to projects that are outside your skillset or in areas of necessary company growth. Your power might be in saying “no”, but in my experience, the largest areas of personal growth and business success have not come from saying “yes”, but saying “absolutely” with excitement. Then getting the project done while exceeding expectations.
Be a servant leader
Volunteering your time to an organization you are passionate about, serving on a board of directors or being a part of a community organization not only feels good but also strengthens your relationships with like-minded people. Someone will always go back to their CEO and vouch for you as a person and how they could use your skills as a contractor. Personality and culture fits are very important to organizations and connecting with individuals outside of the business walls is important.
Having a conversation without any expectations
Great clients can come from attending events or conferences, and with an open mind, a lead can happen when you least expect it. Strive to make stronger connections with individuals and put in an effort to stay connected through social media or if they are local, ask them to coffee, lunch or happy hour. You will end up having a great conversation and collaborative opportunities might come from it. General curiosity or empathy in certain industry conversations can lead to finding out what they are looking for in an agency or freelancer and how your unique talents might apply as their creative partner or collaborator. Understanding the qualities that make up your best clients or collaborators will help you recognize these attributes early when you meet someone that has great potential. Reach out to these connections periodically to see what fun things they are working on, or areas they might need your help.
The hiring process can be slow, and many companies struggle with the overflow of creative work when they lose an employee. If you are a freelancer, this can be a perfect opportunity to connect with people in your network to offer your expertise. More often than not, you will stay on as a specialized contractor to help during the new employee transition or for longer on certain projects that are perfect for your skillset.
Being open about what you do, who you work with or responding to industry questions within your social networks can be great ways to find new clients. Do people know you create and host websites? Or provide strategy, design or creative solutions to businesses like theirs or their employers? Show how you offer a unique set of services, provide value to your friends and followers and take time to learn what sets their business apart from the rest. Even listening to their pain points can easily allow you to offer a solution or provide a wide variety of ideas that can turn them into a client. Don’t forget about your strong personal network and they won’t forget about you if they are struggling in an area that they know you excel. They will reach out and ask for your help.
Getting clients consistently doesn’t have to be a huge struggle. Follow the action steps in this article and get clients coming in today!
- Being helpful in casual conversation or reach out to your network providers
- Tell your best clients you have an opening in your schedule
- Connect with people you have enjoyed working with in the past
- Reach out to three people and invite them to coffee to catch up
- Say “absolutely” to the next project that provides strategic growth
- Connect with individuals during servant leadership
- Have genuine conversations about business without any expectations
- Offer your services during company transitions
- Don’t forget about your strong personal network
I am excited to hear how these proven strategies have worked to grow your client list, what you are excited about implementing, or even which ones have worked for you in the past, reach out and send me a tweet @katieelenberger and let’s chat.
I look forward to sharing my next article on strategies for client retention with you to foster further business growth and less stress about worrying where your next client will come from but keeping the great ones you already have.