Ask anyone who successfully runs their own business, and they will tell you that building a clientele takes hard work and a little good fortune. My clientele has grown this year for which I am grateful. The truth is, I found most of my clients close to home.
This is what has worked for me.
I consider a neighbor to be anyone in my community, not just the guy next door. My first client was my son’s little league coach. That was over 10 years ago. We still work together weekly.
50% of my clients are either direct neighbors or referred by a neighbor.
Why neighbors are a great source for new clients
People want to work with people they know and like. Neighbors are easy to talk to. Here are some suggestions for turning neighbors into clients.
Be active in your community. If you’re a parent, take advantage of your children. Most young kids have a large network of classmates and teammates. Get involved with their school and sports. Meet your kid’s friend’s parents (which you should do anyway). Ask other parents what kind of work they do. Be sincere and show interest.
Tell everyone what kind of work you do. Find a way to work it into every conversation. Collect email addresses of your neighbors. Create an email newsletter that outlines recent projects and services. Send it to your neighbors.
Do some pro bono work for the local school or non-profit in your community. Make sure your neighbors know that you are the one behind the creative flyers, banners and newsletters.
20% of my clients are either someone I worked with or someone referred to me by a past co-worker.
If you are currently employed here is some advice. Consider every co-worker to be a potential future client, even the sales manager who makes unrealistic promises to close a sale and expects you to make it happen. I cursed plenty of salespeople when I was in my twenties. Now I am in my forties and I appreciate how valuable these old work relationships are for me today.
If you are no longer employed, or soon to be unemployed, set up a LinkedIn account. Find and connect with anyone you previously worked with in any capacity. Make sure your bio states that you do freelance work and are looking for new clients.
Club, Group or Meet-up
What are you passionate about? Find a group that meets to share the same passion. This is different than the local Chamber of Commerce. Business networking groups can be great resources for clients, but I personally don’t enjoy business networking. It feels too much like everyone is trying to sell each other their product or service.
I joined a fine art photography group because I wanted to find my inner artist. It was easy to make new friends because we all share the same passion. I’ve received several projects from these connections. Remember, people want to work with people they know and like. The more people you know, the more potential for new clients.
Marketing and/or PR agency
All marketing and PR people need creative people to execute their ideas. Connecting with someone in this field can really boost your client base.
I do work for a local golf company (referred by a neighbor client). Emails from this client were being cc’d to a PR agency. I realized my ad designs were being ordered and distributed by the PR agency, so I asked my client for an introduction. The PR agency has since hired me to create ads for another one of their clients.
I check craigslist once or twice a week and send resumes several times a month. About 98% of those emails get no response, but the other 2% have turned out to be really good clients. Reading craigslist postings can be frustrating and down right depressing but it takes almost no effort to email a resume. What’s that saying?, no pain, no gain 🙂
My resume includes references and a salary history. I send this to everyone whether or not they ask for it. If they aren’t willing to pay me what I am worth than why waste their time or mine?
Some Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t do free work for your neighbor because she is also your friend.
Do offer your neighbor a friends and family discount. Show the discount on your invoice so that she knows what a deal she got. Ask for referrals in return for the discount.
Don’t complain publically (facebook and twitter) about not having enough work or being broke.
Do advertise that you are actively growing your business and looking for new clients. Offer discounts for new clients.
All of this takes time and patience. Building a clientele is a lot like making a snowball, but you can get the ball rolling with just one client.
If you found this article useful or helpful drop me a note and let me know how.