There are 3 stages to getting clients that you need to know if you’re completely new to freelancing.
I’m going to explain what all 3 are, and how you can start with the first and level up to the third FASTER than most other freelancers.
So, I’ve just started my 4th year as a freelancer this year and I’m just getting into the third stage that I’m about to tell you all about.
But I think you could get there much earlier and faster than I did if you follow the little freelancer recipe I’m about to share with you.
It’s my best advice to newbie freelancers or anyone struggling to get clients in their business.
And you could apply it to ANY business.
So, the first stage to getting your FIRST clients is based on the assumption that you probably haven’t got a huge online presence when you start out.
You have no client pipeline infrastructure built yet, in other words.
You’ve done a few blog posts here and there, randomly, maybe.
You have a small social media following, but you haven’t got an email list at all. Or if you do, it’s small and unengaged…
And you may have no idea of about how to systematically funnel new leads into your business. Yet.
What you need at this stage is two things.
NUMBER ONE: get your butt out into the world and meet people face to face.
It’s NETWORKING like a tight piece of yarn in your grandma’s knitting needles.
LOTS of networking events, big and small, though I recommend smaller ones over big ones when you’re a complete noob.
Meeting face-to-face is the fastest way people are going to be able to check you out and check your trust factor right on the spot. In real life, people’s intuitive sense about people can kick in and do the work of speaking for you and your integrity as a person. I found my first two clients at my first networking event, even though I was scared shitless.
I just happened to know a lot more about Instagram than the main speaker, though she built her local fruit and veg business with Instagram and had wild success with it.
When she couldn’t answer detailed questions about the platform, I spoke up to be helpful and by the end of the event people were lined up to ask ME questions about Instagram.
If you choose your network events around the things you know well but that will be filled with people who don’t know much about that thing, you can meet potential clients who will be willing to pay for your expertise or service.
Networking in person really is the secret ingredient in the ‘how to get your first clients’ recipe.
NUMBER TWO: use all that free time you will later never have again to focus on your web and social presence. Share what you’re learning online as you learn it.
Always, always, be actively working on your web presence, branding, and creating content somewhere where people can find it – and YOU.
So, stage one is NETWORK like a mo’fo until you get enough clients to keep you busy and off the instant noodle diet.
And start working on your basic web presence and lead pipeline.
Once you get those clients, serve them well so that you can level up to stage 2: referrals.
The trick to getting referrals is not just about doing the work well or getting it done on time.
That’s important, of course. We all know that one.
But the truth is that it has more to do with setting, upholding, and reaffirming boundaries and expectations between you and your clients with tact and empathy.
This is an art.
When it comes to freelancing, I think it is THE art.
It’s the trickiest part.
Most times, whenever I hear freelancers complaining about their clients, the real issue is that they didn’t have clear boundaries and expectations in place before they started work.
The questions you need to ask when you work with a client is what EXACTLY — in VERY clear terms, does the client need and want from you, and when and how?
And along with that, you need to set those work guidelines for your own business so that the client isn’t working with a bowl of spaghetti who doesn’t even know her own contract terms well, or what she does and does NOT do, and when and for how much, etc.
ASK the clients what they really need and want. Learn to dig deep into what they are actually asking for–they may not know the technical names or terms for things that you, the expert in the subject, understand.
Be a great guide for your client, not a task-taker. But be an even greater communicator.
LISTEN well with empathy and patience, and make clients feel secure and happy to have you working for them.
It doesn’t mean there won’t be issues–there will be–it just means you have a protocol in place for how to deal with the issues and smooth them out as quickly as you can.
Finally, set a point or a period of time after working with each client that you send out a feedback request form. Get your client’s feedback not only to improve your service, but also to have as a testimonial for your web presence.
Once you start getting more and more clients through referrals, you can start to level up to stage 3, which is to focus on attracting clients with that web presence and lead pipeline you’ve been working on all along.
By this stage in your business you should have a budding email list, optin offers to get leads, some monetized content, and a fledgling client attraction system in place.
Or, at least have a plan in your head, with plans to make it a reality soon!
But you may run into a few snags that may make stage 3 very difficult for you.
One snag is, you’re not going to have a lot of time!!
At this stage, if you’ve been solely focused on serving clients and neglecting your own marketing, it’s going to be a struggle to pull yourself out of the client workload to work on creating anything for yourself.
So at this stage, having systems and outsourcing to get help is an absolute must. You
can’t SHOULDN’T do this stage by yourself, and you can’t do it if you haven’t developed clear systems in your business.
And what I mean by systems is:
>A productivity system
>Content marketing system
>Social media system
>Loose paper and paper clip stationery system
You name it!
Systematize everything you have to do again and again.
I struggle with real guilt whenever I work on my own marketing, because as a social media manager, there is NO END to the amount of social engaging and content creating I could be doing!
But at some point the fear of my pipeline drying up overtakes my guilt and…
…well, here I am…
writing this blog post today!
Another snag is if you haven’t thought about who you want to work with and what you want your business to become.
At stage 3, you need total clarity on what the hell you’re doing with your time. You need total clarity on where you are going with all of it.
Who is your ideal or dream customer?
What does your future business look like?
You’re building an online empire, essentially. Your aim is to attract just the right kinds of clients to just the right kind of work you love doing.
Is everything you’re putting out there mirroring those goals?
I recommend getting a business coach at this point, to help you get some clarity and hold you accountable. If you can’t afford a one-on-one coach, join a small group session.
This is where I am right now, and it’s a very exciting place to be–I feel like I’m finally moving away from always working IN my business to working ON it a bit more, so it feels empowering and full of possibilities.
But it’s taken me 3 years to get to this point, and it’s not uncommon at all for it to take that long or longer for a freelancer who is new to an industry or profession.
The early years are a steep but necessary learning curve.
Now that you know these 3 stages, you can relax a little bit about some things you may have stressed about too early.
Like killing yourself in year zero trying to master how to get your first clients off the internet.
Every newbie freelancer wants to do that straight off the bat before they have built the basic foundations for attraction marketing.
They’re not ready – this shit takes time.
Having a strong web presence and marketing foundation in place takes time to build. It also requires knowing what all those parts are and then sticking to those BASICS. It requires not getting caught up in the fluff that doesn’t get any results.
Fluff like trying to get 10,000 Instagram followers just to get 10,000 Instagram followers. Or worse, having 10,000 followers and no opt-in.
Social media by itself is NOT marketing, it’s just an appendage to marketing. The spine of marketing is email–yes, EMAIL, don’t believe anyone who says it’s dead or that it doesn’t work!!!
And so, that takes me back to what I said in the beginning.
YOU could get to stage 3 faster if you learn to build your marketing foundation from day one.
Ok, so how are you going to get clients if you have ZERO right now?
Number One: get off your duff and network like you’re a cucumber sandwich ADDICT.
Number 2: serve clients with boundaries and a heart, and build your referral base with them.
And number 3: Ramp up your attraction-based digital marketing foundation with clarity, systems, and by hiring help.
So, what stage are you in right now and what do you need help with? Tell me below in the comments!
Want to learn more about marketing in a fun, no gobbledly-gook way?
First, sign-up to my FREE training, ‘The Essential 5: Foundations In Digital Marketing You Need to Build To Earn More Online’ that goes over everything above in more detail and with actionable tips. Fill in the form below to get it! 👇
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I’d love to help you build YOUR online empire this year!