A common misconception about running an online business is that the only way to make money and/or land clients is by advertising.
A lot of people, when they ask how I find clients online (or how clients find me), immediately attempt to answer their own question with “you must run ads, right?”
Much to their surprise, my answer is always the same: Nope. Never have.
Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of successful online entrepreneurs who are absolutely killing it with advertising, and one day I’ll probably use ads for some aspect of my business as well. But up to this point in my business, I have not spent a single penny on advertisements.
It’s not because I’m opposed to ads, I just haven’t had a need for them. Plus, for my current business model (one-on-one design projects) ads don’t quite make sense to me anyway.
“Why?” you ask…
Well, because my one-on-one projects are a really personalized experience… so it only makes sense that the way in which I acquire my clients should be as well. Even if I tried advertising, I doubt a one-size-fits-all advertisement strategy would work for my current business model for that exact reason.
So, how do I get clients online?
Let’s start with how I got clients at the beginning of my business, and then how I get them now.
How I got clients online when I first started my business – 2 Simple Steps
When I first got started designing websites, I could barely even call my business a business…
It was more like me fiddling around with website design because I thought it was fun, and wondering if anyone would ever pay me to do it.
At this point I hadn’t even created a whole website yet… only bits and pieces of one.
But I decided that I was ready to make a website for someone else so I did the only thing that made sense: offered my services to family and friends.
Step 1: Offer free (or discounted) services to select friends/family
When I was ready to start working on projects for other people, I reached out to a couple of friends/family that I knew had small businesses and asked if they needed a website.
I explained that I would happily create the website for them for free, all I asked was that after we were done they provide me with honest feedback on the process as a whole, and then a testimonial if they were pleased with the end result
(I may not have known what I was doing, but I knew my clients would be happy… because remember, I’m a people-pleaser to the max, and a total figure-it-outer. I quite literally wasn’t going to quit til I knew they were happy!)
And just like that, I was off to the races!
I created a total of 2 websites for free, and let me tell you… I felt like I was on top of the world after! Those websites were my pride and joy, and my clients absolutely gushed over them!
It was those two websites, along with the feedback from these first two clients, that then gave me the confidence to begin charging for my services.
CAUTIONARY TIP: This is also a good point to mention that you should NOT run around telling every human you know that you’ll do your work for free. Offer this to ONE, maybe two people to start. You’ll be surprised how quickly a project or two will help you gain the confidence to start charging. You don’t want to offer free services to 5 people, and then 3 people down start resenting the rest of them because you want to be paid. Start with 1 or 2 and go from there.
Step 2: Begin charging a small amount for services
With a little bit of real life experience under your belt, it’s time to start charging people for your services.
They don’t even have to know that you’ve never charged someone before. My first paying client still doesn’t know she was my first 😉.
If you’re not quite sure HOW to charge someone, I’ve been there. Check out my favorite business tools blog post to read about the awesome free way I now send clients invoices like a pro!
Start by charging people something… whatever amount you’re comfortable with. It doesn’t have to be an exorbitant amount of money, it just needs to be an amount you’re comfortable asking for.
Congratulations, you’re now getting paid!
Then from there, you can begin seeking more and more PAYING clients!!
PRO TIP: In the beginning, raise your prices aggressively.
Yes, you read that right. RAISE YOUR PRICES AGGRESSIVELY. You are in a serious stage of growth and are learning like a mad-woman, raise your prices frequently and significantly. You don’t want to be in the “building up to a price I’m happy with” stage for years. You want to raise your prices with every single big client project you get under your belt.
Now, let’s talk about two ways that I now gain clients since the early days of handing out my services like candy at a parade…
2 Ways to Land Clients Online
Over time, I’ve found 2 methods that work pretty well for my specific type of business: Facebook Groups and Referrals.
Let’s talk about how each of these plays a role in my business, and how you can use them too!
1. Facebook Groups
You might think that Facebook is dead, but for an online business I can assure you that Facebook is BOOMING… especially Facebook Groups.
If you’re not familiar with Facebook Groups, they’re exactly what they sound like: groups on Facebook, which generally have a common interest among members.
Facebook Groups are a very common place for people to ask questions, seek advice, share expertise, and even sometimes make new friends or land new clients.
I’m in a variety of different Facebook groups from female digital nomad groups, to website designer groups, to more business focused groups.
Personally, I join Facebook groups for the main purpose of being able to ask advice from others on certain topics, and return the favor when I can. I’m not there primarily to land clients, it’s just a happy outcome sometimes.
Before going any further I just want to say that I do not encourage you to join Facebook groups if your sole purpose is to find clients and make money.
People can tell, and that’s gross. Don’t be that guy.
Your primary focus of joining Facebook groups should be to help people out when you can, and seek advice when you need it.
Facebook Groups are a community, and the way to get the most out of them is to treat them as such.
The more often you help people out, the more you’ll start becoming recognized as a leader at what you do. THEN people may begin reaching out and asking for your (paid) help.
Plus you might make a few friends in the process… I have!
Another important thing to note is that not all Facebook groups will have people looking to hire you.
For example, I’m in a website designers Facebook group, and I expect to get approximately zero clients from this group ever because, well, website designers don’t need to hire me, a website designer.
The groups I find the most clients in are generally ones where I “fit in” with the members, but where my ideal clients also hang out.
For me, those are typically groups geared more towards creative women solopreneurs.
The reason those types of groups land me the most clients is because first and foremost, my ideal clients are in there. But second, because I’m in there often answering people’s questions and helping them with problems they’re having.
By doing this, people begin to recognize me as someone who knows their stuff, and someone they’d be willing to hire if/when they have a need that I’m suited to help them with!
Facebook Groups work well for me because I just generally enjoy helping people and giving advice, so it’s not much of a “chore” for me to pop into a couple groups and answer some questions every day.
But if you’re thinking that this might not be for you, let me introduce you to my second (and by far my most successful) way of landing clients: Referrals.
Referrals are the #1 way that I land clients in my business. Literally by word-of-mouth.
Sound simple? That’s because it is simple!
How does it work?
People trust other people that they know. And when those people are telling them “you HAVE to work with Corine, she’s great!” well, they’re going to be much more likely to believe that I AM great because it came from a trusted source.
My clients are often so pleased after working together, that they turn around and recommend me to any friends, colleagues, or acquaintances who are looking for a website or other design service that I offer.
And voila, more clients!
How do I get referrals?
Some people/businesses offer referral programs as an incentive to current or past clients in which they receive some sort of compensation (money, exclusive discount, gift, etc.) for referring new clients to their business. I don’t do this.
I’m not at a stage in my business where I feel financially available enough to offer a referral incentive, plus I’m just not sure how I feel about it in terms of it being bribe-y or not. *Opinion on that = still undecided*
For now, I prefer to get uninfluenced, totally free referrals from my genuinely over-the-moon clients.
This works so well for me, because like I said earlier – I’m a huge helper and people-pleaser… it’s in my blood to serve my clients to the best of my ability, and make them feel like they’re my absolute top priority.
From start to finish, probably my #1 priority of all client projects is the overall client experience.
Here are a few pointers to kick your client experience up a notch:
- Be an A+ Communicator – Tell clients what they can expect from you, and when. Keep them in the loop the whole time… you may know your process, but they don’t.
- Make their life easy – Be accommodating! Simple things like re-sending a link instead of saying “see the link in yesterday’s email” can make a huge difference.
- Be flexible – Sometimes as business owners it can be tempting to feel we should put our foot down when clients don’t do things the way we asked. Be flexible when you can.
- Listen – If you disagree with a suggestion they have, offer your expert opinion and seek their feedback. If they still disagree, do what they want.
- Be yourself – Your client hired YOU, so be YOU. Be yourself, and have fun doing what you love. With a small business you have the advantage of being able to provide a really unique, personal experience. Do it by being yourself.
I never set out to build a business that would run primarily on referrals, that’s just kind of how it happened.
While I of course always aim to knock my clients’ socks off with the final outcome, I believe it’s truly the overall client experience that’s lead me to such an overwhelming percentage of referral-based clients.
What works for every business is different, but now you have TWO proven (totally free!) options for landing more clients right now.
Now get out there and land those clients! You’ve got this!