How to Get Your First Clients

Robert Williams

Here’s the thing. Getting your first clients is no different than getting your 5th, 10th, or 100th. So instilling some good habits for lead generation and selling to clients is a great idea. The truth is you can attract dream clients by doing a few simple things:

1. You Need Relevant Work Samples

If you know what type of companies you want to work for, your work needs to reflect it. I recommend removing everything that isn’t relevant to your ideal client and just keeping 1 or 2 great work samples.

If you haven’t landed any of these wishlist projects, you can still do this. Check out this article with some ideas for creating work samples that will attract your dream clients.

How to get clients with work samples

One way around this is to use side projects or fictitious work. So for example if you wanted to get freelance photography work for a Vogue? You’d need samples of photography taken in their style.

If you want to redesign Disney’s retail website, you need to create a sample retail brand website that reflects their preferred style.

Remember: your portfolio work samples tell clients you’ve done similar work and can do a good job on their project. It proves it.

So anticipating dream client needs and get a head start.

2. Pay Attention to How Clients Talk

Most people who are new to client work tend to talk about themselves. Our passion, our experience, our love for our craft. But that’s not what clients care about.

Clients, like all people, care about themselves. They care about their brand. The choices they’ve made in business.

That’s why using their words in your communication with them is way more effective.

For example, the voice, language, personality and style of the words you use to attract a dream client like Pixar is probably going to be different than what you would use to Nascar.

The key is these words don’t come from you. So figure out how your ideal clients are speaking then use those words.

How to get clients speak to them

This goes for all the channels you use to promote yourself, including social media.

3. Make it Easy for People to Give You Referrals

Getting referrals is probably the best way to get new clients. But most people take a very passive approach to them.

Instead, there’s two I’ve seen to increase the number of clients you get by referral.

  1. To simply ask every client for a referral.
  2. To get very specific about the type of work you do and the problems you solve.

Why? Because clients are people. They give referrals when trying to help other solve their problems.

By getting very specific about the work you do (ie. copywriting for real estate agents) and the problem you solve (ie. who aren’t getting 10-30 new leads from social media), you create a spot in your client’s mind that makes it easy to refer work.

How to get clients by using their words

It also helps to network with your “competition”. As we said at the start, there’s an overabundance of clients online. By cultivating relationships with others who have clients you want, you’re going to give them an outlet to refer overflow work.

4. Make a “Dream Client” List and Email Them

I like to email “warm” clients. These are clients that know they have a problem and are actively hiring to fix it.

You probably don’t need to go further than a few niche job boards to find a list of great clients to email. (We include a full list of tools and tactics for doing this inside Endless Clients.)

Remember that it takes about 30 emails to land one client – even if you write a great email. So don’t get discouraged. Here’s an awesome freelance email template you can use.

A few general tips for you:

  1. Do your research on the company first. Make sure you understand their goals, style, and values.
  2. Try to find an actual person, rather than a general contact email. If you can directly pitch the person who will make the hiring decision, that’s a better chance for you.
  3. Use a proven email template to make your pitch. This made all the difference for me.

Then remember to follow up with everyone. Even clients who reject you today, can become clients down the road if you build a relationship with them.

5. Figuring out what good clients want

The four steps above all focus on presenting clients attractive offers. So how do you tailor yourself to what dream clients are looking for?

First you need to understand what they’re looking for. What are their pains, hopes, dreams and fears? If you’re not sure, here are a couple places you can get clues:

  • Their job advertisements. If they’re hiring, they might straight up tell you that their goal is to: “grow their audience.” Use this!
  • Their content. You can infer a lot about a company by how they choose to speak to their audience. Pick out key themes, what their strategy is, and who they’re trying to attract.

The key is to use what you find to tailor your pitch.

Don’t fire out the same pitch to 20 different clients. Include work samples that directly relate to each companies goals and align with their own style, voice, branding, client needs (or whatever your expertise is).

6. Differentiate Yourself and Your Proposals

If you’ve followed the steps in this article, your pitch will stand out among 99% your competition. As someone who’s seen thousands of pitches, they’re almost always me-focused.

Keep this in mind throughout the process, from your subject line, to your opening paragraph, to the meat of your proposal. Focus on what you admire about their company and the results you could get for them. Look to actively answer “what’s in it for the client?” and “why should they trust me?” These are the questions that matter most.

7. Learn to Identify a Really Good Client

If I were to ask you right now what a dream client looks like, could you answer?

Many people can’t.

And that’s usually because they haven’t worked with one yet. It’s hard to picture something you’ve never seen firsthand. But, by taking a second to think about what you want – you can start to create vision.

Start by finishing the following sentences:

  1. The best clients value the …
  2. The interest my best clients and I have in common is …
  3. The type of work that I find unethical is …
  4. The best clients share my passion for …
  5. The best clients pay me no less than …

This might seems simple. But having these answers readily available as you pitch clients is a game-changer. All you need to do is pull out your answers out at any time and compare.

For an even quicker head start, here’s a worksheet you can use:

Download the dream client worksheet for defining great clients here …

8. Don’t Say Yes to Every Client

We’ve talked a lot about how to tailor yourself to get clients. Now I want to touch briefly on where you shouldn’t change.

  • Forget your boundaries. Decide upfront what you’re comfortable with. Don’t let any client walk over that line.
  • Alter when and how you get paid. Set terms that you expect to be followed. Your payment requirements are non-negotiable.
  • Change how you work. It’s actually illegal in the US for a company to dictate a contractor’s work. So you’re protected on things like when, where, and how the work happens.

It’s worth putting time into considering these “hard limits” and why they exist.

What does your dream client look like? Download our worksheet here

What to do next

If you’re here reading this, there’s a good chance it’s because you need to do something to land a client. I’d start with building a clear definition of who they are and the types of projects you want to be working on.

Then go out and collect data from these clients. Use that data in your marketing to create an offer.

Remember to listen to the data. Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean there’s demand from great clients for it.

Uncovering true demand  is exactly what we dive into in my new course, Endless Clients. It’s currently closed, however you can sign up to the list below to get notified about a spot as soon as it opens up.