Getting Your First Clients as an Online Business


Getting Your First Clients as an Online Business

So you've set up your new online business, now it's time to find some clients!


I've been running my business for around 2 years now, which isn't really that long in the grand scheme of things, but I've been getting a few questions from people wanting to start their own online business but not knowing where to start in terms of getting clients.

Of course I also want to point out that this is from my experience running an online, B2B (business-to-business) service-based business. So some of these things may not be relevant if you are B2C (business-to-consumer), if you sell physical products, or if you have a physical shop/purely local demographic.

Figure out who you're targeting first

The key to getting clients is working out WHO your clients actually are. How can you find them if you don't know where to look? By getting clear on your clients' demographics and interests, you can better understand where they are more likely to find your marketing messaging. Make sure you know:

  • Age, gender, locations
  • Family/background (do they have children or are they single professionals, for example?)
  • A rough idea of income level (high/low/medium - be specific if you can)
  • Career and what industries they're likely to be in
  • Interests and hobbies
  • Other brands & things they like

Read my post about client profiling for more info!

talk to friends & family

It seems so simple and obvious, but it's always worth asking around people you know to see if there are any potential clients to shake out of the woodwork! You never know, your dad's friend's cousin might just be looking for exactly what you're selling, so it's worth a try if you're struggling to begin with.

Go to networking events & Workshops

Even better, talk to people you don't already know and start meeting people in (and out of!) your industry. Making connections and getting to know local business owners can only ever be a good thing; you can recommend clients to each other, learn new things, collaborate and find synergies in other ways that you may not have expected. You could try heading to Facebook to find local groups and meetups, or even places like Meetup.com, and don't forget to check out industry trade shows and conferences too.

Read my 10 tips for getting the most out of going to a conference.

Direct/Physical marketing

Once you've done the background research into who your customers are and where they're likely to be hanging out to find your messaging, it's time to start sending out that messaging! As an online business, you may be able to work with clients all over the place, but it's still a good idea to build a reputation locally as well. From car decals/wraps, flyers and print advertising, to asking relevant local businesses to stock flyers or business cards, there are plenty of things you can do to get your name out there with physical collateral.

Facebook groups & Forums

I believe my first ever two clients came from a Facebook Group! I knew that my target market were interested in learning about marketing and freelancing, so I joined a couple of Facebook Groups for entrepreneurs and start ups and started chatting to people. On some of these groups, people will openly post requests for recommendations, but if not it's important to just engage in the conversation so that people start to recognise you as an expert (and remember not to self-promote in groups where it's not allowed!).

Read more of my tips about Facebook Groups.

HOST a competition/giveaway/OFFER

Another one of my first clients was someone who had won a giveaway I ran! When I was starting out, I really wanted to build my portfolio, so I offered a free logo design as part of a giveaway. This helped me grow my social following a bit (as I asked people to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as part of the giveaway) as well as my portfolio. But it also helped me develop a relationship with someone who later became a paying client because they liked my work so much!

DIGITAL MARKETING/ADVERTISING

Digital & social media marketing is a massive topic and I won't be able to condense it into a paragraph, but for online businesses this really is an important one as it helps you to get seen by people all over the country or the world! As well as social media marketing, there are avenues such as digital ads, influencer marketing, blogging, and email marketing to explore as well.

Some resources:
18 Twitter Tips
Creating Your First Facebook Advert
How To Build an Email List
What Could Pinterest Do For Your Business

Which Social Media Platforms Should You Be Using Anyway?

PR 

Great for start-ups and companies with high growth plans, doing some PR (Public Relations) is a great way to spread the news about your business and get some of your first clients. You could start by creating a press release about your launch or something different you're doing and sending it out to relevant media outlets, or you could create a launch event or publicity stunt that builds hype! The possibilities are endless and you can get as fun and creative as you like. 

Cold emails

When all else fails, there's no harm in doing the 'cold email' or 'cold call' slog. Everyone with a B2B business has to do it at some point, so don't feel embarrassed. Create a list of relevant potential clients (based on your target audience of course!) and come up with some attention-grabbing copy to send in an email to them. I'd recommend keeping contact details and information organised in a CRM system too so you don't go crazy! The subject line of your email and the first sentence are absolutely crucial when pitching your services via email, so have some other people look over it to help as well.


If you haven't already, grab my FREE marketing plan template to help with planning these activities :)


Modern Meets Traditional Craft | Brand & Website for Second That Emotion


New in design portfolio

What happens when you mix modern minimalism with playful creativity?


Local creative, Colin, has recently moved down to Cornwall with a passion for traditional crafts and showcasing local tradesmen and women. He came to me wanting to create a brand and landing page to serve as a jumping off point for his business and help him build a foundation for his ideas.


Brand design

Minimal modern branding byRosanna

It was important that the logo and branding were extremely flexible, so Colin could adapt his business in the direction it takes him without hassle. He had a vision for something modern with strong fonts, that could be paired with different colours & patterns, but that also had a creative/playful element to it.


Business card design

Business card design byRosanna
Business card design byRosanna

Opting for textured & embossed letterpress business cards, we tweaked these until they were just right, and I love the finished result! It's minimalist, but striking at the same time and they definitely feel like an item you wouldn't throw away in a hurry.


Landing page/Mini website design

Squarespace website design

Colin just wanted a simple landing page that would give people an essence of the brand without being too overwhelming or in-depth. We opted for a template that would utilise large, beautiful imagery to speak for the business, but still added a crucial mini 'about' page and contact page with a sign up form too.

I wanted to find a designer who would be open to a strong brief and client involvement during the design process and have found that in Anna, the results are wonderful. Anna bolsters her service with a highly professional attitude and provision of marketing information of real value.
— Colin B

Interested in a brand or website design?

View my full portfolio

or

The Tools I Use to Run My Online Business


The Tools I Use to Run My Online Design Business | byRosanna

The software, tools & equipment I use every day in my business.


For the most part, running a small online business like mine certainly can be less complicated and have less costs than a physical business or one that requires stock and physical products. I don't have any overheads like office or factory space, and because I work on my own without any staff, I don't have to deal with payroll or those associated costs either which is nice!

But my business doesn't just come out of thin air; there are still costs involved with being freelance and running a brand/website design business that some may not realise - I'm more than just a laptop! 

I wanted to share the tools I use, not only to give an idea of what my set up looks like to clients and fellow designers, but also to remind people what you can class as business expenses when you're self employed in the UK, as it's easy to forget that some of these things can provide you with tax relief!

Apple Macbook* & LaCie external hard drive*

Obviously some kind of computer is required to run an online business. I personally use a laptop because I like to be able to move around the house while I'm working, and I like knowing that I can take it and work from anywhere! I have an old iMac (desktop computer) too but I only really use that as a second screen occasionally to test websites. 

I recently also invested in a LaCie external hard drive*, as I needed somewhere to store older files and keep my Macbook clean and speedy!

IPhone & Olympus Pen Camera*

I use my mobile phone predominantly for work; not necessarily for phone calls but for social media marketing while I'm on the go! I used to do some commercial photography too, so I do own a camera and some lenses because of that, and also for my other business, The Cornish Life. 

Sketchbooks & pens

I mostly do all my design digitally nowadays, but sometimes nothing beats good old pen and paper for sketching out logo ideas and making notes during client meetings! It seems like a simple thing but I always forget that these are business tools/expenses.

Dropbox*

As well as my external hard drive, I also use Cloud storage to back up my files and keep everything safe. It also means that I'm able to access my files from anywhere too! So if my laptop dies or gets stolen, or if I'm just out and about without it, I can login from another computer and do what I need to do from the Cloud.

Squarespace & domains/Hosting*

My byRosanna website is on Squarespace, so naturally I pay my monthly plan with them, plus to my domain provider each year to secure my domain names. I also have hosting with Siteground* for my other website, The Cornish Life (which uses Wordpress), and domain payments for that as well! 

> Read my Domains explained post.
> Read my Hosting explained post.

Adobe creative cloud*

As a designer, I need software to create my designs and work with vectors. There are free/cheaper softwares available compared to Adobe, but nothing really competes in my eyes, so I pay monthly for my Creative Cloud subscription which allows me to use all their programs, including Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro etc.

Canva for work

Canva is a free online tool that I use to create social media templates for clients so that they don't have to invest in Adobe software to be able to edit their templates. I personally pay for the premium Canva software as it has some great features for designers like me who are creating multiple templates for clients, but most people only need the free version!

> Watch my tutorial on how to create social media graphics with Canva

Google Drive

I use Google Drive to create easy spreadsheets and also to share files with clients sometimes. It's a very flexible tool to use because most people have it and it's simple to use!

WeTransfer

WeTransfer allows me to send large files (branding and logo files can get super big!) to my clients for free instead of blowing up peoples' inboxes with huge files or filling them up so they can't receive anything else. It turns the files into a temporary download link so nothing has to touch your inbox!

Skype

Before booking a project with a client, I always arrange an in-person meeting or (most of the time) a Skype call so we can meet and chat through what they need for this project. Most of my clients are from overseas (the US, Europe, UAE, Australia... you name it!) so Skype allows us to speak over the phone for free!

Microsoft Office

I begrudgingly pay for Microsoft Office on their monthly 365 plan. Because I have an Apple Macbook, I really only need Pages, Slides and Numbers for my own documents, but occasionally my clients need me to design document templates specifically for PowerPoint or Microsoft Word, so it's important that I have it just in case! They have the worst tech support though so I wouldn't recommend this unless you have to...

Buffer

I've been using Buffer for several years now and I love it! I'm on their Awesome Plan which allows me to have up to 10 social media accounts that I can schedule posts to from the desktop tool or from the app on my phone. I use up all 10 of those as well with my various accounts for both my business and The Cornish Life blog! 

> Read my Buffer review & tutorial

Recurpost

I recently published an article about how I use Recurpost. You can basically create an evergreen library of content that gets recycled on your Twitter feed, so you only have to schedule a post once and it will repost again and again at different times so you don't have to keep scheduling stuff over and over! Plus it's free, so there's that.

> Read my Recurpost review & tutorial

Boardbooster*

I don't know where I'd be with Boardbooster* - this is another scheduling tool but specifically for Pinterest, and it has other features such as 'pin looping' and posting campaigns to Group Boards at specific times... it's wonderful and eventually I will be including more info on how to use this in my Pinterest online course!

> Read some of my Pinterest tips

Convertkit*

For email marketing I use Convertkit*, simply because I outgrew Mailchimp with my list and because it has some awesome features that Mailchimp couldn't live up to. It's such a fantastic tool but gets very expensive once your list starts growing, so this is actually my biggest expense at over £100 per month! Having that price tag does encourage you to utilise it wisely though... something I have lagged on  a little this month...

Docusign

When I send contracts to clients, I use a digital signature software called Docusign. It's free and easy to use, and it saves me the hassle of printing, signing and scanning contracts every other day! It also means I don't even own a printer and am pretty much totally paperless, which reduces clutter for me.

> Read more about running a paperless business

Capsule CRM

It would be such a headache to keep all my client and project details in my head, so I use a CRM system called Capsule to organise all of my clients details and to remind myself when to follow up on enquiries. It's such a useful system that lets me tag organisations, set myself notifications, and store initial enquiries and emails with ease - plus it's free!

Trello*

Alongside my CRM, I also use Trello (another free tool) as my project management system. I use it to keep track of what projects I'm working on, as well as using it for my Lean Business Plan and as a blog editorial calendar too.


Run an online business? Share your favourite tools below!

*indicates affiliate link