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.
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 & 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.
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.
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.