How to get your first customer
It’s the classic catch-22. You know that you can do the work, but you don’t have anything to prove it because you haven’t had a customer yet. It can be so frustrating to be stuck at this stage of your business — but don’t worry, because it really only does take one customer to get things rolling.
Here’s what you do.
1. Make sure that you’re ready for customers.
Which means get your website up, have your products or service packages visible, set up a Facebook page for your business, and get on any other social media platforms your customers hang out on.
You might think that it seems like a waste of time to do all this before you have a customer, but think about it like you’re opening a brick and mortar store. You wouldn’t wait until you had your first customer to put your products on the shelves — the same way, you shouldn’t wait until you get a customer to design your products and packages and get your website looking nice.
2. Get testimonials.
Testimonials are incredibly important for your business. But of course, you already know this — that’s one of the reasons you want to get that first customer!
There are a few things you can do here. First, see if you can borrow some testimonials from your old job. It’s fine to post things that clients have said about your work specifically (not your former company’s work), unless you signed a very strict NDA. If your new business isn’t anything like what your old job was, then look for testimonials that are about you as a person, rather than the work you did.
Another good way to get testimonials is by creating a short, simple, useful free product and giving it out in Facebook groups, social media, or your mailing list, if you’ve got one.
Ideally, have people sign up to your mailing list to get it so that (1) you can grow your list and (2) you can track when they signed up and send them an automated email a week or so afterwards asking for a testimonial.
3. Create a portfolio of work.
Same problem — no clients to do the work for, right? The solution is pretty similar. If you’ve done work in your previous career that you can showcase, then do that. (Again, check your contract just in case).
Otherwise, you can create example work to showcase your skills or you can volunteer or donate some work to a charity. Depending on the nature of your work, you might be able to showcase it on your website, or get it picked up by other sites. For instance, if you’re an artist, you can showcase your art on your own website, but you could also contribute to magazines, etc.
Finally, remember that a blog can make a great addition to a portfolio — and if you’re a writer or in a similar field, it can often serve as the majority of your portfolio when you’re just starting out.
4. Get on customers’ radars.
Even if you’ve never had a customer yet, it doesn’t mean that you can’t put yourself out there. How else are they going to know about you and hire you? So once you’ve got a website to direct people to, start connecting with potential customers. Social media is usually the easiest way to do this; you can start participating in Facebook groups where your customers spend time, following them on Instagram, or participating in conversations that they’re tweeting in.
The important thing to remember is that relationships are what lead to sales, so don’t just show up and start advertising yourself. Take the time to really get to know your potential customers, act as a resource for them, and position yourself as an expert in the field before you ever ask them to buy something from you.
5. Use your network.
The most common way to get your first customer is by using your network. In that case, the fact that you don’t have other references or former work to show often doesn’t matter as much to your potential customers because they have a personal recommendation.
Friends, family, former colleagues, former clients can all be great sources of leads, so don’t be shy! Ask around to see if anybody needs any work done, or if they know someone who needs what you’re selling. Remember, this doesn’t have to be salesy or awkward. If you’re asking friends and family, you’re just asking them for a favour.
If you’re asking clients or former colleagues, then keep the tone more formal (and make sure it’s OK with your former company that you’re contacting the former clients), but phrase it as having an opening for client work in your new business.
6. And when you do get that first customer…
When you do get that all important first customer, treat it like the opportunity that it is and do your very best work. Remember, little things really matter, so do whatever you can do to make things great for that customer, within reason and your contract, of course.
Finally, make sure to ask your customer for a testimonial as you get near the end of your work together. Not sure how to do it? Just write an email along these lines:
Don’t wait until you get your first customer to create your website.
Testimonials don’t just have to come from clients, and neither does your portfolio.
Get in front of your potential customers and position yourself as an expert so that they can feel comfortable working with you.
Use your network as much as possible.
Do amazing work when you do get that first customer … and ask for a testimonial!
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