15 ways to find your first paying clients

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Finding your first client or clients is the hardest thing about going into business and working for yourself.

It’s nerve-wracking and full of uncertainty, but you need them! So, I’m going to share 15 ways to find your first paying clients that I used to kick-start my own business.

Before we start though, there’s two things you need in place:

1. A package and price list

This makes it so much easier for your prospective clients to know what you can offer and how much it’s likely to cost them. Even if it’s bespoke to the client, it’s a good starting point.

E.g – sole trader tax return £400

2. A phone and professional email

You’re going to be proactively reaching out to people to start letting businesses know you can help them and you’ll need a landline or mobile plus professional (i.e. no ‘[email protected]’ type email addresses)

Of course there’s other things you can get in place but those are the essentials. Do not get hung up making a beautiful website if you don’t have any clients yet. Yes it can be helpful, but this is about finding your first paying clients. Come back to the other things once you’ve signed some customers!

Now, are you ready for the list?

1. Send a tailored email to all your personal contacts asking for referrals 

When I started my business this was the first thing I did. I emailed all my friends and family and told them what I was doing, my services, what types of clients were a good fit and my prices. I asked them to think of anyone who might need my help, and asked them to connect us.

I got my very first clients through this method. It works so well because your friends and family want you to succeed – and are the most likely people to refer you. Let them help you!

2. Update your LinkedIn Profile

It’s likely your LinkedIn profile is somewhat out of date. Log in and update your job title to:

Qualified [Service offered] for [ideal type of client] who want [desired result of working with you]

e.g – Qualified Accountant for Sole Traders Who Want To Save Money on Their Tax Return But Hate Crunching Numbers

After that, tailor your summary and current experience with more detail about what you offer. Try and focus on the likely results your clients will get working with you (e.g. saving time, money, headaches, last minute tax return panics, VAT registering nightmares…)

3. Send a tailored message your LinkedIn contacts

Once your profile is updated, go through your contacts and identify anyone who could be a good client for you and send them a tailored message. Ask them if they’re happy with their current accounting provider, that you’re setting up on your own and if they’d be interested in a free review to see if you can save them money/time etc.

Then go through the rest of your contacts and if you feel it’s appropriate, as for referrals as you did with your friends and family.

4. Partner with other business providers

Do you know any businesses providing B2B services who work with the same kinds of clients as you would like to? Perhaps a HR advisor, or someone offering admin/PA work could recommend you to their clients and visa versa? Reach out and set up a meeting with them, or ask them directly if they’d be interested in discussing mutual referrals.

5. Attend a local business networking meeting

There are hundreds of local business networking groups across the country, many of which offer your first visit for free, or subsidised. Research all your local groups and book yourself in to the next meeting. Prepare a 60 second pitch about you and your business (remember, talk about the results you can help them get) and go along and meet other business owners.

If you’re not confident about networking, check out Yes Yes Marsha’s helpful videos and choose meetings that are more intimate or less structured.

6. Guest post on popular business blogs

Research websites that allow guest posts who have a readership of business owners. Look through their past content and think of a topic that they haven’t covered, and that you feel confident writing about. Pitch that guest post to them via email.

If you’re successful, write the post and send it along with a short bio about you with a link to your website (if you have one yet) or your phone number.

7. Do a short free talk at a relevant event

Networking events, local business hubs and groups often have a guest speaker at each event. Put yourself forwards and prepare a useful talk about accountancy. Try and give a few tips they can take away and implement immediately, and offer to talk to anyone at the end who’s struggling with their accounts or needs advice.

8. Call all small businesses in your local area

Find a directory of local businesses (Checkatrade and local business magazines that get delivered through your door are a good starting point). Pick up the phone and call them. Explain who you are, ask if they are happy with their accountant and if they’d like a free no obligation chat about saving them time/money with their books.

9. Work from a co-working space

This is another way of networking, but a bit more informally. Spend the day working from a co-working space and chat to the other business owner’s there. They may need your help, or know someone who does.

10. Reach out to business advice centres

Most counties in the UK have business advice centres. They’re often run by the Chamber of Commerce of University. Ask if you can meet them and see if there’s a way you can work together? They may also be able to give you some free advice.

11. Twitter search for prospects

Some people take to social media asking for recommendations. You can search networks like Twitter for people who have tweeted “hiring an accountant”, “looking for an accountant”,“#hiring accountant” or “accountant recommendations”. Tweet anyone who looks like a great prospect and arrange a call or meeting with them.

12. Browse job boards for freelance work

Some businesses may want to bring on an accountant or bookkeeper on a retainer or freelance basis for a certain number of days per month. This type of work is often advertised through job boards online and on LinkedIn. Browse and apply for any relevant opportunities.

13. Network on industry forums/sites

AAT has a lively community in the discussion forums. Join in and offer advice, answer questions and ask for help. You will also see Job postings in this forum you can search through.

14. Take out an advertisement

Place an ad in your local newspaper or business directory offering your services – or set up a Facebook ad. It’s recommended you focus on offering something (like a free addition to your service) that is time sensitive. I don’t recommend discounts, as you’ll attract customers who won’t necessarily pay your full rate, and you’ll fall into the loop of forever discounting to get clients.

15. Host a webinar and promote through social media

Webinars are like online talks – you teach something useful on your topic and at the end offer your services to anyone who’s interested. It’s an online version of number 7 – but you create the event. Just make sure you market it well though, as ‘build it and they will come’ never works.

Some final parting wisdom I’d like to offer is this:

Clients have found me in the most bizarre ways that I could not have planned, engineered or predicted. Trust that people need your help, you can help them and they’ll come to you when they’re ready. Yes you need to put yourself out there, but sometimes you just can’t predict how your next client will show up.

Good luck, and let me know how you get on implementing this list.

Jen Smith coaches entrepreneurs in social media.

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