Brief question–how do you get clients? I know this is on every Administrative Consultant’s mind in America whom is starting out. I know that this kind of business is referral-based, but my God! I know that you can’t just jump up and think you are going to get rich from this (not my intentions). However, it’s one person I did some donated hours for, I have tried working with another client and lowered my prices to accommodate her. Still a no-go on this one. If I would have said it was free for the service, she would have been all over it. I think if I had at least two clients, I would feel like my business is progressing forward. But not having anyone gets discouraging at times and you wonder if it’s worth it if your business is solely based off referrals, you know? –ST
(FYI: This “Ask Danielle” question was originally posted on my old blog back in March 2010.)
Well, first, I had to chuckle because there’s nothing brief about the question, “How do you get clients?” LOL. Not laughing at you, but it’s sort of like asking, “How do we achieve world peace?” It’s a BIG, complicated question with no quick, simple, pat answer. It’s difficult to start a business, as you recognize. For a large number of people, they are not going to get clients right away. While they’re waiting, there’s a lot of learning and studying they can be doing to better understand marketing and client psychology. Here are a few thoughts to help you get started in the right direction…
1. Stop donating hours. When you give away your value (the very product you are in business to earn your living from), you devalue it in the eyes of clients. Worse, all giving stuff away for free does is attract freebie-seekers. These are not your clients. They will be gone as soon as you take the free buffet away. If they can’t afford professional services, they either shouldn’t be in business, or they should at least not expect you to subsidize their business (to your own detriment) until they can. These are very selfish, self-centered thinking people. You have your own bills to pay and people to take care of. You can’t put your time and energy into those folks. You’ve got to market to people who can already afford you and who don’t expect you to be footing the bill for their business. If you keep giving it away for free, you’re just going to keep getting more of the same. “Why pay for the cow when you can get the milk for free?” applies here. If you’re dishing it out, they’re gonna take it. You are attracting what you are giving. So stop the gravy train and get serious about serious clients.
2. I’m not sure why you think this, but this is not strictly a referral-based business. A business can become mostly referral-based once they’ve established their business, had a chance to get their foot in the networking door, and have clients and others who happily recommend them. If you’re new, you don’t have that right off the bat. But there are things you can do and ways you can network that will better draw/attract prospective clients to you. What will help here is having a target market to focus your message on and give you direction on where to find those folks you wish to be talking with and expend your efforts and energy there (which are limited and need to be conserved for the highest and best possible use). Two of the most important criteria in deciding on a target market are that 1) it must be one where the people in it generally are earning enough money that they can afford professional services, and 2) there are enough of them that it’s easy enough to figure out where they are (offline and off) and then find ways to interact with them, come up in their search terms and be found by them.
3. Never, ever bargain with or negotiate your fee. All you are doing is teaching clients to devalue you and your support. You start doing that and they forever after expect freebies and discounts and that everything is up for negotiation. You don’t even have to tell me what you’re charging. I can pretty much guarantee that you are undercharging–all these issues you describe are always symptomatic of rates that are way too low. They cater to and attract the wrong crowd. On top of that, I’m willing to bet the conversation on your site is all about cost and discounts and freebies and savings and how much cheaper and more affordable than an employee you are, yada yada yada… am I right? That’s exactly the problem. I would tell you to raise your fee. You likely will be ALL kinds of uncomfortable doing that. And while you’re doing that, you also will need to learn how to market differently and change your message. But when you do those things, you will begin to attract a clientele with an entirely different mindset and more professional business sense. Those folks are looking for skill and quality and competence, not handouts. You simply can’t waste your time and energy–and money, because that’s what it boils down to–on folks who can’t afford you and would have you harm yourself financially in order to help them.
4. Adding onto the idea of changing your message, you’ve got to frame what you have to offer in respectful ways. You’ve got to hold what you do in high esteem and talk about it in respectful terms. If you use words like “generalist” and “mundane” and “affordable” and the like, you are lowering the perceived value of what you have to offer. You are teaching prospects to look down upon your work and view it as lowly, and thus, not worthy of professional fees. And the industry as a whole has GOT to get off the cost conversation and all the employee comparisons. If you have any of that stuff on your site, take it off immediately. You are creating and attracting the very mindsets you are complaining about now. If everything you put on your website is about how cheap you are, how much they can save, how much more affordable you are than employees, save this, get a discount on that, guess what you are focusing people on? MONEY. You can’t make your marketing message about that–unless you want to continue to attract nothing but people who are looking for savings and discounts and bargains and cheap and affordable. Stop talking about costs whatsoever. That’s the last thing you should be talking about. And if you don’t have anything else to talk about with regard to what you do for your clients and your value to them (the results you help them achieve), then you’ve got a lot more work to do about understanding what you are and what you do.
Marketing and attracting clients is an area of ongoing learning and study. It’s not anything that can be answered quickly or simply in a mere blogpost, but I hope this at least gets your wheels turning. The very best way I can help you is to recommend that you get my e-book, “Articulating Your Value: How to Craft Your Own Unique Marketing Message to Get More Clients, Make More Money and Stand Apart from the Crowd.” This is a self-study guide that will help you determine your target market, define an ideal client profile, differentiate yourself with your own unique marketing message and value proposition and package up that info in much more attractive, marketable ways.