Dear Danielle: How Do I Get Clients?

Dear Danielle:

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.

13 Responses

  1. God woman you, Danielle, are AWESOMEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!Just last week I attended a webinar where we were told to put costs and rates on. OMG, I’m taking it down IMMEDIATELYYYYYYYY. I just got to trust my instincts more. See, I tell you again, you are a BLESSING simply because you give so UNSELFISHLY. Have a great day, Arlene.

  2. I in the process of restarting my business — had to get a full time job now I have a couple of new clients. It’s been almost two years. I would like to know how I can do transcription at home. What type of new devices are available. I was working for a doctor and a good part of the day was transcription tapes. thanks! lydia

  3. Hi, Lydia,

    Providing ongoing administrative support is not the same thing as looking just for transcription work. You’d do best to refer your question to those in the transcription industry. 🙂

  4. Thank you for getting back with me. I would like to include transcription as part of my service as a VA. In my research, some VA’s offer this service.

    Oops, I did not make this clear to you.


  5. Thank you for all of your valuable information. When I get my web site up and running I plan on becoming a member. Appreciate all of your hard work.


  6. This is a difficult concept for many people to grasp, but individual services is not the same thing as offering a package of ongoing administrative support. You don’t market individual tasks and services unless you are in a secretarial services business. If you are in the business of providing ongoing administrative support, you market the entire package as a whole, not individual services and projects. Do you understand the difference? The package could be made up of any number and kind of tasks, functions and roles, but you don’t determine what those need to be until you get clients into consultation and talk with them and find out what they’re trying to do and where they’re trying to go.

  7. Cool…got it Thanks!

  8. Fantastic post; I could have written the “Brief Question” myself.

    I’m struggling with all the same issues; your response gave me ALOT to think about…I appreciate you taking the time to write it!

  9. Cindy Elsberry says:

    Thank you for answering this question. I have the same struggles myself. You gave me a lot to think about and apply to my business.

  10. Sandra says:

    Thanks for the great advice. I am also battling to find clients – I launched my business towards the end of last year, get loads of enquiries, but none of them ever materialise. It is so frustrating as my website is attracting many visitors and I often wonder where I am going wrong.

  11. Marie says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m a new VA, but I believe in standing by your rate, not giving anything away for free (or discounting, for that matter – not even on retainer pricing), and partnering only with clients who are a good fit – so all of that advice in your post makes me say, “Yeah! That’s right, Danielle, preach it!”

    And then I got to the part about how VAs need to stop touting how much money you can save potential clients, how those comparison charts should be taken down, and that we should not be emphasizing cost savings and it really made me think. I realized, that though I don’t necessarily sell myself as a cheap resource, I do emphasize the many ways how I will save them money over hiring a full-time admin or doing all that work themselves. You are right, I need to re-examine what it is about what I have to offer that provides value beyond cost-savings and put more emphasis on THAT.

    I don’t want cheapskate clients who are only out for a bargain (let them hire an overseas “VA” for $6 an hour), I want quality clients who value what I bring to the table, for whom my rates are a secondary concern. I’m actually excited to get home tonight and start revamping my site! Thanks so much for this post!

  12. Monica says:

    Danielle, thank you for this post. I am experiencing something similar in that I lowered my value by accepting what my client could afford to give at the time and now he pays me what he believes the job is worth by the hour.
    However, after reading this post, I am going to meet with him to dicuss my new pricing plan and if he can’t afford me…oh well it will be his lost.

  13. Great post, Danielle! One thing I’d add: If there’s a new client you’d really like to work with who’s balking at your rates, you always have the option of negotiating down the services you’ll offer them for a corresponding reduction in your fee. This may enable you to work with someone who might otherwise consider you out of their price range, but without compromising your integrity or devaluing your time.

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