Getting clients is tough when starting out freelance work or an agency, so here is my tried and proven method for getting clients. I originally wrote this as a twitter thread on the eve of 2018 Christmas and accidentally deleted it 4 months after it racked up 931 retweets.
I had no plans of rewriting it until a few people reached out asking what happened to the thread. One of which was Biola Sulaimon who told me he had scored $3000 in clientele work by following this guide.
He gave me permission to share the details, so here are screenshots between him and his client.
Another screenshot from a different client.
He is evidence that anyone with a bit of skill can follow my guide on how to score their first clients. He also published a guide on how to get American restaurateurs as clients.
So if you are a talented freelancer struggling to get work. Or you want to quit your job but you need a job first, here is a way to find clients. The advice here works for almost every type of skill and industry, but I will focus more on digital skills for simplification.
Pick a niche.
Focusing on a niche is very important and it helps you craft the right pitch. There are many businesses in every single niche, so that focus helps create a USP for your client that makes it easier for you to get hired. Branding yourself as an SEO expert for eCommerce site or a Web developer for restaurateurs or a Social media expert for gyms, or a content creator for auto-mechanics, et al, makes it easy for people to believe you know what you are doing and refer you too.
When picking a niche, consider how much businesses in that niche make. If they sell an infrequent product with low demand and each new client they get fetches them $20 in additional revenue, they are not going to be able to pay you more than $100 – $200 for the job.
However, if businesses in that niche earn $500 – $1,000 on every new client or business with high margins and huge demand, they might be willing to pay the big bucks.
This is just another reason why picking a niche and focusing on it is important because you can intentionally pour all your energy into optimizing your USP for the niche that will pay you the kind of money you want.
Why you will get clients
There is always work for freelancers and agencies as businesses cannot have every function they need in-house and they are often always looking for ways to cut costs and get the same quality of service, so if you are highly skilled and live in a low-income country you can under-price the market.
Also, many offline stores are looking to go online and improve their business. Everyone has heard about how transformative the internet is, and some business owners are trying to hack it themselves so they take their job to Fiverr and Upwork. If you can reach such a person before they go to those sites you will most likely sign them up as a client.
Many people will change their current agency or freelancer if you can offer them a service that is just as good or better for half the price. Often, the agency most SMEs are using are pretty bad at the job they are doing. So if you are super-skilled and cheaper you will get the job. If you live in a developing country, you can easily undercut the prices of American freelancers and agencies because of the cost of living.
Finding clients through Google advanced search queries
If you do not know what Google advanced search queries are then read this article and any other you can find.
The Google Maps team and Google My Business team are quite aggressive in getting small businesses to claim their business. Many of these businesses do not have a website or any web presence, safe for Facebook and Instagram. So Google tries to give them a website on a
*.business.site subdomain. Example: Next, the popular hair salon in Lagos that has had celebrities like Davido endorse their salon uses this as their website –
I do not know how big Next is in terms of revenue, but they are big enough to pay good money. So, to find clients in your niche with minimal web presence, try this Google advanced search:
$niche site:*.business.site intext:$physical_store_location
Example: If my niche was plumbing services in small towns across the USA, I would type
Plumbing site:*.business.site intext:Austin
Google says there are 200 results for that query which means there are ~200 plumbing businesses in Austin, Texas I can sell my services to if I were a web developer building sites for plumbing services or an SEO expert helping plumbing companies to rank in Google. You could expand the scope in your niche by changing cities. In my example, I used Austin, Texas.
Niches were the competitors are running search engine marketing ads are often competitive and the competitors are often willing to fork out some money as long as you can demonstrate value to them.
From my screenshot, you can tell that the plumbing niche is quite competitive as you can see that a company is running ads for a random search phrase that does not show strong intent to convert. If I were an SEM expert, I would add the company running the ad to my list of clients to pitch because their current agency or in-house SEM staff is running bad ads.
The reason why the query above returns the links it returns on the search engine result page is because free websites given by Google always contain
business.site in their url and it is mandatory for every
business.site owner to include their physical address on the website.
Many small businesses also either use a free
.wordpress.com site or a free wordpress theme. You can find them using these queries
$niche intext:"powered by wordpress"
Another trick is to find a niche where most of the business owners use the same free theme, like in E-commerce where many sites use WooCommerce’s default free theme, Storefront. You can try this query instead intext:”$footer_text” where $footer_text = Built with Storefront & WooCommerce
Finding clients through social media
Almost every business as an Instagram and they often fill their bios with their niche and phone number. So you can try this search query:
$niche site:instamgram.com intext:$country_code. Example:
beauty site:instagram.com intext:+234
Many of these businesses are small businesses and the number of the page is often the owner’s phone number. Using their Instagram engagement, follower count, quality of the content and frequency of updates you can guesstimate how much they or their competitors might be doing in revenue especially the ones that openly communicate they take clients via Instagram inquiries.
Also, you might be able to tell who the owner of the business is from their Instagram page or you can search other social media sites for the business name to find the owner. Many business owners put their business name in their Twitter and Linkedin bio. If you are looking for social media management work, this is a quick way to find clients as you can compare the competitors in this niche and reach out to the poor performing competitors.
Finding clients using Google Maps
Lastly, you can also go directly through Google maps and search $niche in $location. Many of these businesses are often in smaller, more obscure locations, so if you are trying to get clients in big, developed countries with lots of SMBs you should go more granular on your location targeting. Doing this will help you discover even businesses that do not have a .business.site domain or any website.
How to contact them
Many of these businesses have less than 10 employees and the owner is the decision maker on the service you offer. Unfortunately, their emails are not published on their site as they are most likely using a Gmail or Yahoo mail. Fortunately, their phone numbers are published on these free websites and in Google maps. Often it is the phone number of the owner.
How to contact them for cheap
Luckily, Skype has many plans where you can call an unlimited amount of phone numbers an unlimited amount of times. They have a $3 plan for the USA where you can call US phone numbers an unlimited amount of times. You can also purchase a US phone number from Skype.See the link – https://secure.skype.com/calling-rates?language=en
The number of Spam calls is on the rise in the USA. So make sure your call does not sound like a spam call. When you call these businesses, what you really want is the owner’s email address. It is easier to build a relationship via email than you trying to pitch them directly on the phone via a cold call. So get to the point quickly.
Depending on the niche, you will be told “No” many times. If you do not know how to pitch or be convincing on a call or you get demotivated by Nos. Hire a friend to do the pitching for you.
If you are not American, and you are calling American businesses you do not need to fake an accent. Just be audible and do not be vague. There are a lot of immigrants living there so Americans are sort of used to foreign accents.
If you are calling from a developing country, especially Nigeria, you do not want to disclose that information upfront until you have built a relationship with the business owner over email, you have demonstrated value and they are ready to convert. There are a lot of stereotypes around African princes out there that could hamper your prospecting by name dropping your country.
To keep proper tabs on your prospecting and sales effort, maintain a spreadsheet with all the businesses you have discovered in your niche with the phone numbers and email addresses of the owner so that you can do proper follow up. If you have established contact and intent to purchase from a business owner, you need to follow up as often as you can even when they do not respond if not you might lose the deal.
Follow up is 80% of the work in sales.
This is the harder part as it is more nuanced. You need to craft your pitch to suit your niche and improve it over time. Luckily, these business owners most likely want to buy what you are offering and as long as you are not sending these sort of bad emails, your chances of getting a client are higher.
Things to note
- Create each pitch afresh for each business: You can have a template pitch, but make sure it is customized with information about that business. See this email pitch for instance. To the ordinary eye, it looks like it was specific for that organization. But it is not
- Show them something in-depth that their competitors are doing and how it is boosting their business. You need to be able to tie a screenshot showing hard and believable numbers to it. Example: If you are selling SEO service and you want them to buy, you can show how their competitor’s traffic rising compared to their stagnant or declining traffic. They might not know this and they will appreciate the insight provided.
- Always solicit feedback. Ask for something. Often, you can feed them a hook in the pitch then ask them to tell you if they want the line for free. See this email from Algolia
- Make your first email very short and automate responses to them if they do not reply. You can use Hubspot. It has a free tier for this.
- Make your subject line jarring. If your headline reads like negative news about their business they will open. Example: I cannot find your website in Google, Your engagement on Instagram is dropping, No one understands your website copy.
- If you have a website, publish lots of case studies and reviews of other businesses in that niche and share it with the business owner you are trying to pitch. It will make you seem like an authority in that niche.
- Do not use buzzwords or ambiguous words. No one likes those kinds of emails.
- You can read this post by Matthew. He is very smart so I trust everything he writes – https://www.matthewbarby.com/the-perfect-pitch/
This is my best cold email. See if you can learn anything from it.
Closing the sale
After getting them to commit to asking you a question or getting on a call with you, and you have established a relationship. Try and understand the needs you did not think about, their concerns, and their business economics. It will really give you a sense of how to price your service.
Skill is quite common, so you will often be competing on price as you are starting out. If you were already hot cake, you would not need this post to land clients. Do not also under price your service to the extent that you need to take on too many clients to pay the bills. Agency and freelance work are draining if you do not have efficient processes and it is the low paying guys that stress you the most.
Lastly, you will most likely convert less than 10% of all the leads you prospected. So it is important to pitch a lot of people and do not get demotivated by a no. Pitch 100 people so that you can get 10 clients. That is how sales work.
If you do all of this and you do it well, you would have added a new skill to your arsenal, outbound sales, and closed a bunch of clients. Goodluck!
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thanks for this, very helpful