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So where are your clients?

Copyright:  / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

You’ve done the business plan, set everything up and launched your small business. In a blaze of publicity and social media fanfares, you’re all set for your new career. There’s one small problem though. Despite promises at networking events for plenty of lucrative work, you don’t actually have any clients yet. Or you went off on your own on the back of a bread-and-butter contract with a previous employer which is already going stale. Or you’ve hit a slump (it happens) or lost a client (it happens).

So where are your clients?

If you drew up a business plan there were probably some assumptions regarding sources and volume of sales. So what has changed? Often, reality can be a huge disappointment. People who promised you work or at least an appointment while you did your song and dance routine through yet another networking session are suddenly unavailable. As well as being home to some seriously helpful and worthwhile people, social media is full of incompetent chancers, pranksters and general time-wasters. A couple of thoughts arise from this:

  • You need to be flexible and adapt your skills if need be, to meet actual, not theoretical demand;
  • Your market may not be where you think it is. Think wider than your own country — if your service can be delivered internationally, is there a demand for it in an overseas market?

Dealing and negotiating with members of the public and corporations are quite different and you need your wits about you for both. Remember, individuals that approach you may not have used your type of services before, or they fell out with another business and were told to go elsewhere. Both can bring problems you didn’t even imagine. Business clients are usually easier to deal with but it doesn’t necessarily make it plain sailing. Quite often a company will enter into a contract and a year later, no work has come your way. You probably have to accept their pay rates which may be a lot less than you were expecting or hoping for, and you are in competition with the rest of their contractors.

On the other hand, word of mouth can be a powerful boost to sales. For example, a poorly-written email I received from an overseas student resulted in a highly satisfying business relationship and he still refers large numbers of his fellow students to me. I have made new friends from a huge range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This has not been an isolated case but it takes time to build up a reputation and trust from peers. I have been passed work from an overloaded fellow freelancer which turned into more work (with her blessing). Trade and professional directories are a great source of work if you choose carefully. It goes without saying that a reputation can only be built on excellence of delivery and service, so keep working on that and remember every job is equally important regardless of size or value.

The other tip worth passing on is to consider diversifying. It’s like the simple case of the ice cream seller who should consider selling umbrellas (or soup) in the colder seasons/wet days to keep the cash coming in. When things were quiet I took a one-year course on a related skill which I was familiar with many years previously and on completing it, upsold to an existing client. When I qualified I was referred to a digital marketing agency to help with a workload issue which turned out well and introduced me to a whole new world. Then my prime services got a huge boost via a mutual contact. Now I have clients who use all three of my services, sometimes all at once, and life is good.

It can be done — so don’t give up, and keep thinking how, where and what in every spare moment. You’ll get there.

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