These following methods are drawn from my hands-on work acquiring customers for online companies like Harmony (a new website management app) and Bloomfire (team knowledge app). I’m usually given a shoestring budget, so “free” became one of my favorite words.
The guiding mantra to the following methods is “earn the right to be heard.” If any of you have ever volunteered for Young Life, you’ve probably heard that mantra before. It’s the key to building relationships, and it’s a rad reminder on how to sell without sounding like a used car salesperson. Just like you wouldn’t blab about yourself the whole time when you’re going on a first date, you don’t want to blab about yourself and your business when you’re talking to a prospective customer for the first time. Instead, wear your listening hat and focus the conversation on them and their needs. Empathize. Only start pitching when they indicate that they’re ready to hear it.
Sometimes, all it takes to set the stage for your pitch is a simple question: “Thanks for sharing about what’s happening—may I offer some thoughts?” They’re always going to say yes, and at that point, you’ve earned the right to be heard. Treasure that privilege, because if you do, you will have their ear for a lifetime.
Let’s assume your ideal client is a small business owner, kind of like yourself. Chances are, your accountant and your lawyer also work with other small business owners. Invite them to a swap-meet. Explain that the purpose of the meeting is to swap introductions. In other words, I’ll introduce you guys to the small business owners I work with if you’ll introduce me to the small business owners you work with.
2. Guest posts
This time, let’s assume your ideal client is a marketing team. Think about what kind of blogs marketers read (e.g. MarketingProfs) and submit a guest post. Embed an offer in your article or signature that links to a landing page offering some valuable freebie in exchange for contact information. Some popular offers are a “free report” or “free whitepaper” in exchange for email addresses. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of reports and whitepapers. Here are some alternatives:
- Reading lists (pull from Amazon’s bestsellers list in your chosen topic)
- FAQ sheet (Questions Every Marketing Team Should Ask Before Building a Website)
- Checklists (The Ultimate Pre-Flight Checklist for New Landing Pages)
- Link round-ups (pull from Delicious’ most-bookmarked links in your chosen topic)
Now you’ve earned the right to invade these marketers’ inboxes. Treasure that privilege and make sure any future emails you send them are written to help them solve everyday marketing challenges. Smartly weave in the story of your own business and mention that you’re taking new projects.
3. LinkedIn groups
If your ideal clients are entrepreneurs, join every LinkedIn group related to entrepreneurship. Plant the offers you created earlier in the Discussions. Because a lot of group members receive emails from LinkedIn containing discussion summaries, your offer will be distributed to a lot of inboxes. I would commonly get 40-100 new emails per offer if I hit up enough groups. Apply the same follow-up you would apply to those who redeem your offer from your guest posts.
Meetup group owners are constantly looking for speakers. Offer to speak for free and you’ll earn the right to speak to their captive audience. Don’t talk about only yourself during your entire presentation, just like you wouldn’t talk about only yourself during a first date. Focus on sharing something helpful with your presentation and mingle after your talk finishes. People will come over to chat with you and you’ll get the opportunity to put on your listening hat. Listen and probe for any needs that you might be able to help with, and if you spot an opportunity, consider asking the question, “Thanks for sharing about what’s happening—may I offer some thoughts?”
5. Get referrals
Don’t just wait for word-of-mouth to happen. Incentivize your clients to talk about you. Here’s one way to do it without looking like a manipulative sleaze ball.
When you first sign on a new client, be sure to explain how your business relies on referrals when you’re on-boarding them. Mention that you expect referrals from all your clients if you deliver as promised. Then let the topic sit.
Revive the topic after you’ve had the opportunity to deliver some delightful work to your new client. Maybe say, “I’m glad you like the work I’m delivering. I work extra hard because my business relies on referrals, and I want to deliver an experience worth talking about. Here’s an idea, and I’d like to hear what you think of it. Would it be fair if I gave you a $100 credit towards your next bill in exchange for a letter of recommendation?”
After they say yes, ask them to write a few sentences on the spot. Also ask if they have any friends that could use your services. Get introductions, then on your first meeting, bring along those few sentences—the impromptu recommendation letter.
6. Buddy up with others
Freelancers who take on big projects sometimes need to subcontract parts of those projects. To get the call for a subcontracting gig, build relationships with other freelancers in your area. You can find them by doing a search on Followerwonk. Followerwonk is a neat tool that searches Twitter bios for keywords and location, such as “web design” and “detroit.” Out comes a list of tweeple fulfilling your search criteria.