Ah, getting your first client – it’s a rush. It’s intimidating, a little scary depending on their personality, and a little overwhelming…but none the less, it’s a rush. It’s also not so easy to do. In this modern, connection economy, more and more people are considering working for themselves either full or part-time.

Perhaps you’re a photographer, a web developer or designer, a handyman or someone in a blue collar trade – no matter what industry you find yourself in getting your first client (someone who pays you and who isn’t related to you) is the first step towards your success.

I’m coming up on 5 years of owning my own business and I can still remember the feeling of getting those first few clients. Though I did ok in the department of selling myself and my services, there are some things I wish I had known before entering the freelance world. So to all who are wanting to start your own business whether on the side or full time – here are 5 tips on getting your first client:

1) Know Your Trade

If you’re going to be a photographer, you should probably have an eye for good photos. You should have a nice camera/lens and have the post production programs to effectively make your photos great. If you’re a web developer, you should know how to build a website from start to finish and be able to be cater to your potential client’s wants and needs.

Confession – I got my first website project without fully knowing how to effectively build a site from start to finish. I did work my way through it and in the end the client was pleased, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s so very important to know your trade before you start expecting clients to pay you for your services. There’s nothing worse than getting going on a project then realizing that you’re in over your head and that you can’t deliver on what you promised (speaking from experience on that one). Once you loose a client in that manner, you won’t get them back. And considering that most all personally owned businesses are largely referral based, that could potentially be a big blow to new potential clients.

So know your trade! Don’t rush into getting clients if you’re not quite ready. Take time to build some expertise in your field. Learn the best practices and technologies in your field before over promising or over committing.

2) Build Your Portfolio

Easier said than done, I understand. “How can I get experience and build a portfolio if I don’t have any clients?” When I first started, I was fortunate to be in a position where I worked on numerous projects for friends, family and my church before I actually got my first paying client. This is tricky because you don’t want people to take advantage of you and you don’t want to work for free for long, but before you can get a real client they’re going to want to see that you can actually do the work.

So I recommend taking on a few projects for those already in your social circle and treat them as you would a real client. If you’re looking to build websites, you can help someone with a family business or help your church or organization. Non profit work is also a good way to build your portfolio. Maybe offer to do 2 or 3 websites to gain experience and ask them for a good referral and review afterwards.

But again, beware of working for free to too long and make sure people know you are just doing that to help build your portfolio. Once you have a handful of projects under your belt you’ll feel like you can take on the world. THEN you’ll feel more comfortable at getting your first client.

3) Showcase Your Portfolio (Have a Website)

It’s more important than ever to have the following:

• Your own domain name (yourbusinessorname.com)
• A good website
• Testimonials and/or reviews
• Facebook and social media presence

When it comes to attracting your first client they’re going to want to see your work. Thus, they’re going to want to go to your website. If you’re a web developer…great! Here’s your first portfolio piece, your own site. Make it represent you well. If you don’t do web design and you’re on a limited budget, there are options for building your own site with site builders, Wix, Squarespace, etc. But beware: those companies offering a great do it yourself website for one dollar can give you just that, you’ll have a website that looks like you did it yourself for one dollar. I recommend having at least a landing page style website professionally done to represent you well to your potential clients.

Remember, at least 85% of potential clients are going to go to your website before considering working with you so your website needs to reflect you in the best possible way.

4) Have Your Administrative/Backend Structure Ready

This would include a contract, invoice, file structure for your client’s files, images, etc.

1) When getting your first client, it’s important to at least have a basic contract for your services. It doesn’t have to be a 500 page book, but it should at least cover your services and deliverables to your potential client. There are many templates out there for contracts in all industries. Why have a contract? Because believe it or not, there are people in this world who will try to take your services without paying for them. If it’s a small project it may not be worth going to court but at least a contract will let that client know that you’re serious about the services you provide.

2) When you’re ready to get paid, you need to send a nice invoice. The client is going to appreciate that much more than something scribbled on a napkin. Most all computer text programs have a basic invoice template on them. Whether you’re using mac or windows, you should have an option for putting together a basic invoice. Add your logo, information and make it look clean and organized.

3) When you begin to use your computer for more than facebook and internet browsing, it’s crucial to have a solid file structure in place. Be sure to set up a folder structure for your clients, their passwords, documents, images, etc. And make sure you don’t confuse your business files with your personal files, pictures, etc. And word to the wise: avoid putting a bunch of files on your desktop!

5) Work On YOU

This is quite possibly the most important of all. You can be the most talented designer in the world, you can take better photos than any photographer in your city, you can code a website better than anyone you know – but if you can’t sell…you can’t work for yourself.

When I say “sell” try not to think of that as a sleazy used car salesman, but think of it as you sitting down with a potential client and offering your services to them. You don’t want to be dripping with sweat because you’re so nervous. Or quiet and awkward because you’re not sure how to converse or relate to someone new. You need to work on YOU!

When going into a meeting with a potential new client, you want to be the best “you.” The most charming, the most down-to-earth, the most relatable, the most interesting, etc. Personal development is a term that’s often scoffed at but I’m telling you, you can’t sell your services if you can’t sell you. There are millions of resources on personal development but if I could offer a top 3, I’d recommend checking out: Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, just to name a few. The key to sales isn’t some goofy sales pitch from the 50’s, it’s being real, being genuine and caring about your client.

So, I sincerely hope this helps all of you who are wanting to start your own, business whether on the side or full time. If I can leave you with another little tid bit of encouragement in regards to getting your first client, I recommend the following:

  • Be confident, not cocky
  • Be caring, not careless
  • Be eager, but not desperate
  • Be nice, but not a pushover
  • Be intriguing, not boring
  • Be positive, not negative
  • Be upbeat, not doubtful

Be honest, work with integrity and care about your work and clients, then good things will happen.

Cheers to getting your first client!