Finding clients with smart strategies

It usually takes about two years for a business to start reaping the benefits of earlier networking and marketing activities. A funny thing happens after the initial frustration of feeling like you’re making no progress spending tons of time trying to put your business out there. Referrals start coming in from people you don’t recall meeting or clients you have forgotten. Hang in there if you’re a start-up. Know, though, you’d best plan on a couple of years building a base before clients come calling without a nudge from you.

Yesterday we explored strategies for getting paid quickly.  Today we’ll look at some ideas that aren’t part of the usual contemporary conversation concerning attracting clients – but they work.

It’s amazing what you can do with business relationships you build when you show you care. Photo courtesy of MyTudut via Flickr.

Of course, there are the common methods that are overused and often off-putting, but you can also get creative in a way that makes you memorable. Here are some tips if you want to stand out reaching out to prospects:

  • Pick a niche and get to know the issues and needs of these customers thoroughly. That doesn’t mean you can’t do work for others, but your marketing messages should be designed so that your primary audience (this can be more than one) hears what you write or say and feels like you know them.
  • Consider public speaking. This is a great way to be seen as credible in an audience’s eyes. Prepare well enough by knowing who you’re speaking to, scribing and/or outlining intended remarks (don’t read a speech ever) and memorizing the opening and close so it’s people walk away remembering your powerful message. This is not the place for a pitch.
  • Network in person – there’s still no substitute for face-to-face interactions. This can include Chambers, business organizations, tip clubs, national meetings (this can be huge done right and well worth the investment), trade associations, local mixers, board appointments, etc.
  • When networking, seek to gather business cards and information instead of shoving your contact information in people’s hands and selling.
  • Approach centers-of-influence and industry leaders with ideas for collaborating
  • Send a multi-part, three-dimensional mail campaign to the people you want to impress most or those that are hard to reach.
  • Use traditional media to spread the word about what you are doing. Having a reporter cover your story or a piece appear with your byline in a print publication is far more credible than advertising or online social chatter – and it’s free (sans your time). Do your homework by understanding who covers what type of story, familiarizing yourself with the format and content of the source you intend to approach and taking the time to customize a letter to include with your media release.
  • Call an industry leader who’s respected and invite them to lunch. You’d be amazed at how generous those who have seen success are about giving back. Don’t go there planning to sell them, though. That’s obnoxious and short-sighted. Plan what you want to learn from them about how you can do better, listen and learn. Make sure you follow up with a snail mail thank you.
  • Send thank you notes to those who help you through the USPS. So few even thank their benefactors (this includes the media), you’ll stand out with this simple act of penning a letter.
  • If online is your focus, participate in groups, with comments on others blogs, through a content-rich and useful (not sales-oriented) website and consider podcasts and video as part of your mix (this can be offered for free or fee-based material).
  • Offer material you have for free (you can set a price and get paying subscribers) via Kindle, iTunes and other resellers with huge reach. The free advertising can be extremely effective and you’ll also enjoy monthly surprise checks from people willing to pay for the convenience of getting material in a format they want that’s distributed for free less conveniently.
  • Be committed to continual learning – both about your industry and your market. Staying apprised of what’s new and what’s news will set you apart from most.
  • Learn enough about your prospects so you can send information of interest or referrals to them to remember you when they have a need for what you’re offering.

There’s a lot more you can do with creative flair to stand out, but this list (even if you pick only one) can get you started.


24 responses to “Finding clients with smart strategies”

  1. Hi Nanette,

    You’ve nailed it with this post. Thanks for giving us a very comprehensive list of networking activities to engage in.

    The more proactive you are, the faster you’ll achieve success.


  2. Hi Nanette, you’re spot on with this post. “Old school” some may be, but they work and that’s what matters 🙂

    • It is amazing how referrals occur with just a little bit of caring conversation, isn’t it, David? You never know who’s going to turn out to be a huge boon to your business – even if they’re not a prospective client.

  3. Super-smart, Nanette – and your copy-writing skills shine through. Right on point.

    I was a bit confused about the surprise checks. You mean people end up paying you for the content you’ve given away free? They must be delighted with you!

    • Hi Alan – I didn’t expect to be getting checks from Amazon when I posted my blog as a 99 cents Kindle offering (at I put it there for the marketing opportunity. This is a free blog for anyone who goes directly to the site, but I continue to get checks from subscribers paying for the Kindle version, mostly from the UK. It’s fun :-).

  4. I love the idea of thank you notes! I send thank you notes to people who give me advice or freebies for homeschooling and I send little thank you notes to clients I do freelance writing for. It really goes a long way to making people feel good about helping you or using your services. And they remember you.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Crystal. It’s amazing how few people send thank you notes these days, isn’t it? I suppose that’s why most find it so memorable.

  5. I agree with Madonna! You’re last bullet point is probably the most important – get to know your prospects! I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t know their “pain”, their needs, how will you be able to help them.

    Eydie 🙂

    • Thanks Eydie! You’re right, there are a lot of people who walk in blind and wonder why someone else gets the job :-). Good thing there’s little competition doing their research, isn’t it :-).

  6. Great list! I believe in giving from the heart. Usually people can eventually tell if you are being sincere. What you give usually comes back in a greater amount. Thanks for sharing! Elaine

  7. These are some great tips. I think the hardest thing that you list is keeping informed or educated. Depending on your niche or topics it can be rather daunting sometimes.

    • Good point, Kurt – and thanks for the kind words. Personally, I don’t try to keep tabs on it all. I tend to select resources that provide good summaries of what I’m looking while focusing on areas in the niche where I am most qualified. It helps that I’ve built a great network of other business professionals I’m quick to refer business to (or pick their brains and/or partner with them on projects) with clients asking for something I’m not up to speed on. As Elaine notes below, developing a giving mentality can be huge. Over the years I’ve had a lot of prospects approach me that I’ve referred to others that are more ideal providers. Seems like to right thing to do if you know someone who’s loaded with integrity and better versed in solving the client’s challenges. Funny thing is, I tend to get more referrals from the people I’ve redirected (not so much from the vendors they’ve been handed to) than I do from some of my clients. Use others to help you present as informed. You may not see immediate returns, but if your heart is in the right place, recognizing who’s better than you with knowledge in a certain area and pointing clients (or questions) to them will pay huge dividends in the long-run.

  8. I started up my business in October/November of 2011 and have already come across quite a few frustrations in getting my company out there. My husband has told me several times that it takes 7 years for a business to really take-off and he refuses to let me quite. Thank you so much for your time and consideration with this post, it really is quite helpful.


    • Hi Sarah. Brian Tracy says seven years to get to the point where you’ve repaid everything you’ve put in (including a fair wage for early time), are earning a good salary and at a point where referrals are sustaining a thriving businesses. I suppose he makes a good point, but with most small businesses I’ve seen the two-year mark as the turning point. This is when your hard work prior of spreading the word starts paying off and people begin to approach you asking to be clients. By the way, since you’re in such a visual business, I’m curious as to why you’re not using your craft creations for photography support in making your blog post points? For what it’s worth, those I’ve known in the business have had their greatest success exhibiting at shows.

  9. Great ideas! I’m going to print this out and keep referring to it for new things to try for building my client base. I’ve only been at this for a little over a year so I was not happy to hear your prediction that it takes about 2 years to get business rolling in. But at this point I’m in for the long haul and grateful to have some new networking ideas.

    • Hang in there, Susan – you’ve passed the half way mark :-). I assume public speaking is a big part of your marketing mix? It would be great to see videos of you presenting and/or short snippets of before and after client speeches on your website.

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