September 10, 2014
“How do I get more clients?”
It’s the question every consultant asks.
Because clients are the lifeblood of any consulting business.
Without clients, you can’t keep the lights on.
Without clients, you can’t make payroll.
Without clients, you can’t grow.
So how do you get more clients? There’s certainly no silver bullet. I wish I could write a blog post and say do “X” and you’ll have clients knocking down your door today, and for years to come.
Instead, getting new clients takes time, energy, and lots of effort. To get a steady pipeline of clients, you have to invest time into building relationships, networking, and marketing your consultancy.
In this post, I’ve covered 33 strategies you can use to get new clients. You may be familiar with some of these at a glance, but read through because I’ve included helpful advice, resources, and tools for each.
1. Ask for referrals, don’t wait for them
Okay, okay, I know…referrals are the most obvious and well-known way to get new clients.
However, too many consultants just wait for referrals to fall in their lap. After all, happy clients should spread your name, right? Most clients will, but sometimes clients are busy and won’t go out of their way.
Instead of waiting, open your email and find 2 happy clients, who haven’t sent you referrals yet.
You are going to email them right now asking for a referral. Seriously…do this.
Below is the email copy I used which worked really well. I opened by checking up on the client and then asking for a direct referral. Don’t beat around the bush or leave it open ended, and always keep it short.
How is [Company] doing? I enjoyed working with you on that project and would love to hear how it’s going.
On a side note, I’m looking for new clients to work with.
Can you connect me to any people or companies in your network that could use my services right now?
2. Partner with agencies
Partnering with an agency is a great way to bring in new clients. I’ve used this exact strategy and built a partnership with an agency that sends me at least 1 new client per month. I also make sure the agency is larger than my consultancy, so I’m not competing.
I found agencies usually pass on work because:
- The budget is too low
- They have no interest in the project
- They don’t have availability
- They don’t have the required skills or expertise
Normally when an agency turns down a prospective client, they’ll refer the client to a new company in their network. That’s where you come in.
I reached out to a dozen or so web agencies with a personalized email offering to partner or take on any work they pass up. I received responses from about half, and set up phone calls with each to discuss further.
I would usually email the person in charge of business development, since they were focused on building relationships with outside vendors.
3. Browse job boards
This is really another no-brainer, and chances are you already use job boards. If you don’t, bookmark all of these below and check them daily for new projects. This is probably one of the easiest ways to get new clients.
These boards include design, development, marketing, copywriting and miscellaneous jobs. Positions cover remote, full-time, part-time, contract and more, so there’s plenty of options.
Did I miss one? Post in the comments and let me know.
- Authentic Jobs
- Reddit For Hire
- Smashing Jobs
- We Work Remotely
- Stack Overflow
- YC Jobs
- Product Hunt
- Indeed (try keyword + your location (or) remote (or) contract (or) freelance, etc.
If you don’t want to check these boards daily, you can subscribe to a service like Workshop (design and development only) or Working Nomads (remote only). They’ll email you the best leads from job boards daily (note that only some boards are included).
4. Follow up with lost clients
When I say “lost clients”, I’m referring to clients you may have spoke with or sent a proposal to in the past, but didn’t win the business.
Go through your email and find clients you lost 2+ months ago. Send them a follow up email asking how their project is coming along, and if there is anything you can do for them.
This tactic is about being helpful and showing you care about the client. This can lead to a small project or even spark a new conversation about hiring you, if they are unhappy with their previous selection. If not, you’re still putting yourself on their radar and might see some referrals coming your way.
5. Follow up with your network
Browse through old email conversations with colleagues, connections and people you’ve spoke with in the past, who could be a fit for your consultancy. Follow up with each, asking what they’ve been up to and how you can help.
Asking how you can help the person, whether its giving feedback, advice, tips or doing a small task, can be rewarding, and it helps you build up relationships with the right people. Remember, if you go out of your way to help someone for free, they’ll likely return the favor and help you.
I followed up with an entrepreneur I met a few years back, who had recently founded a company. He asked for my feedback on his product and any advice I had. I hopped on a call with him to discuss, and he later hired my consultancy for some internal design and UX work.
6. Run an ad campaign
Facebook ads and Google Adwords are great ways to advertise your consultancy to prospective clients. Both platforms let you set a small daily budget for those that are cash-strapped, or want to test the waters.
I found Facebook ads easier to use than Google Adwords, which definitely has a steep learning curve if you’re new. PPC University is an amazing resource to learn about running effective campaigns, or check out Kudu, a service that will manage and run campaigns for you.
For visitors who come to your website and leave, you can use retargeting services like Adroll or Perfect Audience. These platforms allow you to track who visits your site, and lets you later serve ads to them via Facebook, Twitter, and other online marketing channels.
You can also try buying display ads from BuySellAds. However, there may be a higher minimum budget, depending on the sites and creatives you select.
7. Start blogging
Blogging is an amazing way to build relationships and become an expert consultant. My first blog post ever has gotten over 15,000 visitors, 50+ comments, hundreds of newsletter subscriptions, and has introduced me to some amazing people.
Start by blogging about topics that tie into your services, and will appeal to prospective clients. Peep Laja writes a blog about conversion optimization, which is filled with articles that help companies increase their conversion rates, and make more money. By posting quality content, Peep is viewed as an expert on conversion optimization, which helps him build an audience and generates new business for his consultancy.
The big question that comes up with blogging, is how to drive traffic to your posts. After publishing an article, I like to post it to GrowthHackers, Inbound, Reddit (find a subreddit for your blog niche), Hacker News, and my twitter feed. You should also email each company or person you mention in the post, with a note that you’ve mentioned them.
I also reach out to my network and send a link to people who I think might find my post interesting. This is usually enough to get the ball rolling and to get some traffic to the post.
Blogging takes a lot of time, especially since you need to do it consistently, for better results. Scripted is a great content writing service you can use to outsource your blog post writing.
8. Write an eBook
Write an eBook that can help solve a business challenge or create value for your prospective client. Marketer? Write an eBook on how to decrease shopping cart abandonment. Writer? Write about how compelling copy can help a business make more money. Designer? Write about how user onboarding is key to getting customers to use, and later pay for your product.
Write the eBook and give it away for free or sell it on your website. If you give it away for free, be sure to capture emails in exchange for the book, that way you can build a list of prospective clients to market to.
9. Guest blog
Find blogs that your prospective clients read and ask to guest post on them. You should write about a topic that fits within the blog, but also something that readers will get tons of value out of.
Guest blogging is great because you can share your expertise and grow your brand by tapping into someone else’s audience.
10. Generate leads
Generating leads consists of finding prospective clients that could benefit from your services, and coming up with a plan to reach them.
In my previous post, I detailed the process I used to generate leads for a cold email campaign, which is something you can replicate right now.
11. Use Twitter search
Twitter search is a powerful way to find real-time tweets from people and companies looking to hire or that need help. You can find these tweets by using certain keywords and phrases like below:
Hiring a [your keyword here]
Looking to hire a [your keyword here]
Looking for a [your keyword here]
Be creative. Try different search phrases and you’ll discover some great potential clients and projects. You can use Warble to automate your searches and have them delivered to your inbox each day.
12. Network online and offline
Instead of sitting behind the computer all week, plan to go to a meetup or a conference, where your prospective clients may be mingling. If you go to conferences and meetups where all your competitors are, you’ll have a hard time finding people that need your services.
Online networking is important as well. Complete a LinkedIn profile with up-to-date information and work samples. Import your contacts and connect with as many people in your network as possible. Share your blog posts, website and other interesting content directly to your LinkedIn news feed.
Just like going to meetups or conferences that your prospective clients attend, join LinkedIn groups where they post. There are groups for every industry on LinkedIn, so this is an excellent way to get in front of prospective clients.
Answer questions, offer help, post useful content and you’ll not only grow your connections, but you might also land a new gig.
13. Be on demand
Share your expertise and skills on marketplaces like Clarity, Liveninja or Google Helpouts. These sites have a lot of people to choose from, so consider giving away a few free sessions, to build up your profile.
My colleague, Khuram Malik, built up his profile by giving away free calls to people in his network, which resulted in great reviews and referral business.
P.S. He’s offering a free call to the first 5 people that book with his VIP link
14. Create a course
Create a course on Udemy to tap into a large audience of students and prospective clients.
Tapha Ngum wrote a course on Building and Selling a Niche Website From Scratch, which has thousands of students. Tapha made money from selling his course, and from people who reached out to hire him directly.
15. Productize your services
Productized consulting is a powerful way to create recurring revenue and get new clients. With productized consulting, you bundle your consulting services into “package” that the client can purchase for a monthly fee.
Best of all, you’re creating predictable, recurring revenue.
If you offer services like design, marketing, development, writing and so on, consider selling your offerings as a package that clients can purchase.
Here are some examples of productized consulting to get you started:
Have another great example? Post in the comments and let me know.
16. Capture leads
You might already have a contact form on your website, but this is normally used by people who are ready to hire you, or say hello. Most of the time, a potential client will browse your website, then leave – without ever contacting you.
In order to establish trust and build up a relationship with visitors, you can try to capture their email by giving something away. Give visitors an eBook (as mentioned above), a whitepaper, a free 30-minute consultation or even a step-by-step guide to increase their conversion rates, in exchange for their email.
You can later turn these leads into paying clients through a drip email campaign or by contacting them to find out more about their company.
I recommend SumoMe, which easy to use and great for capturing leads.
17. Write a playbook
A playbook is a great way to attract new clients, as it provides detail on your process, how you work and how you can help the client.
The team over at thoughtbot have the best playbook I’ve seen to date. It covers their processes from design, development, sales, hiring, operations and more. It gives prospective clients an inside look at how projects get done at thoughtbot.
A playbook is a powerful marketing tool, as well as a good “closer” to win new business.
18. Start coworking
If you work from home, consider coworking at least once a week. Coworking spaces are great for meeting like-minded individuals and becoming part of your local community.
You’ll build up strong relationships and be a go-to consultant for people at the coworking space. Most spaces also host events, meetings and conferences, which are great platforms for connecting with people and spreading your brand.
19. Always offer advice and help
A long-term strategy to bring in new clients is to help people who are connected to your prospective clients. Offer ideas, intros, feedback, thoughts or help them in any way possible with their business challenges. This is a bit different than following up with your network, mentioned earlier, because its an ongoing process. You might not close a client or get referrals immediately with this strategy, but its a proven tactic to build relationships and win new business over time.
A friend of mine, Brandon Pindulic, uses this strategy to build relationships and get new clients. He helps out anyone who gets in touch, whether its giving advice, feedback or helping with some marketing stuff. Though he says this strategy is pretty taxing and can take up a lot of time, he’s landed big clients and received referral business just for helping.
20. Send a handwritten letter
If you’re looking to land a new client and really want to get their attention, try sending a handwritten letter.
Find the person at the company that is most likely to hire you. Write and send a letter that focuses on solving their problems, and also include an easy way to reach you.
This strategy is also great to use when following up with acquaintances, prospective clients (“hey it was great meeting you…”) or keeping current clients happy. A letter in the mail adds a nice personal touch and shows people you truly care.
21. Piggyback on platforms
What do platforms like Shopify, WordPress and Drupal have in common? Besides being great content management systems, they are home to millions of customers who rely on these platforms to run their blog, website or store.
“Piggyback” on these platforms (and others) by tailoring your services to directly help their customers. For example, market yourself as the go-to design shop for Shopify stores, the Drupal experts or WordPress pros. Piggybacking on platforms is a proven method to tap into a large customer base, where help is almost always needed.
22. Utilize industry networking sites
Almost every industry has networking sites that bring the community together. These sites are an amazing way to grow your brand and land new clients.
I personally know several people who receive client inquiries from Dribbble and GrowthHackers, just for uploading work or engaging in the discussions.
23. Answer questions on Quora
Find questions on Quora in your industry, and write thoughtful answers. Fill out your profile and link to your website, so people can learn more about you.
Be sure to not just spam your website around Quora. Instead, build up relationships with people and be helpful. Millions of people search for answers on Quora (and most questions are heavily indexed in Google) which brings traffic and visibility to your replies.
You can start this strategy by answering 1 question a day, or a few per week. You’ll be amazed at the responses and relationships you’ll build up in the community.
24. Get press
To get press for your consultancy, you have to come up with a unique angle that would be appealing to reporters and their audience. Don’t pitch your services and company, instead act as an expert on a certain topic – increasing productivity, hiring employees, remote working, managing teams, etc.
Coming up with your own story and getting in touch with the right reporters can be difficult. Try contacting local PR firms and offer your services in exchange for some PR work.
25. Create a presentation
If you’re a marketing consultant, create a presentation on 10 growth hacks startups can use to get more customers. If you’re a management consultant, create a presentation on how companies can improve their workflow and processes.
The possibilities are endless, and creating an engaging presentation will bring in traffic, social shares and new leads.
26. Write a guide
Similar to the SlideShare tactic above, write a guide on a specific topic that you have expertise in.
Guides is a great place to distribute your guides, along with your personal network and on social channels. Creating a guide is proven way to drive traffic, capture leads and become an authority on a topic.
27. Write a case study
Case studies show prospective clients your results and success with a particular project.
A case study usually covers the client, challenges, process and results of a project or engagement. Ben Gran has written an in-depth post on how to write case studies.
These are some awesome case studies to help you get started:
- Big Spaceship – BMW
- MojoTech – Groove
- Paravel – Microsoft
- Zurb – McAfee
- Neil Patel – TechCrunch
- HubSpot case studies
- Amazon case studies
- Dozens of marketing growth studies on GrowthHackers
- Even more case studies on Inbound
28. Create controversy
Mark at Tiger Tiger told me a story about a local design consultant, named Justin, who took a controversial approach to land a new client.
Justin found a company in his home country of New Zealand, who he thought could benefit from his services. He then bought the crappiest beer in New Zealand and visited the company’s headquarters. He walked into the CEO’s office, placed the beer on his desk, and said, “this beer is like your website…it’s nice on the outside, but tastes like absolute crap.” After a discussion, the CEO agreed, and Justin left with a contract to work on the company’s website.
This is just one example of creating offline controversy, but can certainly be replicated online. Unbounce has written a great post on the science of controversial content.
If you’re going to take a similar approach, make sure you don’t cross the line by doing something harmful or illegal.
29. Be extremely personal
If you’re replying to a job ad, or cold emailing, its a good idea to be personal to stand out against your competition.
I came across a post by Devesh Khanal, on how he landed a paid contract from a CEO in 1 week. Why was Devesh able to get the CEO’s attention and close a contract in just 1 week?
He made his email super personal.
Devesh recorded a screencast of the CEO’s website, and offered steps he could take to increase his conversion rate. The CEO was amazed by the effort Devesh had put into his cold email, as well as his expertise on conversion optimization, so hiring him was an easy decision.
This is one of the best examples of how to be extremely personal to win new clients. Clients are normally bombarded with emails from consultants that contain a bio and website link. Devesh’s approach is personal and captured on video, so its easy for the prospective client to understand his ideas.
A personal touch like this can be replicated in so many ways, whether its doing a redesign of a website, revising marketing copy or coding up a quick prototype. Being personal takes time, but its likely to help you stand out and close more clients.
30. Speak at industry conferences
Attending conferences is great, but you should also try speaking at them. Find conferences in your industry and reach out to an organizer about speaking. Pitch them on topics you’d like to speak about, and back it up with your skills, expertise, experience, website, blog and more.
This isn’t going to be for everyone, especially new consultants (or people afraid of public speaking), but its a great way to build up your personal brand and forge new relationships with a live audience.
31. Make creative business cards
Business cards can be an effective marketing tool, if executed properly.
Mark from Tiger Tiger hands out business cards printed on 600 gsm stock letterpressed, which are of high quality and make a great first impression. They cost 3 bucks a pop, but have helped him close some serious deals with companies.
When he gives these business cards to prospective clients (or people connected to his clients), they’re immediately impressed with the card quality, which is a reflection of his brand. They end up being shared around the office, at meetups, on social media and more.
This post has 30 of the most creative business cards ever, which are guaranteed to spark some creative ideas for your next business card.
32. Have an SEO strategy
Search engine optimization is a great long-term strategy to drive targeted traffic to your company website. You won’t see overnight results with SEO, but with a sound strategy in place, you can drive traffic over time and convert visitors into paying clients.
Here are some great guides to get started with SEO:
33. Partner with non-competing firms
I talked earlier about partnering with agencies. Another strategy, is to partner with a non-competing company to offer your services as an extension of their business.
Find non-competing companies and pitch your services to them (as mentioned in #2) to form a partnership.
For example, my consultancy partners with a web development company that has no design or creative lead. I handle the creative direction for some of their projects, while they focus on the development. In exchange, I sometimes have projects that need development, so I use them as my development resource. Its a win-win partnership for both companies.
Your Turn – Choose 3
I’ve covered some great strategies that will help new and veteran consultants land more clients.
A lot of you will read this whole post, but never take action.
I want you to choose 3 strategies from the list and come up with a plan to implement them right away. Don’t make excuses – choose 3, make a plan, set some deadlines, and getting going.
Post in the comments the 3 strategies you plan to implement for your consultancy.
These are my best strategies for getting new clients, but I want to hear from you. What strategies do you use to land new clients? What tools and resources are helpful? Have you used some of these strategies before? What worked and what didn’t?