The first customer can be the hardest one to get, but these ideas will help you land that first customer quickly and easily.
Typical advice given to new businesses is to give away their services or charge steeply discounted rates in order to get experience and build a customer base. This can work, but it is a dangerous strategy. First, because those first customers may not value your work if they are not paying market rates, and second, because the time you spend working for nothing or next-to-nothing might be used more effectively in marketing to customers who will pay full price.
When you have attracted customers by giving them bargain-basement prices, those customers may not stick around when you try to charge market prices. Plus, bargain seekers can be more demanding that customers paying full price, so you may end up spending more time than you expected providing service.
There are times when it makes sense to work for free or almost free. For example, if you are volunteering for a charity you support, or if you are building your portfolio or making contacts, it can be worthwhile. As a major strategy for getting your first clients, though, it is not your best choice.
Here are some other ways you can find the clients you need to get your business off the ground.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. If you recently left a corporate job, your former employer could be a good prospect for your new business. You understand their business, they know what you can do, and the stage is set for them to become your first customer in your new enterprise.
Get your net working. Contact people you know and tell them about your new business. Let them know you are actively seeking new clients and what you can do for those clients. Do you think it is hard to call people and ask for their business? Get over it, but in the meantime, instead of asking for their business, ask if they know someone who could use your services.
I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. Barter with other businesses for products and services you need through an informal exchange or a barter network. When you barter and get something you truly need in return, it is as good as cash and it is not the same as working for free.
Try it, you’ll like it. Clients may be reluctant to commit to a high-dollar or long-term contract with an unknown and unproven business. Give them a lower-cost way to try you out that compensates you fairly, such as a small project, or give them an out in the contract if you do not meet performance goals.
Get visible. Speak to community and professional organizations. Join the Chamber of Commerce and networking groups. Get active in your professional association. Find ways to get in front of people that can become customers.
May I borrow a cup of customers? When you do not have customers of your own, use the ideas in my article about borrowing customers from other businesses.
Choose the strategies that are the best fit for you and your business, and put them to work. You will have your first clients in no time!