Getting Your First Client

You finally took your first steps to becoming an independent interior designer,  consultant or freelance professional. You've gone through the legalities of forming your firm, you've set up a company web site, you designed business cards and had them printed. You're ready to go!

Yet, you still haven't quit your job to pursue independent designing or freelance work full-time. Why not? Because you don't have any clients lined up, and you don't know how to find them. Just follow these tips and strategies, and you should have your first client in no time!

Do Your Research!

If there's one no-fail rule in consulting or freelance work it's that you have to be competitive! You can't be competitive if you don't know anything about your competition. Find out how long they've been in business, what exact services they offer, who some of their past and present clients are and what they charge. If you can't find it yourself, call them and ask! You don't have to advertise the fact that you're a potential competitor to them. They'll probably be more than happy to mail you a brochure.

Start a Database of Potential Clients.

While you're researching your competitors, take note of who their past and present clients are. This works best with commercial clients. Write down their names then search phone books and industry directories for similar businesses who may also be in need of your services. You'll need this database to pull from later.

Have a Quality Portfolio.

Your portfolio is your calling card. If you don't have quality samples of past work to show potential clients, you're not likely to convince them to hire you. Just because you don't have any clients yet, doesn't mean you won't have a portfolio. Use samples of your work from your own business, mock-ups you've done for hypothetical clients, or work you've done in school or for free for non-profits or family and friends.

Offer to be an Expert for Your Local Media

This is commonplace for professionals in teaching fields, but many other consultants never think about it. Contact your local newspaper, radio station or television station, and tell them your credentials. Then invite them to contact you for feedback and information when they're researching stories related to your expertise. If you're a management professional, for example, maybe they'll contact you in relation to an article in the business section of your local paper. You won't be paid for it, but you'll likely be mentioned, leading to greater exposure with your target audience. You'll also be cementing your reputation as an expert in the subject.

Offer Your Services to Non-Profit Organizations

This is a good option if you're not confident enough in your current portfolio. You can volunteer your services, and in exchange add valuable experience which may very well help you secure that first client. Who knows? Maybe you'll discover that you love working for the non-profit sector, and you'll obtain future paid assignments from the organization!


Post to Forums and Newsgroups

Announce your company's opening or promote your services in forums and newsgroups related to your target customers. Just be careful to read forum rules about advertising before you do. You can also use these sources to further your "expert" status by giving advice to those in need. You can always include your company name and web link in your signature.


Target People You Know

Sometimes your best bet for a first client is a friend, family member or acquaintance. They already know you and trust you, which is vital for any client-consultant relationship.


If your friends and family don't have any use for your services, perhaps they know someone who does! You'll be surprised at how well-connected people are when you just ask. Perhaps they have a friend, co-worker or even a boss that would be a good client to target.


Join professional organizations and meet as many people in your field as you can. You may find consultants in similar, but not exactly the same line of work as you, and you may be able to refer clients to one another for specialized projects. You should also network with industry professionals from your target markets, not just other consultants. Visit their trade shows and seminars!

Mailing Lists

Direct marketing efforts such as buying mailing lists and sending out promotional mailings isn't an ideal way to market your services, but if it didn't work for anyone, it wouldn't be so rampant. Percentages on returns for your efforts are often extremely low. To up your chances of success, only buy lists which are guaranteed to be up-to-date and are highly focused on only your target market.

Cold Calling

Cold calling is similar to promotional mailings in that you're going to contact a large number of people who didn't specifically request to hear from you. It can be a daunting task and if you're not confident enough on the phone, either skip this tactic or find someone to do it for you. This is where you're going to pull out the database of potential clients that you made earlier. Start calling companies from this list, because you already know they're highly targeted.


Buy Advertising

While keeping costs down is imperative when you're still searching for your first paying client, you might have the most luck by simply purchasing ad space if your budget allows for it. Focus on local advertising first to target potential clients in your area. Only advertise in publications or media that are going to reach your targets.


Offer Seminars and Speeches

Contact area colleges, convention centers, or community centers about setting up your own seminars which you can open to the public. You never know who might show up. You might discover that there's a group of interested people that you hadn't thought to target! If you can't arrange your own events, contact area companies and offer to give a speech to their employees or management team. It's an excellent networking opportunity!

Ask a lot of Questions!

Just because you've lined up a meeting with a prospective client doesn't mean you've got the contract yet! Don't act too anxious to get the job, or you may end up cheating yourself out of decent pay or other contract terms. Focus entirely on the client, asking them exactly what they're interested in. You want to open up a discussion so that you can better serve their needs, not start telling them how to do things from the moment you meet. Show a sincere interest and you're more likely to receive something in return.

If after following all of the above techniques you still haven't landed that first client, re-evaluate some things. Make sure that the market isn't already too saturated with the service you're trying to offer. Be certain that your prices are reasonably in line with the quality of your services, and even more importantly, make sure that you're really targeting the best market for your services. Perhaps there's a new market available that you haven't approached yet. However, the most important thing is that you just keep on trying! Nothing works better to bring in that first client than a healthy dose of persistence!


By Jennifer Mattern
Image by Stockchoice

Jennifer Mattern is a freelance business writer / Web content writer, blogger, and author of the Web Writer's Guide to Launching a Successful Freelance Web Writing Career e-book. The e-book is designed to help new freelance Web writers launch their online career, set their writing rates, build a portfolio, build a network, and learn how to effectively market their services to bring in new clients. Find out more at the Web Writer's Guide blog at



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