10 Unusual Ways to Find New Clients

By Michelle Nickolaisen

There are a lot of things you can do to find new clients: Have a strong portfolio, know how to articulate the benefits you bring to the table, and of course, have an effective pitching process.

But every now and then, you just want to try something different. We’ve got your back for the next time you get adventurous with these 10 unconventional ways to get new clients.

1. Social media: Smart searching

This is a beginner-level technique that can still yield strong results. Using Twitter and tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, you can set up searches for specific keywords such as “web designer” or “WordPress developer.” Check in on it a few times a day and see what questions people have about your field of expertise or what discussions are going on about working with freelancers in your field. Chime in where you can, always with the goal of being helpful, not salesy.

Virtual assistant Amy Metherell says this is how she got her first three clients, and she’s still working with them to this day. “Each day, I’d go through this stream and find anyone who tweeted looking for recommendations for VAs. I’d then respond to them in a conversational way and say something like, ‘Hi, I’m a VA. Maybe I can help or know someone who can.'”

2. Social media: Ads

Obviously, if you’re on a tight budget, this is a no-go. But if you’ve got some money in your marketing budget and want to experiment with new ways to get clients, social media ads could be an option.

LinkedIn is more business-to-business oriented than Facebook, but its cost per click tends to be higher. However, if you know the titles and industries that your clientele tend to be in, you can target your ads specifically to those people. For example, if you’re a web designer who usually works with marketing managers at companies with 150-300 employees, then you can create an ad narrowed to those parameters. Facebook also offers targeting options.

Twitter doesn’t offer targeting options in the same way that Facebook and LinkedIn do, but they offer some intriguing tools, including the ability to advertise with a “lead generation” card that lets users sign up for your email list with one click. This would take a bit of extra work, but you could create an email series that would be useful to your potential clients. For example, you could write an email series titled “10 ways to work more effectively with freelancers” or “The 5 mistakes people make when working with a web developer.” Then you could advertise via Twitter to create a steady stream of potential clients.

Here are a few resources to get you started off right with social media ads:

3. Keyword targeting (organic and paid)

Given that you’re a professional who works primarily with the web, I’ll work off the assumption that you have a strong portfolio site. If you don’t, get on that–here’s an article on how to create a portfolio site that’ll get you hired.

Having a portfolio site means that you can use search-engine optimization (SEO) in your case studies, blog posts, and on-page content for specific keywords. Bill Rice, CEO at Kaleidico, has some tips on how to do this without wasting your time:

Marketing managers, who are typically the people making decisions on hiring freelancers, want guaranteed results. They spend a lot of time searching online for a sure thing–successful marketing campaigns to emulate. Then, their next step is to find out who designed, developed, or ran the campaign. You want your name to pop in this search.

One way to do that is by writing up your portfolio case studies to come up for search inquiries like “{name of successful business} marketing campaign” or “websites for independent coffee companies.” People who are searching for something this specific are typically looking to hire someone soon, and the competition is next to nothing because most freelancers don’t bother writing up success stories after finishing them.

Don’t have enough big successes from past clients to use this strategy? There’s an alternative: add a blog section to your portfolio site and do case studies or commentary on marketing campaigns or great websites (or not-so-great websites) in the industry you want to work within. You’ll still get the keywords on your site, you’ll learn a lot about your industry, people who find you will perceive you as an expert (assuming your commentary is intelligent!), and you’ll get inquiries anyway.

You can also use AdWords to target people who want to work with local talent. Adding to the previous commentary on organic keywords, Bill said:

AdWords Express is a secret weapon for freelancers. People generally prefer to work with local talent. This doesn’t mean they want you in their office, but there’s something altruistic and comforting about supporting local folks. AdWords Express, for pennies a click, can give you a steady flow of gigs. There’s next to no competition to pull in search traffic for things like “Austin Web Developer” or “Cincinnati Web Designer.”

4. Retargeting ads

You know how sometimes you’re browsing Amazon and then the same pair of headphones (or shoes, or whatever you were looking at) follows you around the web for weeks afterwards? That’s retargeting at work.

While many retargeting options require big budgets, not all do. Perfect Audience aims to be the easiest way to retarget with no minimum spend and a $100 credit for all new users. You can target people who land on your portfolio site and click away across Facebook, Twitter, and even the Google ad network. This is a great way to stay top of mind until that potential client actually has the budget to hire you. Here’s a case study on putting retargeting to work which also uses an email course, as mentioned above and here’s a crash course in getting started.

5. Hosting events

Derek Wyatt has found that the best way to get new clients isn’t hosting an event directly related to his work (web design), but one that answers other questions his potential clients have. Putting together a free event that offered help in one area; for example, negotiating a lease for office space, naturally led to connections with potential clients.

Similarly, Nick Armstrong has had success from doing events–with a focus on keeping the event entertaining and informative. “Before I gave a talk in a conference hall, I moved all the chairs so they were in a circle instead of rows facing the podium. I spent the entire talk wandering around, moving inside and outside the circle, jumping up onto chairs, and focusing on engaging with individuals in the audience. The attendees came in expecting a lecture; instead, they got a performance–and it directly resulted in three large-scale new clients.”

6. Accept multiple forms of payment

This is less of a client-getting method and more common sense. Although, in the case of Heidi Hect, she’s had good luck getting web development clients by mentioning that she takes Bitcoin, saying “I’ve pinned down a job simply by casually mentioning that I take Bitcoin as payment in a conversation with somebody who needs work done and doesn’t have much cash, but has some form of cryptocurrency that’s just sitting in a digital wallet.”

Outside of Bitcoin, if you want to get paid quicker, make it as easy as possible for people to pay you. Choosing an invoicing tool that integrates with Stripe lets you accept payment via credit card quickly and easily, even if the user doesn’t have a PayPal account. In my experience, larger businesses often dislike paying via PayPal for accounting reasons but will pay online via a credit card, which is certainly faster than a check. Harvest is my invoicing tool of choice, but most of the major ones integrate with Stripe. Venmo is another payment option, though your less tech-savvy clients may not understand it.

7. Have standalone products

This serves two purposes: It can fill in your freelance income, and it also impresses potential clients. Julie Rustad has had this work out well for her design business:

As a freelance graphic designer, I’ve gotten more and more clients because I’ve developed my own product line, Desert Dwellers Flash Cards. I recently finished a rebrand and new packaging for an organic line of granola because the chef saw my flash cards at the Tucson Festival of Books. She was impressed with the artistic paintings, design and packaging that went into them.

By walking the walk of dealing with creating my own business and product, my clients know that I will design something that will actually sell for them. I’d suggest that freelancers really illustrate that they know what they are doing by having materials that showcase their ability–and the clients will be more likely to come to them.

Obviously, this isn’t something you’d want to do for the sole sake of getting clients–it has to make money in and of itself. You can go the digital route (here’s a guide to getting started with digital products), and the simplest way to use this tip might be just to make sure your portfolio site and online presence walks your talk.

8. Use an agency

This isn’t that unusual, but it’s still worth developing agency connections, especially for slow seasons. Corey Barnett says that working with agencies is what let him quit his corporate job and goes on to add, “Agencies always need help and are constantly selling. Build a relationship effectively and you will become indispensable, despite being a temporary employee. It takes the unpredictability out of freelance and gives you more job security. And the exposure to different strategies and philosophies will help you learn and build your own business.” It’s also a great way to expand your network, exposing you to–you guessed it!–more potential clients.

9. Stand out in a crowd (literally)

Networking events are a pretty par-for-the-course suggestion when it comes to getting more clients, but when you’re at a busy event, it can be hard to break the ice. If you wear something that stands out, you’ve got an easy ice-breaker with new people. You could go all out and get a t-shirt or two designed with your business’s logo and an eye-catching phrase on the back, or you could just wear an unusual article of clothing. In an episode of the Fizzle Show, a podcast for entrepreneurs and freelancers, Chase Reeves talks about how he wore a park ranger hat (a hand-me-down from his grandpa) at the last World Domination Summit in an effort to meet more people with a built-in icebreaker. And guess what? It worked!

10. Be unusually helpful

Instead of seeking out clients and sending them a pitch email, go out of your way to add value in your first contact with them. John Turner, CEO of UsersThink, says “After I find a company or organization that might be a good fit, I do a very quick analysis of their site, find one major issue with real consequences that I know could be fixed quickly, and contact someone at that organization telling them not only the problem, but how to fix it. It takes much longer than a regular cold email, but it results in more serious attention being paid to an otherwise unknown person (me), and has led to many new clients.”

So there you have it…

Ten unconventional ways to get new clients–many of which you can start on today. And that’s your homework: Pick one and give it a go if you’re tired of the pitch-rinse-repeat method of getting clients.

  • Mohamed Gamal

    There are usual ways xD

  • http://usersthink.com/ John Turner

    Thanks so much for including me in this awesome post!

  • http://cozmotek.com cozmo technology

    Good post! These are very useful tips to find new clients. Finding clients can be difficult but there are many strategies that you can take to gain more.

  • http://cleverlyengaged.com/ Corey Barnett

    Thanks for including me in this post, enjoyed the tips!

  • http://iknowseo.ca/ Mikhail Khorev

    Start Doing Your Research: Before you hire a search engine optimization expert, you will first need to do your research. Start looking for companies that offer what you’re looking for, and compare them all. You will want to compare things like the services that are offered, the prices that are charged and more. Then, you can have a better idea of what the going rate is for these services and what to expect from your average company.



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