By Andrew Neitlich

How To Get Your First Client

By Andrew Neitlich

Here a a few ideas for those of you looking to get your first client, although these ideas apply to anyone at just about any stage of development:

1. Write down the names of everyone you know, everyone. You should be able to get a list of 100 people. Use some techniques to “jog” your memory. For instance, go throught the phone book business pages and list anyone who is a specific professional you know (accountant, architect, etc. all the way through to the z’s). Include your neighbors, your family, your former employers/colleagues, people you play sports/hobbies with, people at your place of worship, and so on. List people with red hair, people with good senses of humor, people named tom, and on and on.

Then contact these folks, tell them what you are doing, and ask them to make connections for you. Ask them specific questions, like, “Who do you know who recently started a business?” Then follow up with those people. Either they will need a web site or redesign or they can refer you to people they know.


For every door that closes, try to open 2 more doors by asking for two more names.

2. Target some visible local businesses. Check out there website. Send them by mail a 3-page report assessing their website and providing ideas to improve it. Then follow up to meet and discuss how they can use your ideas to get more business.

3. I borrow this idea from marketing consultant David Frey, and really like it. Take a page from the yellow pages where a prospective client has a listing. Get that page blown up to a poster 2-3 times its current size. Circle the names of competitors of the prospective client. Write a letter that says, “I’m going to help one of the companies on this page dramatically increase their business and market share with a dynamic, leading edge website. I hope it’s you, and not one of your competitors!”

There you go — 3 great ideas for free. Ideas are cheap for a reason. It’s action and follow up that are valuable. So get moving.

  • Someone

    Your ideas are not doable. Did you do it yourself?

  • doug

    Not doable? I completely disagree. Heck, idea #1 is just plain old-fashioned networking, starting from ground zero.

    Like Andrew said, “Ideas are cheap for a reason. It’s action and follow up that are valuable.” :)

  • 1 & 2 seem entirely possible. However I don’t see 3 as being as feasible to some people, it seems a little “hard sell”.

  • Hard sell or not, they are all quite “doable.”

    If you don’t like sales, go get a job. This business is much more about sales and networking than it is about design and development.

  • I dig #3. If someone sent me something so completely out of the ordinary, and added a personal note, I would really listen when they called.

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  • aneitlich

    Dear “Someone,”

    The Internet can be frustrating, especially the way that some anonymous person can irresponsibly post a general declaration that ideas are not doable — with no backup or supporting logic.

    I’ve done all three. #1 and #2 are obvious, basic tactics that most people starting out use to accelerate their business growth. I still use those.

    #3 takes a bit more courage, but yes — I tried it once with a group of law firms. It got me an audience with some top partners at the law firm I was targeting. That kind of audience would have been impossible to get without being bold.



  • pdxi

    At the very least, attempting #3 will increase your confidence and will make everything else seem easier.

  • jakolito

    #3 this should be done with great caution as it may annoy a potential customer. he might see you more of a threat than a business opportunity. granted that it will land you an audience with the big bosses, make sure that you actually have something to say when you do such bold moves.

    great entry nonetheless!

  • Enoch Root

    Good ideas, but you made need to be careful who you send your report to (#2), if it ends up with the company’s web developer, if they have one, you can probably forget it!

  • hdsol

    Just keep the report more generalized. You wouldn’t be giving anymore information then the inhouse developer or competeing firm already has. If it is a competitor, then you just gave them notice that you are here and you are going after their clients. To be successful in sales you need to thrive on compitition. If you can’t handle that pressure then you need to find somone who can and get them to sell for you. Running a business well has little to do with how great you are but how well you can gonvey that greatness to you prospect. You have to be determined. personaly I think that “someone” is either very new or not paying attention. With that attitude he probly has a lot of time on his/her hands. Good luck to everyone.

  • Great “Monday Morning” tips, Andrew. For “Someone”, I can tell you I have used variations on #1 and #2 a number of times. They work. Certainly they work to get one or two quick clients/jobs.

    Reference number 1, I read a book by a salesman who was in the Guinness Book of Records for his salesmanship … and he built his whole sales plan around the idea that each of us knows or can influence 200 or more people. Judging by the size of my Outlook contacts list, this is really a conservative figure.

    Reference number 2, This technique can work in other aspects of business. I sell a GPS tracking system to allow business owners to monitor their vehicles and drivers. Plain sales letters extolling the virtue of buying don’t have even a 1% response rate. But a letter that tells the business where I saw one of their trucks “misbehaving” almost always gets a response, and often a sale … if nothing else the “free reports” will sharpen your skills dramatically.

    Best regards

  • Dr Livingston

    Another idea (dont’t have the time to read through comment to see if it’s already suggested though) is that you could hold a local seminar regularly for local businesses in your area.

    I suppose it’s an opportunity for business to see what you are capable of and what you could offer to them, something concrete maybe? If you have an audience of about 20 business persons with a Q&A then they can see that there is a chance to improve their business in a number of ways.

    This is what I did 2 years ago, several times, 3 months apart and suprisingly a number of businesses from the local area and from further a field came to see the presentation, and get more information, etc.

    Got a few clients that way, hell, I still retain a few of them, so the premise actually works. What you think… Anyone else done something like this before :)

  • ScoobyCoo

    Interesting idea, maybe 3 is a bit bold for the smaller companies out there though.

  • All sound like great tips. Tip #1 is a no brainier, this is a must for any budding entrepreneur.

    I would recommend that when you try and implement #2, you prod a little further on the company web site. Find out the direct contact of the eBusiness director or senior marketing manager responsible for web presence. I was once at a company where the web master would get emails from would be consultants off the website then delete the email and pawn off the ideas as his own in front of our director. Shady stuff, but expect it!

    Tip #3 is bold. And in a competitive market such as this, you have to be bold. But be warned that many people are turned off by overly “salesy” talk. But as we all know, any idea is a worth a try.

    Here are some other ways I have been successful in getting new clients.

    1. Speak about web technology at a business summit. Try and attend professional meetings for horizontal markets where your services can complement the people in attendance.

    2. Monitor local publications and newspapers and keep an eye out for any new fictitious business names that are registered. Contact potential clients immediately.

    3. Do pro bono work for well established charities and trusts. Many times you will find that board members are influential business leaders in the community.

    Good Luck Everyone,


  • I think you can also play #3 more indirectly… and may be even more effective, especially in highly competitive markets.

    Perhaps the message is more of a “What do you think they are doing?” or “They’re not sitting still, are you?”… okay, maybe not award winning pitches, but I think it opens up another perspective. The whole idea is to play into the natural insecurities and emtions of the unknown along with the competitive nature.

  • [SELES]

    These are some great ideas! I have thought pretty often about holding a seminar at the local library on web presence for small businesses. I am really interested in the seminar topics and training given Dr. Livingston, please share some more! All in all Andrew great article as always and great comments as well…

  • MickoZ

    Some people seem to think #3 can be see bad, etc. YES. However, if you don’t approach someone at all, then you lose (and forget about “well my reputation”, you try nothing, you get nothing).

    Now that I lost you… All I wanted to say in fact is… #3 is also kinda funny and original.

  • webnology

    I have to agree that #3 sounds more like a threat than a business opportunity. I prefer the softer way, but still using the blown up copy of the yellow pages. #1 has worked and is still working for me. All my clients started from referals, All of them !


  • Which came first, the customer or the referral?

  • Jack

    Haha I did try 3 just now and it did work great, I just print the yellow page on a a4 and include a letter and deliver them my self within 15 minutes I had my first call :)

  • Yeah, networking and initiation are everything in this business. #3 sounds like an interesting approach, I may try that some time if I get desperate.

  • pdxi

    Just a quick heads-up postscript: You can go to infousa.com or Experian and purchase mailing/calling lists of new businesses. You’ll have to be clever, though, because these people are often bombarded with mailings and phone calls after their information becomes public.

    This is perhaps a less search-intensive approach to doing what AnandC mentioned.

  • wildscribe

    These tips could also work for established web designers/developers/marketers as well.

    Like others have pointed out, I don’t think I would spend all the time to do number 3. I think it would be better to spend this time picking up the phone and calling contacts, and spreading your name around.

    When I started my freelance business in 1995, I called an old high school friend who was working at a not-for-profit arts council. He referred me to four other contacts, including a museum and a wine distributor. All four became my clients and this 20 minute phone call launched my business.

    You have to think like a fisherman. The larger the net you cast by contacting old and new contacts, the greater chance you have of finding work.

    Thanks Andrew for the ideas.

    – – – WiLd

  • redbone

    Number 3 won’t work if you’re trying to get your first client:

    “I’m going to help one of the companies on this page dramatically increase their business and market share with a dynamic, leading edge website. I hope it’s you, and not one of your competitors!”

    The fact is, you have no credibility when you talk about increasing business and market share unless you have a track record hat proves it. If a company appraoched me with that pitch, I’d say “Great, I can do with more business and market share. Show me what you’ve done to help other companies do it.”

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  • J.

    So here’s the real question-

    When you get 2 companies who call you back after trying the ‘compatition’ tactic- do you pick just one? (Thinking- you DID SAY ‘one’.) And if so, how long do you wait for a competitor to contact you before going ahead with the first contact?

  • jake the spud dot com

    J. said:
    “…how long do you wait for a competitor to contact you before going ahead with the first contact?”

    I think the idea is to target all the prospects on the page, sending each one a copy of the page with their competitors circled on it. That way each call you receive and/or follow-up would be a “first” contact… ;-)

    Another point is to be cautious of the amount you charge for first-time jobs. My friend toileted the market by only charging 1/3 of what basic sites cost. His work showed, too, but nobody cared.

  • Anonymous

    You need to spell check your articles before you post.
    there – their
    I borrow – I borrowed

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