Today's emerging entrepreneurs have become really good at doing one thing: falling into sheer terror by the sole idea of having to get clients.
Thanks to Instagram and various other outlets that pose entrepreneurship as an all-or-nothing, Gary Vee-style 'hustle', new entrepreneurs tend to think that success is determined by being fully booked the minute they launch. Anything less than that is a clear sign that the self-employed life just isn't for them.
But let's be honest: most people who launch an online business today aren't immediately bombarded with 10 or 20 clients ready to throw their money at them. It takes time to build a personal brand, create a community of loyal followers, and have active systems in place that allow them to regularly bring in new potential customers and foster those relationships. This is a long term game.
But here's the little known secret: It all starts with finding just one customer. Just one. Here's why.
Getting clients is the same as dating or house hunting - you don't need 10 boyfriends or 20 apartments to "win" at either of those tasks, right? All you need is one boyfriend and one apartment to succeed, and everything else after that comes easier. Same goes with starting a business: all you need is one client to start off. One person who believes in you. One person who you can assist. One person who's willing to pay you to make their lives easier.
Just one person. How hard can that really be?
Don't underestimate how much you can gain from signing just one client. After working with them, you have some experience, a great testimonial, new referrals - and most importantly, the momentum and confidence to keep you going.
Long story short: Don't freak yourself out over needing a full client list right away. Focus on the one, and the rest will fall into place.
I asked several entrepreneurs in my community how they landed their first clients, and here's what they shared:
"I landed my first client the old fashioned way: they were in pain, and I had the solution. The owner of a design and development agency called me in a panic on the streets of Singapore. His company had just finished a presentation where they misspelled the word "simple" on their final slide. And it was part of the prospective client's mission statement. This taught me one thing that I've carried into all my pitches: never underestimate the power of saving someone from a simple problem. To them, it feels like life or death."
- Aaron Orendorff, Content Strategist + Copywriter
"I got my first client after "going live" with my website. I posted and campaigned via Facebook and had all my friends share. All of this was wonderful and helpful. However, my client found me just by doing a Google search. Somewhat anticlimactic when it comes to a story but it was a great feeling at the time to know people were connecting to me through their own initiative and resources."
- Nitsan Ozer, Founder of Therapy TLV
"My first client on the internet was a result of Fiverr, and for dropshipping, I got my first client in less than 48 hours once I turned on Google PLAs (Product Listing Ads). I believe it was a $340 sale I was driving home from church and was in complete shock someone bought something from a site I built. It was a super cool feeling"
- Earnest Epps, eCommerce Specialist
"When I started my first marketing business, I couldn't wait to get my first client! But with so many ways to generate new business, especially at the start, it can all be a little overwhelming. So I took a step back and thought "What is the easiest possible thing that I could do to get my first client?"
I figured I needed 2 things. Firstly, a way to get an appointment with a potential client. Secondly, a way to easily close the deal once I met them. Then it clicked - referrals.
I've got over 1,000 Facebook friends so I used that as a benchmark and reached out to 30 people I was close to on Facebook. I figured that it would give me a 'potential' reach of 30,000 people - absolutely free! So I reached out to each of them, told them about my business and offered a 25% commission if they refer me to a potential client. Just like that, I got referred to 3 people, set up one appointment which led to my first client who signed up for 6 months, full-service digital marketing retainer! Since I was a referral, it made it that much easier to actually close the deal.
So when you start your business, reach out to friends and family and incentivise them to refer you to people they know by offering them a referral bonus. It's like your own mini affiliate network of friends and family."
- Alistair Clarence, Founder of Mental Reshape
"I had started my agency in Nov 2015, after I had the opportunity to help out a friend who was an app developer. He had the tech skills, and I had the sales skills, so we linked up. All throughout November, December, and January I was making connections and pitches but I didn't get any sales in. I wasn't ready to give up - so I kept pushing to make something happen. I continued the conversion with one of the prospects and got closer and closer to a mobile app deal. Finally in February, we came to an agreement and got started for a $15,000 project. This was an insane amount of money for me as a first time online business owner. It gave me the inspiration I needed to continue chasing after bigger and better, and I've been running an agency full time ever since. Taking that leap and sticking to it has changed my life in so many ways and I couldn't be happier I did it!"
- Arne Giske, Host of the Millennial Entrepreneur Podcast
"My first paying client started from helping a friend back in 2013, I was running an inspiration blog and was in-between growing my portfolio by offering free services and applying for corporate marketing gigs. I got really good at Wordpress because I was running my own blog on it and self-taught myself.
One night I get this frantic call from one of my good friends who called me up crying and stressed out telling me that she told this woman she could manage her social media and edit her Wordpress site. She didn't know Wordpress. So she's freaking out because she has to have these Wordpress edits fixed by the following morning and she thought she would be able to just figure it out. So I stay up until 3 in the morning fixing this woman's website and getting all the edits that needed to get done.
The next day I get a message from my friend telling me that she felt so guilty that she confessed to the woman that I was the one who fixed her site. The woman then reached out to me really impressed and told me that she had hired other companies/freelancers to fix the issue but none of them did - and I fixed it in under 24hrs. She then wanted to hire me for further website jobs.
That woman ended up becoming my first paying client and mentor. And it was a celebrity client who had her own show on A&E TV! The moral of the story is this: all of this was a mixture of luck, the right timing, a service mindset, and getting damn good at your skill set. If I didn't have all those elements mixed up at the same time this opportunity wouldn't have happened like that. Getting your first client happens when skillset meets heart."
- Amanda Rivera, PR Coach
It doesn't take 10 clients, 2 years or $120K in revenue to prove to yourself that you can do this. Just start with the one, and the rest will follow.