If you’re just starting with your agency, finding your first client can feel like an impossible task.
You know what you want to do.
You know you can do it.
You just need the chance to prove it, right?
I’ve been there, and so have millions of others. So here's some advice that has helped many agencies get started.
1. You probably already know your first client 🤝
There’s a big chance that someone you know, or an associate of someone you know will be your agency's first client.
People make the world go round, and from the many agencies I’ve talked to - most people start with a referral from someone they know.
Tell everyone you know about your agency and the work you can do. Friends, family, old workmates, school friends, parents of school friends - anyone who will listen.
Let everyone know on your social networks what you're doing, share your website, share all updates - and get the word out there.
When my agency first started, I contacted absolutely everyone I knew and told them what we were doing and asked if they had any work, or knew of anyone that may need our help.
This got me a few phone calls and coffee meetings - and out of all of that, we got one project. Our first real agency project - a mobile app MVP for a startup.
Referrals also helped land my agency's first 7-figure client. So don’t ignore it, and always let people know how you can help them.
2. Step away from the screen 🖥
You can’t always sit behind a computer screen and hope to start a business.
Many businesses function primarily in the “real world”, and many of these businesses are your potential clients.
Network in real life. Attend events, meetups, and conferences.
Meet people, let them know what you do, and build real relationships.
Don’t go over-the-top selling. Sure, talk about what you do, but also listen to them. Not listening is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in sales.
There are also more direct real-life methods of getting work.
Door-to-door sales isn’t dead. Physically visit local businesses, and see if they are looking for your services.
They may not need you today, but they might tomorrow. Or they may know someone who does.
One-on-one conversations can do amazing things, and if nothing else, you will get better at pitching your services and more confident selling.
Edan Men-Atar placed road signs at intersections promoting his web design services.
$450 for 300 signs, and from one sign he landed a $1500 job alone. Pretty great return (and he’s still getting work from these signs!).
It takes creativity and hustle to build your business, especially in the early stages.
3. Other agencies need your help 🙋♂️
In the first year of my agency, I emailed other larger digital agencies to let them know we were a small software agency that did web and mobile development. If they had too much work they couldn’t deliver themselves, we could help them out.
This got us a few projects. They were small and pretty boring - but they brought in money, helped us learn some new technologies, and built relationships with other agencies.
Many businesses focus solely on overflow work from other businesses, so the market need is out there.
You can use sites like Clutch to find agencies in your niche, tech, or local area. And luckily every agency website has a contact form - so it’s not hard to talk directly to them.
Personally, I recommend it as a stepping stone to land your own projects, as I would rather be the one outsourcing than the one outsourced. But work is work, and it’s a great avenue if needed.
4. Start with anything 👏
Finding your niche is a great way to grow an agency, gain expertise, and charge higher rates.
But you don’t always have the luxury of picking and choosing your projects when you are just getting your business off the ground - and that’s fine.
Take whatever work you need to pay the bills and keep the lights on.
In fact, I recommend initially taking many different types of projects, as this can help you gain exposure across different industries and project types (which will help when you niche down).
And your first projects may be “less than perfect”.
They may not be as exciting as you want, or in the tech stack that you love - but if you can deliver great work, gain experience, and get your agency rolling - that’s awesome.
5. It’s OK to use marketplaces 🏪
The issue with these businesses is that many people make very little money, and may spend a lot of time pitching for projects they don’t win.
And that can be ok for a freelancer, but as an agency that is eventually looking to grow, hire, and land bigger jobs - focusing lots of time on these marketplaces can take away time that could be spent landing bigger projects.
As long as you understand this, and realise there are always people that will do it cheaper than you - but to get your business rolling, do whatever it takes.
I know people that do well on these marketplaces, but it’s a full-time job. Just like Twitter or any social network - you need to craft the perfect profile to draw people in, and then use authority and social proof to gain their trust. If interested, I recommend checking out Josh Burns, specifically his YouTube videos.
I would recommend you do everything else AND try these marketplaces at the same time.
Keep your fingers in many pies, the more pies the more chances of winning.
6. It’s OK to work for cheap (or free) 📉
If you are getting started and have no other projects in your portfolio - then it’s ok to charge whatever you need to charge to win a job. Even if it’s for free.
I used to be completely against working for free - but now after talking to many agency founders, I realise sometimes you just need to.
- Build your portfolio
- Do good work, and then get referrals
But I would say, don’t go straight to “free” - try and charge something (anything) first, free should be a last resort.
Be 100% sure of the project scope. Ensure the project is clearly defined, and your client understands exactly what you will be delivering. This cannot be something that will drag on forever.
7. Stick it out 🐘
Most people give up, and most businesses fail - often because people give up.
Try everything, and if it’s not working, research, study, learn, tweak your pitch - and try again.
Overnight success stories are bullshit.
You don’t see the 10 years of battle scars and hard lessons learnt that happened before that overnight success.