Why you don’t have any clients (and proven steps to get some)

You’ve started your business, and maybe have been open for months–or years–but things are slow. You get a bit of consulting work every now and then, but can’t seem to get things off the ground. Maybe you’ve even wondered whether you should throw in the towel and just go back to a day job.

Like my mom once told me when I was going through some career indecision, ‘You’re floundering!” Descriptive, maybe, but not exactly helpful. (Besides, I wasn’t exactly laying around on the seafloor, with 2 eyes on the side of my head).Is your business floundering?

But wait! Don’t be hasty. Maybe you haven’t been doing enough of the right things.

First things first

First, you’ll need to figure out why you don’t have any–or many–clients. Since starting your consulting business, what have you done to snag clients? Make a list of all the tactics you’ve taken action on to find clients.

Next, make a check next to any action that directly or indirectly led to you getting paid work.

Now, look at the activities that have NOT led to any paid work. I’ll take a stab and say that those losing activities are probably easy, comfortable, or familiar to you. Am I right? I know the feeling, since I’ve been there.

If you want different results, do different things

It’s the old saying, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” The problem is, while that’s helpful in figuring out what ISN’T getting results, it doesn’t tell you what you SHOULD be doing instead.

Common mistakes

From talking with a lot of consultants & freelancers, I’ve come up with a list of common mistakes that people make when starting their consulting businesses–mistakes which typically result is a lackluster or nonexistent flow of work.

  • You haven’t defined your niche: “But I already HAVE a niche!” you say. Easy, Tex. Before you get in a huff, take a look at your marketing materials (website, brochure, whatever). Are you targeting a SINGLE market? Or are you targeting multiple markets? Focusing on multiple kinds of customers from different areas is a red flag that you don’t have a well-defined niche. And sometimes, if you’re trying to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to NO ONE, since you’ll come off as amateurish. If you needed brain surgery, you wouldn’t go to a doctor who offers brain surgery, flu shots, and acne treatment, would you? Hell no. You’d think, “What kind of quack is this bozo?!” So, define your niche.
  • You don’t clearly define the benefits: I’ve been guilty of this as well. It’s natural–and easier–to list the kinds of services you provide, whether it’s brain surgery, flu shots, or acne treatment. But guess what? No one cares. Instead, people want to know how you’ll make things better. So, tell them how you’ll help, and later, you can tell them how. “I cure acne” is a clear benefit. Prospective clients will be drawn in by that message, and then might ask how you’ll do it, at which point you can talk all about face peels, benzoyl peroxide, skin-gouge acid burning, hypnotic zit reduction, and crystal consciousness-awakening colonics. Whatever. The point is, you’ve snagged the client by telling them how you’ll help.
  • Ineffective marketing tactics: I’ve done this too. When I first started, I spent a bunch of time meticulously designing a brochure (which, um, listed all the junk I do–without mentioning any benefits). I didn’t think much about the fact that I had no idea who I’d be sending those brochures to. In fact, nearly 5 years later, those brochures still sit in an envelope in the back of a desk drawer.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Yep, guilty as charged. My first cold-calls to prospective clients–even though I got friendly responses–did not turn into paid work. At least not initially. But even so, I felt defeated. However, those calls did help to get the word out that I was available for work, and eventually, many of those cold calls did turn into paid work, but it took some time–several months in most cases. The lesson: don’t expect work to pour in as soon as you announce that you’re in business. It’ll take time. Keep checking in, politely, with prospects, and eventually many of those prospects–if they’re well-chosen–should pan out and turn into paid work.
  • Afraid to market yourself: God, this was painful. I hated making those cold calls, and I still don’t like it. But now that I’ve done it, I have my little script, and I know that people are usually friendly and willing to talk about the work problems that I can help with. Now, that may not translate into business, but it typically does. Although, again, be patient. Fortunately, I’ve done some smart marketing so that I get clients coming to me rather than me having to pound the virtual pavement trolling for work. I love when clients come to me with work ready to go. Those are my favorite phone calls.

How do I get clients, already?!

Great question! I love information that I can use, so I’ll give you some actionable tactics to snag clients.

But remember, even if you go gangbusters with all these tactics over the next week, you’ll still probably have to wait for your efforts to pay off. You’re planting seeds here, and they’ll bear fruit eventually, but it’s going to take some time. You’ll probably want to nurture your seedlings by continuing to cultivate your young relationships with prospects.

With that in mind, I’ve already written a few solid articles on how to get clients:

  • Surprising and proven ways to get clients, Part 1
  • Surprising and proven ways to get clients, Part 2
  • How I got $80k in business using SEO: This is one of my favorite client-snagging tactics, because it gets clients to come to me. No more cold calls. I love it.
  • Offer something for free: This may sound weird, but it can succeed, and can create raving fans of your work. If you’re calling a prospective client, find out their pain points–the things that cause them the biggest discomfort that you can help with. Then, free of charge, deliver something to them that will knock their socks off and help them score a big win. They’ll see just how valuable you can be. When they see how indispensable you are, you can talk about other specific things you can work on, while making sure to discuss your rate and compensation.

Finally, while you’re at it, you should also take a look at my 2-part series on how to find/define your profitable niche, and why having a niche is so important:

A final warning (and a request)

Okay, you’ve gotten this far. Hopefully you’ve even read the articles I linked to above.

But let me warn you: without putting anything into action, you’ll be stuck in your current rut.

Don’t just skim the list of tactics! Try them out. Do them. See what happens. Give it some time. Once you start getting some results from something, do more of it. Iterate your way to success.

If you’re overwhelmed, don’t worry. Instead, focus on trying just 1 tactic now, seriously working on it for 3-4 weeks, and monitor your progress. You WILL move forward.

Ready? Now, here’s the request: once you’ve chosen 1 tactic to implement, e-mail me to let me know specifically what you’re going to do. I want to see what you try and how it goes. Telling someone else that you’re going to commit to something makes it MUCH more likely that you’ll actually do it. Whatever happens, I guarantee that taking action will move you forward.

Now go to it!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Consulting business: Are you making this amateur mistake? - February 22, 2012 Reply

[…] Proven steps to get clients […]

Will - April 10, 2014 Reply

All of these tactics are great, but my problem is much simpler than this – Where do you find people to call? My niche is writing business and marketing plans for start-ups.

    Greg Miliates - April 11, 2014 Reply

    Hey, Will, thanks for your question. The answer is beyond what I can offer here in a comment, but at its core, you need to determine where your prospects can be found, what channels you can use to reach them, and then test how to reach out to them. Along the way, you need to review and iterate your process to refine what works, and improve/optimize as you’re working to source clients.

    In almost all cases, having a very clear, very specific picture of your prospects will help your marketing.

Alison - May 25, 2014 Reply

Hi Greg, thanks for a great website. I have target companies in mind for my niche, but am clueless as to how to reach out to these people, i.e. how to sell.

What tactics would you normally use where you have a target company in mind?

In my niche (trade compliance for import / export) companies often think they’re compliant to legislative requirements, but more often than not are way off track. Is it an impossible task to try to sell something to someone they don’t think they need, even if they do need it?

    Greg Miliates - May 29, 2014 Reply

    Hey, Alison, great question. If you’re targeting a company(ies), one of the best strategies to use is to give them something valuable–WITHOUT selling anything or asking for anything in return. Essentially, you’re first demonstrating how valuable you are to them as part of relationship & trust building; later, the prospect will want to engage you for paid work. That’s an oversimplification of the process, but you get the idea.

    In practice, you could, for example, email the prospect a very concise report/summary of the top compliance mistakes–and their consequences–for companies like theirs, along with quick/easy action steps they could take. Again, all you want to do at this initial stage is demonstrate your value and build trust. You can later follow up with a quick email in a week or 2 asking what they thought, basically continuing the conversation your started.

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