Why is it so difficult for so many self-employed, online entrepreneurs to get new clients, grow their income, and successfully sell their services online?
It’s a genuine struggle. Most graphic designers, web developers, writers, editors, coaches, SEO people, and social media managers face what seems to be an uphill battle. They’re finding it very difficult to get new clients and sell their online services.
Why? Is the market too crowded? Is the economy to blame? This question has been asked, answered, analyzed so many times in articles, books, videos, and courses… I almost hesitated to write about it.
Despite all the above, for many, most the roadblocks seem to remain.
If anything, the problem is more widespread today than it was even 10-20 years ago.
Hindsight being what it is, I’d like to share with you a few insights with you. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take one or two and apply them to your situation.
First a disclaimer.
Looking back, I did more things wrong than I did right since starting in this business 20+ years ago. By the Grace of God, I survived, grew, and lived to tell the story. I enjoy sharing the high points and seldom talk about the low ones.
That said, the trial by fire path is something I’m well acquainted with. If you’re in that place right now, commit to living one day at a time. In other words, stop thinking about how far you are from success. Stop dwelling on how far you have to go… and realize that even getting it right a few times can change the whole story.
One hit can erase the dozens of misses in business.
If you’re a beginner, this will help you keep things in the right perspective. If you’re a veteran, this can possibly help you begin your course-correction.
Okay, let’s dig into this a little bit
Your First Clients
Imagine an empty plot of land being the site of a future garden. The ground has been plowed over, weeds pulled, etc.
Then comes the planting of your very first seeds.
That’s the visual that would best describe how I originally started my business. It started from ground zero. One computer, some software… and a dream. From there, I planted my first seeds. I’m talking about my first marketing efforts. Simply put, I let people know I existed and hoped they needed what I was offering!
My goal was to create value for each of my clients as they came onboard – one by one.
Using the garden analogy, the first harvest was very small. But here’s where it gets interesting. The first group of clients would ultimately lead to or “create” the second group or generation of clients.
I’m talking about referrals, but I’m using gardening symbology because it really reflects the growth process well.
Every organic thing contains within it the seeds of the future. Everything reproduces after its own kind.
My initial clients helped open the doors that led to my future clients.
Looking back, I can also see how some clients who weren’t a great fit for my business referred others who were just like them. Not a great fit.
It’s the “everything reproduces after its own kind” principle at work again.
There were exceptions, but it happened often enough to take notice of it.
Having the Wrong Clients
When you’re just starting out, your first clients set the tone for things to come. Some clients are a bad fit. If you get enough of that type of client in the beginning, it can be really demoralizing.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people talk about wanting to get out of the services business completely because they hate dealing clients.
When someone says that, you know they’ve attracted clients who were a bad fit.
We can talk about all the reasons why someone might be a poor fit for your business or your service – but I really don’t think that’s necessary.
You know when it’s a bad fit or when it becomes a bad fit over time.
Think about a room full of people. One negative person can change the atmosphere of the entire room. I’m talking about a habitually negative person. The kind that refuses to accept any kind of solution or resolution. The kind that embraces the misery loves company approach to life. Removing that person from the room changes everything.
The same approach can be applied to business. Don’t run away from an entire industry just because you did business with the wrong people in the past. Learn from the mistakes and make better choices going forward.
Create processes to weed out those who aren’t a good fit.
Yes, I know you need the money and don’t want to be too picky. I’m just saying it’s within your power to create win-win scenarios – even if the other party doesn’t have a large budget.
The client/business relationship should be a win-win for both parties.
You should be happy with them and they should be happy with you.
Learn How to Price Your Services Better
Consider creating small, medium and large versions of each of your services – with the price-points to match.
You can even create small, medium and large pricing for different industries. In other words, a car dealership is used to paying premium prices. So maybe you have a different small, medium and large set for them?
All things being equal, a chain of breakfast restaurants has a much larger budget to work than a single, family-owned, breakfast restaurant.
The 3-tier pricing model works great because you’re not presenting a potential client with a take it or leave it type of offer. You’re giving them options.
Just about every industry does this, so why shouldn’t you?
You can order a six-ounce, eight-ounce or twelve-ounce steak for dinner. They’re priced accordingly.
You can buy a 1,000 square foot condo or a 3,500 square foot house. With upgrades, the price increases accordingly.
Fiverr is a good example of a company who changed their pricing model from bargain basement to multiple-tier pricing.
Once you understand this approach, you can start applying it to your own services.
How Do People See You?
Without an existing reputation or some kind of a referral type of introduction… you are an unknown quantity to a prospective client. Obviously, you can see how this would stack the deck against you.
I’ve found in this type of situation, people look for commonalities as they size people up. I know the word judgment sounds harsh, but we make small judgments all the time without even thinking much about it. Think about how this applies.
For example, I live in Florida, but I was born and raised in New Jersey. When I meet business people here in Florida that come from the New Jersey/New York area, there’s a bit of bond.
If I meet someone from my hometown, there’s even more of a connection.
You get the idea.
If you’re completely unknown in your market… all these little things can factor into whether or not people “buy you” (and by extension – what you’re offering).
We make snap judgments and categorize people faster than we realize sometimes. When we get more information, we adjust our opinions accordingly.
In the beginning, especially, do whatever is within your power to do to be seen in a positive light.
Getting Lost in the Growing Crowd
Let me stop here and say this, “Getting lost in the crowd is miserable!”
The reality is, there are many others selling similar services with similar pricing. Some are selling for a lot more and possibly some a lot less.
Then there’s you.
This is the place where you can often find yourself paralyzed by indecision and at a complete loss as to how to practically apply these different ideas.
For example, you can’t figure out how to set up your own multi-tier pricing. This could be either for a one-off project or a pre-packaged service offering of some kind.
You must work through this. If it’s your first time with this approach, of course, it’s going to be a little tougher figuring it out. Just take your time and do it. Don’t psych yourself out.
Go to fiverr.com and find the top sellers in your market. Study their pricing structure and use it as a starting point for your own. Give yourself a little bit of time to really think it through.
Maybe the best you can do is two levels? That’s fine.
All the pricing psychology stuff aside, I’ve found that COMMUNICATION is the critical component when it comes to successfully selling your services.
I “meet” most of my clients for the very first time in the inbox or on the phone. Usually, the inbox leads to a phone call.
We talk about whatever their business needs. Then, if possible, I create a video walkthrough to share my thoughts and ideas. I upload the video as unlisted on YouTube and I send them the link. I have hundreds of video “messages” I’ve created over the years.
This method has been a game-changer for me. I “show” clients and prospects whatever it is I’m proposing. I show them what they’ll be getting. I use Camtasia Studio to do these simple walkthroughs and the results have been outstanding.
There’s free software out there if you don’t want to invest in Camtasia or similar products. Just search for screen recording software or apps.
Through these videos, I move from being a two-dimensional connection to a three-dimensional one. That’s how it feels to the person on the other side of the screen.
Couple this with everything else I’ve already mentioned in this article and you’ve upped your game to different level. Does that mean the floodgates suddenly open?
Compared to before, maybe. But don’t forget – everything has to be sold.
Learn to Listen Closely to What They’re Saying
I’m sure you already realize that everyone loves to talk about themselves, their projects, and whatever it is they have going on? I’m bringing this up because your ability to listen to others and read between the lines is a skill worth refining. If there’s a heads and tails side to communication, that’s what we’re talking about.
You absolutely, positively must develop your listening skills. Especially with new business contacts. Once you discover what they need and what they’re working with, you’ll have a much better idea about whether they’ll be a good fit for you or not.
I’ve met people on social media platforms, forums, in my local marketplace, etc. The people are out there. Don’t think for a minute they’re in short supply.
The more you listen, you less you’ll have to say when it comes to selling.
Most people have a lot going on in their lives. Especially successful, well-established, business owners. Don’t expect to exchange a dozen emails, phone calls or anything else with them on the front end.
Talk about their business and their needs first. This is one of the reasons why videos are so effective. You can tell them you’ve created a five-minute (for example) video going over how you can help them and send them the link.
They can listen at their convenience. It’s just like Netflix, right? People watch at their convenience on their own schedule.
When Progress Slows to a Drip…
When you’re just getting started, it’s especially easy to get discouraged when things play out slowly. Maybe you’re selling social media services or writing copy… and project bids are few and far in between? What happens? During your downtime, your mind starts working against you.
Maybe you start to question your career path, your place in the world, and everything else?!
Then, you lose focus and trying every method, plan or blueprint you can get your hands on. When someone asks what you do for a living, you need 15-minutes to explain everything because you’re all over the map.
Instead of digging deep, you dig wide. There isn’t much depth to anything you do and you have a bank balance to prove it.
So, we circle around back to a foundational truth. Everything has to be sold. Selling requires focus, focus requires discipline, and discipline requires patience.
You may have to bid on five jobs to get to get the right one. The right one being – the customer for life.
How many jobs do you bid on each month? How many people contact you or are referred to you every month?
If the number is too low, why not go to them instead?
Having a website with product pricing isn’t selling. Selling is talking to people who need what you have and asking them to buy.
Nothing sells itself. Stop looking for the exceptions to that rule. The more people you talk to, the more likely you are to start making sales.
A Simple System to get you Started
- Do a search for local businesses in your area you’d like to sell your services to.
- Research their online presence to see what they’re missing and if you can help them.
- Create a simple screen recording video that’s a few minutes long introducing yourself and showing them how you can help them. Upload it as unlisted to YouTube
- Write a short intro email that has a link to the video.
- Offer a small, medium and large priced solutions. (Sometimes I skip this step until after I’ve talked with them.)
- Let them know you’re a local business and leave both your phone number and email address. (Let them pick their preferred method).
- Offer a list of local references if you have one.
- Make the sale.
Keep a list of who you’ve contacted, when you’ve contacted them, and when you need to follow up. If they say, “No,” move on to the next person. If that makes you nervous, look at it like a game. Most people say, “No.”
But a few will say, Yes!”
The YES’s change the game completely.
I assure you, there’s nothing to be afraid of. A big monster isn’t going to show up at your door and eat you because you cold-called someone. Every business you find online will either have an email address, a Facebook page or a contact form.
Contacting people won’t be that difficult.
Maybe set a goal to contact x-number of businesses a month?
Like you, I can find a way to keep busy and avoid doing something I’m afraid will fail.
Your actions reflect your deep-seeded beliefs. If you think your approach sucks, you won’t be anxious to follow through. You won’t be anxious to send the email or upload the video.
In short, if you’re playing it scared, you need to face your fears and beat them.
If you lack confidence, tell yourself you’ll probably have to contact twenty business before one says, “Yes.” Mentally prepare yourself for it.
Then, when one stops you along your journey to twenty, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Thanks for reading and feel free to share your thoughts, insights or experiences below.