I often get calls from people who are interested in being info-entrepreneurs, and they ask me for tips on getting their first client. I have encouraged that mind-set; I wrote a white paper years ago for the Association of Independent Information Professionals titled "Getting Your First Five Clients." I have come to realize, though, that focusing on the first few clients isn't always the best way to build your business.
(And for those of you who already have your first 50 clients, keep in mind that this applies to any new market you go into as well. Whenever I create a new product or service, I am back to getting my first 10 buyers of my new offering.)
I have seen, both in my own business and in those of others, that it isn't terribly difficult to get a client, if my definition of "client" includes being paid far less than my normal hourly rate, or - worse yet - if I agree to work for free as a "test". Unfortunately, getting these kinds of clients doesn't teach me how to find clients who can support my business. I have to be careful that I don't spend my time chasing after clients who aren't sustainable.
If I find that I am getting lots of interest but no buyers, or if my prospective clients balk at my budget, I'm either not communicating my value or I'm talking to the wrong crowd. So I first look at my marketing strategies and see how I can better communicate to my clients why they should call me... that is, what's in it for them, not what features or services I provide. If I understand my clients' information analysis needs and am communicating my value clearly, and am still not closing the deals, then I need to figure out where the disconnect is.
At this point, I often go back to the informational interview. (You can read an article about it here.) Do I really understand what my clients value? Am I talking with people who have the budget authority to pay for my services? Am I talking with people in the revenue end of their organization? How can I better tie my deliverables to their bottom line? And finally, am I enjoying myself right now, or is marketing to this group really difficult for me?
The answers will help me make mid-stream corrections in my annual marketing plan. In fact, I expect to make adjustments during the year, as I learn what is most effective in bringing in my 10th new client in whatever area I am expanding into.