It’s a catch 22 situation. Its chicken and the egg stuff. In order to build a portfolio you need clients. In order to land clients and secure projects, you need a portfolio. Seems to be a common problem amongst a lot of freelancers new to the business, and one that certainly needs addressing.
Often I’m sent emails with freelancers asking …
“John, how can I get clients and sell my services when I don’t have a portfolio?”
Firstly, and let's be honest, having a portfolio definitely helps. Not only does it make your client feel more comfortable, but it helps build trust and credibility. These two elements are essential in any business, and in particular, even moreso online. With that credibility comes proof of your abilities and this in itself simply helps to sell your services. Or at the very least, makes the sales process a whole lot easier.
Secondly, new clients are almost always going to ask to see some kind of evidence of your work. 9 times out of 10 I would be asked “Have you got another clients website that I can take a look at?” or, “Could you put me in touch with a previous client so that I can ask a few questions?”
Both valid questions, and I mean, who could blame anyone for asking? They’re about to hand over their hard earned cash so why not?
The issue is, until you’re established this isn't really possible. Especially if you’re just starting out, and have yet to land a client at all. It's not going to look so great, having no portfolio or client base. And no, don't use your uncle or brother inlaw as a fake referral. It's unethical and bad business practice.
So how can we overcome this?
Lets take a quick look at 4 possible options.
1. Volunteer or charity work.
Whilst this might seem a pretty ordinary option due to the fact that you’re not going to make any money, it’s a matter of forgetting about the short term reward and thinking long term. In order to establish yourself in this business youre going to have to make some sacrficies at first, and that, unfortunately might mean working for free.
Now before you start grumbling about having bills to pay, think about some of the charity groups in your local area, the people that work there voluntarily, and most importantly, the people they help. Often these people are less fortunate and are in desperate need of help. You may not make any money, but who cares? You’re going to feel pretty damn good about helping someone out, doing something really positive and building your portfolio at the same time. Infact, this method can be the most powerful of all, because it demonstrates good will, and not just regular paid work.
2. Rank your own site well.
It seems obvious doesn’t it? If your client performs a search for “Search Engine Optimization in Sydney” and your site ranks first, then that in itself should be an excellent selling point and evidence that you know what youre doing. However, if your site is back on page 46 in Google, then its likely that your phone isnt going to ring off the hook. Sometimes, developing your own site to rank highly before going full time, may be benficial in terms of attracting potential clients – even without a portfolio.
3. Offer discounts.
Another great way of building a client base is by offering discounts. Now generally speaking, I advocate against this, particularly in my seo business kit. Its never wise to lower your pricing just to land a client or project, however, when youre first starting out, you have to make a decision. Is $600 a month going to be benefical as opposed to zero? Of course! You may not be pulling in $5,000 a month, but that’s not important right now. What's important is building your client base, raising awareness and establishing credibility.
4. Be honest and simply ask for the work.
Heres a thought. How about actually telling new clients that you’re just starting out and that you would really appreciate it if they would consider taking on your services. There's no point approaching clients in a hawaiian shirt with your hair slicked back, pitching some fancy sales promotion. that’s only going to lead to issues later on. It's about honesty!
When I first started out, I told clients that my business was new, and that I was working hard on finding clients and securing projects. None of them seemed to mind that much, and infact it may have had more of a positive impact than I first thought.
I generated most of my business by simply handing out cards at local businesses. I would go door knocking, from business to business and say "Hi my names John, Ive just started my own SEO business in the area and I'm out today to raise awareness about it. Id just like to leave this card with you – have a great day”
This way there’s no pressure, there’s no hard selling, you leave a card and they know about you. Eventually someone is going to say (just as they did with me on numerous occasions) – “Thank's so much for stopping in, we’ve been wanting to ... (perform task description here) for ages, please come into our office”.
So there you go. 4 quick and simple tips to get more clients in your seo business. Before you start posting on forums asking in desperation or complaining about not having any business, think about implementing the suggestions above.
Before wrapping up, here's a really useful video posted by the guys over at seomoz.org, covering additional strategies for securing clients.
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