Chasing clients can be a pain, no matter if you’re a small agency or a solo consultant.
Since I went on my own 10 years ago, this has been the most frequently asked question:
How do you find clients & contract gigs?
The trick is I mostly do not search for clients. Instead, I “plant little seeds” online.
These “little seeds” grow and work for me while I’m busy doing consulting, or working on business projects, or even having a good time with my family. What I call “little seed” usually meets the following criterias:
- It is content: either a link, a discussion, a post, slides, or a video.
- It must be online, so that it can reach a wider audience and work for me while I sleep.
- It has to deliver actionable tips or useful knowledge on a domain I target.
In essence, it’s a variation of educational content marketing for small agencies and consultants, but with limited overhead and on narrow domains.
Below you’ll find the types of seeds I’ve been using with success over the last years (here I’ve been picking examples around data transformation a.k.a. ETL gigs, but this works for pretty much anything).
Give talks, then share your slides & video online
What? A talk? But I’m no expert!
You do not have to start with something huge, nor to do it too often. Just start with a little barcamp or a meetup, and deliver a short presentation on something very targeted that you found useful. Then as you gain confidence, target larger conferences.
The single most critical point is: make sure to share the slides and the video online.
If you do so, you get a gift that keeps on giving.
Concrete examples I’ve done about this:
- A small 12-slide feedback on a pet project I made, shared in a little barcamp in 2009.
- Feedback from implementing data transformations with Ruby, for a Ruby conference in 2012.
These are assets that work nicely to increase the confidence of potential clients and improve your perceived authority. When people get in touch with you, they already know you a bit!
Remember, you can start super-small, and this will still work.
Action point: find a meetup or a user group then prepare a little presentation on something not too overwhelming!
Deliver useful articles on your target topics
I personally do not focus too much on “opinions” kind of posts, but instead, I try to share actionable, helpful tips, that can be of immediate use. These articles do not need to be huge, nor super well written. They can be super focused.
If you go that road, make sure to take some time to share your articles on social networks and sites you read.
- A short post introducing the “ETL” keyword to Rubyists.
- A slightly longer post on how to write easy-to-maintain data processing code.
Like videos, these resources can be shared later, emailed to your prospects to demonstrate value on a given topic.
Action point: did you discover something useful last week? Something that improved your work-flow quite a bit? Take one hour or two to write an article and share it online.
Use Twitter to share useful links related to your craft
If you spend some time doing research, or notice something useful on a specific topic, just enqueue a little tweet with a quick comment and a link to your Buffer account. While slides, videos and articles deliver a great perception of value, tweets (and retweets) can more easily lead to connections with new people (including potential clients), so it is important to mix different types of “little seeds”.
Twitter, used in conjunction with other types of little seeds, brought me the final step that led to contracts over the past years.
A couple of useful notes:
- Never just tweet “I’m now available for work”. This leaves people mostly clueless about which services you deliver. To the very least, add a bit of keywords to describe your line of work in there!
- Update your Twitter bio to make it clear you or your agency can be hired, for which type of work, and link to your website.
Action point: create a Buffer account and link it to your twitter account. Find 3 useful links to share. Add yourself a repeat reminder to add more!
Be constructive on forums
It’s a good idea to participate into online discussions, but if you do so:
- Do your best to be constructive (remember that everyone has an opinion and respect that).
- Try to provide genuine help to newcomers.
- Timebox your total time spent on this activity.
In each discussion, make sure to keep a link to your website in your signature. Make it easy for potential clients to get extra information about you.
Action point: find 2 forums where you could provide value by being helpful to others. Create a reminder to batch-review and reply once a week.
If your current client is super happy about your work, don’t wait: ask them a testimonial right now.
Sometimes they won’t be sure how to write it, so let them know you can provide guidance if needed.
Add the testimonial to your website directly (not only on LinkedIn) and it will increase the trust of potential clients.
Action point: contact a current or former client and ask if they could write a little testimonial. Publish it online.
Build cheat sheets
Cheat sheets are fairly likely to be shared on social networks.
If you learn something new, write down notes as you go, then repackage that knowledge in a short yet nice-looking PDF and a companion article.
- Sketch 3 Cheat Sheet for designers.
- Setting Attributes in ActiveRecord for Rails developers.
I’ve not implemented cheat sheets myself, but I know a couple of people who have done so with great success (again, used in conjunction with other types of “little seeds”).
Action point: take 15 minutes to brainstorm about things you have discovered recently that you could repackage into cheat sheets.
For developers: open-source projects on a niche topic
As long as you make sure to timebox agressively and keep your open-source project lightweight and very focused, starting or maintaining an open-source project can really act as a funnel for your consulting work.
Again, a couple of notes if you go that road:
- Timebox aggressively to avoid burning out.
- Put a strong emphasis on articles and documentation (which multiply the value of your project).
- Make sure to create useful articles and start a mailing list if possible.
For instance, in April 2015 I’ve started a Ruby gem called Kiba (which helps Ruby developers process data). I must still make it clear that I’m available for casual consulting on the site and the GitHub readme, but despite this I have already landed 2 gigs and more leads thanks to targeting this domain and using open-source as advertising.
Action point: this would deserve a whole article.
When possible, try to avoid sharing news that will be obsolete too soon, and focus on content that is a bit more timeless. This will make sure your “little seeds” last a bit longer.
As well, remember than using a single type of “little seed” alone is much less efficient that doing a bit of all: if people hear about you via multiple channels, this will again increase the perceived authority.
Apply these tips and you will rarely have to look for work!
Thank you for sharing this article!