Oh the question of a lifetime — how do you get customers to come pay for your services? Better yet, how do you keep them around once you’ve got them? Here are some excellent strategies to help you market yourself effectively when you’re starting out.

1. Put forward examples of your work.

This is the biggest headache for people just starting out, because the bitter truth is this — someone is going to be your first client, and they may or may not know that. If you’re lucky enough that this client is a family or friend (AND they’re willing to pay you) then you’ve hit an amazing jackpot. Sometimes, you’re not as lucky, and they’re neither a friend nor family member… and/or they don’t pay you.

Before I continue, let me briefly air this pet peeve I have. There are PLENTY of people out there looking to exploit you for your work, and who will promise you exposure, and nothing else. (I don’t often hate people, but these people rank rather high on my hit list, should I ever decide to switch careers and become a bounty hunter.) BE CAUTIOUS about these people, and know that your skills, as novice as they might be, have value. That said, sometimes you do have to take on pro bono clients in order to build experience. If you do, be sure that you’re working for someone trustworthy, who is patient with you as you learn, and who honestly does know the value of your work. If they don’t, take a moment to educate them.

Alright now that we’ve put that out there, consider doing work for non-profits if you need a client to add to your portfolio. They may not even ask you for help, but check if they could use help with something — like an outdated website, a bad logo (or a lack of one), or heck, even fundraiser t-shirts that you can design — and give them a proof-of-concept (that is, show them what your work COULD look like if they’re willing to work with you). Don’t have a non-profit to work for?  Make stuff up! Design concept WordPress themes. Do art for art’s sake. Pull stuff you worked on in high school and college. It won’t pay the bills, but it’ll be a start to your portfolio.

2. Rethink cold-calling, and use contextual marketing.

People use to insist that cold-calling was the best way to reach a new market and make sales. People still might insist this is the best strategy. Unfortunately, cold-calling is antiquated in this day and age. Why? Because contextual marketing has proven to be FAR more successful.

Think about it. If you know that you need orange juice, being reminded when you’re in the bathroom at work isn’t exactly the most effective reminder. But if you’re reminded that you need orange juice on the way to the car after work, you would be way more likely to actually buy your orange juice.

The same applies with marketing and reaching new audiences. If you market to people when they’re not interested in the work you do, you won’t be very likely to turn any heads. You’ll sound like a telemarketer. However, if you’re a small business owner looking at web design firms and freelancers, you’ll be more likely to consider branding kits, brand identity workshops, and probably drag-and-drop website editors. This is why retargeting ads are extremely effective. Try to target a group of people that have the pain point that YOUR services can alleviate.

3. Follow-up on inquiries.

Great! Your contextual marketing plan is working, and people are inquiring. Then this happens:

You: Hi! Thanks for inquiring. I offer X for $Y. Are you interested?
Client: Yes!
You: Great! Let’s set a time!
Client: *crickets*

Then you don’t hear from them again. A month goes by. Two months. Three.

Don’t let this happen! If you have an inquiry, keep following up! Set a reminder on your phone to reach out to a person two weeks after you’ve contacted them (this is a guideline, it could be more or less than that). They might have gotten busy or forgot that you replied. You KNOW that this person is interested, and they just need a gentle nudge toward your PayPal account. Don’t give up, you’re almost there.

That said, don’t send your follow-ups too close together, or else they might think you’re not a reputable person, and besides no one likes a desperate salesperson.

4. Let your clients sell for you.

This is the jackpot of all jackpots. When you have clients that speak for you, not only are your services more reputable but you also have a “warm” lead coming to you. It’s not like cold-calling, where you have to build the relationship from scratch. In this case, your client has already given someone else the “warm and fuzzy” and you’re lined up for success.

Most of the time, your client won’t prioritize vouching for you (let’s face it, they have actual lives to live), so you might need to remind them that referrals are how your business grows! Incentives for them to refer you are also extremely helpful. For example, you can offer 10% off a client’s services if they referred you to another paying client. This not only encourages clients to refer you, but it also encourages them to come back and purchase from you again! Two birds, one stone!

Thanks for reading! I hope you found this week’s pro-tip helpful. If you have other topics you’d like to see, leave them in the comments below!


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About Therese Fess

Tech researcher, Army Reservist, aspiring weightlifter, aspiring minimalist, writer, wife, pet mom, and fountain of profanity. I'm obsessed with wellness and helping others.


Creative Work, Pro Tips


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