As a freelance developer, or a WordPress business owner, or any other person offering services for the popular platform, what is the number one factor that determines whether you will succeed or fail?
A superior skill set?
Knowing marketing for developers?
Or perhaps a direct phone line to Matt Mullenweg?
Hands down, the most important factor to be successful in building a profitable WordPress business is the ability to find and keep clients. In fact, without clients, you aren’t even in business. You are just very good at one of your hobbies.
But how do you get clients, especially at the beginning stages? Getting over that initial hump is the hardest part when starting a business. Once you have an existing client base (and a portfolio that comes with it), expanding it becomes much easier. Therefore, in this article we will go over how to find those first clients who will pay you for whichever WordPress services you are offering.
Why you should forget about marketing. . .at first
A lot of the advice out there on how to get clients is just plain horrible. Most of it is along the lines of building a strong social media presence, writing a blog, doing SEO, creating a viral marketing campaign, and executing other high-level and highly complex tasks.
1. It takes time
Blogging and getting big on Twitter or Facebook can be very time-intensive. It takes a while. However, you don’t want your first client in five months, after you’ve successfully gathered enough followers on Twitter. You want clients now, to pay for next months rent!
2. It’s not that easy
Secondly, advice like the one above always makes me think of a line from It’s always sunny in Philadelphia on how to get a job:
“Oh, get a job? Just get a job? Why don’t I strap on my job helmet and squeeze down into a job cannon and fire off into job land, where jobs grow on little jobbies?!”
Social media, blogging, and similar marketing strategies are highly complex and have a steep learning curve in and of themselves. These kinds of channels have to be built over weeks and months. It’s not like you can just write 2-3 blog posts, do some basic SEO, and send them out to Twitter, and people will come knocking on your door.
3. It’s very passive
Most importantly, all of these methods rely on the hope that people find you and get in contact with you when instead it should be the other way around. If you want clients, you need to get off your butt and put yourself out there! This fact is also one of the main reasons why so many people try to tweet their way to success, because it is much easier and less risky.
Don’t get me wrong, being active on social media, blogging, and optimizing your website for Google are all great ideas. However, not in the beginning. You can start building an online profile for yourself after you have your first few clients and have money coming in. Before that, tweeting into the void won’t do you much good.
How to really get your first clients
A much better idea is identifying your clients in advance and getting in contact with them directly. Do you want to know how I got to write for this article here for Torquemag? By sending an email.
I told them a little bit about myself, pitched a number of topics I could see myself writing about, and sent a few links with other articles to show that I could in fact put words together. They gave me a chance, liked my first article, and we have been working together on a regular basis ever since. It’s been a fun and mutually beneficial arrangement.
(By the way, if you like to do the same, Torque is looking for writers.)
However, it’s a bit more complicated than “write an email, get hired.” To get to the point where you can suggest another party to work with you, first a number of things have to happen:
- Defining your service
- Identifying your clients
- Figuring out how and where to reach them
- Establishing contact and pitching your services
In the following, we will go over each step.
Side note: start small! Keep in mind that the goal is not to attract 1000 clients from the get-go (a common misconception which leads many down the marketing rabbit hole). Instead, make your goal to attract your first three paying customers.
Why three? One client could merely be a fluke. Three means there is a reliable base of people who are willing to pay for what you have to offer, which allows you to experiment with prices and offerings. The key is to start small in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed, yet choose a big enough sample to allow you to see what works and what doesn’t.
Define your service
At first you have to figure out what exactly it is you are offering. WordPress Service is not a very clear description. Try to be as precise as possible. The service you plan on providing also determines the kind of clients you are looking for and how to pitch what you are offering. Niche it down as much as possible.
- Are you a developer?
- If so, do you mainly do frontend or backend?
- Do you offer WordPress support?
- WordPress training?
- Are you a writer on the topic?
- All of the above?
- Which problem do you want to help solve?
If you have more than one talent or can see yourself doing more than one service, write them all out and pick the one that seems most promising or that you feel most comfortable in. You can test them out one after the other if need be or add more services to your portfolio later on. It goes without saying that you actually have to have the chops to pull off what you are promising.
Define your ideal client
The next step is to define your market. Again, precision is important. Who do you want to work with? Don’t go with fuzzy definitions such as “businesses who need a website.” Which business doesn’t need a website these days?
A good idea is to sit down and create your ideal customer. This will help you understand who you are targeting and what kind of people (or businesses) you are trying to appeal to, which will ultimately help you find them.
For example, huge corporations who have millions of dollars in revenue more often than not have their own departments for web design and marketing, or otherwise they will hire agencies to do this kind of work for them. No need for outsourcing their WordPress website to a sole developer. Plus, working with them often involves a lot of gatekeepers. Therefore, breaking into this space is more than tough. Maybe not the ideal customer to start with.
The following questions will help you understand who you would ideally work with:
- Who has a problem that your service would solve?
- Where would they look for help or a solution to their problem?
- What websites do they use?
- What are the most important benefits of your service?
- What has to happen in you client’s life to need your services?
- Where is your ideal customer located geographically?
- What is your ideals client’s age, education, occupation, or business?
- How is his or her income level and financial situation?
You should be able to list at least five criteria of your ideal client or otherwise your business is not going to go very far. Spend as much time on this as you need to really get an idea of who your potential customers are.
Locate your clients
Now that you have a better understanding of who they are and their daily lives, the next step is to figure out where you can find your ideal clients. For example:
- Want to work with small businesses from a certain industry in your hometown? Yelp should be able to give you some pointers.
- How about individuals and business owners from all across the US who are looking for help via Craigslist? SearchTempest to the rescue.
- Or tech startups with over $1 million in funding that were founded in the last two years? Check Crunchbase.
- But what if you need to find websites looking for WordPress bloggers? I recommend the job boards of ProBlogger and BloggingPro.
- Website owners struggling with their WordPress installation? Do a custom Twitter search.
Land your first clients
What you should be left with is a list of people or businesses you could potentially work with. Now it is time to work on your pitch.
Step 1: Create a portfolio
Talk is cheap. People like to see proof of what they are promised before committing money and other resources to it. Being able to present a portfolio of things you have done in the past is always good in terms of credibility. This doesn’t have to be sophisticated. One to three links to some former work is usually enough — personal projects and websites included.
But what if you are just starting out and don’t have anything to show for yourself? In my experience a portfolio is not an absolute must (otherwise nobody would ever get a start as a freelancer). If you make a convincing argument for yourself (more on that below), the pitch can work without, however, generally people like to see things in advance.
Step 2: Do most of the legwork in advance
In order to have any chance of succeeding, your pitch needs to be more sophisticated than merely writing an email saying “hey, I make websites with WordPress and was wondering if you had any needs in that area.” This makes it very easy for them to say no.
A much better idea is to identify problems your clients don’t even know they had and offering up your own services as the solution. For example, if you are a specialist for WordPress SEO, you would go ahead and analyze the website of potential clients and write up a detailed report on how they could achieve better ranking. Not general advice, but tailored to their website.
Now imagine you pull out that report when you sit down with a business owner to talk about your services. Several pages, neatly written up with exact steps on how to add massive value to their own business, right there on the table. All they need to do is say yes. How much more likely is it that they will?
Sure, that means you need to do a lot of the legwork in advance. But it is absolutely worth it. Customers can only say yes or no. Your job is to make it easy for them to say yes.
Step 3: Be personal
As a service provider, prospects want to feel that you understand their problems and have the ability to solve them. However, your skill set is not the only criteria. When clients are deciding between very similar proposals from different people, nine times out of ten they will hire the one they like most personally.
Therefore, if you are dealing with prospects and clients, make sure you’re likeable. I don’t mean be a stereotypical slimy car salesman. Just be a real person in your communication.
Whether on the phone or by email, show some humanity. Ask about the weather where they are. Mention a piece of news from their area that you heard, schedule calls relative to their time zone. Just be accommodating and have an interest in other people’s lives. It works wonders.
To get a start for your WordPress business, going on a full-on marketing rampage is not the smartest way to go. Social media and blogging are medium- to long-term ways of attracting customers with a lot of overhead. A better way is to get precise about the kind of service you are offering and figuring out who could most benefit from it. This allows you to get in touch with the right people directly. When dealing with prospects, a large part of the work is done before the pitch.
Are you a freelancer or do you run a WordPress business? What are your experiences in finding clients? Any strategies to share with the rest of us? Let us know in the comments!
Nick Schäferhoff is an entrepreneur and writer/blogger from Germany. He learned WordPress when he needed a website for his first business venture and instantly fell in love. He is passionate about health, productivity, and continuous learning, which he writes about on his lifestyle blog. When not building websites, he likes to travel the world, experience other cultures, and learn new languages.