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Client Acquisition – You’re Doing It Wrong

Posted: January 18th, 2012 | Author: Gideon Walker | Filed under: Optimization, Startup Strategy | 6 Comments »
Customer acquisition - you're doing it wrong

Damnit Grandpa, how many time do I have to tell you?

I love the Freelance World.  Despite that I’ve only been freelancing since October of 2011, this has actually been the best job I’ve had yet to date.

It’s stressful, time consuming, exciting, defeating, motivating, and dreadful, and I don’t ever want to quit.

Now, I can’t say I have much experience with freelancing or that I can vote for myself to be a spokesperson in giving advice to people who would like to make the jump, but I do have information and resources (to actually good content, not the typical stuff) that I’ve absorbed over the past year.

You see, I’ve spent a LOT of money on courses, some horrible, some absolutely valuable, and some that I thought I would need to learn, but never end up using.

I learned a lot, but I would’ve learned a lot more — for a lot less — by actually doing something instead of sitting around buying courses.

I’m a current member (2.0) and if Ramit Sethi ever opens it up again, I highly recommend you taking it.  Not just for freelancers but anyone who works a day job and is looking to do something on the side and earn an extra $1000 per month. (It is pricey, but the content is well worth more than the price tag)

I spent a lot of money on courses through AppSumo (before I started working here) because c’mon, some of the deals are pretty damn good, and I was desperately searching for a trade to learn to do.

I came back from deployment to Afghanistan in June of 2011 and had been searching for a job…for a while…to no avail. (I just didn’t realize there was a game being played that I wasn’t a part of.  You can read what I mean here)

Despite all this, the point I’m trying to get at is that when you’re starting off as a freelancer, you need clients.

Straight up, most freelancers starting off, you’re doing it wrong.

Let me explain…

The internet is riddled with horrible horrible advice on freelancing like:

  • Get a website, make business cards, incorporate.
  • Go to networking events, and pass out all your business cards, be funny and likable and people WILL call you back with a job offer! (I’ve never actually got a job through business cards myself)
  • Start a blog, write interesting content, and you’ll automatically get traffic, guaranteed! (The only traffic I get on my blog is from my Facebook friends)

The sad part is, when I first started off, I did all of this. (Minus incorporating — I was close to doing it for a photography business but decided against it — and I never went to a networking event)

Freelancers like to make things difficult, not on purpose, but it’s sexy to create a highly complicated self marketing strategy to show off to your friends and family.

It feels productive, you built a plan, you spent so much time on it, you told EVERYONE (which in itself feels productive) but you still don’t have a single client.

Ramit shares 2 problems with creating a fancy marketing strategy

Problem 1. Stop building complex marketing strategies for clients you don’t have. Your first goal is to get 3 clients. Do you really need a blog to do that? And notice I said 3 clients, not just 1 — that could be a fluke. Get 3. Once you have 3 clients, you’ve proven that you have a reliable base of people who’ll pay you for your services. You can test service offerings and prices on them. And now you can start with more complex marketing strategies. Remember: Skip all the fanciness and get 3 people to pay you first.

Problem 2. It makes complex marketing strategies like SEO, blogging, and viral marketing appear both easy and discrete, when in reality they’re often an excuse for you to avoid the hard work of finding actual people who will pay you for your services. Do you know how long “SEO” takes to work? Do you just start a blog, and then check it off your to-do list 5 minutes later? If you say yes to anything I just asked, I will kill you.

Generic freelancing advice tells you to do high-level – and in reality, highly complex – work that actually encompasses dozens of subtasks. Where will you be after Subtask 11? In all likelihood, you’ll have given up. Honestly, are you defaulting to high-level, almost impossible-to-finish strategies as a way of avoiding getting down to the real work?

It doesn’t have to be this way.

His Solution?

A 2-step process in getting your first 3 paying clients.  Not 1 or 2 clients, but 3.

Here’s why…

It doesn’t matter what type of job you’re doing as a freelancer.  Getting your first paying client DOES NOT mean you have a profitable idea on your hands.  That could just be a fluke, and you can’t make money with just luck.

You need to validate your idea by acquiring 3 paying clients.

So How Do You That?

A little detective work, imagination, and getting off your ass and taking action.

1. Locate.

  • Who is your exact client, and where do they go to look for a solution to their problems? Do they read magazines? Go to the grocery store? Ask their priest?
  • Where are people already looking for solutions to problems, and how can you make a match between them and your service?

(By the way, the 2nd option is something that anybody can do by posting and responding to ads on sites like Craigslist. Just last week, after I recommended Vin give niche guitar lessons, he posted an ad on Craigslist and got immediate responses.)

The 1st option, though, is my favorite: Identify very specific leads in your very specific target market, and figure out where they go to look for a solution to their needs.

Look, most people don’t want to buy your services. Most people think you’re ugly! But a few people might be into paying for your services. When you’re starting out, your job is to find those few people and turn them into long-lasting customers.

Here’s how you find them:

First step is to niche down your market. Do not try to find every person who uses a computer between the ages of 18-34, lives in the USA, and likes pictures of naked girls. NICHE IT DOWN. By age, location, interest, income level, and so many more options (that we will explore in detail at

Then, find out where they go to find solutions. Get in their heads:

  • Want to pitch to moms that blog about children? Go to The Mom Blogs and start with the ones under “Popular Blogs.”
  • Looking for physical or massage therapists within 50 miles of your house? Yelpshould get you started easily.
  • What about tech startups with over $1 million in funding, with more than 10 employees, but less than 50? Here’s 100 of them.
  • If you want to do… large dog grooming and sitting, well there’s probably a local pet store or dog park near you where owners are all congregating just waiting for you to offer them a solution.

Listen closely. Over the last few weeks, people have been coming to my weekly video office hours saying things like, “But Ramit! I have this idea and have NO IDEA where to find customers!” My response is always calm, yet you know that anger boils closely below. “What have you done to research your audience?” Have they emailed a few people? Taken them out to lunch? Asked complementary service providers if this is a good idea? The answer is almost always no.

Example that made me angry: Last night, someone said they were going to start a wedding-montage photo business. What should they do? They appeared to be stuck. Answer: Go talk to a few wedding photographers and ask them if this is a good idea. Would their customers buy it? Are there holes in the market that are not being served? What about event planners? Florists? You could do this in 1-2 weeks and save 1 year of your life.

80% of your ideas will be strengthened — or washed out — with this simple exercise. And it only takes a week or two to get started.

Get in these people’s heads & then niche it down. Read their minds and then act on those insights. So you’ve figured out where the secret large dog pet store is. Great. Now look at their website, visit the store, talk to the owner. GET OFF YOUR ASS AND TAKE ACTION.

Could you pitch one potential client each morning? You probably could if you created an email template. How about 10 over the weekend, playing with different headlines/offers so you can see which ones work better?

It doesn’t have to take a long time, and it doesn’t have to be agonizing…which brings us to step 2.

If there’s one thing you do to validate your idea and learn more about your market, take successful entrepreneurs out for coffee or lunch. (And when I say successful entrepreneurs, it doesn’t mean you have to live in Silicon Valley, just look around your town for similar industries and send a message to the CEO or founder.  Doesn’t hurt to just try)

You can learn a lot about the industry, the mistakes they made and how to avoid them, what you should focus on in the beginning so you’re not wasting time.

Just be sure to listen and not talk about yourself unless asked.  Remember that no one actually cares about you, they care about themselves.  So ask questions, take notes, and shut up.

Near the end of your meeting you can open up and talk about your idea, what you’ve done, what you have planned, and if it’s worth it.

Next step, communication.

2. Communicate

Email will be your most important communication tool for pitching clients. I get pitched via email all the time for guest posts, product pitches, and people who want to work together. I vomit routinely. The emails are usually way too long and have no clear point.

Bad email:

Subject: to the real ramit [Subject line is too vague]

Ramit (please forward to him, if VA reading),

I’m impressed, I’ve scanned your blog from 2004 to now, left a few comments and felt the need to contact you for networking, an offer, and advice. This should take you about 4 minutes to read, I hope you can. [Good compliments, but 4 minutes is way too long]

Background: I’m influenced by Tim Ferris, Seth Goden, Leo Babauta, Rocky Balboa, and Steve Jobs. Effective efficiency meets ideas, the power of less, will power and innovation.

Status: Working 40 hours a week until I can escape via passive or easily managed income. I am IT support for an all Apple global consulting firm. I run [Company], a well oiled machine of an IT support, web development, and internet consulting company (just me and my VA’s). I run [Website] – a chronicling of the stages of becoming self actualized to the fact that life isn’t how people tell you it is, and you can design it otherwise. I just bumped up my pretax savings to %11 of my earned income. I am unrelentingly in pursuit of the break that will come and free me to live out my dreams of supporting people and their technology, training in crossfit, learning spanish, and giving to youth without worrying about money. [Too long=I'm starting to lose interest]

My need is to learn from you (not your typical money wisdom), and your need is that you or someone you know could use me like a cup of coffee on a Monday morning. [This is where most busy people make the decision not to read on]

I’ve seen enough cases now, yours included of people vice gripping life and making it their own. I’ve always been service oriented in the quiet leader type way, and I’ve made smart no risk decisions, I’m 25 and will no longer take the slow road. I’m primed for a break, and will be unrelenting until it comes. I’d like to include you in that because I think you’re smart, on your way up, and accessible. Please review me below, I hope you can make use of me before I realize my full potential and be swept up in that.

Although I can be wordy, I’m not a magician with words, I’ll lay my most powerful qualities/experiences out in bullet points. I hope you see them as I do, as ammunition.

  • will power like no other (never lost a “bet you can’t stay…”)
  • technical savant (no technology too frustrating or complex)
  • people person (communication is a strength, met several C level execs, Sony for instance)
  • action oriented, all plans suck without implementation. simple plans plus action work.
  • business man. started and sold several businesses
  • founder of [Company]
  • i save %11 of what i make, split to an IRA and emergency fund. i make very little.
  • building a backup information product and breaking the ice of online marketing
  • traveled the world while being a digital worker
  • self starter, will succeed and see the positive regardless of situation
  • educated, technical, fast and i think before i act

Would you let me help you or someone you know with these skills? If yes, please connect with me.

“Honestly, the guy sounds like a nice guy who wants to offer his services. I think. I’m not really sure.

But instead of getting in my head and suggesting how he could help me specifically, he just listed a series of vague skills that were all over the board. And the call-to-action is…for me to “connect” with him? I responded, as I usually do to vague emails, with a 1-sentence: “So what would you like to do for/with me?” He sent another rambling email, so I at that point I simply shrugged and moved on with my life.”

Good email:

Subject line: I want to work for you for free [Best subject line I've ever received]

Hey Ramit,

Love your site, especially the articles about automation and personal entrepreneurship. It’s because of you that I have multiple ING Direct accounts for my savings goals, a Roth IRA, automatic contributions, and asset allocation all set up. [Good buttering me up]

I’m a web developer for [Company], a site that gets around 50 million hits per month. I used to do freelance work exclusively, and I’m preparing to make the switch back to doing freelance work ~30 hours / week while I travel and study in China. I work in Ruby on Rails, doing everything from the database to the front-end, and I’m especially good at rapidly prototyping new ideas and projects. [He's in my head: I'm always looking for talented developers and he's clearly one of them]

In order to start getting myself back out there, I’d love to have the chance to do some development work for you, completely gratis. If you like my work and have some paid projects for me down the road, that’d be great of course, but I’d be happy just for the opportunity to network and receive a little advice. I’m sure you have a project or two in the back of your head that you haven’t had time to prototype yourself yet; let me do it for you! [I LOVE IT!! As a matter of fact, yes I DO have some side projects I've been wanting to do]

You can give me a call at ###, or find me on Google Talk under this address. You can also check out some samples of my work here: [website]

Thank you!

“Two things: First, that was the best subject line I’ve ever received. Second, it’s clear, concise and makes me a strong offer while highlighting his experience. I called him within 60 seconds of receiving this email.”

When it comes to communicating with your prospects, I hear many people complain that they’ve tried to reach out with little success. The truth is they’re often reaching out in the wrong way. But by getting in your clients’ heads, you can fix that and write emails that engage and lead directly to paid work — no fancy marketing strategy needed.

I’ve used tips like these when prospect hunting for an advertising agency in Las Vegas and saw my response rate raise.  (I don’t have any numbers because like a dumb@**, I didn’t measure my results back then.  Track EVERYTHING, you’ll be glad you did when you can see how well you’re improving in certain areas or what needs adjusting)

Ok so what next?

Here’s a little collection to useful reads on freelancing and making the most of it. (I advocate IWTYTBR because well, it’s the most comprehensive collection on making money for yourself out there, hands down)


Any freelancers out there got any tips they’d like to share?  Put ‘em down in the comments below!

I’d love to start a collection of tips and tricks for another post down the line (Like in a couple weeks down the line, so start sharing!)




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6 Comments on “Client Acquisition – You’re Doing It Wrong”

  1. 1 Gogo | Small Business Consulting said at 1:14 pm on January 18th, 2012:


    You hit the nail right on the head. So much of the advice given about getting clients online (at least for service professionals and freelancers) is really more appropriate for people who want to “make money blogging” (or webbing), or for the advice-givers who need to position a particular marketing framework.

    Getting a client is as simple as:
    1. Making an announcement in your church, synagogue, other social group that’s large enough..
    2. Advertising a valuable service locally online (Craigslist) or offline through meetup groups, newspaper ads, or even phone calls.

    For example, I think that most blogs are atrociously wasteful of freelancers’ time in how they end up attracting “blog visitors” or “info-product” buyers rather than clients.

    Great article here with much food for thought.

  2. 2 Joel Casarez said at 1:32 pm on January 18th, 2012:

    That’s powerful stuff man. First thanks for serving our country. Second, I love Ramit’s advice. Starting today I’m going to make it a goal to meet at least one influential person in my industry a week and try to offer them help. If you saw Ramit’s lastest tweets it’s a good one –!/ramit/status/159722580419416064/photo/1

  3. 3 Jeff Schoolcraft said at 9:01 am on January 19th, 2012:

    Great article. I included it in my latest issue of Freelancing Weekly ( a once weekly, free newsletter of curated tips, articles and resources for Freelancers.

  4. 4 Gideon Walker said at 12:54 pm on January 19th, 2012:

    Jeff, thanks a lot for the link! Looks like you’ve got a more comprehensive list of freelancing articles. I’ve subscribed to your newsletter. Thanks for that.

  5. 5 Gideon Walker said at 12:56 pm on January 19th, 2012:

    Joel: That’s an awesome tweet, didn’t see it. Let me know how the meetings go! Maybe you can offer some other tips or advice when meeting an entrepreneur, or how you got them to meet with you. I would think it could be pretty intimidating and difficult to get past the gate keeper if there is one.

  6. 6 Gideon Walker said at 12:58 pm on January 19th, 2012:

    Interesting thought Gogo. Do you have any tips for bloggers who have something for sale to attract more clients as opposed to just visitors?

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