When I first started my app design and development agency back in 2010, the biggest question on my mind was how to find more clients. More clients meant smoother cash flow, higher rates, and lower risk to me as the owner of a small business if we lost one or two accounts. Over the next three years, we hit a lot of bumps in the road as we learned how to increase our client base—but we also increased our book of business drastically. Our problem became how to handle all the incoming requests we had instead of how to find more. Thinking back on the experience, there were three things we did that were crucial to finding and retaining new clients.
Very quickly, we learned that just about every small business has design or development needs, but they don’t often have the budget to hire full-time people. Those small business owners often congregated at networking groups or entrepreneurial meet-ups, so we went to all the meet-ups we could find and just met people. We weren’t pushy—we just got word out about what we did, and because those people often needed services like ours, those were great places to find new clients.
In your business, think about who your potential target market is. For example, if you do yard or lawn care, is there a homeowners association meeting you could be at? If you do wedding photography, are there wedding expos where you could pass out cards? Think about where your perfect customer is—and be there.
A lot of new business owners expect to be able to replace a full-time salary right away with their new business. And while that’s certainly possible, it can be hard to do! In my case, I started freelancing part time, and at very reasonable rates. Because my rates were lower than many of my larger competitors, I had a ton of interest when people heard about my business. Over time, it wasn’t hard to increase my rates as my business gained credibility. Remember that you’re not locked in to a certain rate for the life of your business. At the beginning nothing’s more important than establishing a broad client base. Once you have that, and can afford to not take on new clients, you’ll have leverage in negotiating future contracts.
When we committed to do something—build a an app by a certain deadline, dedicate a certain amount of resources, pay by a certain date—we always did it. This was, incredibly, the most important thing we did for our business. It was always astounding how many of our clients came to us after competitors of ours didn’t get things done on time, were difficult to reach, or didn’t live up to their promises. Simply by honoring our commitments, we gained a ton of positive word-of-mouth and increased our client base incredibly quickly. The only caveat is that you should be careful what you promise! Reasonable commitments kept are far better than unrealistic commitments that you can’t live up to.
Starting a business isn’t easy—it always takes work! But if you follow these simple tips, I’m confident you’ll be able to increase your client base and turn your business into what you’ve always hoped it could be.
Tim is Founder and CEO of ZipBooks. He keeps his desk really nice and neat.