How to Grow Your Client Base From Scratch

As a freelancer, clients are your livelihood. Obviously, the more clients you have and the bigger those clients are, the more money you’ll stand to make. You’ll also need to diversify your client base, to hedge against the possibility of a major client departing or a significant disruption to your main target demographics.

You may be able to pick up clients on an as-needed basis, securing incidental referrals or hunting down individual clients when you need the business, but if you want to improve your odds of long-term success, you’ll need a consistent strategy in place.

Why You Need a Strategy for Consistent Growth

Growing a client base from scratch demands a consistently applied growth strategy. Without a clearly defined strategy, you won’t have a focus, and your efforts might as well be considered gambling. Without consistency, you’ll have no way to measure the results of your efforts, and thus, no way to improve over time.

Most freelancers get caught up in their core work—whether it’s consulting, writing, designing, or some other passion—but your client acquisition strategy needs to be considered part of your “work” as well. Knowing how to attract and retain your clients, and having a strategy to grow that client base is going to be the foundation on which your business can eventually grow. Otherwise, you may be stuck with the same clients indefinitely, or struggling to find enough clients to hit your financial goals—and in either case, you’ll be limiting your income potential.

How to Grow Your Client Base

Now let’s look at how you can establish a sound strategy for client base growth.

1. Create a buyer persona.

Every marketing plan needs to start with a “buyer persona”—a description of demographic traits, values, and characteristics that makes your target customer different from any other. You’ll need to do some market research here, using resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census.gov to uncover information about various demographics, and considering which niche you want to target. How does this person get their news? What are their values? What messages do they respond to?

2. Study the competition.

Next, take a look at businesses similar to yours who have already established a client base. What tactics do they appear to be using? Look at their marketing and advertising strategies, any referral strategies they have in place, and if they seem to focus more on customer retention or acquisition. You may have limited details to work with here, but you should be able to generate some new ideas.

3. Identify key channels and opportunities.

There’s no shortage of marketing, advertising, and referral strategies to choose from to generate your new clients. Direct advertising strategies cost a bit of money, but will return traffic to you almost instantly. Long-term marketing strategies like SEO are cost-effective, but take a long time to develop. Referral strategies rely on support from existing clients and partners, so they can be hard to start up. Review all your options carefully, and detail their strengths and weaknesses as they specifically relate to your brand. Then, select one or two “core” channels to build your strategy around, and slowly add complementary tactics to round out your efforts.

4. Establish a budget.

You’ll need to consider your budget in tandem with the channels you plan on using. If you’re just starting out, you might not have much of a budget to work with—but that just means you’ll have to choose client acquisition strategies that rely on effort and time more than a direct injection of capital. Either way, determine how much time and money you’re willing to spend on this program; in general, the more you spend, the better results you’re going to get (and the faster you’re going to get them).

5. Tweak and scale.

Once you’ve started growing your customer base, your next responsibility is to carefully measure your results. Use analytics software or work with an agency so you have complete transparency into how your strategies are working. Are you seeing results? Are you netting a positive return on your investment (ROI)? Focus on the elements of your strategies that are most effective and embellish them, then look at the unsatisfactory elements and cut them entirely. Only by culling and nurturing will you be able to perfect your client acquisition strategy.

With these steps, you should be able to attract your first cluster of clients, and if you choose a channel that yields steady returns, you could establish a stream of inbound leads to keep you busy indefinitely. In any case, spending extra time on your client acquisition and retention strategies is going to be a valuable investment for your business.