How to Get Your First Customer

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When I was in law school, I took a class on how to start a law practice because already back then I had an inkling that working for others wouldn’t work for me. One day, our instructor invited a local lawyer, a very successful solo practitioner, to come speak to the class. One of the very first questions he got from us was the same as any potential new entrepreneur has – where do I get new clients?

You have to think bigger if you’re going to make it in your own business…

“Take out a sheet of paper,” he said, “If you are going to make it on your own, you will need at least ten sources for customers. Make a list of your ten sources.” So we did. Most of had a list that said something like:

1. Mom and dad
2. Friends of mom and dad
3. Friends
4. Work associates, etc.

After looking over our lists, he exclaimed “Wrong! You have to think bigger if you’re going to make it in your own business.” He explained that the first source on our list should read something like “1. Everyone I know.” Whereas most of us had friends and associates accounting for the bulk of our list, he showed us that referrals from everyone we knew was just one of at least ten things we would need to do.

I think that is a good exercise for anyone either starting out or even running a business. Make a list of ten sources of clients/customers, other than your normal channels. Think big! Here are just a few options:

Social networking. These days, whenever someone says ‘networking,’ most people think social networking. While that is all well and good, just as my class failed to realize that contacting all our friends was only one option, so too should you realize that social networking is but one way to network. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter – these are all one more way to get customers, not three more ways.

Networking, networking: Many people still get business the old-fashioned way – they network face to face at places like:

  • Their local chamber of commerce
  • Trade shows
  • LeTip
  • Business groups and civic organizations

Advertise and market, and then advertise and market some more. I read recently that one business guru is recommending that 80% of your time should ideally be spent marketing your business because that is what makes you money. Everything else he says, costs you money. So try something new: Pay-per-click, Craigslist, radio, targeted email, direct mail, television, flyers, skywriting – the list is endless.

PR: Getting someone to do a story about your business is an exceptional way to get new customers because the story is independent third-party validation of your business. That you can post it on your website and use it forever is simply icing on the cake.

If you are new to self-employment, then the secret is to find something that works, roll it out, and then find another thing that works and roll that out. Rinse and repeat!

Did you use a different approach to get your first customers? Let us know about it below!