Finding Clients

Owning your own business is fun! I get to work in my pajamas if I want, I can take a vacation whenever I can afford it and I can take on the clients that fit well with my personality. Those are often things that don’t happen at an office job. But with an office job comes more stability. A lot of that disappears the minute you decide to be your own boss. It’s your job to bring in the money, clients and meetings.

I’ve learned a lot since I started freelancing for Etsy shop owners and designing $20 logos in 2007 (I don’t design $20 logos anymore so please don’t email me asking about it…hehe). Now that I work with Adam, we’ve developed a bit of a system and then we let everything else happen organically. Here are some of the basic ways we get clients:

  • Organic/Search: They find us searching for what they need whether that’s on Google or another site like Dribbble or another portfolio site. It’s a great way to get a client since you’re not really doing much work but it can also lead to projects that don’t really connect with you since you were passive in the formation of that relationship.
  • Referral: Someone that we know professionally or personally has referred them to us. We’ve just recently begun discounting services when a potential client might have a great list of contacts. If you’re my client and provide me with 5 individuals or small businesses that might want to work with me, it’s very worth it to provide a discount.
  • Social Media/Blogging: A potential client might get to know us on Twitter or here on my blog before they decide to work with us! I’ve been blogging since January 2009 and spend the most time on Twitter (of all social media accounts) and it’s been very rewarding.
  • Relationships: We know the client (and in-person) first. This includes past colleagues, people we went to school with or friends/family. While these projects come about from a very reliable source, they also tend to be less lucrative. You end up giving people you know discounts or you get a little lazy when it comes to signing contracts. As time as gone on, we do less and less projects for friends and family.
  • Pursuing the Client: This is a situation where we reach out, connect and then offer ways in which we believe we could work together. As you’ll see below, we do NOT do this enough and I’m excited to start taking this approach when booking new work. More on that later.

I decided to do a little research for this post. I broke down ALL of my clients (ever) and categorized them into one of those 5 groups. Here’s what I found when I broke it down by project (I hate making pie charts so excuse the ugliest graphic you’ve ever seen):

Broken Down By Project

It honestly shocked me. I really couldn’t see (even after seeing proof), what works better for me. Organic, referrals, my online presence and personal relationships all yield the same amount of projects. Of course, if I had more time I would investigate just how much revenue has been produced by these 5 separate groupings. Maybe someday when I’m sick and bored.

I also broke down everything by client and things changed a bit:

Broken Down By Client copy

I realized that while I get a steady amount of projects from organic/search, they only come from a select few clients. To be honest, many of these projects tend to be more production and less like a partnership. This whole “investigation” has been quite enlightening. I’ve learned a lot about how we are getting this steady stream of work and am excited to dive in deeper with Adam so that we can grow.

Hopefully I’ll continue blogging about this subject often. Let me know if you have any questions or have an ideas on future “getting client” topics! I love hearing from you all!

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13 Comments
  • Jen Smith
    Posted at 07:20h, 17 September Reply

    I’ve not thought about splitting out my clients to see where they come from – I just have it in my head but this is so worthwhile doing. I’m only 4 months into working for myself so I wonder if I do it now, and again in a year, if things would look different?

    Thanks Allie.

    • Allison
      Posted at 12:47h, 18 September Reply

      Oh I bet it will definitely change over time! I wish I had done this every year since I started my business!

  • Anna
    Posted at 11:52h, 17 September Reply

    Super fascinating, Allie! I find it really interesting that you get a good chunk of projects through organic search – have you spent time focusing on SEO for your business or has this happened more naturally?

    • Allison
      Posted at 12:48h, 18 September Reply

      I haven’t spent too much time actually. Most of it ends up being very random but my husband and business partner focuses on SEO much more now that we work together.

  • Ryan @ The Blooming Thread
    Posted at 11:54h, 17 September Reply

    Wow, I was pretty interested on the subject since your post yesterday and I must say… it’s got me thinking! I’ve been in business for 3 years now so I think I could get a pretty clear idea of how my percentages would break down. And Im also pretty sure my “pursue” category would be about the same size as yours, maybe less.

    I really related to your quote and closing thought yesterday.. I’ve always grown up with a social, outgoing personality.. but now that I’m getting “older” (29! haha) I’d much rather “listen than talk” too. I moved from a big city to a small farming town, so I’d really rather be outside gardening than being the life of the party somewhere. I feel more calm within myself than I ever have, but I wrestle with keeping that up n’ going side for the sake of my business.

    thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ll be crunching some numbers until the next post!

    • Allison
      Posted at 12:49h, 18 September Reply

      It’s interesting how many younger entrepreneurs (like ourselves) probably don’t get a lot of clients due to us cold calling or pursuing potential clients. I think with social media and how the internet is today – it’s easier for people to find US! But I’m excited about growing that percentage and I hope you can too!!

  • Ryan @ The Blooming Thread
    Posted at 11:57h, 17 September Reply

    p.s.
    congratulations on being so successful with “pursue” jobs adding up to 5-6%, that leaves a lot of exciting opportunities still waiting to happen!

  • Angel Y.
    Posted at 13:21h, 17 September Reply

    An obnoxious amount of my personal work, outside of our business, is relational. Right now I’m working to sustain more organic and pursued clients. This is such a fantastic study! I think I might do a complete breakdown with my business as well to see where we need to head in the upcoming quarter.

    • Allison
      Posted at 12:49h, 18 September Reply

      That’s awesome Angel! It’s nice to be able to pinpoint what you want to grow. I hope you enjoy breaking down your stats/clients/numbers too.

  • Matt Holley
    Posted at 13:45h, 17 September Reply

    Great insight for knowing how you get your clients and where you need to focus your energy.

  • Kirsten
    Posted at 15:13h, 27 September Reply

    Thank you for this awesome post. I would love to hear more about how you find clients for photography! It would really help me out. I’m a photographer, recently graduated and (I would think) pretty experienced, but I am having a hard time finding a steady stream of clients. Do you have a facebook page and advertise there or is it mostly word of mouth through friends, etc? Anything helps!

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    Posted at 20:53h, 20 October Reply

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