Starting a Business with 0 Clients, $0, and 0 Referral Partners? Here’s How to Gain Momentum and Acquire Your First 10 Clients

No business can survive without a steady influx of clients, no matter how well-established. This is even more important for startups, which need clients to get the business off the ground and keep it going.

When you’re just starting out, attracting clients can seem impossible. You have a limited marketing budget at your disposal, a skeleton marketing team (if any), no clients with reviews or testimonials, no referral partners…how can you get off the ground?

Starting from nothing isn’t impossible, fortunately. All you need to get going is your first 10 clients. Just a few clients who trust you can build the momentum you need to build your business and look to a promising future.

Client Acquisition vs. Marketing

Client acquisition has many similarities to marketing, with one key difference. The entire goal of client acquisition is driving conversions – getting prospects to sign on as paying clients. But like marketing, this can be done with consistent, systematic processes to continually attract and convert new clients.

The client acquisition strategy uses specific techniques to attract prospects and motivate them to become clients. It’s built on a foundation that can be scaled in the future, giving you a consistent and reliable way to attract new clients and keep growing your revenue.

Your Client Acquisition Strategy to Attract the First 10 Clients

Getting from zero clients to 10 clients may feel overwhelming, but an effective client acquisition strategy can make it a reality. Let’s take a look at eight things you can do to get from zero to 10…quickly.

Define Your Target Audience

The audience is the key to your client acquisition strategy. If you don’t know who your audience is, you don’t know how to speak to them effectively and persuade them to give you their business. Defining your audience helps you learn what your audience needs from you, so you can deliver.

This can be difficult if you have a diverse, service-based business, such as a veterinary practice or law office. Often, these types of businesses have diverse audiences with different problems, needs, and motivations.

For example, a law firm may have multiple family law practice areas, each of which has a different audience. Instead of speaking broadly, you need to segment your audience and develop messaging that resonates with each of them.

Highlight Your Value

Your prospective clients have pain points and problems, and you’re here to provide the solution. Maybe the problem is that they need home repairs, a good custody attorney, or a software provider for their business. You have an opportunity to show them why your business is valuable to them.

Your client acquisition strategy should be focused on communicating how your product or service benefits your prospects. Instead of focusing on the features, the bells and whistles, showcase the real-world value of what you have to offer and put it in context for them. You may have to compete with a wide range of competitors, but you can show how you’re different by showing that you understand their needs better.

Harness the Power of Your Network

Some of your first clients may be strangers that find your business through marketing campaigns, but you could also get them from your current network. Your past coworkers, old schoolmates, acquaintances, family members, and friends may need your product or services, or they may have a friend or family member who does.

Tap into your network. You don’t need to be pushy, but you can share your business within your network and pitch yourself to get the word out. Then, when the contacts in your network come across someone who needs a new lawyer, software provider, or realtor, you’ll spring to mind.

Create Effective Content

Content marketing has the benefit of promoting your business organically. With content, such as articles, videos, infographics, and case studies, you’ll spread the word about your business and provide value to your audience.

Your prospects will search for information online, often seeking answers to their questions. If they come across your content, they’ll get the answers to their questions and may seek out more information. This builds trust in your brand and connects you to prospects.

Keep in mind that you can’t just fill up a blog for the sake of it. Your content has to be effective and relevant to work. Always keep the audience in mind and craft content around their needs, desires, questions, and pain points.

Gather Subscribers for Your Email List

Email marketing is often underestimated in favor of flashier marketing tactics, but it’s just as effective as ever for conversions. It takes time and effort to build your email list with an audience of interested prospects. Shortcuts, like buying a list, won’t serve your needs. You need people who are part of your audience and interested in what you have to offer.

Generally, your email list will come from people who opt-in on your website. Most businesses build an email list with exclusive content, such as ebooks, whitepapers, and webinars, which are in-depth content that isn’t available elsewhere. In exchange for this information, your prospects offer their contact information and email.

Image: Email marketing statistics – Source

Get Feedback from Current Clients

Once you attract your first clients, you can use their insights to improve your strategy and your business. These first clients showed interest in your business and put trust in you before anyone else did, so you can learn a lot about how to serve them better and make the experience more positive for your future clients.

Ask your clients for feedback on a regular basis, and encourage honesty. You should always try to maintain a good relationship with your first clients, even if they won’t be repeat customers, because it’s an opportunity to turn them into brand advocates.

For example, your first client put their trust in you to handle a complicated and emotional custody battle during a divorce. If you were there for them and tried to take as much stress as possible out of the process, no matter the outcome, they’ll walk away feeling good about their professional relationship with you. Then, if someone in their life needs a child support lawyer, you’ll be the first name that comes to mind and they may recommend you.

Build a Referral Network

A referral network is a network of current and former clients, industry partners, and complementary businesses that you can leverage for word-of-mouth referrals. Each referral program is unique, but the general idea is that your network is incentivized to recommend your business to others.

For many businesses, a referral network works off of incentives like free gifts or discounts. This can be challenging for some service-based businesses, but you can get creative and offer them gifts like donations to a charity in exchange for their recommendation.

For industry partners and complementary businesses, there’s often an agreement to recommend each other’s services. For example, a roofing contractor may have a referral partnership with a landscaper. They’re not competitors, but they have an overlap of customers.

Consider Everyone a Potential Client

You never know where your next client may come from. Sure, you’ll gain clients from your network and your marketing efforts, but you could also have a casual conversation while waiting for your morning coffee or on your commute and end up with a new client.

It’s not always the person you’re discussing your business with. It could be a friend, family member, acquaintance, former coworker, or other contact. Don’t ignore anyone thinking that they don’t fit into your target audience. Everyone could be a potential client or the next referral.  

Think Long-Term

Client acquisition is an ongoing process that needs to be refined along the way. After you get the first 10 clients, you can turn that momentum into the next 100 clients, then 1,000 clients, and onward as your business grows. When you have the foundation and systems in place, you can keep improving your techniques to build a scalable client acquisition strategy that drives your business growth well into the future.


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