How I got my First Customers
When I started my business in 2014, I did it on a bootstrap budget. I mean I had not saved up a dime, didn't borrow from my retirement, and didn't take out a home equity line or a small business loan. I simply walked in to my boss' office and said "I don't know what I will be doing in two weeks, but I know it won't be this." And right then and there I committed to eating what I could kill.
Hindsight is always 20/20. Of course there are things I would change about my first few years in business. But, I've never regretted the decision to go into business for myself.
here are a lot of people in similar situations - hoping to create a business from the ground up based solely on skills, intelligence, experience, and work ethic. The popular wisdom being taught to them by business guru's on the internet is "create a following by writing/blogging/podcasting/videos/social media, and they will buy from you."
This advice is appealing because business owners want to believe they can automate their marketing and networking.
And this advice works - in the long term. However, it will not pay your bills starting on month #1.
So, I am here with some not-very-sexy, real-world launch strategies. If you are on an 'eat what you kill' budget, you need to start making money yesterday. Here is what worked, and didn't work, for me when I was in your shoes.
If you take one piece of advice from this piece, let it be this : build on what you have. We all have something. You may think you don't, but you are wrong. Even if you are just graduating high school you have talents and expertise that no one else has. Your first assignment as an entrepreneur is this:
Leverage Your Assets
Asset #1 : Your Contact List
I left my job with a few valuable skills (project management, website development/leadership, a few programming languages), and one asset (15 years worth of professional contacts.) I am also pretty comfortable on the business end of a microphone, which is the result of 25 years teaching fitness classes, along with 10 years of DJ'ing weddings through college.
When I started this company I was interested in earning some money using the skills and assets I had. So, when I hit start I didn't spend a ton of time trying to figure out how to package all my skills together neatly. I didn't brainstorm the perfect business idea that would balance creating websites and wearing a head mic or whatever. And I definitely wasn't spending time translating my skills and assets into a clever name and logo. Up until late last year this company was called Kelly Coulter and the website was KellyCoulter.com.
I figured people who'd worked with me in the past knew my strengths, and they knew what they needed. So I emailed just about every person I'd ever worked with and told them I would be consulting. My first clients came either directly or indirectly from people I had worked with in the past.
For you, this might mean contacting everyone you know. It also might mean standing on a street corner trying to meet new people. It almost always means doing lots of networking (think Chamber of Commerce events, etc.) People buy from people they know, like, and trust. So get out there and let people get to know you.
Asset #2 : Your Social Network
I post on my personal social network about my business often. It helps that people who know me on Facebook and Insta are reminded of what I do for a living. It does bring in referrals. I also have a well-thought-out business social media presence committed to Coulter Web Pros.
In the beginning I made a well-crafted announcement on my personal social pages stating that I would be consulting as my full-time gig. It did help me get some business. It also brought in a lot of 'hey, do my website for free and you can put your name at the bottom' kind of crap too. (For the record, I put my business name and logo at the bottom of every website I do AND I get paid.) We will cover this kind of hooey later in the post.
Listen, we are living in some awesome times. Publishing an idea has never been as cheap and easy. But with that great power comes great responsibility. If you are going to post about your business, it better be a well-crafted, well-intentioned, and well-timed post. Even if you are posting on your personal social media. Your posts should represent your business as the top-notch offering that it is.
Asset #3 : Your Mindset
The next 'asset' was something I actually had to cultivate. When I started my business I was coming out of a grueling situation (hence the hasty departure) and I wasn't in a great place. I have talked about this in past posts. But still, I knew what I wanted, and it was time. So I did the work to get my head in the right place. I saw a counselor, and to this day I have a morning routine that gets my head right and puts my anxiety in check. Also, I stay tuned in to my emotions.
Entrepreneurship is tough. You have to commit to getting your head on straight and staying healthy in order to withstand the feast/famine cycle. Not to mention the crazy requests from clients. And the rejection - oh my friend - it's not for the faint of heart. So you will have to start each day with a clean, freshly pressed mental outfit. Because it's time to pull up your big person pants and get to work.
If you are not confident you won't ask for the work, you won't do confident work, and you won't ask for the big money like you should.
Confidence is important because:
As you are considering your first jobs tune in to that feeling you get from someone. Do they love your work, and do they value your service? Have the confidence to turn work down when it doesn't feel right. It will pay as you strive to build a happy and healthy business. If you are confidently putting out the best work around, you will be able to pick and choose your clients without fear that the work will dry up.
Asset #4: Your Past Time Investment
One thing I didn't do in the beginning, was find ways to set up a passive revenue source.
A passive revenue source does not require your time on a regular basis. The revenue may be small in the beginning but it doesn't pull you away from your regular work. You might need to spend time with your passive revenue source when you can, but it's not pulling your attention on a regular basis. The goal is to start small and allow it to grow over time.
I was going to create a quiz to help you decide what is passive and what isn't. But really that was just so you could see that all of those multi-level marketing 'income generation' tactics that will be offered to you ARE NOT PASSIVE. Do NOT fool yourself into thinking essential oils, all day wear lipstick, protein shakes, or crazy-print leggins will sell themselves. They will not. Thinking of joining a multi-level marketing group? Listen to the podcast 'The Dream : Season 1" first. (Spoiler alert : it's about how 90% of people who join MLM's lose money.)
What I am saying is this : IF there is a way to leverage past investments to create something that will make a little money each month make it happen. But remember - if it involves the term 'up-line', or requires that you attend a conference to get 'started strong', it's an MLM. I am not recommending you do any kind of MLM.
Here is an example. Ten years ago I started a Facebook group for fitness instructors. Every week I take a few minutes to vet new members, making sure that each person requesting access is actually a fitness instructor, and not just someone who is interested in fitness or trying to date a fitness instructor. So this group has grown over the years to over 7,500. The group really keeps itself going - they post questions and ideas for each other. I don't have to do anything past letting people into the group.
I recently decided to augment this group by creating a directory. I am using an existing website platform that specializes in directories to create a fitness instructor directory. The existing audience (the members of the Facebook group) are my initial members. Later, I will allow businesses to put banner ads and profiles in the directory for a monthly fee. So once this is all up and running this revenue source will be at least fairly passive. And I will never hear the term 'upline' in relation to this revenue source.
Is there something you have been working on or building that might become a passive revenue source for you? If so, take a hard look at that and evaluate what it would take to put it into action.
That's a little bit about how I got started. I hope it helps you get past some common roadblocks.
For more, read some of my older blog posts. I wrote a lot of very personal stuff in the beginning like Anxiety in the Entrepreneur. I am on a mission to help people managing a business website, and I would love to answer any questions you have. Leave them in the comments, or use the contact form to send me a message.