You’ve got your business idea, it’s all planned out, you know you can do it, the next step is to get your message out there and find your first clients. So you need a big shiny website, all the social media accounts and a colour coded strategy right?

Not necessarily.

There are many well qualified people who can advise you on how to make a big splash in the market. There are also a lot of unscrupulous people who will sell you systems, approaches and packages you in no way need and which are not tailored to your business. Before you sift through what’s on offer to work out the former from the latter, here are three important questions:

  1. How many clients can you handle right now?
  2. Who is already in your network?
  3. Do you look like a legitimate business to those who find you online?

Let’s go through these one by one:

  1. How many clients can you handle right now?

It is seductive to imagine amazing marketing campaigns, huge numbers of connections and enquiries flooding in, but do you have the ability to manage that if it happened? If you are selling products and you need to sell a lot to make a decent living then yes you will need to be attracting a lot of people to your business from day one. Yet if you are selling a service that requires your time – for instance you are working as a VA, coach, trainer, graphic designer, accountant or book-keeper – you actually cannot handle that many clients in a week or a month.

Before you buy into the idea that you need a massive social media following, huge mailing list and carefully structured campaign, think about how many clients you really need. Would 3 or 4 be an excellent start? No need to spend money on your marketing just yet then. What you need to do right now can all be done for free. Which brings us to:

2. Who is already in your network?

The first thing you should do, before you start thinking about attracting strangers to your business, is to have a really good look at your existing network. Open up a spreadsheet (all small businesses start with everything on a spreadsheet!) and make a list of the following people:

a) your friends and what they do for a living
b) your family and what they do for a living
c) all of the self-employed people from whom you have bought services in the last two years – electricians, plumbers, decorators, local garages, local restaurants, travel agents, photographers, financial advisers, childcare providers, holistic therapists…everybody
d) the people you know through any groups you attend or hobbies you have and what they do for a living

You thought you didn’t have a network didn’t you? Look at the size of that list. That is your very first mailing list and marketing campaign. What about the people that all of *those* people know?

This is where you start. You will know best how to approach all of those people. Will some of them need a document to read that tells them what you do? For some of them, will a text or phone call be more appropriate? A letter with your family news and a P.S. to check out your new website? Whatever works for the people in question – but if you are not tapping into this network first, then what are you doing? Start here. You never know, with this network and the people they know and the people they know you may not need to do any official “marketing” for quite some time.

You do need to have something to show them though, so that brings us to:

3. Do you look like a legitimate business to those who find you online?

You might hear that if you have a website you need proper SEO – search engine optimisation so that your site can easily be found by people searching on Google and elsewhere. You might hear that for your type of business you should be on LinkedIn or Instagram or Facebook, or that you need a Google Business account or an entry in a local directory or Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

The truth is that, going back to number 1), you probably don’t need to be everywhere all at once and on the front page of the Google rankings. What you do need however is to look professional, interesting and legitimate to the people who *do* find you.

By that I mean, your website should be well designed, work properly and reflect how you want to be seen as a business. Unless you are really confident in your website design abilities, this might well be one area where spending some money makes sense. Yet an SEO package does not have to be a part of that spend right this moment. At some point in the future it might indeed become important for you to come up above your competitors when someone searches for your type of industry. For now though, what matters is that when you reach out to your existing network and tell them your website address, the web page that they go to really sells your business to them.

Likewise, it is far more important to have one interesting and active social media account than four accounts that look like you are never there. If people search for you on on Instagram and you don’t have an account, that’s fine. If they search for you, find you, but there’s only two posts and a hastily written bio – that makes you look like you’re not really in business. You are not taking it seriously. They might question whether or not your business is still active at all.

So decide which social media platform makes the most sense for you, and focus on that to begin with. One active and inviting Facebook page, or one LinkedIn account where you engage with your connections everyday, is far more likely to get you business and recognition than a number of half done pages and accounts because you don’t have time to keep up with them all.

Yes of course it would be wonderful if everybody could see you and everybody wanted your services. Unless you are Amazon or Uber though, that’s probably not required. If you follow the steps above you will be able to build up a following, present yourself well and find people who are interested in your services without having to spend a fortune in time or money on all kinds of bells and whistles.

Once you have got your first clients, make sure that they provide you with testimonials for your website or recommendations on your social media account(s). That gives you even more legitimacy and it gives the people who want to support you (your existing network) even more reason to recommend you to their friends and contacts. There is no shame in finding your first clients amongst your parents’ friends, the mums at the school gates or aunty Gladys’ neighbours. Their money and their testimonials are as good as anyone else’s, and if they weren’t using your services they would be giving money to your competitors.

Start small, start local, start close to home. Don’t get sucked into shiny programmes and packages that are not yet appropriate. Do some things well rather than trying to do everything. Most of all? Enjoy it.

Helen Calvert, December 2020