When I ask people "where their leads come from", the #1 response is usually "referrals" or "word of mouth".
That's fantastic when you're already in business and have some clients under your belt.
But what if you're just starting out? What if you have no clients and no reputation? Or what if you do have past clients, but referrals and word of mouth just isn't cutting it?
Where, and how, do you find leads to get the ball rolling?
I have noticed an increase of people coming from Google searches. It really pays off to focus on a specific niche and follow the suggestions in Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools).
We've also had some success in posting on Craigslist, but that only works for certain types of businesses and services.
Doc its interesting that you get some leads from craigslist, I haven't gotten a single one using it! Any tips?
Hey Doc - super keen to hear more about this.
What are you specializing in? Are you writing content to increase rankings or is it more specialized than that?
Also curious about how much you track lead sources. ie if you track via specific referral channels or if it goes to a general lead bucket.
Ned, we specialize in WordPress help and support. We offer task-based work as well as ongoing support plans.
I've written a bit of content, but plan on adding more - just too darn busy with customers! I seriously don't know how some of these guys output so much great content when it's not their primary focus. Nevertheless we've done pretty well on certain keywords even without dynamic content generation. Doing some location-based SEO definitely helps as well - we consider our market to be all of North America, not just our own backyard.
We do track using Google Analytics, as well as having a field on our contact forms asking where the customer heard about us. Responses to our ads in the directories like Craigslist and Kijiji are easily tracked. I participate a fair amount in Facebook Groups, but find that people will go from the group to our FB page to our website, so it's hard to track that particular path. I'm planning to start some paid advertising and retargeting later this year.
It helps that we're not selling web design which is an over-saturated market. We take over when the designer's job is done by specializing in WordPress help and support. We tailor our headlines on the directory sites like Craigslist (and Kijiji in Canada) to address specific pain that people feel when working with WordPress. We don't worry too much about re-posting to try and stay at the top of the listings because we figure people are going to find us using the search tool. Hope this helps.
I find that regardless (pretty much) of what your business is the best place to met and win clients are incubators, accelerators and networking events. Typically there are tons of these kinds of events put on by groups local to you AND a lot of the people there will be in a similar space with their business as you are? If you meet clients on the ground floor you guys can grow together and perhaps benefit from a lot from each other's offerings and expertise.
I went to a lot of those kind of startup events when I first started and I still have a lot of the clients I met there. I think that we are a bit too large now for some events but we hold monthly events at our office location aimed at startups and out local business community, those have done well for us. I would say that if you can't find a local meetup then get other like minded individuals and start your own.
roy darling *my posts seem a lot shorter in my head
When I was starting out, of course some of my projects were freebies for visibility -- and by carefully choosing where to volunteer, it did get me quite a few referrals.
First, we have a local anti-Starbucks coffee shop about 4 blocks from my house. Their slogan: "Fremont's Living Room" -- and many people hang out there, study there, meet clients there, socialize, etc. I would have meetings there with clients (if I had them) or just work there (even if I did not have a meeting). And pretty soon, the regulars knew what I was doing, would come by to see what I was working on, and I started getting inquiries and conversations. I got a number of clients that way. And yes, I did the coffee shop's website as a freebie because the owner was a personal friend.
Another huge visibility site early on was my kids' schools. I built the elementary school's first website when they were there (but I was still working in corporate america). By the time the first one got to high school, I was a freelancer. The high school's site was managed by the librarian, it was a nightmare. I took it over as a volunteer and managed it for the 6 years my kids were there. Also helped advise the website club, etc. Every staff member/teacher knew me, a number of their spouses or family members became clients. I can't tell you how many school parents became clients, or knew who I was due to that, and referred me. After my youngest graduated, I said it was time for a new volunteer. They were so afraid of losing me, the PTA decided to pay me (I gave 'em a discount). I stayed for another 5 years before handing it off. I STILL run into people who remember that I managed the high school site, and I left that gig in 2011. True story: I was at the theater in SF last weekend, ran into the HS drama teacher, of all people. And she was quick to introduce me to her group, saying how much she loved me, blah blah blah. So she is STILL possibly a source of referrals, and all because I helped her post play audition info 15+ years ago...
And a third is the local Chamber of Commerce. I've managed their site for almost 15 years as my volunteer work for the Chamber. MANY members became clients. It's a tight-knit community, and with these 3 key volunteer efforts, I generated so many referrals... and then of course clients become a referral source as well.
All of which is to say... carefully chosen volunteer work EARLY ON, might be a good way to generate referrals down the road. Naturally, we can't all work for free all the time -- but if you think of these projects as marketing "expenses" it works pretty well.
@rd I have been told to join a local chamber but am afraid to take on more business until I can schedule the time. Recently invited to another group - BNI.com - does anyone know much about this organization?
Personally, I did not set out to get into web management and design, it was a by product of helping some small businesses and non profits that have pushed me into this direction and I'm really liking the new learning.
You will find that more business than you can handle is a good thing @-scott. What I do is surround myself with other business people in my community that also do development who I trust to recommend and I forward some overflow clients to them. The thing for me now is to only select the clients whom fit best in my business and those who don't I suggest a better fit. I think that as you make yourself more visible within your community you will find partnering opportunities that are mutually beneficial.
I got into web development by accident as well, "just one website" is always how it starts.
roy darling *my posts seem a lot shorter in my head
Just reverse the referalls and word-of-mouth cycle. Instead of people talking about you and getting the business to come to you, you start talking about yourself and how the services you provide can help businesses and organizations. Talk to your friends and contacts about what you can do and that you're looking for some initial clients to build up your portfolio. Start having your friends and contacts think about who they might know that could use your services and get the introductions.
When we started our business 4+ years ago we looked at our closest and best friends. Believe it or not the most important thing is to get that first customer who is aligned to the type of things you want to do. Getting subsequent customers is about knowing the customer and the type of pain you solve for them.
What we did followed this step by step:
Eventually we got a few leads and then proceeded to start a networking group of our own. Rather than joining a group, get on meetup.com or start your own group and essentially build your own list. We eventually gave books away and that was a great way to "give before you get" approach which landed us more customers. The book giveaway results are documented on our blog.
The book idea is great. I once saw a presentation with steps of how to write your own book with the exclusive goal of getting leads. A systematic approach on this ensure you always have a queue of clients waiting to do business with you!
The other way to build both authority and more traffic for your site is guest blogging. Its a long term play though - but with the investment in time.
@clickbutt - Dig the guest posting idea! What's your approach to finding guest post opportunities?
There's a danger here of prospecting willy-nilly and taking what comes along. And that danger is you get locked into being the "XYZ-Level Developer".
That's fine if you want to be that level of developer, but what if your revenue needs are much higher?
Add to this that you literally become your customers--if they're slow to pay, you become slow to pay; if they're desperate, you become desperate--and you have a serious problem.
Once you have the reputation of being the "XYZ-Level Developer", it's hard to shake that perception. And your comfort zone will be set at attracting and accepting the kind of customer who perpetuates your poor situation.
So the smart thing to do is deliberately choose your ideal customer, your target market segment, at the beginning. Stick with it. Reject prospects who are not a fit, because they will taint you with their problems. As I said above, you become your customers: their problems will become your problems. They do, as soon as you agree to take them on as a client.
Developer-Business Owners tend to forget they are salespeople. And as salespeople, you have the final say on whether anyone gets to become a client or a customer. That decision and full power is in your court. Remember that. You can turn down any prospect, any amount of money, for any reason. And you can always go make that revenue somewhere else.
If you've gone down the road of letting random events choose your target market for you, then you have a comfort zone. It's best to acknowledge this now. Also, realize that you've trained yourself to see prospects that fit that profile, and ignore those who are out there right now who don't fit that profile.
Retraining your brain to see better prospects takes commitment and around 2-4 weeks.
But let me assure you, they are all around you right now. You have simply trained yourself not to see them.
So even if you're a year or more into your business, you can still make this change--if you do it deliberately, with commitment. That means you stop taking on lower-level work, and only accept that which you now want.
Now that you have actually defined your ideal customer, you can market to them. Write Kindle reports that solve problems they have. Do the same thing on your blog. Talk directly to their problems...not about your technical skills. They'll respond to you talking about their situation, not your expertise.
This will obviously affect your prospecting. Most people do not spend enough time prospecting. You cannot, especially as a newbie, sit back and expect your inbound marketing to do all the heavy lifting. No one knows you exist yet. This is why you must reach out to them--and now you can, by sorting by profile that matches your target market.
"Who Do I Want To Work With?"
Start with this. Find out where they gather. Go meet them there. Draw them over to your platform. Speak to their problems. Get conversations with them. Great conversations lead to sales.
At the beginning you should be spending at least 70% of your time prospecting for new business. Tweaking your web copy is not prospecting for new business. Get conversations with members of your target market. Spend 5-6 hours a day prospecting.
Figure out how many leads you need to get into your funnel to ensure a sale. At first, estimate; as you gather data, compare Planned VS Actual and adjust your figures.
Say you estimate you need 10 good prospects to ensure a sale. Now what about your daily behaviors? What are you doing, taking action on, to ensure you get those 10 qualified prospects? If you're cleaning the company kitchen, or playing around with colors on your website, you're not doing what you need to be doing to get leads and sales.