In this guide, I’m going to share everything I know about how to find your perfect clients if you own a web design and development business. A lot of what you’ll learn here can be applied to other types of creative service businesses, such as graphic design, search engine optimisation, social media management, etc. However, my particular perspective on this approach is due to my background as a WordPress consultant. My hope is that you read the entire guide, make lots of notes, and take action to start improving your business.
I’ve worked with thousands of WordPress consultants over the last few years, and I have seen this approach work over and over again.
It’s a simple framework, and I believe anyone can use it to succeed. It does require you to roll up your sleeves and do some work, so if you’re OK with that, let’s get started!
Succeeding as a web professional
The way to succeed as a web professional is to identify who you want to serve and then serve them better than anyone else. To make that happen, you need to publish helpful content that attracts these clients to you. Your potential clients need to see you as the “go-to” person for your area of expertise, and then you need to onboard them into your process.
Remember: You’re running a business here.
Before we begin, I’d like to remind you that if you are running your own business, or you would like to run your own business as a web professional, then you are responsible for attracting clients to your business.
If you do not want to talk with clients, or present your ideas, or negotiate a scope of work and pricing, then you might be better off taking a job as an employee and letting someone else worry about making it rain.
Don’t lose sight of what’s important
I believe one of the most important skills you can have is the ability to add value to your clients in exchange for revenue. It’s extremely empowering and allows you to place your hands firmly on the wheel of your own future.
I also believe it’s important to enjoy what you do. And I don’t mean that flippantly. I mean you should wake up every morning and be in a hurry to get out of bed to flex your creative muscle and help your clients.
If you don’t feel this way, then you should start questioning what it is you’re doing.
The truth is building your own business is hard work, so enjoying what you do helps you get through the hard times. And believe me, there will be hard times.
A few common (and false) beliefs
Let’s take a look at a few common misconceptions that startup web pros sometimes have:
1. You should say “yes” to any project.
If you’re just starting out, or struggling to make ends meet, it might be tempting to say yes to any project that walks in the door because you need the money. But not all projects are created equal. Low-value projects might give you an opportunity to learn a new development framework, or test out new WordPress plugins, but they will most likely chew up the profit in your business.
You owe it to yourself and your clients to run a profitable business.
If you are not profitable then you will eventually hit the wall, have to get a job, and you will be unable to service your clients. Everybody loses. So get comfortable with the idea of running a profitable business.
This is going to take some time, so if you need money fast, find a way to pay the bills while you focus on building your business. Clients can smell desperation a mile off and it is not attractive. I was a gigging musician playing around town when I first started out, so I was never desperate for work.
2. You should play the numbers game by cold calling.
Don't do it. It's annoying for the person you are calling and it's embarrassing and desperate. More importantly, there's no need to do it.
I once cold-called 50 of the fastest-growing companies in Australia, got four phone calls, and won $1,700 worth of business. I scrubbed myself afterwards to get rid of the dirty feeling that covered me.
Warm call if you absolutely have to. For now, just know that I will NOT be advising you do any cold calling.
3. You will get better clients … eventually.
The myth that you will get better clients when you have more experience is just that — a myth. Nobody is watching you from a distance and waiting until you have more experience in order to hire you.
Landing a $10K website requires the same amount of work as landing a $1K website.
The only difference is the client you are serving and their capacity to get a return on investment.
If you need to jolt your mindset and shift some of your limiting beliefs, then I suggest you read Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler.
4. It’s hard to find clients.
There is no need to go looking for clients because they are not hiding from you. They are waiting to be served. Your job is to attract them and then serve them better than anyone else.
How to find your perfect clients
These are the six main steps we’ll cover to help you find your perfect clients:
Find your sweet spot.
Bring your perfect client to life.
Reach your perfect client.
Make your case.
Create a content strategy.
Let’s get started.
1. Finding your sweet spot
Building your own business is hard work. In fact, around 80 percent of startups fail in the first two years. It’s a tough slog and only the passionate survive! The reality is that you really have to love what you do if you want to succeed — and that means finding your “sweet spot.”
Your sweet spot is something that you’re really good at and really passionate about.
It’s the holy grail between being a starving artist and a total sell-out. You get to do what you love, get appreciated for your skill set, and get paid for it, too.
I’ll let you in on a secret — I’m not great at everything. I know, it’s quite the shock.
I’m not a very good designer and I’m an “OK” developer (or so they tell me on Tests 4 Geeks). Whilst I love the idea of being a coder, I’m just not that good at it. And to be honest, I’m not passionate enough about becoming better at it, either.
So guess what? I don’t do any of that stuff anymore! Instead, I focus on the things that I’m pretty freaking awesome at doing.
I’m good with people. I’m good at understanding a client’s problem, finding a solution to the problem, and helping the client to reach their goal.
It's all about finding something you enjoy doing that you’re actually good at doing, too.
I bet you can think of something that you’re really talented at, but find incredibly boring — whether it’s writing blog content, managing social media, or talking to clients. These are the things that are useful to you, but don’t give you that instant gratification that you get from doing something you love.
And then there’s a ton of stuff that you’re terrible at but that you love doing. This stuff is pretty useless but you’re probably going to waste your time with it anyway because you enjoy it (don’t say I didn’t warn you).
The sweet spot is the overlap: the things that you’re awesome at and awesomely passionate about.
What are you good at?
Starting is simple. Write down a list of the things that you’re good at. On another list, write down the things that you’re passionate about. The things that are listed on both pages are your sweet spot.
Once you’ve identified your sweet spot, choose the top five things that you’re really good at and really passionate about doing in your business over the next two years.
What’s your sweet spot?
How do clients benefit from your sweet spot?
Once you’ve found your sweet spot, you need to figure out how your services can benefit your prospective clients; i.e. who will benefit the most from your sweet spot. This is all about communicating the benefits of your product or service to your client. It’s old-school marketing with a new-school edge.
Remember, your clients don’t care about what you can do; they care about what you can do for them.
A client will have one of two outcomes that they want to achieve:
- To reach a particular goal: This might be to increase revenue by certain percentage, to employ more staff, or expand into a new product line.
- Pain relief: Getting rid of any roadblocks that are preventing them from reaching their goals. For example: spending too much time answering customer support tickets and having less time to focus on generating new business.
What goals can you help your clients achieve?
It doesn’t matter how much you love SEO. No one will notice because no one cares how much you love it. All that your clients care about is how you can help them get more traffic to their website, increase their sales, or get more customers walking into their store.
If you can do that with your awesome SEO skills — and you also happen to love working in SEO — then you’ve found your sweet spot. But your customers don’t care about that. They care about the outcome.
Your clients care about results, and it takes a passionate and skilled vendor (you) to deliver those results.
The benefits I offer are:
- Keeping my client focused on the activities that will move the needle.
- Helping them avoid distraction.
- Cutting through the noise and helping them implement what we already know works.
- Making them look like a superhero within their organization.
What benefits do you offer?
2. Bring your perfect client to life
Now that you’ve identified the benefits that your sweet spot offers, you need to paint a better picture of who benefits the most from your product or services. For example: I’m pretty good at getting traffic to nonprofit business websites, so the campaign managers within these businesses are my ideal clients.
Choosing your perfect client doesn’t mean you’ll say 'no thanks' to everyone else, but it means that -- for you -- this is the best client to work with.
You can find these clients by identifying who you need to target using this simple formula from John Jantsch’s excellent book, Duct Tape Marketing: Characteristics + what they want + biggest problem + how they buy + best way to communicate.
When I target any business, I break it down to the above formula. Let me briefly explain each point.
What are their characteristics?
Characteristics tell us a little bit about the person we are targeting. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not they’re married with kids or if they prefer basketball over baseball. I just want a broad brush stroke of how old they are, gender, and job description.
What do they want?
Next I focus on what they want. What is it they desire most? If they work in a large organization they might desire a promotion, or their own franchise. If they are running their own business, they might desire more clients with less advertising dollars.
What is their biggest problem?
Identify any roadblocks to your potential client. What their biggest problem or challenge right now? If you can articulate their problem better than they can, they will automatically credit you with having the solution.
How do they buy?
How does this person make purchasing decisions? Do they attend trade conferences, demo webinars or do they need to see someone in person for a sales presentation?
What’s the best way to communicate with them?
What is the best way to get in touch with this person? Do they spend a lot of time researching online or do they respond better to a phone call or a direct meeting?
Create your client avatar card
Once you have the answers to these client avatar questions, you can fill in a basic client avatar card.Here's an example of how to fill in your card:
Characteristic/Persona: Female, aged 45 to 55, marketing manager for a nonprofit.
What they want: They want to attract ambassadors for their next campaign because ambassadors generally bring their own audience of donors.
What is their biggest problem? They are overwhelmed with digital marketing tactics and lack a coherent strategy.
How they buy: They attend industry events and conferences and are influenced by their peers in a few LinkedIn groups.
Best way to communicate: They respond well to in-person meetings and tend to ignore email.
Here is my completed example:
Jenny is a marketing manager at a medium sized non-profit in the Chicago area. She is recruiting new ambassadors for their cause and is overwhelmed with tactics, but lacks a coherent strategy. Jenny is influenced by the opinions of her peers and spends a lot of time researching new ideas to try and attract influencers to her organization.
3. Reach your perfect clients
The next step to find your perfect clients is to create a campaign to reach them. So, how would I get on Jenny’s radar?
I’d put together a campaign to target Jenny specifically. I’d tell her that we help nonprofits to attract high level ambassadors with large audiences to their cause. In other words, “this is how we do it.”
Then, I’d put some content online to get the message in front of Jenny. This could be a blog post, or even a podcast, with some marketing managers in her industry. Or, if trade conferences were more her thing, I’d get involved with the next one in her area.
It's a simple content marketing strategy, but it’s targeted because I know precisely how to get Jenny's attention and I know how to put my information in front of her.
This is the key to getting more focused with your marketing: knowing who benefits the most from what you do, how to find them, and how to get the information in front of them.
Now let’s look at how to leverage this effort for maximum impact.
Identify your top 20 influencers
Becoming an influencer makes it easier to monetise and make a profit from your audience because they trust you and believe in what you’re saying. But the key is in becoming a respected authority without spamming your market with useless content 24/7.
It’s a noisy marketplace. You need to find your specific tribe.
In any particular niche, you’ll find 20 rockstars or 20 popular authorities leading the pack. They’re the cool kids who everyone admires and wants to work with. For example, Matt Mullenweg or Yoast in the WordPress space, or Brian Clark from Copyblogger in the content marketing space.
These are the people you need to leverage in order to reach more clients. Of course, you eventually want to become an influencer yourself — but this is the first step to getting there.
Create a 'Top 20' influencers list
Who are the top 20 influencers that your target market is influenced by? To get cracking on this, just draw up four columns with the following headings. Fill in the details of the top 20 rockstars in the particular niche you want to serve.
- Influence (score out of 100)
- Contact details
Become a tribe leader, not a follower
“If you want to succeed in business and you want to own a niche or corner of the room, you need to become a top 20 influencer.” ~ Ed Dale
You have to become a respected authority in your market if you want anyone to listen to you. To do this, you first need to look at your perfect client avatar and find out who they’re listening to the most.
Once you’ve identified the Top 20 list for your market, you can get your name on that list by producing media that those Top 20 will share with their audience.
This is the opposite of interruption marketing.
It’s about commanding attention and having people come to you because you’re seen as an authority. You can do this by putting yourself and your content in front of large groups — whether that’s through blogging, social media marketing, speaking at conferences, or all three!
My brother is a state president of the Australian Fleet Managers Association and they have conferences twice a year on how to best manage their fleets. Every industry has conferences.
You need to find out who’s speaking at those conferences because they’re the tribe leaders, the influencers, that you need. And if some of the people on your Top 20 influencers list turn up at these conferences as speakers, then you know that you need to up their influence score on your Top 20 list.
A quick Google search revealed eight conferences for nonprofits in the US. I can literally fill my top 20 list with the speakers from just one conference. Lanyrd.com is also a great place to find conferences:
In fact, I previously attended Content Marketing World in Sydney on a media pass as a podcaster, and interviewed some of the speakers for a special two-part episode of our podcast. This is great for lead gen and building your own professional network at the same time.
Ideas for filling out your Top 20 influencers list
As you continue on your journey to find your perfect clients, here are some ideas for filling out your Top 20 influencers list:
Online Groups. Check out Google, Linkedin, Facebook Groups, and even Reddit. Find out who’s running the groups and who’s starting conversations. Get involved in those conversations to start making your mark.
Social media influencers. Who’s being listened to, and who’s being followed the most? Followerwonk is a useful tool for identifying who these influencers are on Twitter and Klout is also a fantastic tool for getting useful analytical insights. Here’s a list of more tools for measuring social influence.
Advertisers. If you want to become a Top 20 influencer, you have to start thinking of advertisers as your peers. Advertisers have attention, and sites such as Zinio and Pocketmags will allow you to identify who the advertisers are. Once you know who they are, you need to find out if there are individuals who work for those companies who have influential blogs.
For example: Who is the spokesperson for Rode microphones or GoPro? Their name goes on the column, not the company. These companies are already spending money to get the attention of the people you want to reach, so you need to leverage what they’re already doing and build a relationship with them to get in on the action.
Pro tip: If you take SEMrush for a seven-day free trial, you can find out what keywords these companies are advertising for and use these keywords to search for influencers online.
This will take a bit of work, but it’s worth it — trust me.
Oh, and don’t try to tell me it can’t be done. If you haven’t done it yet, it’s because you didn’t know how to do it; and if you don’t do it now, it’s because you don’t want to do it. Simple.
Your only job is to fill that Top 20 list of influencers. This gives you a focused cohort of people to reach out to over the coming months.
4. Make your case
The next step to find your perfect clients? Make your case. And that starts with understanding your clients’ problems.
What problem do your clients have that you can solve?
This isn’t rocket science. You need to figure out what their “big problem” is and how you can solve it. No one is going to pay you money because your company is “cool” or “hip.” They’re going to pay you to solve a problem or help them to achieve a goal.
Everything we buy is designed to help us to achieve something we want, or to help us to solve a problem. People are more likely to pay you to solve a problem, because nobody likes problems.
With nonprofits, the problem is retention. They need more donors in the top end of the funnel because they get a lot of drop-offs.
For example: A marketing manager for a nonprofit will be thinking about how to get more people to donate and they’ll be thinking about ways to do so. The problem might be that her job is at risk because the donors aren’t coming in and this is the metric their job is being judged on.
For a small business, the problem is acquisition — they simply need more customers. So they don’t want to hear about how awesome you are at creating new websites, or how social media savvy you are. They just want to know how you’re going to get them more customers!
For example: If you’re a small business importer and you’re importing scooters from China in container loads, then you need to make sure that you can actually sell those scooters and get paid on time so that you can pay your supplier and keep things moving.
Once you know the problem that the client has, you need to brainstorm three to seven solutions to those problems. Write them down as bullet points. (For the nonprofit, some of your solutions might be getting more traffic from social media and ensuring they have lead capture setup on their website — easy!)
After the problems are written down, write a synopsis of your proposal. It’s like a film synopsis covering just enough information to garner interest.
Your synopsis will be simple. It will highlight that you understand the problem in the market and let potential clients know that you have solutions for that problem.
Having a solid synopsis for your business is crucial for your content strategy.
The most important thing is that all of your content (blog posts, case studies, etc.) should be tied into your synopsis. You need to create a consistent message across the board. This consistency builds trust, which builds your client base, which builds revenue.
Your unique process
To help articulate your solution I suggest reading Unique Process Advisors by Dan Sullivan. It chronicles the journey of 10 financial advisors who traded the pressure cooker of declining commissions and increased regulations for a future of unlimited opportunity income and satisfaction. They did this by taking their service and repackaging it into a “Unique Process.”
A unique process will help you stand out from the pack. It’s something your competitors cannot compete with because it’s unique to you.
How do you design a “unique process?”
You simply take what you currently do and communicate it in a unique way.
If that feels like you’re just going to “make it up,” then you are correct. Some of the highest-paid consultants in the world get paid so much because they have a unique process with proprietary intellectual property that is designed to help their clients succeed. They all just made it up.
Here’s one I made up. You might not think it’s very unique or very impressive. That doesn’t matter because you’re not my target audience. Jenny, the marketing manager at a large nonprofit, thinks I’m a magician. And her opinion is all that counts.
Now let’s get back to that pesky topic of content strategy.
5. Create a content strategy
You’re now well into your journey to find your perfect clients. What’s next? Creating a content strategy that will appeal to them.
How do you produce content?
Start by creating a clear content framework that outlines what you need to produce. Without good content, you won’t get any attention, and you won’t be able to influence any eyeballs — so this is important to get right.
Content is very competitive. Your stuff needs to be quality, and it needs to be relevant to your target market. Then you need to give content away like there’s no tomorrow.
Pro tip: Find speaking opportunities to give your content away.
As I mentioned earlier, speaking at conferences is the No. 1 way to position yourself as an influencer in your market. It’s lead generation on steroids. Conference organisers want good communicators who are reliable, easy to work with, turn up on time, and deliver talks that make people want to come back for more. So how do you get the gig?
You hit up the conference organisers with an awesome synopsis of your talk.
Remember, good speakers command attention, they don’t demand attention. Losers demand attention. Winners command it. If your talk is even just decent, people will come up to you afterwards asking for your time. Once that happens, you’re 90 percent of the way there.
Your synopsis is the key to getting on that stage. Don’t overthink it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Take some imperfect action and just get it done.
You’ve heard of writer’s block, right? Well, that’s old news. I’m here to tell you about producer’s block. I’m dead serious, this is a real thing!
Producing good media on a regular basis is a tough gig.
I’m talking about knowing what content to produce and knowing you have enough content in the pipeline to keep attracting clients. It’s about having a content strategy and knowing the purpose of every piece of content you push out.
The best place to start is with writing killer headlines.
It’s an easy place to start, it’s a fun place to start, and it’s a hugely beneficial place to start. Here’s the thing — the conversations you have with your clients and peers everyday are actually jam packed with possible headlines. You just need to start taking notice.
If you’re stuck, use this as a template:
How to achieve [Biggest Benefit] without [Biggest Headache]
Works every time!
Seriously, just come up with as many headlines as you can and write them all down. If you spend a week coming up with 10 headlines a day, you’ll add some serious rocket fuel to your content campaign.
Once you put a solid content strategy (known in some circles as an editorial calendar) in place for the next 12 months, you won’t have to think twice about what to post and when because it will all be mapped out in advance.
Sounds like a pretty awesome productivity hack doesn’t it? That’s because it is.
You don’t need to write all the content yourself.
When it comes to actually writing the content, there are a few ways to do this and they don’t all involve writing it yourself. You can contract the work out to someone, or send an audio file over to a site like Rev to have it transcribed for next to nothing.
If you have the time and ability to write it yourself, that’s cool, too — just make sure writing is your sweet spot.
Once your content is ready, start reaching out to your influencers. Yes, it’s actually possible to reach out to influencers without being spammy. This can be a simple email or a tweet that tells the influencer about a post that would be of interest to their readers.
6. Qualifying clients
You’ve already identified your perfect client, so it’s time to say “No” to clients who don’t fit that perfect mould. Look, I know it’s hard to say no to new business. I know that when you see a new lead arrive in your inbox, your gut reaction is “HECK YEAH,” rather than “HECK NO.”
But you need to start qualifying your clients before investing your time into dealing with them, or you’re going to start losing out big time.
You can do this by asking a few qualifying questions. Find out what problem they need to solve or what goal they need to achieve. This will also help you to figure out how invested they are in the process and — most importantly — how willing they are to pay you to help them with it.
Examples of qualifying questions
Here are some questions you can ask early on in the relationship to determine whether or not you’re a good fit for each other:
- Why do you need a website?
- What is it that you’re hoping to achieve in your business?
- What role do you think the website will play in your business?
- Will the website replace sales or admin staff members?
- Will the website help you sell your business?
I've lost count of the number of people I've seen complaining about being taken for a ride by a client. It’s time to get smart. If the client simply wants to spend an hour picking your brain for free, but presents it as a new business opportunity, they can take a hike.
Less-than-perfect clients = less-than-perfect outcomes.
You should only work with clients you know you can work with; this means figuring out whether the project fits in with your ethos and how passionate you are about working on it.
You also need to look at the budget and your relationship with the client. (These are all things that you can grade on a scoresheet between 1 and 5 to determine whether its a good fit.)
Not every client is right for you, and simply filling in a client scorecard will allow you to get your initial gut feeling down on paper and assess whether there’s any basis for it.
Your checklist for winning clients
I know this is a lot to take in. If you’ve made it this far on your quest to find your perfect clients, congratulations. But you’re probably wondering if this really works, and if so, where you should start.
Well, yes, it does work. And here is a simple checklist to follow to implement this approach.
- Identify your sweet spot.
- Identify the benefits you offer.
- Identify who stands to benefit the most from working with you.
- Develop your client avatar.
- Identify your Top 20 influencers.
- Identify the problem your perfect client has.
- Identify your solution to this problem.
- Plan your content strategy.
- Produce and share helpful, high-quality content.
- Qualify incoming leads to make sure they’re a good fit.
If you systematically work through this material and tick off items 1 to 10 you will attract new clients to your business.
It’s all very well reading about this stuff, but if you want to win clients for your WordPress business, then it’s time to take action!
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The only time I have seen this not work is when the entrepreneur quits halfway through. So do us both a favor, and please don’t quit!