A question I get asked frequently by both new and well-established VAs is ‘How do I get more clients?’. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of freelancers, client work isn’t necessarily consistent; there might be months when the world and their sister wants to work with you, and the occasional month when it feels like you couldn’t land a contract if you paid them (don’t do this though!)… Self employment is challenging, but if you can make it work it can also be incredibly rewarding – as long as you can make it pay! And to do that, you need paying customers.
Network – Though the very thought of it may be enough to send shudders up your spine, networking is a necessity in business. Virtual networking in online forums like the VIP VA Hub on Facebook or in a group on LinkedIn is a good place to start building positive professional relationships with fellow business owners, but face to face networking at local events or industry trade shows is a great way of meeting a number of people in a relatively short space of time. Admittedly, not all of those people will need your support but make sure you don’t ignore them when you find out they don’t have a need for you at the moment! Take an interest in people’s businesses and be sure to refer or recommend them if and when you feel it is appropriate! Networking isn’t just about selling your services, it’s about building up a network of fellow business owners who can help you and the people you know, and vice versa.
Keep your skills up to date – The VA industry is growing at a significant rate, so if you want to remain competitive in the market it’s important that your skills are up-to-date so that you can offer the most efficient and productive service to a client possible. Why not try and find a short course to participate in or webinar to watch to help top-up your knowledge?
Consider an Associate Role – working as an Associate for another VA can be a great way of building your experience in a particular role or tiding you over until your potential leads come to fruition! Many of the most established VAs I know still carry out some work on an associate basis to ensure that they have a number of potential revenue streams to rely on should their primary income reduce (or their expenses increase!).
Ask for feedback – Again, it’s not always comfortable asking for customers to review your work, but if they’ve stated that they are happy with the work that you have done from them, be brave and ask for a quick testimonial (and their permission to use this on Social Media/your website, etc.). It only takes a few minutes and most business owners will be happy to do this for you as they can appreciate the value of great feedback for a business. Just make sure that you ask whether they are happy to have their name attributed to the testimonial (or would prefer you to use their initials, etc.) and if you are collating a portfolio of the work you have completed for customers, make sure that you have permission to share this work. Some businesses insist on VAs signing non-disclosure agreements or have a clause in their contract that signs work over to them upon payment, so may not be happy for you to be sharing details of previous tasks with new potential customers.
Drive traffic to your website (and social media pages!) – make sure that your website is optimised for keywords that are specific to your business and the services that you provide, as this can help your website to rank highly in the search results for those specific terms, making it more visible to potential new customers. It’s also worth posting regularly to your business social media channels with information about your business, links to news articles your potential customers might find interesting, and behind the scenes images of your workplace, etc. These can really help to keep your business ‘top of mind’ when potential clients see your content in their news feed.
Follow up with leads! – Even if you are snowed under with work at the moment, take time to follow up gently with every lead that you get. I must admit that I’m not a fan of the ‘SELL, SELL, SELL!’ content that some business owners push on potential customers – I’d much rather send some useful information or ‘top tips’ to show them why your services are valuable and that you are a trusted entity. If you haven’t got capacity, be honest! You could ask them to come back in a couple of months if it is non-urgent work they are looking for help with, or you could consider taking on your own associate to help you with any excess tasks.
There are also a few more things that it is REALLY important to remember:
DON’T agree to a rate that is lower than you are worth – you charge your hourly rate/project rate for a reason, whether that’s because it’s what you’ve calculated you need to live on after all of your expenses are paid, or because that’s the going rate for freelancers who offer your particular range of services. Just because a potential client thinks that you are over-charging doesn’t mean that you are, particularly when you consider that they are probably charging more per hour than you! If they say they can find someone cheaper to do it, let them be on their way; it is likely you will receive far more respect (and be more financially comfortable) with someone who recognises your worth and is happy to pay it.
DON’T ‘fake it til you make it’ – Please don’t ever accept a job that you have no idea on earth how to complete, I promise you it never ends well! If you are honest with your potential customer from the outset and let them know that you aren’t skilled in a particular task but are willing to undergo on-the-job training so that you can help them, that’s a different matter! It is possible to learn on the job with the support of the customer and your peers, but it’s not a stress-free walk in the park! Being able to learn new skills in your own time and at your own pace is definitely preferable to the overwhelming anxiety of having to perform a task that you don’t know how to complete.
And finally, think carefully before working with someone that you have a bad gut feeling about… I know, I know, it’s difficult to turn work down when you are strapped for cash but I can safely say that there are some customers that it is just better not to work with! Unfortunately, due to personality clashes or differences in communication styles, some business pairings just don’t work. If you feel as though there are red flags popping up before you’ve even started working with a customer, take a little time to review whether it is a positive work opportunity for you.