Back when I first started my side business, I was terrified of work finding out about it. So I was faced with the dilemma of how to find clients without posting about it all over social media.
But once I put my mind to it, I not only came up with a way to get my first paying clients without it, but also worked out how to grow my business organically too.
What do I mean by organically? Basically anything that doesn’t involve the more obvious digital marketing methods that you’re constantly bombarded with. Things like social media, email, SEO, paid advertising, PR, etc. The ones that can make you really visible, but could also mean people find out about your business when you don't want them to just yet.
Also, in the very early stages of starting your business, those methods are super resource-heavy (think time AND money) for very little immediate outcome. Take it from me and the mistakes I made along the way!
Now, I'm not saying DON'T ever do them, I'm just saying that in my experience (15 years of corporate marketing and 3 years of running my own business), that they're not the best use of your precious time when you're starting out as a side hustler.
So, once you've created your introductory offer and got it out there, how do you build your business WITHOUT social media?
Well I'm glad you asked...
1.Market Research Calls
The only way to be totally confident in what you're selling - market research calls with your ideal clients not only help you get valuable insights for your product and content creation and help you validate your offers, but sometimes these calls also turn into clients, because they’re a nice, safe, no-obligation way of getting an ideal client on a Zoom call without feeling salesy.
Aim to have 2-4 calls a month even if you've got no new offer to validate. You can simply ask for feedback on your existing offer!
2.Testimonials & Reviews
This is one of the simplest ways of marketing your small business, but often doesn't get done, because people feel icky about asking for them. But remember that it's your right as a business owner to ask for a testimonial if you have provided a good service.
The key is to make it part of your process. Diarise it or automate it if you can - do not leave it as an afterthought. As soon as the project is finished, ask for it. One of the best ways I've found is to:
Remind your client how important testimonials are as a small business owner to grow your business
Give them prompts so they aren't starting from a blank sheet of paper. Ask them how they felt before working with you, what you did to help them and how their life has changed as a result of working with you.
Ask for it as part of your post-project feedback questionnaire, so its one less ‘thing’ for them to do and as they’re already sitting down to reflect on their time working with you, a testimonial should flow from that nicely
What do you do if someone doesn't reply? Chase them. Not stalker-like, but regularly follow up with them at least 3-4 times.
Then once you've got it, thank them profusely and ask them to copy and paste it into the places where you’re going to use them like your Google my Business Page. I literally do it in Whatsapp or email and walk them through the steps, i.e. ‘Thanks so much for your amazing testimonial. I’d love it if you could copy and paste it into my Google Reviews to help me promote my business. Here’s the link to paste it into. It will take you less than 2 mins!’
You can then also use it on your website and in your offers and content. The world's your oyster!
Again, this is one of the simplest and most obvious ways of getting clients, but often one of the most overlooked. Maybe because no one really talks about it because it's not that 'sexy' but also maybe because it's so easy.
The issue many of my clients have though, is that they aren't getting any referrals or they don't know how. And and my first question back to them is ‘Have you asked for them?’.
Usually the answer is no, because they say it can feel really icky or selfish to ask someone for business. I've even had some clients say it feels like they’re admitting that their business isn't doing well, which couldn't be farther from the truth! Asking for referrals is just good business sense. That is ALL.
If you think about it, how would you feel if a service provider you’d worked with asked you for a referral? Absolutely fine, right? So why would it be any different for you?
In terms of how to go about it, there are ways of doing it and times to do it that can give you better results, but basically this is one of the easiest ways to grow your business.
Now I know this puts the fear of God into most people, because it conjours up images of people standing around a dingy hotel conference rooms with nametags pinned to their bad suits, but hear me out, as it can be a really lucrative way of getting clients. There are two main types of networking:
This is simpler than it sounds and doesn't involve business cards! It involves you approaching other non-competing businesses who are targeting a similar audience to you to propose a strategic collaboration. e.g. I might approach a social media manager or VA who targets small business owners to create an exclusive referral relationship or an interior designer might approach an estate agent or builder who deals with clients who might need interior design help.
For example, my client has a lot of business owners and wannabe business owners following her, so I offered her complimentary coaching sessions in return for her spreading the word about me. I also have a relationship with my old coach whereby I send him anyone who needs help with confidence and he sends me anyone who wants to start a business.
By this I mean going to online or in person networking events with no real agenda and by that I mean, the room (or Zoom) doesn't have to be full of people who could be your ideal client. Look at the room as full of people who know people who know poeple, who might tell people about you and your servies. Nothing more, nothing less.
These events could be specific to your niche or they could be events for other women like you, eg. Female founder events. Just go there with the intention of meeting people, sparking up genuine conversations and being curious about them, without trying to 'sell' to them.
There are a couple of keys to this though:
Be super clear on your elevator pitch, so that when someone inevitably asks you what you do, you can tell them confidently and concisely. Practice saying it over and over until you’re super confident and it rolls off the tongue.
Rather than bang on about you, ask THEM what they're struggling with. Get curious! And if you meet anyone who has the problems that you can help with, instead of asking them to jump on a discovery call (unless they specifically ask to have one with you), just invite them to a coffee and say you’d be happy to have a chat and see how you might be able to help them.
Which leads me on nicely to my final tip:
Now, I'm a big advocate of not doing too much work for free because the less skin your clients have in the game, the less they value what you're doing for them and then less valuable you feel. Basically it can end up being a lose lose situation.
However, maybe there’s someone who you would LOVE to work with and you can offer them a snippet of your work for free with a view to them hopefully being so bowled over by your work that they sign up to work with you. This worked for my copywriter client who approached a business she wanted to work with with an idea for an article she wanted to pitch to magazines.
Or perhaps there's someone who's really well connected or has a big social media following and would refer you on to their network. You could offer them your services for free in return for mentions or referrals. This has definitely worked successfully for both me and my coach clients in the past.
But there are a couple of keys to success here are:
Only do this if it's a strategic decision or you put an arrangement in place.
Never call it ‘free’ as it devalues it. Call it complimentary instead.
So hopefully that's given you food for thought and helped you see some alternative ways to build your business without having to post all over Instagram, LinkedIn or Pinterest.
But if you want help growing your side hustle or main hustle faster, without having to constantly show up on social media, then my 121 coaching is for you. Together we co-create a strategy that works for you, to get you those paying clients and on your way to quitting the rat race for good.
So if you're ready to start building that business and finding that freedom and flexibility you're dreaming of, then let's talk.
Business Coach & Side Hustle Queen
Hi, I'm Lauren. I burnt out from the corporate world, hit rock bottom and used the experience to create my dream life. I now help passionate and ambitious women start and grow businesses. I'm living proof that you can - and deserve to - have it all.