It’s About What You Know AND Who You Know (How to Get Your First Client)

Jul 26, 2020 | Entrepreneurship

“It’s not about what you know, but who you know”, as the old adage goes. 

When it comes to getting your first client, whether as a freelancer or small business, this is what you’ll hear a lot of. 

But why is it that this adage has been widely accepted into society without ever questioning it? Why is it that “who you know” has always carried more weight than “what you know”?

What if the adage was “it’s about what you know and who you know”? 

That’s where thought leadership comes in. 

Thought leadership is the voice of innovation and new ideas in your industry. And from this authoritative position, you will attract clients. 

So if you are looking to land your first client, develop your knowledge of your industry and combine this with who you know. 

It is more important than relying solely on who you know. 

How to get your first client

Preparing to Get Your First Client

Have a business front

Before you actively go seeking your first client, you should have your “business front” ready to pitch.

Your business’ mission statement should already be prepared so you can pitch your business to new clients. 

The mission statement will portray to your potential clients that your business has a direction – making it appealing to them.

Do You Seem Professional?

To further align with having a “business front”, creating a professional-looking website that showcases your successes is also crucial to developing your thought leadership status. This is your “CV” that creates a good first impression and houses the evidence of your success. 

A website gives you an online presence so your potential first clients can always find you and learn more about you.

Ensure your email address is professional-looking as well. No mentions of a year of birth or nicknames in your email address.

Having a business name email address will add another layer of professionalism.

No one wants to hire someone with an email address “”. 

Give value first

There are two main forces that drive our world: giving and taking. 

If you are always taking, then you are not contributing to making the world a better place. 

If you are always giving, then people see the value in you. If you have helped someone make their lives better, then they will be more likely to return the favour.

Approaching lots of potential first clients and asking them “Do you want to be my client?” will get you nowhere.

However, if you have a website with lots of helpful blogs written, or have done many inspiring talks, more people will resonate with that. 

The chances of landing your first client increases.

This is based on the principle of reciprocity, from Dr Robert B. Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, where he states that we are wired to return favours.

So before you actively go to attain clients, adopt a mentality of giving value first. 

This will put you in a position where people will feel like they owe you, and will increase your chances of landing your first client.

16 Ways to Get Your First Client

At this stage, you should have done all the groundwork necessary to make yourself appear more professional. 

You have a clear business mission statement. You have showcased your expertise in the field. And you have adopted a mindset of giving value first.

If you can fully say that you have achieved the above, then you will have more success in getting your first client.

Here are 16 ways you can go about finding your first client:

1. Check out job boards

Websites like Fiverr, Upwork and People Per Hour are places where you can search for clients in need of specific jobs.

Job boards are very competitive, so it’s worth noting that there are people who will work for cheaper than you. 

However, it is a good place to start. Especially to earn the confidence boost needed of making your first pounds or dollars, and to get a testimonial.

2. Reach out to existing network

You have friends and family. 

Go and talk to them. See if they need any services that you have to offer. 

It’s not the most promising option to get your first client. If these people are your friends or family, then crossing over into a business relationship may be awkward.

But, there is a very low barrier to this network group, so why not try it? 

3. Go to coworking spaces

The number of coworking spaces in the UK between October 2017 and October 2018 grew by 5320

The types of people that attend coworking spaces are:

  • Start up teams
  • Large corporations
  • Freelancers
  • SMEs

Weaving these two together and you get a potent combination of people who may be interested in your services. 

So go and find them. Talk to them. 

Being at home, or at your office, all day won’t put you in positions to meet new people. 

Going to coworking spaces now and then also adds novelty to your routine.

4. Let people know on your social media channels

Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of letting people know that you’re looking for your first client.

By advertising it on social media, you are doing exactly this.

It might be scary because of the fear that other people on your social media will judge you. 

Get over it. 

Because once you do, you will reap all the benefits, not them. It’s worth treating your social media profiles as a “store-front” as well. 

Update your bios. 

Post continuously. 

Add a link to your website. 

You never know who this might resonate with. Your first client might be right under your nose this whole time.

5. Attend networking events

Not exactly an introvert’s favourite activity. 

But a serious contender for successfully getting your first client.

Networking events are useful for meeting people in your community. You find out what other people do, and they find out what you do. 

Get comfortable asking people questions and initiating conversation. This is how you will connect with people.

As I mentioned earlier about having a business mission statement ready before you go looking for your first client – this is where it becomes relevant.

You will get asked the question “What do you do?” A LOT, so that’s your chance to spew your business mission statements in peoples’ faces.

Capitalise on this opportunity to exchange business cards or LinkedIn accounts to stay connected. 

Here is where potential opportunities will arise.

Check out our Meet Up page for future events where you can meet and network with like-minded people.

6. Ask for referrals

Another “hiding in plain sight” opportunity. 

You can expand on your existing network by asking them if they know people who need your services.

Your network will grow as you attend more networking events. Asking for referrals will be more fruitful because you now have more people to ask for referrals. 

But do be aware of overstepping boundaries if you are asking for referrals from people 

you’ve just met.

All in all, it’s a matter of asking. 

You don’t get if you don’t ask.

7. Cold outreach

I’m sure this will be the approach you hate the most. 

You are not in control of the situation. 

You put the ball in the recipient’s court, whether that’s through cold calling or cold emailing.

However, you can land your first client with this tactic because, again, you never know what responses you can get. 

It also throws you in new waters as you are reaching out to people outside of your network. 

So even if you don’t get any immediate interest from them, you are at least now in their radar for possible future work.

Do set expectations for cold outreach though – expect lots of people to not reply to you.


As we’ve established, getting your first client is about what you know and who you know.

With your expertise in your field, you can be a source for journalists by signing up to Help A Reporter Out (HARO)

You will receive emails whenever journalists require new sources. If they are in your field, then you can provide them with your insight. 

Alternatively, you can reach out to journalists directly and offer yourself as a useful source.

However you get that information to journalists, if that journalist then goes on to use you as a source, you will get PR. 

More PR means more credibility. 

More credibility means more likelihood for you to land your first client.

9. Follow up with existing client from an old job

If you had clients from your previous corporate daytime job – or you have current clients at your daytime job – you can reach out to them to gauge their level of interest in your services.

The benefit of this is you wouldn’t have to waste time and energy building a rapport with them because it has already been built.

However, you do need to tread carefully when speaking to your old clients so there is no conflict between you and your old employer. 

10. Be active in online communities

Whatever industry your business operates in, identify your ideal customers and find out where they spend time online. 

The most likely places your customers spend time online are Reddit and Quora

On these platforms, you simply type in any buzzword associated with your industry. Scan through the list of questions that appear. 

That would be where your potential clients are. 

There might be more industry-specific places your clients spend time online, so you will have to search for that yourself. 

Forums are usually the place where clients spend time online. 

A way to find more industry-specific forums is using advanced Google search operators. 

Open up Google and type in the following query: 

  • “Your industry name” + forum 
    • E.g. “digital marketing” + forum

Once you have identified a few places where your customers are online, be an active member of that community by helping out and answering questions. 

That way, your potential clients will know who you are and will see you as a helpful person.

11. Be active in your local community

You can also take your community outreach efforts to physical settings in your local area as well as online.

For example, if you are in the language learning business, and you know your library offers free language classes, then you can offer to teach some of these classes.

If you can provide value for your local community, your local community will be happy to reciprocate the value.

12. Host your own events

This is a twofold benefit that you will receive: 1) you get to showcase your expertise to potential clients (because it’s about WHAT you know as well as who you know), and 2) you get to develop your marketing skills because you’ll have to promote your own events.

The events you host are entirely in your control as well. 

You want to do a presentation on an area of expertise. Great – find a venue (or Zoom account!) to host it. 

You want to organise a workshop. Brilliant – get in touch with a coworking space to arrange this. 

There are several ways to promote these events as well:

  • Tell your friends and family, and get them to tell their friends and family
  • Announce it on your social media channels
  • Post it in LinkedIn groups
  • Post it in relevant forums

When you host these events, it is important that you do not explicitly “sell” your services at every opportunity you can. 

Prioritise providing value for the audience, and they will be interested in your services naturally if it resonates with them.

13. Work for free

As this is your first time going down the entrepreneur avenue, it is likely that many people won’t be convinced with your selling proposition due to your lack of experience and portfolio

This is a harsh reality of trying to get your first client.

You can lower your potential client’s defence by offering to do a project for them for free, almost like a trial.

This lowers their stake and makes them more likely to accept your services. 

Once this does happen, it is now your opportunity to show them what you can do.

14. Partner up with other business owners

Why spend so much time and effort in getting your first client, when you can piggyback the efforts of other business owners in your industry? 

Other business owners who have been in the game longer than you will have lots of clients. 

You can reach out to these business owners to talk about a potential partnership. They can send clients to you but will take a percentage of the retainer fee.

Although you may not be getting a full 100% client retainer fee, it is a worthwhile sacrifice for now. 

You have the opportunity to build your brand and experience, which could lead to direct clients in the future.

15. Be a guest on other blogs/YouTube/podcasts

This is an opportunity for you to increase your reach by tapping into someone else’s audience. 

By being a guest blogger/YouTube/podcast, you are exposing yourself to a new audience and is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your expertise in the industry. 

People who host these websites are usually happy for you to promote your website and social media channels. All you have to do is give some useful insight to their audience.

16. Speak at events

Speaking at events is a good way to show your expertise and thought leadership, and get brand exposure. 

Half of the work is done for you when you speak at events because you do not need to promote the events. This is the responsibility of the organisation you do the event on behalf of.

Use this as an opportunity to become an authority figure in your industry so you can land your first client. 

You can apply to speak on anything digital for Outreach Digital to get brand exposure and tap into our audience here

How to Keep Your First Client

Selling to a current client has a 60-70% success rate, whereas the success rate of selling to a new client is around 5-20%, so it’s in your best interest to keep your first client. 

You’ve now landed your first client. 

The hard work is just beginning if you want to grow your business and ensure constant revenue. 

How can you ensure your first client stays with you? 

Customer/User Experience

Customer experience is an obvious place to start when talking about client retention.

This is how your client judges whether or not they want to be associated with your brand.

Paula Tompkins, CEO and founder of ChannelNet, has spent 30+ years helping companies build client relationships, and her number one advice for retaining clients is: 

Focus on the entire experience of the clients. The conversation cannot stop once the sale is made…It is critical that companies focus on sending personal communications throughout the lifecycle of the customer. 

Seamless Payment Process

Since Amazon made their payment process a “1-click” process, they have generated billions of dollars in revenue. 

The reason for this? 

It removes the biggest friction point for clients: the payment checkout.

This might be a factor you didn’t consider important when it comes to retaining your first client, but when Meagan Rhodes, Digital Marketing Lead of @Pay, was asked how to generate more repeat clients, she said: 

Offer a simple way to pay. 
The easier it is to pay or donate, the more people will do it.

So consider how to reduce the friction of your payment process. Your first client could become a recurring client.

Now…Go Get Your First Client

A lot of groundwork needs to be done before you actively go to seek your first client. 

Ensure your “business persona” is ready so when the time comes, you can portray this to your potential clients.

When you are in the stage of seeking your first client, always keep in mind the mantra of providing value to other people. 

Whether that’s knowledge or insight in your industry, by disseminating this to people, they will feel like you have the expertise, and feel grateful as you have provided them value.

Once you secure your first client, you will want to keep them because this will feed into the growth of your business. 

Remember…it’s about what you know AND who you know!

Outreach Digital has ~20,000 members and regularly hosts talks on topics in the digital space. If you currently operate in the digital space and would like to reach a new audience, then come on the Outreach Digital platform to do a talk.

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