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How to get your first 3 paying clients

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How to get your first 3 paying clients
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Maybe it’s uncouth to say, but most of the advice on making money via freelancing is terrible.

That’s because when it comes to how to get clients, typical advice goes something like this:

  • “YEAH! Just start blogging! Create great content and someone’s bound to come along someday!”
  • “Make a website and do some SEO on it so you always get free traffic!”
  • “Do something unique and eye-catching, like creating a viral video to get lots of viewers and show off your viral video-making skillz!”
  • “Go on some forums and you know, be helpful… answer questions… establish your presence and see what happens!”

Wow, I’ll just do a little SEO. It’s so easy! Then a simple viral video. Ugh, get the hell out of here.

Problems with creating fancy marketing strategies without getting clients

Problem 1. Stop building complex marketing strategies for clients you don’t have. Your first goal is to get 3 clients. Do you really need a blog to do that? And notice I said 3 clients, not just 1 — that could be a fluke. Get 3. Once you have 3 clients, you’ve proven that you have a reliable base of people who’ll pay you for your services. You can test service offerings and prices on them. And now you can start with more complex marketing strategies. Remember: Skip all the fanciness and get 3 people to pay you first.

Problem 2. It makes complex marketing strategies like SEO, blogging, and viral marketing appear both easy and discrete, when in reality they’re often an excuse for you to avoid the hard work of finding actual people who will pay you for your services. Do you know how long “SEO” takes to work? Do you just start a blog, and then check it off your to-do list 5 minutes later? If you say yes to anything I just asked, I will kill you.

Generic freelancing advice tells you to do high-level – and in reality, highly complex – work that actually encompasses dozens of subtasks. Where will you be after Subtask 11? In all likelihood, you’ll have given up. Honestly, are you defaulting to high-level, almost impossible-to-finish strategies as a way of avoiding getting down to the real work?

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Solution: Get your first 3 paying clients

How to get your first clients

Getting your first client is a 2-step process that I call Locate and Communicate.

1. Locate Your Clients

  • Who is your exact client, and where do they go to look for a solution to their problems? Do they read magazines? Go to the grocery store? Ask their priest?
  • Where are people already looking for solutions to problems, and how can you make a match between them and your service?

(By the way, the 2nd option is something that anybody can do by posting and responding to ads on sites like Craigslist. Just last week, after I recommended Vin give niche guitar lessons, he posted an ad on Craigslist and got immediate responses.)

The 1st option, though, is my favorite: Identify very specific leads in your very specific target market, and figure out where they go to look for a solution to their needs.

Look, most people don’t want to buy your services. Most people think you’re ugly! But a few people might be into paying for your services. When you’re starting out, your job is to find those few people and turn them into long-lasting customers.

Here’s how you find them:

First step is to niche down your market. Do not try to find every person who uses a computer between the ages of 18-34, lives in the USA, and likes pictures of naked girls. NICHE IT DOWN. By age, location, interest, income level, and so many more options (that we will explore in detail at

Then, find out where they go to find solutions. Get in their heads:

  • Want to pitch to moms that blog about children? Go to The Mom Blogs and start with the ones under “Popular Blogs.”
  • Looking for physical or massage therapists within 50 miles of your house? Yelp should get you started easily.
  • What about tech startups with over $1 million in funding, with more than 10 employees, but less than 50? Here’s 100 of them.
  • If you want to do… large dog grooming and sitting, well there’s probably a local pet store or dog park near you where owners are all congregating just waiting for you to offer them a solution.

Listen closely. Over the last few weeks, people have been coming to my weekly video office hours saying things like, “But Ramit! I have this idea and have NO IDEA where to find customers!” My response is always calm, yet you know that anger boils closely below. “What have you done to research your audience?” Have they emailed a few people? Taken them out to lunch? Asked complementary service providers if this is a good idea? The answer is almost always no.

Example that made me angry: Last night, someone said they were going to start a wedding-montage photo business. What should they do? They appeared to be stuck. Answer: Go talk to a few wedding photographers and ask them if this is a good idea. Would their customers buy it? Are there holes in the market that are not being served? What about event planners? Florists? You could do this in 1-2 weeks and save 1 year of your life.

80% of your ideas will be strengthened — or washed out — with this simple exercise. And it only takes a week or two to get started.

Get in these people’s heads & then niche it down. Read their minds and then act on those insights. So you’ve figured out where the secret large dog pet store is. Great. Now look at their website, visit the store, talk to the owner. GET OFF YOUR ASS AND TAKE ACTION.

Could you pitch one potential client each morning? You probably could if you created an email template. How about 10 over the weekend, playing with different headlines/offers so you can see which ones work better?

It doesn’t have to take a long time, and it doesn’t have to be agonizing…which brings us to step 2.

2. Communicate With Your Clients

Email will be your most important communication tool for pitching clients. I get pitched via email all the time for guest posts, product pitches, and people who want to work together. I vomit routinely. The emails are usually way too long and have no clear point.

Bad email:

Subject: to the real ramit [Subject line is too vague]

Ramit (please forward to him, if VA reading),

I’m impressed, I’ve scanned your blog from 2004 to now, left a few comments and felt the need to contact you for networking, an offer, and advice. This should take you about 4 minutes to read, I hope you can. [Good compliments, but 4 minutes is way too long]

Background: I’m influenced by Tim Ferris, Seth Goden, Leo Babauta, Rocky Balboa, and Steve Jobs. Effective efficiency meets ideas, the power of less, will power and innovation.

Status: Working 40 hours a week until I can escape via passive or easily managed income. I am IT support for an all Apple global consulting firm. I run [Company], a well oiled machine of an IT support, web development, and internet consulting company (just me and my VA’s). I run [Website] – a chronicling of the stages of becoming self actualized to the fact that life isn’t how people tell you it is, and you can design it otherwise. I just bumped up my pretax savings to %11 of my earned income. I am unrelentingly in pursuit of the break that will come and free me to live out my dreams of supporting people and their technology, training in crossfit, learning spanish, and giving to youth without worrying about money. [Too long=I’m starting to lose interest]

My need is to learn from you (not your typical money wisdom), and your need is that you or someone you know could use me like a cup of coffee on a Monday morning. [This is where most busy people make the decision not to read on]

I’ve seen enough cases now, yours included of people vice gripping life and making it their own. I’ve always been service oriented in the quiet leader type way, and I’ve made smart no risk decisions, I’m 25 and will no longer take the slow road. I’m primed for a break, and will be unrelenting until it comes. I’d like to include you in that because I think you’re smart, on your way up, and accessible. Please review me below, I hope you can make use of me before I realize my full potential and be swept up in that.

Although I can be wordy, I’m not a magician with words, I’ll lay my most powerful qualities/experiences out in bullet points. I hope you see them as I do, as ammunition.

  • will power like no other (never lost a “bet you can’t stay…”)
  • technical savant (no technology too frustrating or complex)
  • people person (communication is a strength, met several C level execs, Sony for instance)
  • action oriented, all plans suck without implementation. simple plans plus action work.
  • business man. started and sold several businesses
  • founder of [Company]
  • i save %11 of what i make, split to an IRA and emergency fund. i make very little.
  • building a backup information product and breaking the ice of online marketing
  • traveled the world while being a digital worker
  • self starter, will succeed and see the positive regardless of situation
  • educated, technical, fast and i think before i act

Would you let me help you or someone you know with these skills? If yes, please connect with me.

Honestly, the guy sounds like a nice guy who wants to offer his services. I think. I’m not really sure.

But instead of getting in my head and suggesting how he could help me specifically, he just listed a series of vague skills that were all over the board. And the call-to-action is…for me to “connect” with him? I responded, as I usually do to vague emails, with a 1-sentence: “So what would you like to do for/with me?” He sent another rambling email, so I at that point I simply shrugged and moved on with my life.

Good email:

Subject line: I want to work for you for free [Best subject line I’ve ever received]

Hey Ramit,

Love your site, especially the articles about automation and personal entrepreneurship. It’s because of you that I have multiple ING Direct accounts for my savings goals, a Roth IRA, automatic contributions, and asset allocation all set up. [Good buttering me up]

I’m a web developer for [Company], a site that gets around 50 million hits per month. I used to do freelance work exclusively, and I’m preparing to make the switch back to doing freelance work ~30 hours / week while I travel and study in China. I work in Ruby on Rails, doing everything from the database to the front-end, and I’m especially good at rapidly prototyping new ideas and projects. [He’s in my head: I’m always looking for talented developers and he’s clearly one of them]

In order to start getting myself back out there, I’d love to have the chance to do some development work for you, completely gratis. If you like my work and have some paid projects for me down the road, that’d be great of course, but I’d be happy just for the opportunity to network and receive a little advice. I’m sure you have a project or two in the back of your head that you haven’t had time to prototype yourself yet; let me do it for you! [I LOVE IT!! As a matter of fact, yes I DO have some side projects I’ve been wanting to do]

You can give me a call at ###, or find me on Google Talk under this address. You can also check out some samples of my work here: [website]

Thank you!

Two things: First, that was the best subject line I’ve ever received. Second, it’s clear, concise and makes me a strong offer while highlighting his experience. I called him within 60 seconds of receiving this email.

Note that if you are looking for paying clients, you can often skip the work-for-free arrangement that I often urge by creating an incredibly niche offer. For example, if he had attended the last 5 video office hours I did and had heard me make an offhand comment about how I’ve been wanting to launch XXX project, his subject line could be: “I can help you launch XXX in 2 weeks.” This could then lay out why he’s good, what he would do, and it could lead directly to paid work.

When it comes to communicating with your prospects, I hear many people complain that they’ve tried to reach out with little success. The truth is they’re often reaching out in the wrong way. But by getting in your clients’ heads, you can fix that and write emails that engage and lead directly to paid work — no fancy marketing strategy needed.

Getting your most important client: your first

It’s not what you think.

Yes, you need your first client so you can actually say you’re in business. And you definitely need your first client before you can unleash a full-scale marketing campaign.

But, the most crucial thing getting your first client brings you is NOT money. It’s feedback.

  • Is your business feasible?
  • Does your basic pitch work?
  • Can you execute on the service you’re selling?

Would you rather find these answers now, or in 6 months after you’ve put in massive amounts of your own money and time into marketing a business that doesn’t yet exist?

The point is to build a simple system that lets you rapidly test and iterate on your business. And while most people are worrying about building a fancy website or taking other useless steps, you’ll realize that the best simple system begins with THREE PAYING CLIENTS.

Today, I covered how you can LOCATE and COMMUNICATE with specific, targeted leads. Once you’ve done that, you’ve built your first simple system. Then what?

What’s next for earning money from your clients

This is just the tip of the iceberg. These are the next questions you might be thinking about:

  • What about pricing? How do I test that? Can I negotiate as a freelancer?
  • What exactly should I offer, and how should I structure my service? Hourly? By project?
  • How do I get referrals? Should I be networking? How do I do that without wasting my time?
  • When do I raise my rates?

These are all critically important questions that will shape the success of your freelancing workto earn more money. Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve been giving you specific suggestions for earning money, so if you read closely, there are enough recommendations for you to easily earn your first $500 — and this is just my free stuff. Imagine what my upcoming premium course, which I’ve been working on for 10 months, will contain.

If you want to get the answers in detail — and get your ass kicked to take action — with materials, scripts, tactics, and techniques that you won’t see on the blog, join my private Earn1K insider’s list:


(Can’t see the form? Click here.)
* * *

For those of you who’ve already signed up to earn more money, let’s do an exercise to help crystallize this and make it real.

Leave a comment with your responses to these questions:

What will it take you to get your first 3 freelance customers?

1. My specific customer is someone with this problem: _________.

2. My prospective customer spends time researching the problem / solutions in these 3 places:




3. One way I can break in to one of the places above: _________.

4. My opening line in an email to them: __________.

Leave a comment with your responses.

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  1. Just what I’ve been waiting for!!!

    …now let me read it.

  2. 1) My specific customer is someone who is 30+ lbs overweight and living in New York City. He is wealthy but doesn’t have time to be in the gym every day.
    2) a) Google b) Craigslist c) Networking
    3) Print up business cards, network at happy hours
    4) I can get you ripped like Jesus by July 1

  3. Um, you lost me when you said most people think I’m ugly. I’m now doubting everything you’ve ever written.

    But despite that, I’ll work on these questions and post my answers later today.

  4. 1. Technologically Challenged Entrepreneur with little spare time to learn about all this “online stuff he heard was important.”
    2. a) newspaper b) colleagues + friends c)business magazines
    3. Contact local business owners, do a great job for them and ask for referrals.
    4. Subject line: I can increase (Company Name’s) sales in 2 months by building your presence online. (not sure if that is good or not?? thoughts?)

  5. 1. My specific customer is someone with this problem: artists & niche business owners who don’t know how to market online or don’t have the time to do it.

    2. My prospective customer spends time researching the problem / solutions in these 3 places:

    1) internet forums

    2) talking to friends

    3) asking technical people about marketing

    3. One way I can break in to one of the places above: meeting more web developers at networking events.

    4. My opening line in an email to them: Let me help you connect directly with your ideal customer.

  6. I am going to productize until I can break down my barrier of not believing that my skills can be used to freelance – which I plan to do by gaining more experience and credentials so that I can try to be confident in my work. So, I am going to take your freelance-based questions and apply them to my productizing.
    1. My specific customers are parents with children under a year old, who use baby bottles with the problem of having to [I know what the problem is, but I’m going to keep it to myself for now].
    2. My prospective customer spends time researching the problem / solutions in these 3 places:
    1) Google and other internet search engines.
    2) Talking with other mom’s / happening to notice how other mom’s have solved the problem
    3) In the baby section of stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and local grocery stores.
    3. One way I can break in to one of the places above: Offer my product as a giveaway item on five to ten popular mommy blogs.
    4. My opening line in an email to them: Giveaway [my new product] on your blog.

  7. 1. My specific customer is an undergraduate student that is having difficulty understanding organic chemistry.

    2. 1) Online (i.e. Craiglist, tutoring websites,serive provider websites)

    2) Chemistry Department Private Tutoring Lists

    3) Graduate Student Teaching Assistants

    3. The Above are all easy accessible by either jost posting an ad, signing up, or just by talking to people.

    4. Subject Line: “I am an experienced organic chemistry tutor available to begin working you immediately”.
    Note: I didn’t use this line in a email (sounds a little weird to me for an email), but worked like a charm for a Craigslist ad.

    Obviously I’m going to tutor on the side. I have done all of the above and have already lined up one client (in less than one week).

    • Dude, I hate to break it to you, but UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS DO NOT HAVE MONEY!

    • Neither do Architecture students, yet Pat Flynn made a thriving business from them… Nearly everyone has money if you’re solving their biggest problem.

  8. Hey Ramit:

    You sure are a brave man. But, seriously, thanks for making me think. See, I am not looking to freelance right now, so this does not apply to me directly, but still, if I may, I will discuss what I want to do and maybe you can help me out 🙂

    My ultimate goal is to become a financial planner for professional athletes. Why? Because I strongly believe that most of them mismanage their money and I would love to help them get that under control.

    Where am I now? I am graduate from the University of Illinois, I am a CPA registered in IL, I have degrees in accountancy and finance.

    How will I get there? As of right now, I have no experience besides my formal education. So my first steps is to gain experience in a financial planning related field. Preferably, I would like to become an expert in tax first to gain an edge, then I could move to other fields of financial planning such as investments, retirement, estate planning, etc. Along the way, I would network and reach out to potential future clients.

    In the mean while, I want to continue running my blog, which will become a playground for me to practice my financial skills.

    That’s the plan, at very least and I just need to get started. I know this is not the format you asked for, but I thought I’d give it a try.

    It’s always good to spread the word, right?


  9. Mmkay, it’s long, but have two businesses, and I’m deciding between two niches for one of them.

    Freelance writing/editing for high-traffic blogs and online marketing companies
    1. Problem: Needs Web copy or articles and is short on time or wants to expand topics/perspective; has a good content but has no time or interest in rewriting and polishing; wants traffic
    2. Research/places: Looks for staff/guest writers on bigger blogs; asks big name authors to write for them; maybe doesn’t think there is a problem (“anyone can edit!”)
    3. Way to break in: Query e-mails to high-traffic blogs
    4. Opener: “Writer’s block? Need a new perspective? I deliver original and fresh content, backed by research, to drive traffic to your site.”

    Yoga instructor niche one–athletes:
    1. Problem: stiff muscles and achy joints; recovering from injury
    2. Research/places: chiropractors; physical therapists; wellness centers (massage therapists, etc.)…after interviewing a couple of yoga teachers, I really would like to avoid teaching at big-name, gym chains.
    3. Way to break in: Research top providers in my city and send a query? Not sure. I don’t have references to give.
    4. Opener: “Yoga for athletes: flexibility not required. Yoga is the ideal way for athletes to cross train—building strength, stamina, and flexibility.”

    Yoga niche idea two–yoga at work programs:
    1. Problem: business owner wants to improve employee relations and morale through a team activity; can’t spend a ton of money on a retreat
    2. Research/places: the business that approached me asked because I am also a client; referrals from employees; online??
    3. Way to break in: I have one potential client, so I could start working for them, get a testimonial, and approach similar businesses
    4. Opener: “Bring your employees together with an in-house wellness program designed to reduce stress and boost morale.”

  10. All,

    My freelancing/consulting idea is to teach what Ramit and many others are preaching to the financially uninformed. What I know is that there is a need for this help, what I am looking for from everyone is suggestions on how to reach those people. I don’t think I will have a problem selling my services, but rather how I can find the people looking or even not looking for help. Any suggestions??

    1. My specific customer is someone with this problem: young adults with no personal financial skills, who needs help in budgeting, paying off debt, getting everything set up.
    2. My prospective customer spends time researching the problem / solutions in these 3 places:
    1) online blogs / books
    2) (hopefully) facebook/craigslist
    3) (most likely) nowhere
    3. One way I can break in to one of the places above: Start by networking within my sphere of friends to reach out to those who want help.
    4. My opening line in an email to them: How can I help you solve the personal finance puzzle?