Finding work might be one of the greatest challenges you face as a sole trader. Once you’ve filled out the paperwork and decided what services you’ll offer, the struggle becomes how to reach people and communicate those services.
When you have to worry about cash flow, balancing your expenses, and–of course–actually doing your job, fretting over the source of your next paycheque and finding work is the last thing you want.
What follows are four tips on how to find your first customer and then begin building a network of clients that you can draw from.
Referrals are the lifeblood of many self-employed individuals to help them with finding work.
The first step in securing referrals is to promise quality and deliver on that promise. Impress your clientele! Referrals won’t drop into your lap–you need to work hard and make yourself referable.
With your reputation established, there are a few tricks you can use to encourage referrals. For example, you can incentivise your referrals by offering discounts or free consultations when your customers refer you to others.
Another strategy, recommended by Elene Cafasso, president of Enerpace, Inc., is to build an automatic referral system into your business model. Her company’s newsletters, new client orientations, and feedback surveys all include links that allow her customers to easily refer her business.
And, don’t forget, giving a referral to someone else will often mean you get one in return.
2. Make yourself visible
When finding work, you need to market yourself to make it as a sole trader. Fortunately, there’s a bevy of ways to go about this.
The first is advertising. Whether you put an ad in your local paper or purchase a wrap-around banner for your company vehicle, try to expose people to your business. Consider purchasing space on social media sites, such as Facebook Ads, to give yourself some press.
Also, scour job boards for postings relevant to your work and keep a keen eye out for any listings that have the potential to become recurring. Register your services at online marketplaces such as reed, guru, upwork, peopleperhour, or Gov.uk’s Universal Jobmatch.
Don’t underestimate LinkedIn as a prospecting tool to help you connect with your clients. LinkedIn allows you to join groups that connect you to other entrepreneurs in your field and their job database and discussion boards are great resources for posting job listings.
Finding work to Network
Unfortunately, as a self-employed individual, you don’t have a marketing department to serve as your cheering squad. Entrepreneurs, especially those who work from home, often develop the bad habit of squirreling themselves away from the world while they toil over a project. Don’t let that be you!
Your business needs constant exposure to remain relevant. This means networking both face-to-face and through social media.
Begin by reaching out to former colleagues and employers who might make use of your service. Nothing beats the human element, so try to meet your clients in person when possible and attend conventions that expose you to others in your field.
Start a professional blog that highlights your projects and earns you some exposure from Google. Use platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and give your business its own accounts that address topics such as services offered and customer service.
4. Understand your industry
We knew that when self-employed individuals turned to QuickBooks Self-Employed, we needed to provide a service that simplified tracking expenses, so that they could spend more time on their businesses and less time balancing their budgets.
We also felt that it was important to offer users a free trial of QBO. While offering a free service doesn’t directly result in new customers, we saw how important it was to familiarise our users with our product and give our customers a glimpse of the quality that we offer.
Offering free services–whether that’s software trials or follow-up visits–might be standard practise in your industry too. Researching how others operate within your industry is one of the most important skills that you can learn, but one of the most difficult to give specific guidance in. You need to gauge rates charged by your competitors, services they offer, and resources they use to advertise their businesses.
It’s also important to understand your clientele in a particular industry. For example, taxi drivers unwilling to work evenings and weekends will miss out on their busiest hours.
If you’re seeking more information on different jobs and finding work, these resources offer incredible amounts of support and free advice to the newly self-employed: National Career Services, Mentors Me, Business is Great, and You Inspire Me.
Keep an eye on our self-employment hub for more resources tackling the tricky questions surrounding self-employed life.