Congratulations! You’ve started your own digital agency. Now you need to figure out how to get your first clients.
If you’ve been actively freelancing, and now you’re launching a business to provide the same type of services, you’re one step ahead — you can continue working with the same clients as a remote agency.
Even if you have a few clients already, you’ll need to continue finding more of them to scale your business.
Finding good clients can be a challenge, especially your very first clients. But if you’ve already put some thought and research into how to start an agency with the right niche and focus, you know there are people who need your services.
So, how do you get into contact with them?
Networking is everything
I’ve noticed that when you ask some of the most successful freelancers and agency founders how they get clients, you’ll get one answer: networking.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: your agency’s success depends on relationships more than anything else. Your professional network is absolutely going to be the key to finding some of your very best clients.
One of the first things you should do is reach out to any professional contacts that you think might either benefit from your agency’s services, or know someone who will.
But the thing with “networking” as an answer to “how do I get clients?” is that there isn’t a one size fits all answer, nor can it be done overnight. It’s a long term game. (Plus, as of 2021, the COVID pandemic has thrown a wrench into the whole “networking” thing.)
You need clients now, not months or years down the line. So now’s the time to look into other options that can help you land a client or two quickly.
These seven proven and tested methods are known to be solid sources of new clients, for agencies as well as freelancers.
Focus on what works
There are a bunch of different strategies you can use to bring on new clients. What you don’t want to do is spread yourself too thin by trying to juggle every single one of them at once.
Experiment with them and see what brings results. Once you start figuring out which methods are effective, double down on them. You’ll get a lot further focusing on one strategy, and using it well.
When you find a method that works, make it a standard procedure. This applies to everything in your agency, from outreach and business proposals to client onboarding questionnaires.
1. Transition your existing freelance clients to your new agency
If you’ve been actively freelancing and have existing clients, you can easily transition the work into your new agency structure.
You may be able to offer them a broader range of services, or otherwise find ways to upsell them now that you’re an agency. With that comes an opportunity for negotiating rates to reflect the perceived value of your new, agency-level services.
There are some clients who strongly prefer to work with an individual than with an agency, but in most cases, they’ll be happy to stay on board.
2. Reach out to people you’ve worked with in the past
If you were freelancing before you started your agency, then this one’s a no-brainer.
Along with any current clients you might have, there are previous clients who could turn out to be a good fit for your agency’s services. You’ve probably had a number of clients over the years — some long term, some smaller one-off projects.
Your first move can be to reach out to these people. Go back through your emails and previous work, and make yourself a list of contacts. (If you don’t have a running list already.)
You can omit clients who were either difficult to work with, or whose budgets you know will be too low for your agency’s rates.
Then, reach out to them, starting with the ones you suspect might be the most promising leads.
Inform them that you’ve recently founded a digital agency, and that you wanted to let them know you’re currently accepting new clients.
Chances are, some of these clients may need some work done right now. Since they already know who you are, and know that you do good work, you’ve already got their trust and respect. This puts you a step ahead, versus talking to potential clients who don’t know what you can do.
3. Use online job boards and marketplaces
This is one of the most straightforward ways to get your first clients. You may have been using these kinds of resources already when you were freelancing. If you’re building up an agency now, you’ll be able to leverage your history and reviews to get a higher volume of work.
One of the most popular marketplaces is Upwork. You can easily find listings from people looking for whatever services your agency offers.
Upwork itself does have a few downsides, though. One is the high fees. Upwork takes 20% of your money, and the Terms of Service preclude you from including an additional fee to account for that. However, you can raise your rates for Upwork clients — just don’t frame it as a separate additional fee.
Upwork also isn’t known for having the best quality of clients. You’ll find a lot of people offering criminally low rates.
However, if you can take the time to sort the wheat from the chaff, Upwork can be a decent place to find new clients.
There are also subreddits you can use, like /r/forhire.
These subreddits generally allow both “For Hire” posts and “Hiring” posts. While you should probably create a “For Hire” post just in case, the vast majority of the work you find there will come from responding to “Hiring” posts.
There are Facebook groups out there where people can find and request work. Like subreddits, they can be good places to look for clients.
4. Don’t be afraid of cold outreach!
Cold outreach can be one of the most successful and lucrative sources of new clients — but you can’t be afraid of actually doing it.
Many freelancers shy away from cold calls and cold emails, but they’re one of the best ways to get clients.
Cold emails are probably the most approachable option. It’s a volume game, so don’t get discouraged if you’ve sent out a bunch of emails and no one’s responded yet. You will need to be resilient and develop a sales mindset to shake off rejection and discouragement.
You can look around online for companies that might be a good fit, or for other agencies who might be able to refer clients to you for services they don’t offer.
Don’t just send the same stock email to every single person.
Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass to customize every message. But it’s absolutely essential. The kind of people you’ll be contacting have limited time and a crowded inbox.
You have to get their attention, quickly and concisely. But if you can do that, you can initiate some great ongoing business relationships.
5. Go to conferences, seminars, meetup groups, and other in-person events
I’m publishing this article during an ongoing global pandemic. Obviously, the virus has made it a lot more difficult to do this kind of in-person networking.
Under normal circumstances, though, it’s a great idea to go to events where your ideal clients will be and meet them in person.
6. Team up with other agencies (including your competition)
When you started your agency, you probably looked into who your competitors are.
There are probably other agencies that do the same thing yours does, for the exact same kinds of clients.
But an agency can only take on so many clients at a time. When they’re saturated with clients, they probably still get a steady stream of inquiries. If they’re not going to work with someone, why not refer them elsewhere?
There are also other agencies out there that might offer services complementary to yours, or that don’t do certain kinds of work that your agency specializes in. These agencies can become great sources of referrals.
For example, if your agency does SEO, you could reach out to agencies that specialize in web and graphic design, or that primarily do social media marketing.
7. Get active on social media and in relevant online communities
Building a social media following can be a great way to get your agency in front of the right people. You can get your name out there and start establishing yourself as a known industry figure by sharing relevant content and interacting with people.
The process of building up a social media presence does take time and effort, but it can go a long way toward helping you get to that point where prospective clients come to you, not vice versa.
You can also attract clients by participating in relevant forums, subreddits, Facebook groups, and other online communities. Answering people’s questions and giving good advice show that you really know what you’re talking about.
When someone from the community needs an agency like yours, they may reach out to you first.
8. Get media mentions
Another way to attract clients is to go after a mention in the media. This one isn’t the easiest option. To get media coverage, you need to have an actual story worth covering.
This could be any of a number of things, including:
- An innovation in a product or service
- An innovation in your business model
- A compelling story about a personal achievement
- A story related to a specific season or awareness day
These are just a few of the kinds of things that could potentially get you a media mention. You can get in touch with journalists using services like HARO.
If you can manage to get a journalist to do a story on your agency launch, you may be able to attract a client or two.
9. Offer to do a first (small) project for free
If you’re having trouble finding clients because your agency is brand new, this approach could be the answer.
We’re not suggesting you provide ongoing services for free – that’s a good way to go broke before you even get started.
But offering to do a small test project for free can give you an in with a potential client. After all, it’s free — what have they got to lose? The goal of this offer should be to provide a service that will give the client a quick and tangible return.
As soon as your service has been provided successfully, present it to the client. While showing the success and return of your execution, pitch them on a paid service and retainer.
Your path to scaling from freelancer to agency owner starts today.
Finding your first clients is a crucial first step to getting your agency up and running, but it’s also the first step of many.
With some hard work and solid procedures in place, your agency can grow and scale far beyond what was ever possible for you as a freelancer.
If you are ready to take the next step, then sign up for my free course below and learn the exact process I used to scale my digital agency from $0 – $1,000,000.