How to Get More Clients for Your Service-Based Startup (For Free)
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
It has come to a point that free traffic online is almost a thing of the past.
Think about it.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have all reduced the organic reach of all accounts. For example, today a person with an Instagram account containing 100,000 followers is only expected to get approximately 3,000 likes on a new post where they may have had 15,000 likes on the same post when Instagram first launched.
This doesn't sound bad at face value; it’s an engagement rate of three percent, which is considered a good engagement rate on Instagram by today’s standards. To obtain a three percent engagement rate, it’s likely that about ten percent of your followers actually see each piece of new content you post.
In simple terms, if you have 100,000 followers, 10,000 will see a new post, and 3,000 will engage. Now, if we bring that down to the startup level and you have 500 followers, 50 of them will see a new post and 15 of them will engage.
Not only does it make it extremely difficult to build a relationship and land a new client, but it also makes growing a new account to an influencer level almost impossible.
This could be an entire article itself, but I’ll end the social media section by making a single point. Even people who have purposely followed your business account aren’t guaranteed to see your content in their feed. Social Media companies do this because they want you to pay for advertising.
This is happening all over the internet. The best keywords on Google are dominated by large corporations and websites that can afford to land thousands of backlinks from authoritative websites, which allows them to grow their own authority and rank for keywords organically.
It’s not enough to have the best content anymore. You must spend money or be very skilled to compete on Google because, without the corresponding authority, your only option is to pay for advertising on Google.
There are exceptions, but those are mostly based in very niche fields with low competition and, in turn, require little authority to rank. There's almost nowhere you can go online as a new startup and get the traffic necessary to land enough new clients to sustain a new startup without paying for advertising.
The problem is that most new service-based startups are launched by regular people and aren't funded well enough to pay for the advertising necessary to build the client base needed to turn a profit.
So, how do these service-based startups get clients for free?
Before we get into the places you can go to land clients for free, remember these three rules as they will be relevant in any free traffic situation.
1. No one has ever built a sustainable business by shouting, “Anyone want to buy something from me?”
2. Take every opportunity to show your knowledge level and provide value to everyone around you. Answer questions within your field of expertise, share advice that helps others, and build relationships. In other words, become an authority.
3. Service-based startups thrive when they are getting referrals.
Where to get clients for free
No, I’m not saying to start a Facebook group and joining any random Facebook group will not do.
First, I’d like to identify the one thing almost every service-based business has in common. Their ideal customer lives in their own subdivision, town or city. This isn’t to say that some service-based businesses don’t have the ability to expand beyond these limits, but they should be the potential clients you pursue first because they are the easiest to reach.
Join every local Facebook group that you can find. Personally, I’m in about five Facebook groups that pertain to my subdivision, town or city, and the combined audience of those groups is about 15,000 people.
Once you are in the groups, introduce yourself along with what you do, but do not attempt a sales pitch.
Take some time to get to know people in these groups. Join in unrelated and local conversations to make friends and get people used to seeing your name and recognize you as a contributing member of the group.
When the time is right, post in the group providing value. For example, if you are a Tax Accountant, maybe remind people of the deadlines coming up or tips on saving money this year. Again , do not make it a sales pitch. Rather, you are providing value.
It won’t take long for people to start asking you questions. You’ll start to receive business inquiries and referrals from people you’ve never met. You will be the go-to person for tax accounting within the local group. It’s a process. You have to build trust within the community. It won’t happen overnight, but it won’t cost you a single dollar.
When in doubt of what to do, refer to the three rules above.
Lastly, once you have mastered the local groups, start identifying other groups that your potential customer could be in. For example, if you are a tax accountant, look into local and non-local businesses groups, entrepreneurship groups, etc. There are likely several types of groups that you can find customers in for free.
Get local and learn how to get listed and rank on Google Maps!
This one isn’t difficult to do by yourself, and it has the potential to bring you lots of free business through organic search.
Once you are set up, use this system as a social media account. Upload new images several days each week and include a paragraph of relevant and helpful information.
Get as many reviews as possible! Some people use friends and family to get a couple of good reviews to get them started in the beginning. I don’t condone this; I’m just pointing out that people do it. What you choose to do is up to you. If you do these things, you’ll easily start to rank for numerous keywords, and your phone will start to ring often.
Again, it’s free, but you have to learn how to set it up yourself, and you will have to show value through content and positive reviews.
This is one of the most overlooked methods on the market today. They aren’t as popular as they once were, but lots of people still use them. Start searching local and expand out if your business model allows you to do so. Once you find a forum with your ideal client or customer, follow the same procedure as outlined in the Facebook group section. (Hint—The forums will likely be similar to the relevant Facebook groups you found)
Personally, I’ve made much more money by being active in Facebook groups and forums than I have by building social media accounts and advertising.
Yes, I know… COVID, but you know what? It won’t last forever, and if it does, there are numerous alternatives. When I say go outside, I really mean to get out and meet people face to face.
Join local networking groups.
Join the local Chamber of Commerce.
Join the local Rotary.
There are many free options available, and in many areas, these same groups are still meeting via Zoom or another video conferencing software.
If you join these groups and follow the initial three rules and the same standards as outline in the Facebook group, you’ll easily start to bring on clients, and more importantly, you’ll start to get referrals.
All of the above options are free, and they work as long as you take the time to get to know people and build trust by providing value. This is how you become the authority in small groups online and in real life. My intention is not for you to pick one of the above methods to land a few clients. Rather, it’s designed for you to use every method in conjunction and seriously optimize your business for ultimate success.
Remember rule three above? It states — Service based startups thrive when they are getting referrals. If you can successfully become the authority in all of the free methods mentioned above, you’ll get to see first-hand what a thriving startup service-based business looks like.