The most frequently asked question from new Virtual Assistants in my VA Handbookers Facebook group is “how do I get my first client?”. Because marketing and looking for work can be daunting when you’re first starting out, here are the four most successful ways I’ve found to land your very first client.
1. Friends and family
I actually wasn’t even a Virtual Assistant when I got my first client.
A friend’s husband needed some Internet research doing and she said he’d be happy to pay someone to help him. That was when I realised I could work for myself and that I didn’t even need spectacular admin skills – someone who was good at something else simply needed a hand.
Your friends and family can’t help you if they don’t know you’re looking for work. So email your entire address book and tell them what a VA does and why people hire them, what services you offer, if you’re looking for anything/one in particular, what your website or LinkedIn URL is and how much you charge – and tell them to put the word out.
Why tapping friends and family works
It’s a successful method because you now have many more eyes and ears looking out for opportunities and you also come via a personal recommendation.
You’ll find that work will come from strange and unexpected sources, and even if your friends don’t run a business, they’ll be happy to pass your details on to other people who do.
Sometimes you get a call and it turns out that your friend’s sister’s husband’s brother was complaining that he needed a hand with his business and someone who heard about you a year ago said: “I know someone who can help with that.”
So tell everyone!
2. Current/previous employers and work connections
My second client actually came through the company I had just resigned from.
After I left the company I contacted all the suppliers to tell them I was now working for myself. I was the main liaison with the suppliers anyway so they already knew me professionally as well as personally.
I told them what services I was offering, outlined the benefits of just outsourcing tasks as and when they needed, and reminded them what my skills were. I asked them to call me if they needed any help (and I knew which tasks to suggest because I knew what they did) and to forward my email to any other business owners who may also need a hand.
I quickly got a reply from the decor company who used to fit the venue out for weddings and events as they needed help creating and maintaining some spreadsheets as well as some other bits and pieces. Although it wasn’t a huge amount at first, it gave me confidence as well as some valuable experience of working for myself.
Think hard about what types of people already come to or work at your place of business. These can include:
- Partner organisations
- Change/Project Managers
- Freelance consultants
- People who sometimes ask you or your boss if you can do little tasks for them
- Your immediate manager or other heads of departments
- People holding events or training at your venue
The great thing about this method is, even if those exact people don’t need your help, they can often serve as a demographic profile for your ideal client. You know what their lives look like, where they are online, what they do all day, what their pain points are, what their long-term goals are, what events they go to, what LinkedIn groups they’re in etc.
Once you know what your ideal client looks like, it’s easy to find more like them.
Consultants are actually prolific users of Virtual Assistants because they can usually pass your fee on to their clients, they understand the importance of delegation and, because they will charge more per hour than you do, they can earn more money if they give their time-consuming admin tasks to you while they focus on their core business and clients.
And, because they’re also a freelancer they are likely to pay promptly, plus they know what it’s like to run your own business so are pretty understanding when it comes to taking time off.
Why using professional connections works
Because past and present employers already know the standard of your work and where your value lies. They know what skills you possess (because they probably trained you or hired you for those skills!) and are often persuaded to outsource those particular tasks to you on a freelance basis instead of retraining someone new.
Around 30% of my trainees get their first client through their existing business contacts – they’d just never thought of them as potential prospects before.
You’re often (literally) already right in front of the people who will hire you.
Even if you don’t necessarily want to continue working in your current industry, it makes sense to go for the low-hanging fruit first. You can move sideways into another niche later but in the meantime, you’re gaining valuable experience, confidence, testimonials and income.
Many Virtual Assistants say that networking is one of their most successful marketing methods.
Even though you can have clients anywhere in the world it actually makes sense to focus on your local area when you first start out. This is because you’re already part of the community, you can set up coffee meetings with people you meet networking, you can have face-to-face consultations and can even go into client’s offices or homes if required.
Starting locally is another great way to gain experience and confidence so that if and when you do decide you want to work completely virtually, you already have an established business and you know how it all works and who you like to work with.
I personally found that although I did get some clients from networking events, they weren’t my ideal client in terms of the type of people they were and the tasks they gave me. Obviously, it was great to get clients in the first place but after I’d been in business a while, I realised that I liked working with very organised social media consultants and digital marketers.
And I wasn’t going to find them at a local networking meeting.
Because I knew who I wanted to work with and what tasks I could help them with, I then started targetting prospects directly.
Why networking works
Marketing is simply talking to people – and the sole reason networking events exist is so business owners can talk to each other!
People do business with people they know, people they like and people they trust…. and they are more likely to know, like and trust you if they’ve met you.
4. Direct prospecting
Finding, researching, qualifying then contacting people I wanted to work with was by far the most successful method I used to get my own clients.
In fact, once I realised who I liked working with and started applying a targeted approach, it was so successful that I stopped using other marketing methods – there was no point.
If you know what types of people you want to work with (so if you have specific niches), then it makes sense to contact them directly to explain how and why you can help them.
Why direct prospecting works
Because often the person you contact doesn’t even know that someone like you even exists. They have no idea that there are people out there who they can hire on an ongoing or ad-hoc basis to help them out.
And I know this because my clients have told me this themselves.
My clients said they wouldn’t even have known what to search for in Google to find someone who could help them – and this was especially true with some of my specialist industry-specific tasks like social media research and analysis.
So, this method is great because you decide who you want to work with and why. You’re not accepting every enquiry that comes in, you’re not competing with other VAs and you’re totally in control of your business.
There are many ways to get clients and these are just the four that seem to have the highest success rate. I know it can be daunting and a little bit scary to start talking about your business when you first start out, but I promise you that it gets easier with time.
It’s only scary because you’re not used to doing it.
However, you’re going to have to market your business for the entire duration of your career so you’re going to have to get used to it I’m afraid! Because marketing is so important to the success of your business, my advice is to become an expert on the subject and read everything you can.
You could be the best administrator on the planet, but you won’t get any work if nobody knows that you have a business that can help them.
- My blog post on how to network explains how to chat with people you meet at events. Networking meetings aren’t scary once you’ve done a couple and I bet you’ll even start to enjoy them.
- Download my free guide on 25 ways to market your business to see many more ways to find new clients.
- If you’re not sure what to write in your email to friends, family or cold prospects, I have a document with ten different examples here on my downloads page. Just edit and/or mix and match the templates to suit.
- If you’re struggling to get clients and promote your business then sign up to my free mini-marketing course.
- The prospecting method I mentioned is explained in detail in my guide on how to get new clients.