Engage in extreme networking. Once you have that website or an electronic flyer ready to go, word of mouth is your best source of customer and client referrals. Reach out – not just to those you know, but to a broad wish list too. I had Carol make a list of everyone she's worked with – and wished she could have worked with. When I pushed her to reach out to those people she had lost touch with, some couldn't have cared less about hearing from her, but others were thrilled to catch up.
You win some, you lose some, but if aren't casting a wide net, you won't catch anything. Rejection is part of the process, but you must keep picking up the phone and keep sending those emails. While networking, you're asking people if they could benefit from your services and you're also asking them to share your website with other people who could become potential clients.
Think nationally, not just locally. We use the phone and Internet to build personal and professional relationships, so we should be able to use both to find clients and customers as well. Carol's extreme networking landed her more than $2,000 worth of new virtual business in one week — and none of her clients are based in her home state of Michigan. These new clients also have no connection to her old automotive stomping grounds.
Consultants2Go, based in New Jersey, hired Carol to design its new corporate brochure, which coincidentally focuses on its model of providing virtual consulting services. (For more on this company that works virtually with a range of home-based professionals, click here.)
Phoenix Rising Skincare, based in Texas, hired her to photograph its new line of products for use online and in sales brochures.
Flattenme, based on California, hired her to create exclusive photographs for its new series of personalized Mother's Day eCards.
Take a woman who makes homemade candles and air fresheners. She typically sells to local buyers at craft fairs in her community, but that market is drying up. There's no reason why she can't have a customer base across the country. With a well-developed website and a national, not just local, mentality, she can send her site via e-mail to boutique owners around the country. She can also send e-mails about new product introductions to her family and friends -- and ask them to forward it to family and friends. She can offer holiday specials and referral discounts to encourage people to spread the word virally.
Create and manage your online identity. Not only must you hustle to find clients, but you can take various steps to help clients find you. Maximize the online resources of social and professional networks such as LinkedIn.com and Facebook.com, and search projects and post a profile on sites specializing in independent contractor work such as elance.com, sologig.com, guru.com, and craigslist.com, among others.
Maintain the momentum. Keep contacts updated on your projects and progress. Let them know when you're doing interesting new things and send them ideas and resources that might benefit them too. For example, when Carol comes across a nugget of information that might be relevant to one of her clients or prospective leads, she'll send it along. All of her communication when them isn't about asking for more business; it's about building a long term relationship so they'll use her and they'll refer her.