Websites are famous for being your storefront in the digital age. Every expert will tell you you must have a website to capture leads. And that’s true…if you’re building an e-commerce or online business. For other types of service based business, having a website can be a distraction from the real work you need to be doing: getting clients.
Below I explain how you get clients without a website in order to create a successful service-based business.
1. Build your network before you quit your day job.
Like many people in 2010, I drank the lifestyle design Kool-Aid and got wasted. Freedom over my schedule? Flexibility to travel? Working for myself??! Sign me up. High off Four Hour Work Week, I resolved to leave my job. I had a rough idea of my next steps when my friend and author Vanessa Van Edwards said to me, “Don’t do that.”
Confused, since she herself was already a successful lifestyle entrepreneur, I said, “What? Why?!”
“Don’t quit your job. You’re about to make a lot of mistakes. Trust me. Make mistakes while you still have a salary.”
Turned out, she was right. I had no idea how to prospect, write proposals, package up services, or price things properly. I spent the next 6 months building up a side-hustle that let me make those mistakes with a safety net (my day job).
In that time, I attended as many events as I could, listened to every podcast on sales and entrepreneurship, wrote a ton of terrible proposals, got rejected by prospects I shouldn’t have been rejected by, and made a lot of bad cold sales calls and cold email pitches.
Listening to Vanessa’s advice saved me tens of thousands of dollars in burnt runway cash and a lot of mental anguish. By the time I was ready to go full time, I was confident in my skills as a consultant and sales person – and even had some glowing testimonials under my belt.
2. Get out of ‘transactional’ thinking.
You know the daunting 3% completion rate on online courses? I’m the 3%. I love learning, reading, and homework; So when I discovered the MOOC world, I couldn’t get enough.
One of the best courses I took was Earn1K, by the author Ramit Sethi.
With a Bachelor’s in Literature and a Master’s in Psychology, I’d had zero business training in my life, save for some memorable conversations with my dad who is an entrepreneur. Until that point, I believed business wasn’t “for people like me.” In my mind, business was for people who were “numbers people,” money hungry, and didn’t care about changing the world or doing good.
Turns out, none of those things is true.
In Sethi’s course, he taught us to think about business in terms of “solving problems.” It wasn’t transactional, like I’d thought. Business was about “adding value” to others.
This was an enormous mindset shift for me.
Sethi taught me to stop thinking about what I can do and start thinking about what people need.
That changed everything.
In the academic world, I’d been trained to think about myself. My interests, my research, my goals, my credentials, my my my….In the real world, I needed to learn how to make a case as to why anyone should care.
From that point on, every interaction I had changed from “Here’s what I can do!” to “What do you need help with?“
3. Learn to shut up and listen.
When I implemented the “What do you need help with?” approach, everything changed. I wasn’t pushing my services onto anyone. I was pulling their problems out and offering to help them solve them.
Before I took Sethi’s course, I’d sit down with prospects and spend 30 minutes talking about myself – what I could do and why I have the answers. It was annoying at best, unprofessional at worst.
Learning to shut up was one of the most effective sales tools I’ve learned to date. My close rate shot up exponentially because I learned the subtle art of asking questions.
I made prospects do the talking instead of me. Then, I’d restate what I heard. “It sounds like you’re struggling with XYZ. And you need help with ABC, does that sound right?”
Prospects eyes would light up, “YES! That’s exactly it. Can you help me?”
Because when you articulate someone’s problem, they credit you with the solution.
In those initial consults, the goal wasn’t to sell my service – it was to get the prospect to trust me. Listening and asking questions gets people to trust you.
And when people trust you, they buy from you.
4. Focus on sales generating activities instead of ego-boosting ones.
There was a technique Sethi advocated called “Direct to the source” and I used that almost exclusively for my 3+ years in business.
The idea was to go directly to the people who had a problem that you could solve instead of focusing on things like “building your brand.”
As someone who worked in branding and marketing, this was sacrilege.
Still, the idea made sense to me: first, see if you can get someone to say “yes” to hiring you; then, worry about having business cards.
I gave myself a 3-month deadline to test out this approach before I threw it out. My plan was to focus exclusively on getting clients by finding out what problems people had and selling them a solution.
No business cards, no logos, no stationary, no case studies, and no website. All of those things would be a distraction from what I needed to do: Get paying clients.
Three months turned into three years of going directly to clients. That turned into a steady stream of referrals and eventually having to tell people no.
In all that time, only one person ever asked for case studies or my website. And that person had no money to hire me. Go figure.
5. Remember that everyone is a prospect.
If you’re reading this thinking, “But how did you get people to sit down with you in the first place?!” I will tell you: It was that 6-months of learning to endure the discomfort of doing a bad job. Of failing. Miserably.
I got used to pitching myself and doing it wrong (really, really wrong). And doing it again. And again. And again. Until eventually, I sucked a little bit less.
In that time I discovered the key: everyone is a potential prospect or referral source. Everyone.
And when you combine that insight with the “How can I help you?” approach, you begin to see business opportunities everywhere.
For the next three years, I focused all my attention on getting clients, until I finally hit a point where two things happened.
First, I was commanding higher rates and started to need more credibility indicators to bolster my trustworthiness. Second, a good friend told me she wouldn’t refer me anyone until my online presence was “less sketchy.”
That’s when I knew it was time for a website.
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