First of all I have to say that if you feel you have ‘exhausted your network’, the first thing to do is step back and analyse why, so you don't make the same mistakes in the future.
- Is what you are offering limited in it's usage? Have you set it up so that clients don't need to come back to you once you've completed what they wanted?
- Have you damaged your relationship with existing clients? Was there something you did in the past that could've been avoided? Why have working relationships broken down?
- How else could you have changed a previous job so that it lead into more opportunities? How can you make one job lead into another? What follow up services could you offer to keep your client relationship going?
Now, for the rest of this article I’m assuming that you are working with clients that you get on with, but they haven’t asked for your services recently? These are a few things to try:
1) Draw up a list of previous clients and list what your last job for them was and put that it in a chronological order of oldest to newest.
2) Alongside their names, outline what you did for them. Then go to their website/office/social media accounts and try and find things that need improving. By each client name write down items that you could help with. For example you might have previously been asked to design a logo, but now you feel that their website could need improving.
3) Create something of value for them that addresses the problem. If we take the ’new website’ angle from above, you could put together an article / infographic outlining the importance of having a mobile optimised website for their business.
4) Send this valuable item to your client along with a friendly email explaining that you thought that it may be of interest to them. Be sure to mention that you have a gap in your schedule coming up and would love to help on anything they need.
What you are relying on here is ‘The Law of Reciprocity’:
"The law of reciprocity means that when someone does something nice for you, your hard-wired human nature determines that you do something nice for them in return. For example, if you're out to lunch with a friend and they pay the bill, you feel obliged to cover it next time - to repay their kindness. We don’t consciously pay much attention to this social construct, simply because we all take it for granted. The behaviour of returning a kind gesture or favour basically goes without saying.”
When they reply with a yes, you’re in! If it’s a no, then ask for a referral of someone they know who may be in need of your services.
To finally make sure of not falling into this trap again, set up a schedule in your diary to automatically follow up with all your clients 1 month after you have finished a job for them. This way your calendar will automatically remind you and you will be able to pre-book a steady stream of jobs.
Another area to look into is networking. Not everyone enjoys networking, but once you’ve nailed your ‘elevator pitch’ it’s important to be strategic. Typically, people go to networking events or conferences from within their own industry, but all you’ll find there are other people from the same industry as you. Although it’s important to make lasting connections with people within your industry, they aren’t clients who will pay for your services.
Instead pick a conference from another industry and be the only designer there. You’ll immediately stand out and people will want to find out more about what you do as it’s a refreshing change. Suddenly you are the one surrounded by potential clients!
How To Give a Flawless Elevator Pitch:
Another area that is very effective at attracting new clients is by giving workshops or talks. This way you can showcase what you do in front of potential new clients. Being perceived as an authority on your profession will set you apart from other designers.
It provides a relaxed environment where you can chat with clients and learn about their problems and help them to solve them. It also gives you the chance to follow up a few weeks later employing the same ‘Law of Reciprocity’ technique I mentioned earlier.
Plus the benefit of having to prepare for a talk / workshop is that it forces you to clarify what you do and outline a structure on how to explain what you do and why it works. This planning provides perfect planning for creating an online course.
I hope that you find these techniques helpful and if you have any more questions or suggestions of your own, please leave me a comment below.