Hustling for clients is probably one of the biggest challenges of any industry, let alone the hyper-competitive digital marketing industry. It's especially difficult during your first year of business, where you don't have much of a track record yet but need the money to start rolling in like whoa.
Sure, you know how to do marketing. Your whole business is all about helping other people generate leads. But strangely, your understanding of marketing isn't enough. If it were, agencies wouldn't fail, and they do. Every day.
This article assumes you actually do a good job solving the problems you've been hired to solve. We all know there are "agencies" and "consultants" out there who barely know how to do the job they say they do. Once you've nailed down that piece of the puzzle, what's next?
Just get moving
Once you've set up your website, started filling it with content, set up your social channels, started filling that with content, tinkered with your SEO, and have launched your PPC ads, you're done, right? Now all you gotta do is just sit back and wait for the leads to roll in.
You face a saturated marketplace.
There are over 13,000 digital marketing agencies in the United States alone. And that figure doesn't even count small independent consultants or one-man shop service providers.
And nothing says a company has to work within their own country, either. Nothing's stopping any company from getting their marketing help from agencies in the UK, or Australia, or New Zealand, or Canada. The Internet means your clients have a lot of options.
It's going to take a long time for you to just get visible through digital marketing efforts alone. You're not like any of the local businesses you might serve, who are mostly trying to talk to people within, say, a 15-mile radius of their location.
You've got to get proactive
And you might even be feeling a little paralyzed about it. Getting proactive feels awkward. Salesy. How do you even do it?
Mostly by just doing it. Jump on the phone. Send out some emails. Start connecting with your ideal client on LinkedIn.
Some people won't respond.
Some people may even respond in an unfriendly fashion.
But some people will talk to you. Keep moving forward long enough, and you'll land clients. Do a good job for them and they'll help you land even more clients. Sometimes you just have to get the ball rolling, and adjust as you go.
You can't find a better way to do this thing if you're too broke and sad to stay afloat.
Do your homework
KMH Marketing has worked with some names you'll definitely recognize. Spotify? Check. Adobe? Check. Disney? Check.
But Kristin Harold, the owner, had to start somewhere. When she was brand new, she quickly learned you can't just get people to your website and hope for a sale. Generating the lead is only step one of the process.
You gotta close the sale.
Kristin figured out how to do that with some serious research.
Kristen Harold, founder of KMH Marketing
"When you're a new agency, the difficulty is in proving yourself over the bigger agencies with more name recognition," she says. "This is where doing our homework, and understanding clients and their needs, helped us win business over the big names. It's about building a foundation, and trust."
Make that habit, keep that habit, and sooner or later you'll be one of those bigger agencies with more name recognition. And you'll have the tools to keep right on closing those sales.
Don't be afraid to show a little personality
Think your emails should be penned in pure corporate zombie-speak? Afraid to show a speck of personality on your website?
That might be a mistake.
Who you are can be just as important as what you do.
Jeff Moriarty, founder of JMoriarty Marketing
"The thing that brought me two of my largest clients," says Jeff Moriarty of JMoriarty Marketing, a one-man consultancy in Naperville, IL, "had nothing to do with my previous work, but with my hobbies. I am big into fitness, nutrition, and supplements. I talk about this on my website. Two companies reached out to me for that reason alone. They loved that I had a passion for the things they actually sell, and hired me over other companies with more resources and experience. It was great!"
Being deeply involved in any passion or pursuit means you know a lot more about it than the average marketer. Why not turn it to your advantage?
Get the heck away from your computer
Sorry. Some folks are gonna wanna meet you in person.
If the phone's just not ringing you might need to handle this the old-fashioned way. Grab a stack of business cards and get thee to a networking event.
Ellie Shedden, Director of The-OOP.com
"There is no better sales tool than getting to know your potential clients in person," says Ellie Shedden, Director of The-OOP.com. "I attended as many local business networking events as I could, and reached out to contacts on LinkedIn, asking to meet for a coffee."
Ellie notes there's a right way and a wrong way to go about these meetings. "The coffee meeting is about getting to know people," she says. "Do not try and sell, or you risk building a sleazy salesperson reputation."
Ellie's first major client was a private lending institution. Since she knew good salesmanship can't support a bad company for long, she notes she put everything she had into delivering the best results for that first, vital client. This meant she got referrals. The-OOP now supports a team of four, and now serves large international telecommunications companies and banks.
If those Chamber of Commerce luncheons could, with the right follow-up, snag international clients for your company, wouldn't you go?
They can, so get on it.
Get knocked down (and then get up again)
My old college had a motto. Frankly, the motto was probably the most valuable lesson I learned there, rather than I learned in class.
It went: "Perseverance conquers all, God willing."
Whether you believe in God or not, perseverance has a power nobody can deny. You've got to have the fortitude to keep knocking on doors.
Dragon Social is another one of those agencies that serves clients you've heard of, with a geographic focus on China. Toyota, Samsung, and the Dusit Thani Resorts have all retained their services. And they get results: they moved $160 million worth of product for multinational technology company Xunlei, and they pretty much did all of it through social media mastery, including native advertising, PR, and influencer marketing.
Landing those first major clients was anything but easy.
Tony DeGennaro, Head of Business Development at Dragon Social
"It took us about 50 proposals before we started making ones that made it to the final decision-making stage with large companies," says Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social's Head of Business Development.
50, just to get to the stage where the client might say yes. There are a lot of marketing agencies who would have thrown in the towel by then.
"There isn't a magic moment where I cold called a CEO or anything," he says. "We just kept going after every rejection."
You'll always hear no more than you hear yes. But you need a lot fewer "yes" answers to win.
Even if you forget every other tip you've read here today, remember this one. Being willing to let prospects hit you just one more time, and putting yourself out there to take those hits no matter what, might be all it takes to build the agency of your dreams.