I often see on VA forums new VAs despairing because they don’t have an existing client base when they start their business. It’s possible that some might, but that’s a rarity. The reality is the majority of us don’t have an existing client base – we’re starting afresh. But we do have contacts. Any single person is a sphere of influence: family, friends, friends of friends, friends of family, members of any groups we belong to such as sport, church, hobbies and other activities. Then there’s the casual contacts we have through local shops, post offices, schools, banks, etc. There would be people you speak to every day or at least weekly that you hadn’t considered as a possible contact. And that’s all it takes, is a contact.
I answered a new VA who commented about not having an existing client base and this is my response to her, and to others there.
Few of us ever do. We’ve all been in the same place – starting from scratch. That’s why networking is sooooooo important to anyone in business. It goes hand-in-hand with marketing. People won’t know you exist unless you let them know. So many new VAs think they can hang off the coat tails of an experienced VA but we can only help so many (not meaning you specifically but new VAs in general).
The VA networks are there to help VAs in the industry – teach them about the industry, their roles, introduce them to clients, share resources and skill sets and so on. It is really, really, really important, I can’t emphasise it enough, that people MUST go out and meet others. Meet other people in business and learn what they do, let them learn about what you do and so on. It’s all part of the process. And through that you build up a list of resources you can use for your own business – printers, graphic designers, accountants, office suppliers, and so on.
Online networking will only get us all so far but we physically have to go out and do stuff too. And that means meeting people, talking to them, giving out business cards, connecting with people online, building relationships and it takes time. While I picked up my first two clients through my church (that was because of existing relationships) it was a good 6 months after a networking event before I got the first phone call from someone I’d met through networking who asked if I was still doing….? She became a long-term client for 3 or 4 years. Once I had the breakthrough for the first one then others followed. She referred some, other people referred clients and I got more confident in talking to people at networking events.
The first six months, the first year are definitely the hardest, but once you have that breakthrough it does get easier. Don’t hide behind your computer, or your website and phone number and expect people to call you. You must get out and network and meet people – online and offline. Let them know you exist. Participate in conversations, join in events, offer to assist where you can see assistance is needed. It is by being active that people will notice you and then ask for your assistance.