As I wrote in How I Got My First Customer, the key was having confidence and putting myself out there. I had what I had, no more no less, and I went for it. Now that I had my first customer, getting my next customer was a lot easier. Now I had a success under my belt. Now I had a client testimonial. Now it was just a matter of finding the right next client.
My first “real” customer was a small furniture store. They didn’t have a website when I first approached them, and they were willing to give me a chance. I worked hard for that customer. I spent more time that I budgeted. I stayed in constant communication. I made sure to over-deliver. In doing so, I created a very happy customer and an advocate for my company. This not only gave me another project to put in my portfolio, but it gave me a valuable human reference from a real business owner. This was key to getting my second customer.
Once I had booked the project with my first customer, I spent most of my time servicing that account and working to complete that first project. I didn’t keep hunting for new business. Building your pipeline is important, but at the time I was so excited to have a paying customer that I didn’t think too much about that. When the project was getting close to completion, I sat with the owner of the furniture store and reviewed my progress with him. He was delighted with my work and was excited about getting the project launched. Then, without any prompting, he said, “I have a friend who owns a business that could use your help. Would you be interested in meeting him?” And just like that, I had my first referral.
I remember thinking at the time how amazing that was. I didn’t have to drive around knocking on doors or cold calling people (remember this was in 1998 when small businesses either had no email or were still using their personal AOL accounts). I had a lead. Not just any lead mind you, but a lead that was going to be warmed by a current customer who had an amazing experience. And even better, the lead was a good friend of that customer. I set up the meeting and went off to meet them. I came prepared with my updated portfolio and a pitch that was slightly more refined. We talked for about an hour, and when we were done, he asked for a proposal. So later that day I sent him a proposal and by the end of the week I had gotten my second customer.
The moral of this story is that customer advocates are hugely important to the success of your business. Direct sales, inbound marketing, advertising, and all the other channels out there pale in comparison to the value of a customer referral. Take care of your existing customers. Do the best job you can for them. Over delivery. Be honest with them if there are issues or delays. Nurturing a client relationship is hugely important. Otherwise you might find yourself spending all your time driving around knocking on doors.