8 Steps to Land Your First Consulting Client / Creative Gig

Whether you’re just venturing out in your new self-employed career track or just starting to explore project-based work, the key to your success will be finding and landing clients. Fundamentally, this begins with thinking of yourself as a business and learning how to promote and grow your business.

Whatever services you’re offering, you’ll have to be your own marketing and sales team. You’ll have to learn to market your expertise and services, build your credibility, articulate your value to clients, and sell yourself and your service offerings.

1. Get comfortable selling yourself

When you start a small business — and yes your own creative or consulting business is a small business — selling certainly can be of the most daunting tasks at hand. If you’re a natural salesperson, consider yourself lucky. For the rest of us, it can be the most frustrating and challenging part of being self-employed as an independent consultant. Whether it’s because we feel underqualified for the position — hello, imposter syndrome — or simply because we lack experience in sales, we have to get comfortable selling ourselves and our services to get work (and get paid).

2. Determine your rates and convey your value

Use your previous salary to calculate your hourly rate for on-demand consulting, advisory, and creative services. If this is your first consulting gig, be honest — building trust goes a long way — and be prepared to offer a discounted rate to the client to win the business. That said, it’s best to understand the value of your services and the return on investment (ROI) it will provide to your client. If the total projected ROI is higher than what you would likely bill at an hourly rate, then it may be advantageous to sell your services at a flat project fee. Whenever possible, be prepared to reframe conversations on the value that you provide via your services — versus simply what you charge.

3. Refine your brand and marketing strategy

Now that you’ve started your own consulting or creative business, you are your own business — you are your own brand. Work on establishing your brand, building your credibility, and cultivating your pitch to market your services and skills.

4. Plug into your industry

Hopefully, before you started your new creative or consulting business, you invested time and energy into establishing yourself as an expert in your industry. Attend conferences (even virtual conferences), and join and contribute to online industry forums. These are valuable opportunities to connect with potential clients. Offer advice when asked, say yes to speaking opportunities when they present themselves, and share your thought leadership.

5. Reach out to your network

Networking is the best way to get work as an independent consultant. Most independent consultants that I’ve spoken to have landed their first client through their personal and extended network. This means you have to be confident enough to tell friends, former colleagues, and acquaintances that you are available for work — practice your pitch often so that your network can pitch others for you. Former colleagues or industry peers often make the best first clients as they are already familiar with your work and understand the value you provide.

6. Learn how to qualify leads

Qualifying leads a critical step in the sales process. Do it efficiently and you’ll waste less time with potential clients they will never pan out — allowing you to spend more time on the prospective clients with more potential. Start by making sure your lead is a decision-maker. Thinking you’ve closed a sale only to find out that your prospect has to check with his or her boss is deflating — and not a great use of your time.

Create a list of qualifying questions to quickly assess whether or not you can meet the client’s needs. If your services don’t align with what they’re looking for at the price point you’re offering, move on.

7. Sell your skills and services

To get ready to sell to your first client, be prepared to speak to your industry experience, previous roles, level of seniority, and your unique and specialized skills. Make it easy for your prospective clients to understand who you are from looking at your LinkedIn profile and reviewing your business website. Then, when you do meet with a qualified lead, work to convey to them that you are the expert with the right problem-solving skills to address their pain points. Be prepared to use the initial meeting to conduct a needs assessment — use this time to evaluate the problem, understand the gaps in the client’s workforce, and start considering possible frameworks for your solution. End the meeting by promising a written proposal, and then follow through. How you evaluate the pain points, approach the solution, and draft a proposal are critical to winning business.

8. Be prepared to walk away

I firmly believe in building a business based on trust and honesty. Don’t be afraid to share your qualification process with your clients — and to let the client know if you’re not the right fit. Do this right and the client will come back to you when the right opportunity presents itself. Or a project that isn’t a good fit at a risk to your client relationship. In addition, learn to make peace with firing clients. Your consulting or creative business doesn’t have to be for everyone. If a client isn’t a good fit for your working style, feel free to turn down future projects; though, if possible, I would recommend referring your former client to other consultants who he or she might be able to work with.

Sales doesn’t come naturally to most of us. And it can be even more intimidating when the product you’re selling is essentially yourself. Build confidence in promoting your business and you’ll find success landing clients — and join the future of work while finding work-life fit.

Got questions? Let me know in the comments!

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.