Building a Business

From 0 to 1: How I Got My First Customer & How You Can Too

Growing and scaling a successful business is hard. No business can survive without revenue, but finding clients and customers is no easy task. There are thousands of extremely talented creatives-turned-freelancers, business owners, entrepreneurs, coaches, and consultants that can’t get new clients to save their life. They have an amazing product or service that could help a lot of people, but their inability to implement a client acquisition process that gets results is stopping them from growing their business and helping others.

Finding your first client is hard: here’s how I did it

I remember the first few months after I graduated college. Having taught myself how to code, I started freelancing for different NYC businesses, helping them with product and software development –which eventually turned into Jakt.

But do you want to know how I found my first client?

It was not through some groundbreaking marketing strategy that had never been seen before. I am no marketing savior that is bringing you the next innovative digital trend.

No, the cold, honest truth is never that pretty.

I got my first client by… asking to work for free.

I know, I know. Working for free sucks, yes. You want to get paid for your work, same. This won’t pay for next week’s trip to a beach with passive income coming off your ears, I totally get that.

But here’s the thing:

There’s a difference between telling someone that you can do XYZ and actually showing them that you can do it. And no one really ever gives a f**k about what you say, sorry to break it to you.

  • Writer with no clients? Write for free.
  • Consultant? consult for free.
  • Marketing agency?  Run someone’s ads for free.

You are not entitled to anything. You’re not special. Just like I did, you have to prove to people that you can help them before you can get paid. And this goes way beyond business. No one in life will gift you anything –and especially not money. This is what is really takes to be an entrepreneur.

When you don’t have a bunch of case studies that you can flaunt around your next meeting with a potential client, you have to find a way to minimize their risk and add value.

If you add value, you’ll get paid.

It’s a super simple formula, but it works every single time. Saving someone’s time, doing something they can’t do, fixing a problem, helping them make more money… these are all ways to add value. And the more value you add, the more you’ll get paid –simple as that.

I’ve done that all my life:

  • When I was fifteen, I would sell purses online. There was value there: women upgrading their wardrobe with bags that (initially) could only be bought in physical stores and guys buying presents.
  • When I was in college, I would throw parties around my school. Value: guys and gals having a great time and a place to socialize.
  • And even now with Jakt, we help businesses fulfill their digital product and innovation needs.

Once you have proven that you can get results, the world is yours.

But no so fast, cowboy. You worked with someone for free, now …

How do you scale business with high-paying clients?

Well, let me tell you how we do it at Jakt –the company I run.

In the beginning, I was constrained by something you might relate to a lack of money. I mean… I barely had enough to pay rent and buy noodles… so I had to find another way.

The vast majority of our clients come from one source: referrals.

I hear you: No FB ads?! No PPC?! No email list?! What a catastrophe? That’s not (and this always makes me laugh) scalable?

And look, I know that referrals are not 100% repeatable and take work, but they have gotten us to over 4 Million dollars a year –so there must be something to it, right?


Referrals are hard, but they work

Referrals are hard because they are based on relationships –and people shy away from them. I get it, I’m an introvert. But building relationships doesn’t necessarily mean shoving business cards down stranger’s throats. Instead, it’s about building mutually beneficial connections with people.

For example, back in the early days, I decided to partner with an agency that was complimentary to my skill set. By adding me as a partner, they were now able to offer one more service to their mix –which helped them close more deals and add more value to their existing customers.

Since they were already trusted by their clients, it was easier for me to sell because their referral passed over the “trust juice” to me, and I also didn’t have to hunt new customers myself.

It’s a win for me, for the other agency, and for the clients — WIN-WIN-WIN.

This is based on the concept of leverage, and I learned it while throwing parties at NYU. Instead of hunting down hundreds of people, I would just handpick a few of them with an existing network and have them send a message to their friends. They looked good and I got more people through the door that already trusted me because of their friend’s recommendation. The trendy name for this now is influencers.

Building partnerships can be done in two different ways. First, the relationship can be purely economic: they refer you a new client and you pay them referral fees in exchange for it. It’s simple, but, in my experience, these are usually weak alliances.

The strongest relationships, however, come from having a personal connection and adding value.

The thing is… most people have problems.

You have to be curious enough to ask them and care about their answer genuinely. If you can’t help them directly, that’s ok! Just refer them to someone you know might be able to. And if your abilities can help solve someone’s problem, great! –you just found yourself a potential new client.

Another thing to note, it’s important to never capture all the value in a relationship. Actually, I don’t monetize 99% of my connections, but I will still help them and give them value without asking for anything in return. The Universe has a funny way to bring your value-karma points back.

Something many people ask me is this: but why would someone help me? The truth is that, by asking them for help, you are giving them a chance to look and feel good by giving out a hand to someone. They are building up their social capital as someone who is resourceful and can help others.

Before I say goodbye:

The undeniable truth is that you need to sell to survive in business. But how can you do it? First, you need to prove you know what you’re talking about and, if that means working for free at first, I say… just do it.

Scaling is another issue. While traditional marketing might work for some and digital strategies might work for others, we at Jakt have built a multimillion-dollar business based on referrals and relationships.

Adding value and helping other people might seem like it’s a lot of work and difficult to calculate an ROI. And that’s true. But it also shows you actually care about others and not only about what’s in it for you, and that you don’t see everyone with a huge, green dollar sign on their front –and that eventually will always come back to benefit you.