A common question I get is, "Where do you find your clients?" The fact of the matter is, I don't. They find me. That's right. I invest no money in sales or advertising. I don't even have a portfolio. Yet, it's not uncommon to get a couple requests a week for work.
I believe that there are three good reasons why this is:
- I network
- I have a blog
- I write in places other than my blog
It's funny. I remember being approached way back when by someone asking me if I was interested in networking. I said, "Sure, I love networking," thinking they meant hooking up a bunch of machines for a LAN party. Turns out, that wasn't the kind of networking he was talking about.
Networking is basically just getting to know people so that when they have a need they think of you and vice versa. Many salespeople I know take networking extremely seriously and participate in a number of networking gatherings. This probably works very well but I imagine you have to meet a lot of people to land a sale through that kind of thing.
Within the industry
For me, networking has been more of a long-term side effect of simply being in the business of web development. At every job, there's turnover. People move on to new companies. As I moved from agency to agency, I got to know a bunch of people as friends. As they moved on to new jobs, they became huge assets in the networking game.
They are already closer to the circle of work you happen to do since you both worked for the same company (ie: you are in the same industry) — this, of course, assuming your company works primarily in your industry. Classic networking means you have to find people outside of your industry and hope they just happen to have a need within yours. Network within your industry and you are more likely to find people who have overflow work or have a particular project that they need to outsource for. This alone has been a good source of work.
To a lesser degree, attending conferences can be another great way to meet people who might one day hire you. I'm not a social butterfly so this doesn't really work for me but I know many people who have been able to capitalize heavily on the networking they have done at a conference, often gaining enough work for months afterwards. Again, you are dealing with people within your industry. If they need somebody, you want them to call you.
Having an affiliation with some group can be very handy. This is similar to a conference but more on a long-term basis. For example, my joining 9rules has connected me with a great group of people. On the member forums, job postings show up all the time. In fact, my first client as a freelancer came from a connection through 9rules.
There are plenty of forums out there, like Sitepoint, etc. Get involved and work requests will undoubtedly come.
Blog about it
This has got to be the most consequential factor. For me, much of it is probably just the longevity. Stick around long enough and good things are bound to happen.
Having the blog has been my bread and butter. It keeps the work requests coming in. The blog serves a key purpose: it demonstrates my knowledge in a certain realm. If people are looking for someone with a particular skill set, would you rather someone who simply has it on their resume, or someone who talks about it every day?
When people ask me if starting a blog can help their business, I can and do unequivocally say yes.
Spread the Word
Writing for your blog is great and all, but you're constantly hoping that those who currently read the site will share it with others. A way to be proactive about it is to contribute to other sites.
I always thought that people would just come to me and ask me to contribute. Turns out, that's not the case. I've had to actively get out there and ask to get involved. Writing for other sites is much like marketing or advertising but instead of putting together a newspaper ad that says, "Call Now," you're informing people that you know what you're talking about (or at least faking it really well).
The first step for me was becoming a contributor to Digital Web Magazine. I emailed and asked to be involved. Sure, it doesn't pay, but writing for another site exposes you to a new audience of people. And you can almost always drive some of that audience back to your own site.
Getting into Treehouse Magazine, 24ways, or presenting at Webvisions have all been a result of asking to get involved. Almost depressingly so, I almost never get asked. I vowed to be proactive and it worked.
Although it wasn't on my list of three, I had to mention it. I feel that as an approach to getting business without really having to work for it (except for the whole process of designing, developing and building a site along with maintaining the site and adding new content frequently for said site for years) includes getting linked. Of course, write good content and get linked from legitimate sources. But don't underestimate gallery sites. It may seem like a lame popularity contest but gallery sites like CSSremix are frequented by people looking for designers (mostly) and developers (less so).
At the Core
At the core of it is, I try to find people that do similar stuff to me. I do it because I like to talk shop and learn and bounce ideas off people. But I've noticed that when people are looking for help, they'll come looking. The networking, the blogging, the writing... it's all because I enjoy what I do and I like sharing it. It's just a bonus that I get paid to do it, too, and I'm glad people trust me to help them out when they need it.