Being an independent business owner is great. You get to set your own work hours, decide on the type of work you like to do and generally be your own boss.
At the same time, you’re in charge of ensuring that you have a steady flow of clients to work with, something that employees don’t usually have to worry about.
Building sustainable pipelines of clients is of concern to most VAs. You don’t want to get stuck in a “feast or famine” trap and you need to make sure that there is always something waiting in the wings when you need it.
How do VAs develop that steady flow of clients? Here are 7 strategies that can help:
#1. Know Who Your Client Is
Every VA should create for themselves a good picture of who their ideal client is. What is their job role? What type of company do they own or work for? What sort of work do they need you to do?
You might have decided to choose a niche to specialize in, or to set up as a generalist VA, but either way you should have a good idea of the types of clients you are targeting.
Martha Retallick makes some great points on how to create a client profile and why it is so important for businesses to do so. For example, you want to avoid trying to sell to people who:
- Can’t afford what you’re selling.
- Don’t want it.
- Can’t understand why they’re hearing from you.
Will you target local, national or international clients? How much revenue is their business turning over? This is an important part; you don’t want them to be too small to afford VA services (or possibly have issues with paying a VA), or so big that they use in-house personal assistants.
Create a list
Once you’ve got your target clients figured out, create a list or spreadsheet of those which match what you’re looking for.
It’s often easier to start your search online for businesses or individuals who match your requirements. The idea for each one is to try and get the name and contact details for a person who has the authority to hire you, particularly if you’re looking at businesses of more than one.
Here are some places you could look to for finding possible prospects:
- Your local Chamber of Commerce site.
- Trade association member lists.
- Conference or trade show participant lists.
- Industry directories (especially if you’re settled on a niche).
Where can VAs find new clients?
Grab our free checklist here.
#2. Set Aside a Regular Time for Reaching Out
“Cold calling”, even if done by email is often a daunting prospect for many VAs. There’s only one thing for it though; if you want to build yourself a solid pipeline of clients, you need to be disciplined enough to regularly reach out to the prospects on your list. Keep making connections and keep getting your name out there.
When you’re really busy, it can be easy to ignore prospecting for new clients. It’s simpler to bury yourself in the work and, let’s face it, if you’re not so comfortable with reaching out cold to people, you’ll probably look for excuses not to.
This is one of those things where you really do get better with practice. What do you really have to lose by giving it a go? If you stick to a time to send emails or make calls to prospects, even when you are busy, you’ll hopefully stay busy in the long term because you keep adding to your client base.
Tip: Make reaching out at least a weekly habit and put some goals around it. For example; “I will email five possible leads every Tuesday at 9am.”
#3. Join Local Professional Groups
If you live in a bigger metropolitan area, there are often a large number of different options when it comes to local professional groups, but even smaller towns will tend to have some you can look at.
Your local professional groups are often magnets for the types of people you would like to have as your clients. Besides that, just joining in and getting to know people can help you to get referrals to suitable people whom they know.
Tip: It’s often through the social events, such as a couple of quiet drinks after a guest speaker that you’ll really find a lot of benefit for your business. Try to stick around for the social gatherings and make the effort to talk to people. Have business cards handy!
Here are a few examples of local groups you could look for:
- Rotary International
- Your local Chamber of Commerce.
- Local Young Professionals groups.
- Local Merchant associations.
- Women in Business Network
- Volunteer organizations in your community. You meet all sorts of people by volunteering.
#4. Be Active in Quality Social Media Groups
There are social media groups, and then there are social media groups which are actually quality and worth your time. You’re looking for business networking groups, professional groups or groups within the niche that you serve.
“Quality” generally means that the groups have large numbers of active and engaged members, as well as follow some kind of guidelines for posting and conversation. There are so many groups which end up simply being full of spam posts from people effectively saying “buy my stuff.”
Another thing to look for is that the group has contributing members who are experienced, possibly even considered experts in their field. Groups full of newbies who are all looking to “make it” somehow will usually not be fruitful in terms of prospects to work with.
The idea is that rather than being a “buy my stuff” poster, you want to be known for the right reasons in the group. Be a quality contributor, someone who provides valuable discussion and answers the questions of others.
Ready to free up your headspace?
#5. Connect on LinkedIn
Separate from participating in any LinkedIn groups, make it a habit to connect with people on LinkedIn, whether they are people whom you’ve met at conferences or networking groups, or those who you’ve “met” online. Connecting this way provides you with that tangible link, allowing you to go back to them later on and for them to see any posts you make in their home feed.
For many VAs, LinkedIn has been an effective source of referrals without them necessarily needing to ask for the work. If you’re a regular user and poster on LinkedIn, you keep yourself in the consciousness of your connections.
A big part of using LinkedIn successfully is to ensure that you have a complete profile that is designed to be appealing to your ideal client. Use keywords which they are likely to search for, including any relating to your niche.
You might also consider a paid subscription for some of the extra benefits it offers. One of those is InMail, which allows you to directly message anyone on LinkedIn. This can be very useful if you can’t find or have trouble getting a response from an email address.
#6. Current or Previous Work Connections
Have you come out of a “regular” day job? Sometimes connections made there really pay off when it comes to finding VA clients. If you feel comfortable doing so, ask former colleagues or employers to help you get the word out for suitable clients.
Sometimes the work might even come from a former employer. Many businesses have looked to outsource roles in an effort to reduce their liabilities in terms of employee benefits. If your former employer is one of them (and if you enjoyed working with them!), then you could be in a good position to pick up work.
If you do choose to work with a former colleague or employer, make sure you set the relationship up properly as VA/client. You don’t want an “employee” dynamic to creep in where you end up taking orders or having to “comply” with their work schedule.
#7. Partnerships or Joint Ventures
There are a few ways you might choose to go about a partnership or joint venture, but the end result should always be the aim to get new, suitable clients from the arrangement. Here are some ideas for what you might do;
- Team up with another VA or group of VAs. There is power in numbers and usually access to multiple new connections. For this to work, you should have strict outlines of how a partnership is to work first.
- Find someone you trust within the niche you serve and ask them to refer others.
- Join up with someone who has a similar target audience to you but offers complementary services.
Partnerships and joint ventures are only as good as the planning and “rules” you put behind them. Be clear on what benefits everyone stands to get out of it and what guidelines should be followed. Most of all, make sure your partners know exactly what you’re looking for in a client so they can best deliver what you’re looking for.
Where can VAs find new clients?
Grab our free checklist here.
Finding new clients or prospects who could be future clients is a crucial part of running your VA business successfully. Even if you feel that you have reliable long-term clients, you don’t know what the future brings and it’s better not to be sitting back, feeling like you’re secure and failing to be proactive.
Make new connections and nurture relationships. You need to have places you can turn should you need extra work and having a strong network becomes one of your most valuable assets.
Sometimes it takes a bit of discipline, but if you make room in your schedule, you will become well-practiced at reaching people and just might meet your next favorite client.