Sarah Tyler is a photographer. She is smart, personable and, most importantly (at least for the sake of her independent career goals), stubborn. After graduating from college she decided that she wanted to start her own business, although she didn’t know much about working independently. She did know that she needed one thing more than anything else: clients.
Deciding to focus on the lucrative wedding market, Tyler created some flyers and a website, but quickly ran Into her first roadblock: She needed wedding pictures to prove that she could take exceptional photos so she could attract clients in a competitive market. But, without a client, she was stuck.
Until she got creative.
She and a friend bought a cheap wedding dress at a thrift store. They used the fabric but created a new, modern design using sewing skills they both had from high school. She recruited some friends and found inexpensive dresses for the “bridesmaids.” They prepared as if for a real wedding, assembling flower arrangements and driving around to spot great locations for their photo shoot.
Their hard work paid off — not only did Sarah get great shots to use as marketing material, she got the experience of dealing with real-world scenarios. Learning to deal with stress, developing contingency plans when people or plans didn’t work out, and still turning out a great result were part of a growth experience that Sarah now says was key to her success.
Creating a mock portfolio Is a great example of how to get your first gig. Here are some other ways to deal with the problem of finding paying work:
Work with People Who Know You
One of the best ways to land a client is to reach out to someone who has worked with you in the past. You may have to be careful, here, not to be seen as poaching clients from your previous employer, so make sure you’re not violating an employment contract. You will find It easier to get someone to pay you if they have seen your work before.
Show Your Stuff
Whether it’s a webinar, a free consultation, or a sample design, showing your prospective clients an example of what they will get working with you is a great way to make a case for your capabilities. This is what Sarah was doing, and it’s a key part of the sales process.
Do (a LITTLE) Something for Free
One way to get referrals is by doing pro-bono work. Find a nonprofit that needs your help, or do a small piece of work for someone you think could really use your products and services. Be careful with this one, though. If people get used to not paying for something, they will be slow to make the transition to writing checks, and they may not see the value in what you do.
The first client is the most critical — it is what establishes you as an independent professional and what starts to build your referral platform. Your first client is the proof point that shows you can make money off your talent. It is also often the thing that helps you believe that you truly can be successful working for yourself.