Don’t know how to find your first client? Here’s what to do.
Your first paying client may seem like a myth, a legend bards sing about to passing travelers. However, getting someone to actually pay you for doing what you love is closer than it seems. Except… even when you convince yourself it’s time to find them… your brain goes blank. How do you find a client? What do you say? These questions may seem impossible, but there is a process you can follow to find that first client. There is even a script you can use (which I have provided below), so you don’t have to think of the words. In truth, you are closer to getting paid than you realize. You can do this, and I believe in you.
To begin, let’s acknowledge that building a client base requires two essential approaches that fill different gaps: the long approach and the short approach.The long approach requires a long-term strategy for continually making contacts and nurturing those relationships – essentially, a continuous networking strategy. Make no mistake, this is the only way to get the best clients, with the best pay, and establish consistency. Your career needs this, but it takes time to build up. That is where the short approach comes in. The short term game plan works to speed up the timeline and get traction happening. Today, we’ll dive into the short-term process to equip you to find your first paid gig, giving you momentum and a foundation to build upon. We’ll consider the long-term strategy in a future blog, but understand that the rest of this article is not a replacement for that part of your career.
Let’s address an uncomfortable truth: this process will likely begin with a cold message. I can already hear your objections: “I can’t do that! I’m not outgoing enough!” or “Where do I even begin? It’s impossible!” or even “That’s too needy. Reaching out will make me look scammy and desperate.” These feelings are not uncommon, and I’ve had them too. However, these feelings aren’t based in reality. Cold messaging is not insincere, impersonal, or unprofessional…if you do it right.
To pull back the curtain on what this process is supposed to look like, let’s break it into four key areas:
- Follow up
Once we’ve gone through all of them I’ll give you a script to guide you in your own process of finding a client.
Professionalism is a broad term that encompasses many different qualities. I believe the most crucial factor is whether you treat the other person as if they are important*, or whether you treat them as a mere cog in the machine. Throughout your interactions with potential clients, it is essential to consistently exude professionalism to establish a high level of respect. Some examples of unprofessional behavior include the following, both when searching for employment and when actively working on a project:
The misspelled message: “u need music?”
The direct question with no context: “I was wondering if you need music?”
The lack of urgency: “I’m still working on it”, “Don’t worry, you’ll see it soon”, “I’ll get started on it when I feel inspired”.
The lack of humility: “I know you think it should look like X, but I think it’s better as Y so I’m not going to change it”
The ghost: “…” (not responding promptly)
Avoid these common pitfalls and you will rarely have problems. It is difficult to be annoyed with someone when they speak honestly and professionally, even if they are asking for something. You can still speak naturally; professionalism is more about your choice of words than your personality.
A lack of sincerity is easily detectable by others. People are constantly analyzing everything they take in, from your body language to your choice of words, even if you don’t realize it. Microexpressions on your face, the way your shoulders are hunched – we’re trained from millions of years of evolution to notice those things. The same principle applies over time in text; people will notice little inconsistencies in your writing if you’re trying to force something. To avoid seeming insincere in a cold message… just don’t be insincere. It’s that simple.
For instance, imagine you’re an artist who wants to collaborate with a game developer. While speaking with them, avoid praising their gameplay if you don’t genuinely like it. Instead, compliment them on aspects of the project that you do enjoy. This will come across as authentic and build trust. Of course, you don’t have to adore every project you work on, but be truthful about the elements that interest you and avoid discussing those you dislike as if you loved them.. Insincere flattery will quickly sink your chances, leaving both you and the prospective with a bad experience.
Be honest with them at all times and you won’t ever have to worry if what you’re doing is not genuine.
Let’s face it, the people you’re reaching out to are probably very busy. While they may be reasonable and nice, having something to offer will go a long way with them. This is where value comes in. As a new freelancer, offering value means giving them an offer with little to no risk. This doesn’t mean that there is no value for you in the effort, but it should make it as easy for them as possible
For instance, when I reach out to potential clients, I often offer to write a complimentary track for their game. This can be used for gameplay or promotional material, wherever it’s most useful. By doing so, I get practice writing a track (which is very useful when you’re just starting and growing your skills), I have something with their project attached for my portfolio, and they get a sense of what working with me is like. This concept can easily extend beyond music. It’s simply the idea of bringing value to them from the very beginning and building trust.
Now, there are probably people who are ready to burn me at the stake for saying this. I can hear them now:
“Never offer free work!”
“You’re devaluing your work!”
“The client won’t respect you!”
We simply have to get over this mentality as a catch all for every situation we go into. Offering some kind of value on the front end does not always mean you are devaluing yourself in the long run. In the example I gave, there are some key factors to consider:
- I recognize that developers have many needs and may not have the resources to handle all of them.
- I can show them my vision for the project’s sound in advance, reducing uncertainty about what will happen if I work with them.
- By delivering high-quality work in a timely and professional manner, I build an incredible amount of trust with them.
- In this example, I offered a complimentary track. By complimentary, I mean they really don’t owe me anything and it is absolutely their! I truly release it to them completely. Using the word “complimentary” is critical as it implies that it usually has a price, but in this case does not. Using “free” instead of “complimentary” is weaker framing and could make the developer feel like it’s a trap or there might be a catch. It’s important to provide context and avoid any surprises.
The reality is, instead of devaluing my work, I brought credibility to myself as a creative partner in their eyes. I also show them that I see their project as something that has value and is worth pursuing. All of this build an enormous amount of trust with them and creates a relationship before they ever question sending me money.
Obviously, this isn’t perfect. I don’t agree to take on an enormous amount of work and I don’t continually offer this throughout a project. Instead, I try to steer this to something I can handle quickly and still deliver well. The amount of worth this brings for you when talking with a client can’t be understated and should be at the forefront of every cold outreach.**
This is the single most important concept you can possibly internalize. I can’t stress enough, if you nail this idea it will have a bigger impact on your client acquisition than any other concept.
“Follow up” is simply the idea of staying in contact. It is really that simple.
The results from this are two fold:
- You build trust with them.
- You stay on top of their mind.
The reason why following up with former and prospective clients is critical is that they are humans. They view their work like a human does and respond to things that are important to humans. The act of following up is like telling them that you appreciate their humanity and its effect on you. Reaching back out to them says, “Hey, I remember you and was thinking about you. You were important enough to leave an impression and be worth my time.” This message will resonate with them and create a strong relationship with you.*** However, if you do this without sincerity, it will come back to bite you in the end. Follow up with clients because you genuinely care about them as human beings first, and the work you need will come after.
In practice, following up can be as simple as saying “Hey, just wanted to reach out and see how things were going. How is X project coming along? I really enjoyed the last update you posted on Twitter.” Most of the time that’s all you need, and just like that you’ve rekindled a connection and your friendship grows deeper.
In addition, reaching out helps you stay top of mind for potential clients or collaborators. It’s common for your name to slowly sink to the bottom of their mental contact list if you don’t stay in touch. Even if you’re the best fit for a project, they might simply forget about you! Reaching out periodically puts you back on top and improves your chances of being the one they contact. However, be careful not to overdo it and become annoying. You don’t need to reach out every day; every few months is usually sufficient, and once every 9-12 months is often enough. The key is to stay consistent in reaching out to your network as a whole.
Don’t underestimate the importance of follow-up. When you first contact someone, it’s unlikely that they’ll hire you right away. Every client you acquire will likely come from some form of follow-up, so make it a regular part of your routine.
I want to leave you an example of a script I have used when reaching out to potential clients with a cold message. This is something I received from a different composer and have since used it to great affect. Some quick thoughts:
- You need to send lots of these! This is a numbers game. Find as many projects as possible that make sense for your work and resonate with you, then reach out!
- Try to change the wording as little as possible. Only make tiny changes if necessary.
I wanted to reach out after finding “game name”.
I love all the personality your game has and I love anything that has a focus on cats. In particular, I loved how great the tweet with the cat cutting grass looked! The game is really quite lovely 🙂 (Change to something relevant to the project)
I’m a composer and I’d love to contribute to this project. I’d love to offer you a complimentary music track to use. This could be gameplay, promo… or whatever you need!
Here is some reference music of mine from recent projects:
Would this be helpful for your game?
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