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Oh the joys of finding new clients. Most business owners, and many of the creative entrepreneurs I work with–decide to look for their new clients, by licensing mailing lists. And then they start to fire off emails and blog posts to people they don’t know. At first look this beats the option of painstakingly doing the background research of each recipient one by one, but be clear that you are basically communicating with people you don’t know, about whom you know nothing, and you are sending them things they didn’t ask for.

While I can’t be sure what your preferences are, I certainly don’t want my inbox jammed with pitches from strangers. More often than not, these blind email blasts are a colossal waste of time. Not to say that sometimes you can get lucky and a few will respond because you are at the right time in front of the right person. But your conversion percentage is at best in single digits and it can get expensive and often frustrating to keep this up. You may disagree and tell me that one time someone called you and you got a job as a direct result from your last blast. Good for you. But seriously, how often does that actually happen?

I recently taught direct response marketing to a business group that uncomfortably laughed in recognition of the human trait we all share–the ability to suspend reality. We easily forget how annoying unsolicited emails and promos can be to potential clients. We forget to consider the recipient’s perspective. Let’s face it, we all hate SPAM. So let’s agree not to do to others what we don’t like ourselves.

Instead, let’s discuss what you can you do to increase the chances of getting potential clients to notice you. There is a lot available to you, and I am going to give you three of the most important pointers that every business owner should know:

1. Know who you are

It is astonishing how many entrepreneurs are not sure as to who they are and what their businesses do. This very simple and very important question is key to your success: What do you do? You need to be able to answer that in 30-60 seconds (the famous elevator pitch time) and it has to be interesting, funny, and engaging. How can you expect someone to want to know more about you if you stammer around or make a boring statement like: my name is John and I am an architectural photographer. Or I am Julia and I am a massage therapist. Add a little bit more of your sparkling personality that has to shine through loud and clear. You have to be anything but forgettable.

(This will help!)

Once you have it clearly defined as to what you offer (and it has to be more than just your job title or profession,) this very “thing”–your it factor–should be clearly outlined on your marketing and promotional materials. It’s what prospective clients do and should expect from a professional. Tell them why you and not your competitor. Start working onthis part first. Get clear about you and your message.

2. Network, fill the funnel and give things away (for free)

There is no easy way to get clients. You have to start somewhere.Filling the funnel means that a lot of work has to be put in for something to start trickling through. You must develop relationships. Lots of relationships. On LinkedIn, Facebook, network meetings, Google+, Twitter, your blog, your pages and through industry and networking meetings.

Whatever it takes, I recommend that you are out and about making new friends. Let me give you an example. Some visitors to my websites may think that I offer free stuff without any particular plan. But, the reality is that I am very clear what my brand is and what I want to get out of offering something for free. I devise and follow a strategy. Because creating content costs serious money and time. So why would anyone be doing it?

My giveaways, my blog, the strong community I’ve built through my professional speaking, coaching and The Women’s Code, is all part of a larger strategy to build community. The power I have is in the number of people I can reach and with whom I have built a relationship through the quality and reliability of my content. Truth is first you must serve, then you get the work. It doesn’t work the other way around.

3. Build relationships by focusing on the people first

Your potential clients have concerns, hopes and dreams just like you do. They worry about their jobs; they have the same issues that you do. Connect with them as people and talk to them as people. Are you genuinely interested in what they want and need? Ask questions that you want to know the answer to. Add value to your relationships. Be ready to pay your dues and be of service. Ask them for advice rather than asking them to hire you. Ask what the right process or path is to a collaboration. Be honest by telling them that you want to make their lives easier by not wasting their time, but you feel you can add something special. What’s the best way to go about it? Be engaging and talk to them like you’d like to be talked to.

To sum up, the way you find clients is by getting very clear about who you are. And by developing lots of relationships. To convert a contact into a customer can be a slam dunk (when you are at the right time with the right message ready to fill an immediate need), or it can be slow and steady (when you have to prove that you can do the job the other guy does equally well—or better). There are no shortcuts to finding clients. It is an ongoing plan, a strategy you devise on paper first and then execute smartly—and consistently.

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