Really, this post should be titled “How to break out of the chicken and egg problem of not having clients OR experience,” but that’s a bit long (even for me).
You know what I'm talking about.
If you're trying to break into a new field, to do something you're pretty darn good at but have never done for pay before, figuring this out can leave you pulling your hair out.
It seems like every client wants to hire someone with experience. And it's understandable. But of course, until someone hires you, you will have no experience.
Hence the chicken and the egg, neither of which is willing to budge to give you a break.
It goes past money, too. Even if you're not strapped for cash, it can be extremely frustrating to sit on talents that you are not given an opportunity to use.
As a consultant to early stage entrepreneurs, I've spoken to so many people who are searching for clients who are just so eager to prove themselves, but they can’t seem to find that first person who will say, “I trust you -- you're hired!”
They say to me, “If someone would only take a chance on me, I know they wouldn't regret it. I'm smart, good at what I do, I have all these skills I've picked up along the way that I know I could apply to this new gig.
All that is true… And yet prospective clients don't seem to see it that way, do they?
You're intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working -- so you know that all the skills you sweated to acquire in your previous field can totally be used to bring a unique and useful angle to this new field.
But to them, you’re about as qualified as someone straight outta college -- with the wrong degree.
The truth is, you really CAN do this if someone hired you.
What you CAN'T do is afford to continue waiting for someone else's permission to do it.
Let's use a real world example:
Say you want to be a digital marketing consultant, specializing in social media.
And let's say you've never worked at this job before -- in fact, until now you were a ballet instructor for five year old girls.
But you do have a knack for it, and you've spent the last 6 months building up your skills by taking online courses, reading everything you could get your hands on, and paying close attention to what different brands and companies are doing.
There are two critical things that you can do to land that first paying client. It all starts with ditching the idea that it's up to someone else to say when you're allowed to start.
You can start doing these things TODAY.
Surround yourself with the right people.
If you're passionate about the field you're trying to get into, you are probably doing some version of this already.
Find your peer group
And stay engaged with them: join marketing Facebook groups, go to meetups and conferences about marketing, follow and add to the conversation in the comment section of other marketer’s blogs… You get the idea.
Don’t worry about them as competition -- trust that there are enough clients to go around and every professional brings their own unique capabilities to the table which will attract the right clients for THEM.
Remember, hanging out with your peer group isn't some self-promotional tactic. Yes, it will give you the benefit of being associated with this field.
But the real benefit is connecting with the humans who have more experience than you, who share similar goals as you, who may have gone through a similar journey and overcome the exact challenges you are (or will be) facing.
Learn as much as you can from them. I can't stress this enough. You will develop professionally faster by leaps and bounds than if you try to just figure everything out on your own.
Find a mentor
As a bonus, if you can score a relationship with a seasoned digital marketer who will sit with you once a month, listen to your problems, offer up solutions, and hold you accountable -- and only ask that you pay for lunch in return -- then you've got the proverbial golden ticket.
Think about it -- one of the disadvantages of going into business for yourself (as opposed to being employed within a company) is the lack of mentorship.
This is actually one of the top reasons people give for choosing to freelance later in life: it's not that they love someone else being in control of their time or their workload.
It's that they are using their time as someone else's employee to gain experience, mentorship, and contacts.
Well, you get the experience anyway by doing the work. But you can get the mentorship and contacts by diligently putting yourself in the right places with the right people.
This is really the crux of it all.
This is where you STOP waiting for someone else -- a client, an employer, whatever -- to give you permission to do what you know in your gut will make your heart leap.
Instead of waiting, find a small project you can do to demonstrate your skills -- a cause, an organization, a non-profit -- and offer your help for free.
Don’t underestimate the benefits of hiring yourself.
First of all, you get to do what you love. That feeling of mastery alone is fulfilling, and the momentum you gain tends to attract other projects.
Second, it is experience. You get to design this project in a way that can make you shine as a prospect.
And last but not least, it positions you as a proactive do-er; as someone who doesn't sit around and wait for someone to crown them as a [insert your desired title] before they can start behaving like one.
It's useful (and persuasive) when others see you in that light. But even more than that, it's crucial for you to think of yourself in this way.
You can help promote your daughter's school's walkathon or bake sales. You can help a local youth group, shelter, or other volunteer based organization with their activities. You can even help your old dance studio (the one where you used to teach ballet) using the specific skills you want to showcase.
It doesn't really matter what the project is, as long as you follow some guidelines:
No more waiting. Go become.