How to find your first consulting clients?


If you don't have a network which you can get referrals from, how do you find your first consulting clients for a one-person development firm?

Networking Consulting Consultants Referrals Clients

asked May 12 '14 at 17:55
Robert Sheehan
7 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll

2 Answers


Build up a portfolio

Without a network to start with, you'll need a way to convince potential clients that you are worth hiring. The best way to do that is with a portfolio of previous work to demonstrate your skills.

Secondarily, a portfolio that includes actual clients will serve as a list of references too, in case potential clients ask for them.

If you don't have a portfolio, here are some tips on how to build one:

  • Assemble your previous work. Assuming you're not just entering the world of development, you probably have some previous work from previous employers. You'll need to scrub the work so no confidential data is included.
  • Create some of your own projects. Put together some mini-sites, niche sites, online games, little utilities, or build out that pet project you've always wanted to do.
  • Work for some non-profits for free. If you can find a non-profit that will pay you, that's great. But chances are, most will have little to no budget for you. So offer to do some work pro-bono for the opportunity to add them to your portfolio and use them as a reference.
  • Use freelance marketplaces like and It may be a bit difficult to land many projects without previous work, so you may need to follow the above steps first.

Strengthen your reputation

Your reputation is one of your most valuable assets. Go above and beyond in helping each of your clients, whether they are non-profits, from Elance, or elsewhere. This is key. If you are viewed as simply an execution shop, they will view you as a commodity. If you provide services well beyond what they are asking for, they will view you as exceptional.

You can also work to establish yourself as a knowledge source in your industry:

  • Give talks at conferences. Don't go to a conference as an attendee. Go as a speaker. Find some niche topic and research it until you are almost an expert on it, then pitch that topic as a talk.
  • Use social media. Pick one or two sources, like a blog and Twitter. Then use them regularly. Write about relevant topics. Share relevant articles, interact with peers, and establish yourself as a thought leader.
  • Write articles. Write some great technical content that can be featured on another highly-trafficked blog or magazine. You may need to work on such relationships in order to get these guest writing opportunities, but a few well-placed guest posts can be helpful.
  • Hold workshops. You can charge for these or offer them for free. Both have their pros & cons. The goal is to show to the community that you are technical leaders. Perhaps someone you train will work at a large company that needs your expertise.
  • After completing any project, always ask if the client can give you a testimonial, assuming they are happy with your work.

Grow your network

Now it's time to start growing your network. All networks take time, so be patient and aim for quality over quantity (since you're a one-person shop, it's better to have one great client than three horrible ones).

  • Carry your business cards around everywhere you go. Make it a staple in your wallet. Or better yet, buy a nice business card holder.
  • Go to local meetups, networking events, etc. Not all events are useful, so be scientific about measuring which ones are productive and which ones aren't.
  • Try interacting with as many people at your clients' company as respectfully possible. You never know who will give you a lead to another client.
  • After completing the project, ask if they can refer you to other potential clients (maybe even offer a discount or rebate if one of their referrals becomes a client).

Once you have a larger portfolio of completed projects, testimonials, and references, it will be easier to go after larger customers.

answered May 14 '14 at 04:33
Mike Lee
1,356 points


Step one is to build a portfolio. People you meet to be able to see that you can do the work. Start some sideprojects, make things related to interests you have, etc.

Then pick up Craigslist work where you can, look for local mailing lists and job boards where people may post contract work, set up some saved searches on twitter for people looking for someone with your skills, etc.

Simultaneously and most importantly, build your network. Go to events & conferences, join meetup groups, get active on twitter and LinkedIn. You'll both meet the occasional person who's going to those events because they're looking for a contractor, and make connections with peers and folks who don't need your services, but can refer you to people who do.

answered May 14 '14 at 00:19
Jay Neely
6,050 points

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