Archive for October, 2011

How To Find Clients as a Professional

Business & entrepreneurship

I tend to write about what’s going on in my life.  For that reason, right now I’m constantly writing about my new business.  I apologize.

As you regular readers of this blog know, I’ve already had to battle higher than expected start-up costs, knowledge gaps now that I have no support staff, and the expected self-doubt.

Yet, the hardest part of starting your own business is finding clients.  As a late twenty-something professional who went “off on my own” without one single client, it was this worry more than  any other that kept me up all night–and it is this worry that continues to keep me up at night even now, despite my finding some initial success.  When I talk to my friends about the possibility of their starting their own practice one day, they always say the same thing: “I couldn’t do it.  How would I find clients?”

I don’t profess to be a master at “rainmaking,” but here are some of the methods I have so far used to try and obtain clients, and the rate of success I have had with each.  I have also rated each on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the highest, based upon time involvement, cash outlay, and overall effectiveness (and based only upon my own experiences).

1. Traditional Advertising – Advertising is difficult when you’re just starting out in a new business.  It’s a low-time/high cost option, but most new business owners have more time than money.  That said, I’ve tried to advertise here and there.  It’s nothing that would excite Don Draper, but I figured a church bulletin here and a community college student newspaper there couldn’t hurt.  Or could it?

Time Involvement: 3     Cash Outlay: 9      Effectiveness: 1

For me, I have yet to find a client from advertising.  I suspect the advertising may help with visibility and that it takes several steps from knowledge to trust to purchase, but thus far this has been a big black whole of an expense to my fledgling business.  As I sell high-priced professional services, perhaps advertising is less persuasive for my type of business.

2. Direct Mailings – Direct mailings can be effective, but it’s important to have a narrow target.  Simply sending out a notice to everyone in your town may not be the most effective direct mailing method.  An offer of a free consultation or some other “freebie” will assist in raising your direct mailing rate of return beyond the traditional 1%.  Unfortunately, the cost of postage and the time spent in personally creating the mailings can be prohibitive.

Time Involvement – 7     Cash Outlay – 6    Effectiveness –  5

3. Referrals  – The goal for any professional service provider is to create a referral based business.  Referrals will be more likely to contact you and to then purchase your service.  They are also more likely to treat you both with respect and in a professional manner.  Although developing a referral system can be difficult, particularly in the beginning, it will likely be the lifeblood of any successful professional services business.

Some ways to find referrals are to utilize your natural network and to also try and get involved both within and outside your industry (think local Chamber of Commerce, local associations, church groups, rotary club, whatever interests you).  Just remember to give more than you get and to not join anything just to try and find referrals.  People will see through that.  I also like going to lunch or coffee with people and trying to develop friendships.  If they ultimately pay off with referrals or mutually beneficial business relationships, then that is all the better.  The large majority of my clients have thus far come through referrals.

Time Involvement – 8      Cash Outlay – 4     Effectiveness – 9

4.  Internet Presence/Blogging 

As you’ve no doubt heard, today more than ever, people are turning to the internet to find EVERYTHING.  If you’re in an industry that has been slow to move online, then you might be able to effectively utilize search engine optimization at little or no cost.  Unfortunately, my geographic location and profession have made it difficult to rank in Google thus far.  I’ve had a few clients find me through the internet, but the quality of those clients sometimes leaves much to be desired.  That said, I know some people who are making a ton of money from their websites and blogs.  But as I am basing my rankings upon my own personal experience:

Time Involvement – 9     Cash Outlay  – 4     Effectiveness –  5

5.  Speeches, Articles, Public Relations 

As a professional, if you are seen as an expert within your field then that is more than 1/2 the battle.  Writing newspaper columns, articles for trade publications, and/or giving speeches are just a few of the ways to show your expertise.  They can also be tough to come by early in your career.

Time Involvement – 7    Cash Outlay  – 1      Effectiveness   – 8


For anyone who has started a business, how do my experiences mesh with your own?  What is your best method for finding clients as a professional/provider of services?






Creating Report Cards From Excel Spreadsheet

Excel macros

After publishing an introduction to excel macros both by recording and writing code, I received one email asking me about one problem; How to create excel files that could in theory either be printed for each student or sent to students and/or their parents. I know that this problem is not so much about finance but you could easily build something along the same concept for finance. For example, if you received a a list of stocks and wanted to create files for each one, you could use a similar method.

I’ll start off by showing you an example of what the initial file would be like:

The idea would be to have a macro that will create a file for each student (there could be tens or hundreds of them) that would look like:

The only way to do this quickly would be to use a macro written with code. Why? Because you would need variables. That being said, you can still use a recorder to get you started. I will start the recorder and then look at the code that results, first I created a new file and then wrote down the information as I would like it to appear, naming the file and then closing it. Here is the code that results:

Of course, I need to make a few changes here. First off, let’s remember that the macro must take in the information for each student. Let’s take a look:

As you can see, the loop function means that the macro will go line by line in the main file and capture the information of that student. What we now need to do is to use that information for the actual file. Here are more modifications:

Now, the main things to add would be to add the teacher’s name and save the file with the correct name, here is my final code:

You can download our full excel spreadsheet here.

The First Month of a New Business

Business & entrepreneurship, Career

I can now officially say I have been in business for myself, one month.  Although that’s such a small period of time for any business, I thought I would review some of the things I’ve learned thus far.

As you know, just over a month ago I “quit the rat race” to start my own business.  I took $5,000 of my savings (it eventually turned into more than $7,000) as start-up costs.  Then I just went after it, and worked towards building my business 100% of my waking hours.  I’m both exhausted and exhilarated–as they say, it doesn’t feel like work when you’re building something all your own.

My first few days as a “business owner” were spent as a furniture builder, a marketing student, and a telephone harasser of various venders.  I was lucky to procure great office space from a friend, which enabled me to transition faster than expected.

Get Over Your Issues With Money

The toughest part of being the owner of a business offering professional services, is that you have to believe in what you’re offering. Early on, there have been many instances where clients have tried to haggle me on prices.  I sometimes have a self-defeating tendency towards money, but I have to date fought it off.

I believe that I get to pick my own charities.  I also believe that if I do not hold firm, I will myself become a charity.  This is sometimes easier said than done, particularly because so many people are hurting right now financially.  As the saying goes, however: “It’s better to not work, and not get paid.  Than to work, and to not get paid.”

My firm pricing is a great way to separate true prospective clients from pretenders.  That said, I’ve also done some free or charitable work.

Maybe You Should Charge More 

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes charging more can help attract clients.  In the first few days of my business, I was offering just about the lowest price in town.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t helping me close deals with prospective clients.  The only clients it was helping me with were the clients I least wanted to work with–those who only cared about price.  (and thus, those most likely to stiff me later on).

A mentor-type figure suggested that my price was too low.  He said that people might be suspicious by how low my price was. Again, this was likely just me having my own issues with money.

I raised the price so that it was more in line with market expectations.  Thereafter, I have been signing up a much higher percentage of prospective clients.  Although this advice may not work with every industry, in mine it appears there is a feeling amongst clients that you only get what you pay for.

Don’t Panic 

This is easier said than done.  It’s something I have to tell myself every day hour.  When you first start a business, the telephone won’t be ringing off the hook.  There will be days where you don’t make any money.  There will be weeks, months, and maybe even a year or two where you simply break even or even lose money.  If you’re like me, you’ll already know this in your heart.  And yet, if you’re like me, you’ll still feel waves of self-pity and self-doubt.  Leaving behind a comfortable and steady paycheck for an uncertain future is not easy to do.  Even the most successful of businesses have lulls or quiet spells.  Learning to “maintain,” mentally, can be the difference between success and failure in a new business.

But Be ProActive 

There’s a difference between maintaining a cool confidence and simply not pushing hard enough.  If you don’t have any clients, then your time should be spent finding clients.  You may have to spend some money, and make advertising, direct mailing, and other marketing attempts.  A press release and/or a “grand opening” celebration may help get the word out.  And don’t forget to rely upon your natural network of friends, former colleagues, and family members.

Common Sense

There are certain things we’ve all heard so many times that they are cliched.  These old standards have been overplayed more than Jay-Z’s “New York,” and yet should be obeyed.  I recently learned firsthand that the reward for “not burning bridges,” with your former employer really can be referrals.  Having a “solid business plan” and adequate startup capital are necessary to success.  Don’t forget the basics, even as you push towards new and creative solutions.  And don’t forget to call on friends or mentors when you’re feeling down or need advice.


The revenue for my first month was much higher than I ever expected.  It didn’t match the $7,000.00 I spent in startup costs, but most of those costs are one-time or once a year expenses.  If my revenue stays the same moving forward, I should be well on my way to a successful business.  So far, I’m loving every second that I’m out of “the Rat Race.”

Say “No” To the Wrong Clients

Business & entrepreneurship

Who hasn’t wasted most of their time on a headache.

Who needs it?

One of my mentors always said that turning away the wrong types of clients was just as important as retaining the right types of clients.  When you are new to a business, however, saying “no” to the wrong types of clients can understandably be very difficult.

However, as I have embarked on FreelancePF and now my “full-time” business, my mentor’s advice has never before been so important.

All of us only have so much time in the day.  We should do our best to spend that time being as productive as possible.  When we work for the right types of clients, it makes our work and our lives more fulfilling.  It also allows us to come closer to obtaining greatness.  Turning away the wrong type of work is not only good for your soul, it may also be good for your bottom line.  How? Let’s explore a little further.

You Should Be Just As Selective of Clients as They are in Selecting You

You see, in my former day job, I was forced to take every client the powers that be gave me.  Truth be told, in that scenario I was grateful for even the most difficult clients, because  in most cases, without difficult clients bosses wouldn’t need associates in the first place.

However, when I started FreelancePF, I began to see things differently.  As the boss, that meant that I got to decide which clients and which projects I was willing to take on, and which I should pass on.  Some might even say I’m difficult to work with.  I think I perform solid–and yes sometimes even spectacular work–for a fair price.  If that price is called into question, or if people begin to focus on being nitpickers about issues aside from my writing (such as what types of images I put into the post), then I tend to walk and never look back.

Every self-employed worker has the ability to be selective, and focus on attracting and maintaining relationships with the best clients.

New, But Still Selective

Perhaps because of my day job I can afford to be even more choosy than most freelance entrepreneurs, but this is an idea every self-employed individual should consider.   Now that I have my own full-time business, I maintain that spirit.   As my mentor also used to say: “Sure you appreciate the clients hiring you, but remember that they are not solely doing you a favor.  You have something to offer them as well…if you take on a client then you have to give them 100% effort.  Their dreams become your dreams.  So you see, it is very important to make sure you only take on the right types of clients.”

This explains why it is not personal if I turn down a job.  The fact is, there is only so much time.  I need to work with people who have money to pay.  Who are wiling to pay my fair market rate.  And who allow me some creative license.

I could take on a ton of work, but would it really help my bottom line doing frustrating work, or work for clients who would likely stiff me?   I would rather be selective so that the quality of work does not suffer.  I want to focus on projects and clients that I really believe in and work that I find inspiring or challenging.

So far I have been very lucky to be offered a lot of work that fits this criteria.  I have also turned down a few projects for one reason or another.  I have walked away from many others.  Although I run the risk of being labeled abrasive, that is the cost of sticking to my ideals.

Of course, you can never have enough of the “right” clients, so it’s important to keep finding new ways to market to them, and to target them in the first place.

Now, most potential clients that come your way fall into a “gray area”, where you might not be sure whether to take the client on or not.  Those are the difficult choices.  However, some clients come to you and are instantly recognizable as “right” or wrong.”  For instance, there are certain client situations I have made it a rule to always avoid.  These include situations such as:

The Wrong Types of Clients

1) Found You In Strange Ways.

2) Work you are not qualified to perform.

3) Work you do not have enough time to complete while still providing the best quality services.

4) Clients looking to not pay fair market value, or only focused on price.  .

5) Projects where the client may be a risk to not pay for work performed.

Instead, I have been able to work for the right types of clients and be involved with clients who:

The Right Types of Clients

These clients:

1) Stimulate my intellectual curiosity;

2) Offer me work I can knock out of the ballpark for them;

3) Never put me in situations where I feel uncomfortable.

4) Are appreciative of my work, recognize the extra work I put in, and offer me referrals.

5) Are clients I respect and in many cases with freelance work, are people who I respected even prior to my being retained to work for them.


A lot of the business success comes down to confidence.  Truth be told, almost every success or failure in life comes down to confidence.

If you are a hardworking, trained and talented professional/company, then there is no reason not to believe in the product or service that you are selling, particularly because in many ways that product is likely to be you.

It then immediately follows that if you are in fact dedicated, talented, and hardworking, that you should not suffer the “wrong types of clients,” but rather enjoy the benefits of a mutually beneficial relationship with the “right” types of clients.

This will allow you to have piece of mind.  It will allow you to focus on enhancing your skills and building your business.  More importantly, it will allow you more time to devote to the “right” types of clients.  That is a win-win for everyone involved.

Anybody agree, disagree?  Any real life examples of this principle?

Retrieving Stock Prices in Excel With Macros (or any other web data)

Excel macros

Last week, we built a very simple spreadsheet that allowed us to get the last price of Microsoft’s stock. That can certainly prove very useful but it makes it difficult to gather larger quantities of data. If you were looking for stock prices of 5, 10, 20 or even 50 stocks, what would you? Have 50 different queries running all at once that would get the data. It would certainly not be very efficient. Instead, we can use macros to achieve the same result. I will try to get it done in a simple and clear way to help you understand. I will go line by which should help you understand how it is done. To get started, I created a simple excel file with 2 different tabs.

1st Tab = Ticker List
2nd Tab = Web Query

First off, I will start by creating a macro that goes to the “tickers” tab and reads each ticker. Here is what I get:

As you can see, I have a variable named “I”, this simply replaces the line where I start. For example, i=5 to start off. So when I start, I tell the macro to start at the cells 5,2 (5th line, 2nd row) and move down until that cell is empty. That way, the macro will be able to read the tickers one at a time until there are none. The macro will do the parts between “Do until” and “Loop” until it gets to that condition. Of course, for every ticker, we need to do a web query right? So let’s add a big part that looks scary but really isn’t:

I know, it looks complicated. But you really do have almost nothing to modify here. The only thing we need to change is the “URL” as MSFT will not always be the ticker we are looking for. We do have a variable for that. So let’s use that instead. I will replace:

With:” & ticker & “&ql=0”

That way, I will be do a query for each ticker. The missing part is to capture that price. To do so, I had added a vlookup under the tickers. I will thus simply get the macro take the result of that vlookup and put it in the right cell. Here is what I have before doing this:

Now, I will simply add a simple operation:

Cells(i, 3).Value = Application.VLookup(“Last Trade:”, Sheets(“WEB”).Range(“A1:B1000”), 2, False)

The final result is:

When I run the macro, here is the result:

Clearly, the code could be more optimal, faster, etc. But I think it remains a quick and easy way to get it done. You can download our spreadsheet here and be sure to check our intro of excel macros if you have questions!