Here’s the thing about promoting your brand-new business or service -
We all need the validation that people not only want our services, but are willing to pay for them.
So getting those first few clients can be critical to building up confidence that you’re on the right path.
But let’s be honest about why we’re actually promoting ourselves.
It’s all about money and control, right?
The more clients you land, the more you can potentially add to your bottom line.
Hell, on top of having that extra income, by producing a portfolio of clients and successful case studies you can transition to doing this full-time and living life on your own terms.
But there are two big questions startups and freelancers struggle with in their infancy:
#1 - Where do I start?
#2 - Where do I find clients?
We’ve written about how 30 entrepreneurs found their first 100 customers.
But now, let’s look at a bold approach one person used that resulted in over 170 requests for his services in under three hours (!!!).
Where did this “bold approach” take place?
This brave Redditor’s name? Alex Clark.
In this article, we’re going to break down:
- The mental barriers Alex had to overcome to put himself out there
- The copywriting strategies he used in his Reddit post
- How he strategically used free work to his advantage (and ‘yes’ - you can too)
- The opportunities that came Alex’s way after his post
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE?
Let’s give you a little bit of background information about Alex Clark. He was a manager and teacher, first in Korea and then in Taiwan, where he still lives now.
He built an MVP app that racked up close to five figures in development costs. Though, after completing the app, he lost all interest in the project.
Instead he directed his focus toward learning copywriting. But he needed to get honest feedback on whether copywriting was a viable career option.
So he reached out to professional copywriters Sean Ogle and Derek Johanson for career advice.
Sean Ogle from LocationRebel.com
And guess what?
They replied fast.
They gave Alex AMAZING and supportive responses (which he’s printed and framed on his wall).
After that, he went all in to learn the art of persuasive copywriting.
He worked at it for three months.
He practiced. He studied.
But he needed to get some experience under his belt.
So he made a decision.
It was time to get down to business, in order to actually get some business.
He had to test out his skills to make sure business owners actually WANTED his services.
So he went where thousands of entrepreneurs hang out on a daily basis: Reddit.
Whoa, hold on a sec.
We all know that Reddit can be a BRUTAL place. Reddit has a lively audience that’s willing to take part in any conversation.
But it also has a HARSH reputation for putting you down in flames if you try to self-promote on the platform.
Life of a Marketer on Reddit. From personal experience, this is pretty damn accurate.
That’s why business owners and marketers avoid promoting on Reddit the way you avoid talking politics with your grandparents.
As explained in a recent article by Si Quan Ong, a Reddit promotions specialist:
“Reddit is a site with a reputation of destroying self-serving marketers. Yes, it is scary [to promote yourself or your services]. Yes, they can be pretty vicious. But don’t let them deter you from promoting.
If you truly have great content, and all you desire is to help the community and add value, don’t let a few naysayers bring you down.”
In other words, if you’ve got something to offer the community, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
And that’s exactly what Alex did.
In Alex’s own words:
“I care about what people think and don’t want to come across as a salesman. But then I came to the realization that if you have a good skillset...and you don’t have to be the best...and people are struggling with the skillset [you’ve studied and sharpened] - it helps to say “fuck it” and go against the voice nagging you to ‘not be that guy.’”
Now, on top of having to make that tough mental shift, imagine having your back up against the wall due to mounting debt from an app you built and didn’t want to pursue anymore.
This was Alex's reality.
And with that kind of pressure on him, he wasn't going to let a few downvotes and nasty comments deter him from AT LEAST TRYING to change his situation using a skill he was confident in.
Bring it, Reddit.
So let's dive into the Reddit post that generated over 170 requests for Alex’s copywriting services in under three hours.
There you have it in all its glory: the Reddit post that produced 170 leads in a few hours.
Hook ‘em with the Title:
As HubSpot put it, “Titles are what sell the content. [And while the title] isn’t the only important element of a blog post, it is usually a potential reader’s first impression of your content.”
That first impression could either be: “Hmm...maybe I’ll click the link and read on.” OR “Nah!”
To hook his audience, Alex communicates a service with a clear benefit: saving time and energy.
He’s offering up services that he knows the audience on this forum is hungry for.
Alex also knows that this particular group embraces bootstrapping. So the phrase “without spending a cent” sounds enticing to his audience.
Now he’s listing all the upsides of hiring him:
He loves persuasive copy. He loves words that convert “tire kickers” into paying customers. He studies and practices his craft.
And he’s willing to do it for FREE.
If he sucks, you’ve lost a little time and no money, and you’ll know “never again” with this guy.
If he’s awesome, you’ve “hired” a guy for free to pad your bottom line.
Have you ever heard of Brian Dean’s “bucket brigades”? How about Copyblogger’s “internal cliffhangers”? How about “grease-slide copy”?
They’re all different terms to describe what Alex does with this line.
As explained by Brian Dean, “So what’s this mean for you?” is one of those phrases that keeps people reading—and keeps them on your page for longer. Some other examples of this:
Just imagine. We’ve all been there. And you’d be right. Then it hit me.
And the list goes on. These are powerful terms that entice people to stay on your page and read the entire ad, post or article.
The higher the read time on your page, the more valuable Google will think your article is.
And that equals a boost in ranking. You’re welcome, SEO junkies.
A couple of points about this section:
Alex highlights the word “FREE” in bold.
That word is catnip to all business owners, but especially cash-strapped startups.
Then he clearly defines his capabilities and the results he’s aiming for:
“better conversions, not ‘creative writing’”
Again, this verbiage speaks to any entrepreneur who is looking to grow their business and increase their bottom line.
He defines his target audience as ‘“the little guy” who is just starting out.
If a CMO was to DM him, sure he’d take them on.
But in this SPECIFIC audience he was addressing, he knew that he would find more bootstrapping startups than CMOs.
There’s that grease-slide copy/internal cliffhanger again.
First, we love this hint of a “dare” to ignore his message. It’s hard to ignore that poke.
Second, he lays it all out as to what you can expect.
By reiterating that you are paying him nothing to create a campaign that will:
- make you money OR
- build your email list OR
- generate more sales leads
In other words, the deal is all upside for you.
And at the end, here he is poking the bear and driving home that CTA with a little FOMO. Well done.
THE BENEFITS OF STRATEGICALLY DOING FREE WORK
We can see you rolling your eyes after reading this title. Put your ego aside, newbie, and hear us out.
What’s the point of advertising your services for free, like Alex did?
1. It gives you validation.
That is, validation that people want your services.
With 170 people reaching out to Alex within three hours of his post going live, we’d say he got the green light to pursue his business further.
2. It produces customers that you can use as case studies and/or social proof that your services helped them:
- gain new leads
- increase sales
- convert “tire kickers” into customers
- and more
Potential customers/clients love PROOF. Show them.
3. Niche down on what you want to focus on
When you first start, you may go broad doing email copy, long-form sales page copy, Facebook ad copy, etc.
After testing the waters, you may find that long-form sales page copy is your strong suit.
It's what you enjoy most.
Lock it in and focus.
By niching down into that frame, you can start marketing and pricing that particular service as your specialty.
4. Get a deeper understanding of needs and services that your client doesn’t even KNOW they’re missing.
If you’re new to this niche, doing free work is a FANTASTIC opportunity for you to get behind-the-scenes of your client's operations.
You'll be able to find out:
- what their goals are for their business
- what other services you can offer that will make their life easier—in other words, possibilities for upselling.
Think about it this way -
When you know your customers’ frustrations and goals inside and out, you can easily write sales copy that relates to, and fixes, their specific problems.
And when your ideal customer reads it, they’ll think to themselves, “It’s like you’re reading my mind!”
And you’ll be in the forefront OF THEIR MIND when they need your services down the line.
5. Create opportunities for upselling
Let’s flesh out an example.
A client has you write persuasive copy for their Facebook ads.
But you also have experience running Facebook ad campaigns to target their ideal customer.
So what you thought was going to be a $250 one-time service has turned into $750 a month + sales commission for consulting work.
Still need more proof?
Look at the cold outreach email you could write before getting that experience under your belt:
Now look at the one you could write after having ONE free client, that you did recon on, under your belt:
Which one is an easy “HELL YEAH!” for the client? Exactly.
SO WHAT HAPPENED TO ALEX?
Where we left him, having just posted to Reddit, he’s not living a baller’s life ... yet.
He replied to all 170 people who reached out to him. Some were “donkey leads.”
And some were good.
He did some writing, some consulting.
And not just for free.
He got two paying clients out of it.
But his story doesn’t end there.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” -Seneca
A headhunter for a company found his profile, out of the blue, online.
They initially said they looking for a social media manager.
But in ACTUALITY, they were looking for a writer to create cold sales emails for their clients.
It just so happens that Alex has been studying like crazy and writing his assets off for the past three months doing just that.
Some of the perks of doing what he loves for a company instead of going out 100% on his own:
- It gives him time to level up his skills, while getting paid for it.
- He gets to see how a large company executes their promotions—not to mention how his co-workers write their copy, how the company does research for their clients, and more. These are all skills he can use for any freelance work he does in the future.
- A company can fund his personal development as a copywriter. That includes taking online courses, attending conferences, and more.
- And finally, after a certain period, he can hint at working remotely!
STUCK? IT'S YOUR TURN:
Words of wisdom from Alex:
“Try shit out. Really try to figure out what you like and don’t like and go further than you did last time. There’s different kinds of giving up and quitting -- and the worst is turning your back on the whole thing. Quit on the stepping stone if it’s not aligned with what you want to do versus quitting on the entire journey of [bettering yourself]”.
You have an opportunity to start something.
Will you get rejected?
Will you learn a new skill that will help you get to the place you’d like to be? Perhaps.
In short, your dedication to trying things out and doing what it takes to get results, is what will separate you from the pack.
This is how you make leaps in your own personal development while others move the dial in tiny increments.
This is how you take control.