Perhaps the most daunting aspect of starting a new small service based business is building a client base. Of course, there is nothing quite so exciting as getting those first few clients.
When trying to generate new business, it is important to cast a wide net as you never know where potential clients may be lurking. There are many ways to build a client base, even with limited resources, some of which are discussed below:
Word of Mouth: Perhaps, no other form of promotion is as powerful as a recommendation from someone you know. You should let family, friends, former colleagues and even acquantainces where appropriate know that you have embarked on a small business venture to increase your chances of getting a recommendation.
Website: A website need not be expensive. With a little HTML knowledge, you can use free composers like wordpress or download free templates from the internet which are easily modified. Also, often web hosting plans come with free access to website building tools. Initially, the website does not have to be fancy as long as you can succinctly communicate your services in an aesthetically pleasing way. Meta tags/search terms should be as specific possible to ensure that you have a high ranking in search engines.
Craigslist/Kijiji: A weekly posting under the appropriate category at Craigslist and Kijiji is a simple and free way to bring in new clients. The ads should catchy and compelling, and ideally link to your website. Additionally, you should also periodically scan the jobs section for contract positions.
Recruiting Agencies: It costs nothing to sign up with recruiting agencies for temporary or part time positions. My first non word of mouth client came from a recruiting agency who was looking for someone to help train a new employee. This led to a twice a week stint for about 6 months, followed by a recommendation to a friend. I continue to act as a consultant for both clients.
Faceboook Business Page: Setting up a Facebook fan page for your website can be a good way to communicate with new and existing clients. There are many apps that can be used to enhance your page. To extend the reach of your Facebook page, you have the option of promoting your page with ads for which you can set the amount you are willing to pay per day for a finite period of time.
Networking Group: Joining a networking group can be a fun way to meet diverse people, use your business cards, share business building stories and generate some business. Finding groups can be done via a simple google search using your city name and "networking events".
Community/Alternative/Transit/University Newspaper: Advertising in various smaller publications, whether it be classifieds or block ads, can be fairly inexpensive. The readership should be assessed to determine which publication best reaches your target market.
Google ad words: Since you only pay per click, this is another good way to reach new clients, inexpensively. The more specialized the service and the ad, the better chances of success.
There are numerous ways to reach clients. Unfortunately, when starting from scratch, these almost always take time. Ultimately, no matter how good the service, you need patience, a healthy savings account and frugality to get through the initial months and understand that it often takes years to build a thriving business.