I was still a newbie to Los Angeles when I launched my branding studio, Colin Is My Name. I built a snazzy website; I had some beautiful (and expensive) business cards letter-pressed. I updated my LinkedIn profile and took some new photos.
But even with all the garnish in place, I was still missing a main course, and I wouldn't have the full plate I wanted until I snagged myself some clients. I couldn't understand why all of my tweeting and Craigslist-posting was bringing in nothing but dregs—armchair business-people wanting to pay $25 for a logo, and crafty marketers hoping to trick young designers into doing free work in exchange for a glowing recommendation. Even more so, I only had about a month's worth of rent money in the bank, leaving me broke in a city full of people I didn't know and who—as far as I could tell—didn't want to know me.
Underwhelmed and overwrought, I did what anyone would do in my place: I went out for a drink.
Grabbing a drink in LA isn't cheap, so this was a big investment to me. I took my girlfriend to a wine bar down the street; I could only afford one glass each. We milked our Malbec and enjoyed the ambiance, and on our way out, my girlfriend ran into someone she knew. While she caught up with her friend, I chatted with the other members of the group. As usual, one of the first things people wanted to know is what I did for a living.
The question came from a woman looking to upgrade her jazz label’s brand, and once she saw my card, she was sold, and I had found my first client. The more I went out to wine bars, gallery openings and premieres, the longer my client list grew.
I realized that although I had talent and a well-developed platform through which to show my work and capabilities, I hadn't been getting that information in front of the right people. It was as if I had constructed a five-star hotel and decided to advertise exclusively in the penny-saver classifieds: my product was good, but I wasn't looking for my audience in the right place.
I made socializing and networking—in person—a huge part of my business model. About 80 percent of my clients came to me not through social media, as I had anticipated, but through in-person chats at various functions. I shot from zero clients to dozens within four months. I also enjoyed my lifestyle a whole lot more after I realized that I could reshape it into something more appealing to me, while increasing my revenue as a result.
If you aren't meeting the right kinds of customers or clients, try fishing further upstream, in another river, or hunting quail instead. There's no shame in changing course, and you may find that very small change can pay very large dividends, for your business and your lifestyle.
Colin Wright is a serial entrepreneur and author who moves to a new country every 4 months based on the votes of his readers at Exile Lifestyle. He is also a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business's development and growth.