Business Analysis · Business Development

Finding the first clients for a software services business?

Dale Grant CoFounder & Enthusiastic Entrepreneur @Assert

Last updated on September 27th, 2019

My business partner and I left our developer/project management roles at a large consultancy firm because we wanted to work for ourselves. We know we will strive to provide the best possible customer service and direct all efforts to deliver above and beyond the quality of product that's expected. It's just finding those first few clients?

We haven't got a billion dollar idea so we want to build applications for people/businesses to start with!

We've worked on applications for several of the FTSE 100 companies.

I also managed a team of developers and managed a project.

Our skills are all with web-based technologies, Javascript & it's frameworks (angular, react).

So how can I find clients who are perhaps smaller than the ones we have worked for and can't afford the large consultancy firms so we won't have to compete with them and who would want to use us? I would obviously try to sell our past experiences, I just don't know who and where to approach the right people?

Any advice would be amazing, thanks very much.

Paul Garcia marketing exec & business advisor

September 30th, 2019

It sounds like the decision to leave might have been a bit hasty if you didn't spend the time to figure out your marketing strategy and test it first before leaving employment.

There are traditional advertising channels, but remember that programming/developer skills are seen as a commodity, so the amount of advertising to stand out, be noticed, and be selected is much higher than when your skills are unique. Yes, you have project history, but how do people know this? Is it the reason they hire developers? Is the reason they make decisions based on price? If it is, there's always someone willing to take less.

What you need to work on now is communicating value. This is the primary ingredient for your advertising messages. Leverage relationships that you may have where you can tell people you have split on your own and why this is a good thing. You don't want to bad-mouth your former employer, but you will need a compelling reason why you left. Otherwise people will think you were incompetent and were sacked, or that you're difficult to work with or had big egos and couldn't get along with other developers.

Consultancy is 60% sales, 40% work. You will need to budget your expectations accordingly. You will spend more than half your time seeking clients, so what you charge will need to account for the smaller part of your time that is actually generating revenue. Even when you're doing development work, you need to continue selling if you expect a steady stream of clients. Otherwise it's going to be feast and famine in a cycle, scrambling to fill a void when you finish a project.

Consultancy is unreliable as it comes to steady business. But the more you work on your value proposition, the more you'll understand who your target market actually is, and then you can refine your approach to speak to that audience in compelling ways.

Remember the three elements of persuasion. For someone to make a buying decision they must comprehend:

1) the personal benefit

2) the dramatic difference

3) the reason(s) to believe

Most people are good at #3, your prior experience lends credibility. #2 is the hardest because being 20% different isn't enough to make people switch from what they're doing today to solve problems. It needs to be 50%+ different than other options available to be persuasive. The personal benefit is about how it helps the individual, not the company. For example does it help them look good in the way they are measured by their boss?

Good luck. You have made a brave move with little preparation. Hopefully you have some cushion while you work on your marketing strategy.

Gunnar Skeid Tech entrepreneur with 15+ years experience

September 27th, 2019

There exists recruiters and brokers that you can sell your services through. Also you could rent yourself out through other consultancy companies or staffing businesses, just leave them enough margin to make it interesting for them.

Anuj B. Gopal Seasoned Entrepreneur who grew a bootstrapped AIoT startup to clock $15M revenue. Seeking co-founder

October 1st, 2019

Hi Dale,

Happy to hear that you want to help others in realizing their startup ideas by providing your technical expertise as service. That's much valuable than any billion dollar idea within startup community.

To get start and find the clients, I would like to suggest followings guideline:

  • build a strong team, technical and business development(who will find clients for you). Initially any of founders may take this responsibility but it would be better to find someone with good networking and communication skills. It's highly recommended for technical co-founders.
  • built a elegant portfolio, that should reflect your tech expertise with outcome(popularity or commercial milestone achieved by your work). If you didn't have any you may state about your existing FTSE100 work assignments at a abstract level(by hiding clients and business information smartly).
  • create a strategy that clearly define the kind of clients(organizations or individuals) you want to target, budget, tech stack & time frame. Now try to figure out their business/market requirements to identify what kind of solutions(like chatbot, custom hardware etc) they might be looking for.
  • now create a pitch deck (3 to 9 pages long maximum) by aggregating all above insights and highlight why you should be the best people for such work. Don't put any information about your service fees/pricing.
  • if you want to reduce the competitions then pitch on quality rather pricing
  • to identify prospect clients, you can use LinkedIn Sales Navigator premium account(its free for first month) and other social media groups, visit most of startup events to promote your services, approach incubators/co-working spaces/industry meet-up events etc. Don't forget to use your pitch deck with industry knowledge you have gathered/analyzed.
  • use your network, pass the words to all your direct/indirect contacts and ask them to refer you (not your venture, because you've more credibility) for advice(an easy ways to understand client requirements) or assignments
  • initially focus more on building a good relationship than profit
  • if you find any difficulty in doing these steps, then I would recommend you to find a business expert co-founder/partner first.

At startups, everything is tough initially but with your daily efforts it becomes handy. Same is true about life.

All the best!


Egor Litvinenko Software Architect, Engineer

October 6th, 2019

We are on the same way.

I mean we also a software company, more specific to backend solutions.

In my history, clients find me mostly because of specific skills.

In general, I think it's more about relationships and truth.

We also have one hypothesis. Instead of searching for clients, advertisements, marketing and etc. Make interesting research and publish results. I mean interesting for possible clients. It could be tricky because needs even more time.

Unfortunately, I could share the results of this approach in November (we are going to publish the first article from the research on the next week). See what it will get.

Anuj B. Gopal Seasoned Entrepreneur who grew a bootstrapped AIoT startup to clock $15M revenue. Seeking co-founder

Last updated on October 7th, 2019

@Egor: As you said, "Make interesting research and publish results."

I have successfully used this technique many times to scale business on multiple horizon. It's a full proof concept, don't wait, use it boldly.

Paul Garcia marketing exec & business advisor

October 7th, 2019

What @Anuj is suggesting is one small element of an inbound marketing strategy called content marketing. By itself it is a tactic, not a strategy. In the long run, content marketing can be powerful, but it is not fast. As with many things, you can only have two of the three options at the same time be high: speed, cost savings, quality. Content marketing is high quality and high cost savings, so it will be low speed.