Finding Clients and Closing Files: The Secret Start-Up Sauce

Posted on Posted in The BMU Blog

Those of you who have been following my journey (one article deep), have probably gauged that it is nerve-wrecking. For those that are new to the party, I have been running Butter Me Up for over a year – and it has been hard. As I say that, the voice in my head chimes in, “Shouldn’t it be? You complained the last time it wasn’t.” She’s cheeky.

Here are the things I’ve learnt along the way. And, as much as I love to advocate learning from your own mistakes, in business, I think it’s wise to learn from somebody else’s to get a headstart (and not lose any extra dough in the process – because that’s what really matters).

Let down your hair

I wish (that’s a lie, I really don’t) – I’m 25, drink way too many cups of coffee per day and enjoy being in bed by 9 pm, preferably with a book. My ideal night is a couple of glasses of wine with mother dearest, followed by the aforementioned cuddle sesh with my book. As great as that sounds, it isn’t going to help me at work (neither is a hangover from raging too hard on a week night because I wanted to “network”). What I mean is, anybody and everybody is a potential client. All you have to do is get out of your comfort zone and find them! Friends, family, acquaintances, networking events, weddings, hell, I found a client while waiting in the line for the ladies room once. Just remember to always carry your business cards and memorise your elevator pitch (or in this case your washroom queue pitch)!

Take up a new language

Catching a would-be client’s attention isn’t enough. Keeping it is what counts. Each client speaks a very different language so you better be multilingual. Being in the creative space, I tend to speak to clients “creatively” – wrong. Research the client, their goals, their modus operandi, and most importantly, their language. There’s nothing worse than walking into a meeting with a “shark” without stats and spreadsheets because you expect your puns to win you the job. Likewise, there’s nothing worse than sounding like a middle-aged corporate clone to a trendy, young startup founder. Find your balance, learn all the different ways to explain what you do, and why it’s important to potential clients.

Become a number cruncher

Learn to hold your ground and truly believe in the value of your product or service. I definitely learnt this the hard way. At the start, you are scared and tempted. Scared to lose a potential client and tempted to say “yes” to all their demands. Don’t. You don’t start a company if you think you think you’ve got a shitty idea, and if that is what you think, I’m sorry but I think it’s time to close down. You need to eat, breathe, sleep, and believe in your brand! That way, when you’re in a room with your client (who may be the CEO of the biggest MNC or a fellow startup founder), you’re in there as equals. Don’t get bullied – and don’t bully anybody either. Stand your ground, know your product, and be confident about your pricing structure. Confidence is key.

Sign everything

An aunty I knew used to always say, “Beta, if you give away the popsicles for free, who will pay for the ice cream truck?” I never took her advice in the way she intended it but today it rings loud and I’ve finally begun to listen.  

Trust nobody. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but let me explain. As mentioned above, you’re tempted to do whatever your client asks for just to not lose them. This often involves agreeing to do more than what you’d initially agreed upon – throwing in a written piece here for free, or a graphic there for a third of the price, sometimes even campaign ideas or discounted website designs to maintain the relationship. Don’t be naive. Put everything – and I mean everything – down in a detailed contract. If there is one thing you need to invest in, it is a lawyer. I’ve done many a favour and kicked myself in the ass for it later. Dates, timelines, work scope – put it all down. It is business at the end of the day and the more professional you are, the better. And generally, if someone has a problem signing papers before you start working, you might need to question why that is and whether you want to be in a partnership with someone that won’t let you protect yourself. Remember, the less that’s written down, the more room there is for errors down the road.

You’ve heard this before, but remember that ‘time is money’

This is internal. Bad time management is instant Start-Up Poison™. I don’t mean this in just a multitasking ninja sort of way. I mean this in a “don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t overthink (what you think is) the big stuff” kind of way. I’m guilty of having spent one too many hours (or maybe even days) fretting over these white ergonomic office chairs and wasted an embarrassing amount of time trying to “beautify” the office. Unlike most people, I truly believe that startup or not, it is crucial to have a comfortable office space that encourages your team to flex their creative muscles and outdo themselves. That being said, time is money so you should know where to spend it and what can be skipped. It is important to find a balance; that’s what reflects in the work you do.

Cardinal rule: Don’t break promises

In all the excitement of signing a new client, you‘ve promised them the moon and if you’ve listened to what I have to say, you’ve shaken, signed, and sealed it. Can you deliver it? Never guarantee more than you are certain you can deliver because there’s nothing worse than not getting a second chance. This may be your baby, but your client’s brand is theirs and you should be sure to only promise what you can give them. If that’s the moon and some stars, then you’re obviously doing it right.


That being said, what always seems to work for us is lots of butter and a big smile.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *