Do you need experience to get experience?
When you’re just starting out with a new venture – whether that’s freelancing for the first time, changing career or offering a new service – you don’t always have proof you can do it.
But clients and customers usually want to see your results before they’ll feel comfortable taking a risk with their health, wallet or website.
And fair enough, right? Who wants to be a dentist’s first patient? Who wants to pay for a new acne treatment without knowing that it won’t burn your skin?
Who wants to sign up for a web design course that turns out to be a repurposed blog post from 1999?
The easiest way to persuade clients of your competence is with evidence of your experience and past results. As a copywriter, I know clients feel reassured when they can take a peek at my previous work.
No matter how shiny the proposal is, it’s those testimonials and links to past projects that say, “your website is in safe hands.”
Ditto for any service, course or programme.
(There’s a reason copywriters bang on about social proof so often.)
But how do you convince new clients you can deliver the goods, if you don’t have any proof yet? How do you get experience without experience?
This is the Permission Paradox: you need your prospective client or customer to give you permission to demonstrate your ability to help them.
How to persuade new clients you’re a safe bet when you have no proof (yet)
There are some folks who’d say that if you don’t have the experience yet, just… make it up. Say you’ve done the thing.
Say of course you have happy clients but, you just can’t share the work because of ‘privacy concerns’. If you know you can do the work, that’s all that matters. But is it?
Here’s why I disagree:
When you provide a service, you’re building a relationship based on trust. If you want it to be more than a one-time thing – if you want the person to listen to your advice, to hire you again, to recommend you to others – they need to believe in you. It’s like when people exaggerate their height or age or tennis-playing prowess on dating apps. You’re going to get found out. It doesn’t matter if you would’ve been a perfect match.
It’s not unreasonable for a client to expect you to have some first-hand experience. Imagine if you got on a plane and the pilot was like, “yeah, technically I’ve not flown a plane before, but I’ve read the manual. Wheels up!” – err, no thanks.
You shouldn’t need to trick someone into using your services. You can still get a ‘yes’ without pretending your entire portfolio is hidden in a top-secret, time-travelling bunker. (Yes, that’s a Dark reference.)
A better way to win over new clients
If you know you can deliver the goods but you don’t quite have the proof yet, here are some things to say instead:
Walk them through your process. Explain exactly what you will do at each stage and how that will get them the desired result. Relate it to something you HAVE done, showing how that experience is relevant to this situation. For example: “This is the first time I’ve run this course in this format, but I’ve used this approach with clients thousands of times and got these results…”
Refer to industry experts and demonstrate your expertise through your understanding of what they did. Use stats and case studies to show you know why their approach worked, and explain how you’ll apply it here.
Give the client more control. Reassure them you’ll check in regularly to make sure they’re happy and let them sign off on each stage in the process before you move on to the next part. No surprises. (If you’re selling a one-to-many offer, an alternative might be a money-back guarantee of some sort, if you can.)
Be honest and think strategically. Could you invite them to participate as a beta tester? Position it as an opportunity to test-drive a new offer? Incentivise them to take a chance on a newbie with an ‘introductory rate’ in exchange for some constructive feedback?
Marketing is full of charlatans. Let’s not create any more.
What do you think? Is it ok to use a little artistic license when your testimonial file is on the thin side? As a client or customer, how much does someone’s experience play a role in your decision to hire or buy?
I would love to hear what you think. Drop your thoughts in the comments.