How do you convince a potential client to trust you if you don’t have a track record?

You can build and manage a Google Ads campaign. You’ve got the skills and the drive to run a successful agency. Or maybe you're just looking to make a great living as an in-demand freelancer. But you haven’t got case studies, testimonials or references you can use to prove your competence.

This happens a lot when people go out on their own after working in-house or for an agency.

Common advice is to find a small business and offer to build or manage their Google Ads for free. The thinking is that once you’ve shown how good you are, it’ll be easy to convince them to pay you what you’re worth. You’ll use the first business as reference to make closing future sales a piece of cake.

If you can just get that first happy client, the rest will follow.

I bumped into this thinking a lot when I franchised my Google Ads agency some years ago.

My business partner spent hundreds of hours teaching our franchisees to sell. Some franchisees ignored his advice and signed up new clients without any real commitment on their part.

These franchisees didn't charge for building the Google Ads campaign and landing pages, or the initial ad spend. They thought it would be child's play to make the sale once the client had tasted a month's worth of leads.

It was easy to get a business owner to agree to a bundle of free leads. Who wouldn't say yes to a deal like that?

But it didn't work out as expected. I can’t remember a single case where a no-commitment signup turned into a loyal long-term client.

Building free Google Ads campaigns doesn't work as a sales technique.

I'll give you three reasons why and then an alternative approach to making sales which works for me.

The client sabotages your work.

It's not cold-blooded. It's just that they've got no skin in the game. They have no strong reason to put any effort into responding to the leads my franchisees sent them.

They didn't alter their working practice so they could call back quickly. They didn't train their staff to handle the leads. They didn't put systems in place to make sure the staff responded properly.

And so they didn't make any sales. And because they didn't make any sales our franchisees couldn't convince them that Google Ads would work for their business.

It feels like a yes but it's not.

I know many of our franchisees hated selling. I understand that. I'm no salesman. I'm always uncomfortable talking about the money.

They didn't want to hear no so they made it almost impossible for the prospect to say anything but yes. When prospect said yes they could stop selling and start building. For us PPC geeks, tinkering with keywords and ad copy is infinitely more pleasant than sales.

But it wasn't a real yes as in "Yes, I will pay for this service." It was only procrastinating asking for the sale.

It attracts the wrong kind of clients.

Good clients know the value of their time. They expect to pay for professional services. They don’t risk important parts of their businesses on free services from desperate noobs.

How to get a potential client to say yes, even if you don’t have a client testimonials page on your website.

Social proof - testimonials, case studies and references - works because it lowers the feeling of risk.

If you had 50 happy clients right now, ready to recommend you, it wouldn't actually change the risk of doing business with you. You're still the same person with the same skills and resources. All it does is make hiring you feel less iffy.

You can lower that feeling of risk in another way: by reducing the size and duration of the commitment.

I do this with the pilot campaign.

A pilot is a short-term test - a first date. It's the simplest campaign and landing page I can build. It's complete enough to deliver results so the client can see what Google Ads can do, but it doesn't have every feature a mature campaign would have. It doesn’t have multiple ads per ad group. It doesn’t have every possible keyword. It doesn’t have day parting, location or demographic bid adjustments etc. Those optimisations will come later if the client sticks.

And clients do stick. About 4 in 5 pilot campaigns transition seamlessly into ongoing relationships.

The important thing is that the client pays for the pilot campaign. Asking for payment:

  • Filters out people who can’t pay or don’t see the value in paying for professional services.

  • Gets you past the hurdle of making the first sale. Going from $0 to $1 is much harder than going from $500 to $1 500. Start with a small sale now and it's much easier to move onto a more complete solution later.

  • Ensures that the client has skin in the game so they’re more likely to put effort in to make it work.

  • Changes the relationship. You’re not a noob petitioning for work, you’re professional (by definition because they’ve paid you). That means more respect and the client is more likely to listen to what you’re saying.

A pilot campaign make selling easier - even if you have years of experience.

I've been in the Google Ads for more than a decade. I have testimonials, case studies and happy clients who refer business to me, but I still propose a pilot campaign as a starting point for every new client.

It gives me three advantages:

  1. I don't have to write a proposal for every sale. I've got a pilot campaign page on my website I refer people to.

  2. It’s a small enough commitment that the prospect can say yes or no on the spot.

  3. It lets me test drive the client to make sure I like them. Life is too short to deal with toxic clients.

Next: How to build a pilot campaign.

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