I don't have previous customers/testimonials, willing to give a discount if necessary. How do I know which companies need content creation (blog posts, copywriting, whitepapers, email marketing) and don't already have an in house writer?
Apart from having testimonials, you can prove your abilities by publishing content.
You could apply the Pain/Dream/Fix copywriting technique to prove to particular businesses that you understand their expensive problem.
You're probably going to find smaller businesses that can't yet hire full-time marketing or copywriting staff.
Describe their painful problem - describe the symptoms - of not having good, captivating content.
Then paint the dream for them. What does that content do for them to get new leads, or to cement the relationship with existing clients?
And finally, offer your solution, although your own writing will do a lot of the heavy lifting here.
Much marketing seems to try speaking about the service provider's solution: "here are our skills and experience." But I think describing the prospects' symptoms first, you're not leaving them to connect your solution to their pain.
If you'd like to have a call with me to help you save some false starts, I can share more specific advice.
Hi - many freelance gig economy marketplaces have customers publishing such requirements. Register on them and make compelling pitches. Examples are fiverr, upwork, freelancer, contently, clarity(!), and dozens others. Be ready to negotiate first few at very competitive rates or payment only on acceptance basis.
Once you have some successes you should make a 3-6-9 month revenue plan.
Hope this helps. All the best.
Co-incidentally, I ran a content creation business virtually, and had the same problem. You need to identify clearly who your audience is depending on the type of content you produce. So if you make infographics, maybe a highly technical data driven client that is looking to present their content in a more interesting manner would be an ideal match. Then when you do find out who your ideal client is, if they're in the B2B space, I'd say email marketing works well. You'd have to reach them on email to figure out if they'd like your services. You might need to email about a 1000 people to even just get a couple of leads, like 2 or 3 that actually become paying customers. I'm happy to jump on a call and share more information if you'd like.
Establish an online presence, and start local. Identify gaps that exist in the content strategy of local businesses in your area - 'ma and pa' type shops are a good place to start - and approach them directly, with a clear and concise value add.
Small businesses are budget conscious, so they need to know exactly what they're getting for the money they're spending. If you don't have clear and tangible metrics that can demonstrate the success of your past work, it's definitely worth ironing that out a bit more. ie. What was the open rate of your email marketing strategy; the click-through rate, etc? How many impressions, engagements, conversions, etc?
You also mentioned that you don't have any previous customers or testimonials to offer when pitching your services, which could hinder you. It may be worthwhile to either ask your previous employer for an online review, or offer up a few pro bono projects to friends/family in exchange for a testimonial. Ideally you'd have these listed online for prospective customers to view, along with a sample of your work.
By talking to them. Welcome to the world of sales! I would like to ask why you started a business with no clue how to find customers, though, as it seems like you've skipped some steps. You need to start reaching out to businesses if you're going to find clients. If you're just bootstrapping, I would start calling and emailing just about anyone under the sun, and trying to network with others in your market. You need to gain a little traction first before you can better consider how to scale.
Identifying your target customer is step one, though, and really should have been done before you even started the business, to ensure there is demand for what you're providing. You also need to have a defined value proposition, especially as you are entering a highly saturated marketplace filled with experts commanding very high salaries, and LOTS of people scrambling for any business they can get.
I'm also curious as to why you started an agency versus freelancing...