How to Find Offline Clients and Local Design Contracts

There’s been a distinct focus on large companies in the design world. While freelancers and small design firms often work extensively with small companies and local businesses, the large majority of designers seem to aspire to work with major corporations and international companies. It makes sense from an income perspective – after all, the money is better with bigger companies, right?

Not always. As tempting as those six-figure design budgets and large projects may be, the majority of big business design contracts tend to fall into the hands of an in-house design team. With a huge number of designers desperate for work, mega-corporations and once lucrative sources of work just aren’t that interested in working with another firm anymore, preferring to manage design internally.

While this may seem like a problem, it’s left one small but equally lucrative web design field wide open: local web design. Despite being less glamorous and much less fun to dream about, local web design is just as much of an opportunity for freelancers and small design firms as a large company can be.

These seven tactics can help you expand your local client network, gain more design contracts, and become the go-to service provider in your area for web design. Not all are based online either, so it may be worth dusting off your business attire (you do own a collared shirt, don’t you) and meeting with prospective clients directly.

Remember that offline businesses are marketed to all the time.

If you’re ever been rebuffed by a local business owner, don’t take it personally. Most small business owners are approached – either directly or through mail – very often, leaving them with little time for proposals and limited patience for service providers and firms promising new business.

Remember that offline businesses are marketed to all the time

The key in marketing to local businesses rests in being different – being a Purple Cow. Pitching the benefits of a website isn’t particularly difficult, but empathizing with a local business owner can be. Adjust to working slowly and remember that you’re not the only person offering a service, though you could be the only person offering a web design service.

Track down the local chamber of commerce and other small business organizations.

Want to gain an instant point of connection with local business owners? Attend a meeting with your local chamber of commerce. Whether you live in a small town or a major city, it’s highly likely that your area is home to at least one small business organization or business development club.

Track down the local chamber of commerce and other small business organizations

Join the group for a meeting to explain how your services can help them and you’ll gain an instant point of reference to use in future pitches and negotiations. We’ve found that businesses rarely work with designers directly from meetings, but they do use them as a networking point and a chance for building new connections. This risk-free strategy can help you gain important connections into local business circles – perfect for gaining referral business in the future.

Search locally and tailor emails to each prospective client.

The easiest businesses to market web design services to aren’t those without a website, but those with an old, outdated, and ineffective website. They’re the type of businesses that understand how valuable an effective web presence can be – after all, they had a decent looking website in 2002.

Search locally and tailor emails to each prospective client

Finding these businesses is simple, just search “city + industry” in Google and you’ll be inundated with ugly small business websites. Track down their contact details and offer to improve their web presence, improving their search placement in the process. Most outdated local websites are built with minimal attention to SEO, giving your design work noticeable benefits for their visibility as well as their brand.

Direct mail isn’t dead, it’s just incompatible with spam.

If there’s one marketing method that feels stone age for designers, it’s direct mail. We’re accustomed to contacting clients online, managing projects through email, and competing for projects on search engines and design directories. But as archaic as direct mail can feel, it’s a very effective way to get the attention of local businesses, provided you give it the right treatment.

Direct mail isn’t dead, it’s just incompatible with spam.

Never treat direct mail as you would an email list. Those mailing list titles, vague subject lines, and general emails may be effective with established clients and tech-savvy contacts, but they’re likely to be filed as junk by local businesses. Remember our first point – local businesses are marketed to all the time – and treat your mail messages as you would a personal introduction, not a casual quote.

Cold calling? Sell on the benefits of a new website, not the website itself.

Cold introductions certainly aren’t for the faint hearted, but they can be fantastic for generating local business and expanding your network of region-specific clients. They’re also a great way of learning to face rejection well – seeing your Adwords advertisements ignored is one thing, but being hung up on really hurts.

Cold calling? Sell on the benefits of a new website, not the website itself

The hardest part of marketing to local businesses is realizing that many of them don’t understand the value of a website. Small businesses are accustomed to generating sales locally, leading to suspicion whenever a new way of generating business is offered. Whenever you pitch to a local client that’s unfamiliar with the internet, stress the benefits of a website, not the website itself.

Small businesses understand referrals. Make sure you ask for them.

Local businesses may not understand the value of a website, but they do understand the value of referral business. No matter what their industry or who their sales base may be, it’s highly unlikely that your offline clients will keep to themselves about who they’re getting services from and how effective they’re proving to their business.

Small businesses understand referrals. Make sure you ask for them.

Tailor your service around referral business and you’ll find yourself generating clients from design contracts that happened years ago. While it’s slightly tacky (albeit effective) to ask your clients for referrals outright, it’s easy to let them know they’re welcome – add a small notice to the bottom of your invoices, or even suggest discounted services in exchange for their recommendation.

Never underestimate the value of being approached. Be visible in local search and you’ll get clients contacting you.

Is your design agency listed locally? With a focus on international contracts and large clients, it’s easy to forget that a huge number of could-be clients are searching for designers locally. A small city may have its own thriving web design local results page – an outlet that’s often packed with your competitors and ripe with opportunity for your agency to dominate.

Be visible in local search and you’ll get clients contacting you

Designers that work from an office space can list their business address on Google Places, securing a spot on local map listings and opening another outlet for generating local business. It’s quite scary how often simple marketing methods like a local listing are passed over by designers that deal with online clients, especially once you see how many clients a map listing can generate.

Recommended Resources:

Find Your Local Chamber of Commerce: Search through American chamber of commerce groups and small business organizations. Limited to American cities only, however a number of websites offer a similar international service.

Yellow Pages: If you’re contacting local businesses directly, the Yellow Pages can be a surprisingly useful tool. Look for businesses that have a phone number listed but no website – they’re likely to be interested in extending their online visibility with a website.

Images by ShutterStock

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 5th, 2010 at 09:56 and is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Mathew Carpenter is an 18-year-old business owner and entrepreneur from Sydney, Australia. Mathew is currently working on AddToDesign, a website which provides value added design buzz, along with Design-Newz, the premier source for aggregated design news. Follow Mathew on Twitter: @matcarpenter.

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3 Responses »

  1. People really underestimate the power of old-school marketing. I’m glad to see an article like this, pointing out all the ways to locally promote a small business.

    Thanks for the article!