Marketing and sales are two challenging aspects of web design. Web designers in various settings often think about where the next project is coming from. For freelancers, it’s exciting to sign up a new client for a long-term project. But there is always a little anxiousness about what to do after that time is over.
And even for agencies the concern is real. Things could be going well now, but what if the biggest client on the agency’s roster decided to do more in-house design next year or what if they get a better quote from a competing agency?
Are Your New Clients Drying Up? These Tips Will Help
Getting new clients is often cited as one of the biggest challenges for businesses. In a recent survey it was found that generating leads, getting new clients and gaining marketing expertise were top challenges for small businesses.
That same survey found that referrals are the most popular channel for new clients (72%).
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Getting new clients through referrals and word-of-mouth are wonderful for businesses including agencies and freelancers. But relying exclusively on referrals to drive your business can be risky.
To ensure consistent growth, it’s best to build multiple sources of new clients. Here is how you can do this for yourself or your web design business.
1. Partnerships & Referrals
As the study above found, referrals are the best and often the biggest source of new clients for small businesses and that’s true for many freelancers and design agencies. It’s great to have a solid pipeline of referrals coming in, but often what happens is that referrals come in naturally and over time it’s possible to take that for granted.
It’s good to understand why you are (or perhaps why you aren’t) getting referrals. This involves listening to what your clients are saying about you. Listen to what they really like about your service. Maybe they like certain aspects of your personality. Maybe they like that you treat them like they’re smart, but also take the time to answer “basic” questions.
Know what you do well and continue to build on those strengths. Make sure you do those things with every client as much as possible. You’ll probably do it naturally, but as you grow you can lose some of those qualities, but if you’re aware of it you can build on them and make sure they remain in your core.
Also look to build more referral channels. Referrals can come from partners including developers, advertising agencies, social media agencies, marketing agencies and even other design agencies.
You can build partnerships in many ways including in person, social media groups, etc. Find companies and individuals that share your target clients and build relationships. Get to know them and what they do. These relationships can lead to some great referrals because you’ll be in mind when a potential client asks your partners, “Do you know anyone that does design?” And the partners may also want to work on projects with you. If you’re a designer, certain developers might have a knack for marketing and getting new clients. If you can be the best design partner for that developer they’ll come back to you again and again keeping your pipeline full of new work.
2. Your Website Is Your Online Salesperson
It’s important to practice what you preach and if you’re selling web design it’s important you have a good converting website.
As you know, that means that your website is never “done”, but is always evolving. An important aspect of that, however, is that your content as well as your design is always evolving.
I like to think of a website like it’s an online salesperson. The site needs all the answers that you would give to any questions a potential client would have as you’re talking them into choosing you for a new website or whatever web design service they’re looking for.
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Go back to the last one or two sales conversations you’ve had with someone either in person or on the phone. Map out the process from start to finish from when they first contacted you (and why they contacted you) to all the questions they asked until they were ready to pull the trigger and buy.
Your website needs to follow that same path. You often won’t ask a someone in person to “Contact Us” or to “Buy” right away in the conversation. So your site will tell them exactly what service you provide, maybe a range of how much, a few examples of your work, information about who you are (About Page) and so on until they’re ready to move forward.
Often you’ll find that your website isn’t converting because the visitors you are getting are confused about exactly what you can do for them. And not all of their questions are being answered so they end up leaving your site without contacting you.
Look at the content on your site and make sure your online salesperson has everything it needs to convert visitors.
Then the next step is getting more visitors.
3. Consistent Content On Your Website
SEO is something that’s discussed often when it comes to traffic to a website. It starts with some basics that you probably know like using title tags and descriptions correctly on each page. It’s about finding a balance between using the keywords your target clients are likely searching for and using those keywords in a way that is natural to a person and not just listed for a search engine to find.
The content on the site should fall in line well if you use the salesperson strategy mentioned above, but beyond that it’s important to continue adding content to your site to build the overall authority of the site.
This comes with a consistent source of fresh content. It could be a blog, a video series (with transcriptions), whitepapers, guides, etc.
Imagine you are starting a Christmas tree farm. It starts with doing planting one year. That original crop pays off a while in the future. Then the next year you plant another crop and so on. It takes time to build, but over time you build an entire farm full of trees all at different stages with all those trees attracting people to the farm not just this year, but every year in the future.
Content on your website can attract visitors in multiple ways including organic search and social media. But it takes a long-term commitment. Many aren’t willing to make that investment, but that’s an opportunity for others that are willing to do it and reap the benefits.
4. Guest Blogging
While it’s great to build content on your own site it’s also good to go where your audience already is and to get your name out in front of them.
A great blogging strategy (or video strategy or whatever) is to answer the questions your target clients have in relation to your industry.
So you’re a website designer. You can answer all the questions your target clients have about website design. They might have a question about using video on their site or how much content to put on their homepage.
To guest blog, identify the blogs your target client reads. These might not be the same blogs you read. You love reading Onextrapixel, but your target client might not. You have to go where your clients are.
It’s not easy to find the blogs, but if you can find a few good ones you can write perhaps one post a month for those sites.
To pitch a guest post, look at the blog and find the articles with the most social shares. Those are popular topics. Formulate titles around those popular topics, but aim for taking an angle that hasn’t been discussed on the blog yet. Blog owners want something new, but a theme that covers a familiar topic.
Send an email that says who you are and what you do. Then share 3-5 titles.
5. Public Relations (Podcasting, TV, Radio, Online, Etc.)
I like to watch the local news in the morning sometimes. I’ll catch the weather and any big local stories. On the news each week there is a segment where someone from the local humane society comes on and discusses a potential pet. This is a great way for the humane society to get exposure so people will come in and adopt pets. The news station does the same thing with local businesses each week. This week a personal trainer came on and shared a couple workout tips for busy people.
The key is that the business has something unique to offer like a cute puppy or tips. That’s good content for the viewers and the station and great exposure for the business.
With public relations it’s about the valuable content you can offer an audience, which can often be tips or answers to those common questions. That’s what these different media want for their audiences.
And you can do this for all things including podcasts, local TV and radio and other channels.
Build your pitch the same way you would with a guest blog. Formulate what is popular and something you can add that is new to the conversation and pitch it to the media channel.
It can take time to build relationships. Follow up. If you get turned down, ask why. Learn from that feedback and keep trying. Ask them what they want to see that would make them say yes.
Start small – a small podcast can be just fine. You can build from there. The key is to make it part of your regular schedule. Once a week for an hour research potential opportunities. Then take another hour each week to send your pitches. Over time it will build up and it can lead to more business opportunities.
6. Local Events & Sponsorships
Building on public relations is the idea of getting involved in your local community events. I swear this past summer that there was a new 5K Run/Walk every weekend in our community. It’s overwhelming sometimes, but it’s also great because people are getting others involved for different causes.
One common factor for most of these events whether it’s a 5K or sporting event or whatever is that there are sponsors.
And you don’t need too have money (at least not all the time) to get involved. If you’re not offering money, however, you’ll need to bring value in another way to make the organizer want to have you there.
Perhaps that involves helping the organization with their website or maybe with an email campaign they send out prior to the event to get people involved. You may not see the payoff right away, but if you do this 3-6 times each year your name will become more known in the area. When people think web design, including business owners, they’ll think of you more often.
Over time that investment can pay off with regular new clients coming to you saying they heard about you because you were involved in a local event.
7. Big Time Conferences
Taking it to another level is going to big time conferences.
You might already do this to get new design skills and to see what the latest design trends are, but this tactic is about going to the conferences that your target clients are attending. That could mean going to small business marketing conferences. You’ll probably learn some things, but even more importantly you’ll get a chance to network with a ton of people that are your target clients. Those people are likely at these conferences because they want to improve their business.
They’re showing willingness and improving a business often means something involving web design.
You could attend an SEO conference, a social media conference or another type of conference. The key is that you attend conferences where your clients are.
8. Awards & Recognition
Your clients are often looking for social proof. That’s why referrals are a big part of new business for so many small businesses. People want to talk to people they know and trust and see if they’ve had a good experience with a web designer. The same concept can work with awards and recognition.
You know that your designs are great, but a potential client that doesn’t know you doesn’t realize that your designs are great. They can look at your portfolio, but they often need a little more proof and that’s where awards can help sway them.
So it can be worthwhile trying to win some awards. You can try local awards like local small business awards and things like that. But don’t sell yourself short on big time awards. Winning a big award one time can be something you can use to your advantage for many years to come.
9. Social Media: 1-2 Core Sites
You’ve probably seen other blog posts that say you can use social media to bring in new clients to your website and to your business. That’s true, but you can read a bunch of articles about different tactics and things.
I want to share one tip I have for using social media and it’s not to spread yourself too thin.
It’s nearly impossible for large companies to maintain a Facebook page, Twitter profile, Pinterest feed and on and on.
It’s pretty much out of the question for a small business to do it. Maintaining all those channels and doing it well is more than a full-time job. A better strategy is to focus on 1-2 core social sites.
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For web designers I think this would include one visual site like Facebook, Instagram or Dribbble. And I think it’s also important to use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great social site for B2Bs, which includes most web designers.
Focus your time on perfecting 1-2 social sites and you’ll get more out of the effort than trying to maintain all the different social sites.
10. Email & Phone Outreach
Finally we get to email and phone outreach (cringe).
I’ve come around to the outreach side of sales. It’s something that as business owners we know is an opportunity, but we don’t have a lot of experience with it and we’re wary about doing it.
But you can do outreach in a way that your potential clients actually want.
It takes effort, though. That involves getting to really know who your target clients are and identifying your ideal clients; the clients you would like to have.
A good strategy is to build a list of your ideal 100 clients. You could start with 5-10 if you’d like. Build that list and use social media (like LinkedIn) to get contact information. See who’s working there and how you could potentially contact them. Then look at their website or whatever you want to work on and really get to know how you can help them. Then use that information when you send your email or when you call.
For example, if you reach out to a target client with an offer to help them by making their site responsive so it’s a better experience for people accessing their site on smartphones they will often be very interested. That’s a better way to go about it than just emailing saying that you offer web design services.
Getting new clients is probably the number one issue for small businesses including web design agencies and freelancers. The key to getting new clients is to set up systems and channels that will bring you new clients in a variety of ways. You can do that with each of the channels above. You can aim to try them all, but that will take time. Start with one or two near the top and really go about it as a long-term investment.
Then add the others over time and you should start to see new clients coming in. It might be slow at first, but it will pick up and you’ll have a business that can grow consistently.
Hopefully this article has been helpful and you’re already thinking of ways to grow your design business. But I know these aren’t the only ways to get new clients.
I would love to hear your tips and stories on how designers can get new clients.