Before I joined Joomlashack I had my own web design business like many of you. My clients were a diverse bunch that kept me pretty busy—small businesses, restaurants, Fortune 500 brands, hip hop producers and multi-platinum rock bands. I grew my portfolio from 2 local clients in 1996 to over 50 billable, monthly clients from all over the world just a few years later.
Web designer friends of mine in big cities, like New York and Chicago, struggled mightily to land clients like mine, and whenever we would talk, they'd always ask me, "dude, no offense, but how are YOU getting these clients?"
I wasn't offended. I understood their frustration. After all, these guys were all in big cities where there were supposed be big opportunities for them, and here I was, a 'one-man operation' in small-town Ohio landing the types of big clients they could only dream about.
These guys were über talented (definitely more talented than me), and I assumed they were doing all the things I was doing to get clients. But I was surprised to find out they weren't.
While they stayed in their studios and focused solely on designing, I was out there promoting my business and getting new clients.
Here are 5 things you can do, that my friends didn't do, to get new clients, too:
Network, Network, Network!
When I first started out, I was introduced to the Director of my local Chamber of Commerce. At her urging, I joined (all the while complaining about the expensive membership fee).
Well, it turns out that it was the best $50 I ever spent.
I was soon getting invited to weekly Chamber meetings, after-hours parties and exclusive networking opportunities--which landed me dozens of new clients within a few months. Those clients then spread the word about me to their friends, and their friends told their friends, etc.
I started giving Chamber-sponsored Internet Marketing workshops for local businesses and became the "go-to guy" in my town for all-things web design and internet marketing. I joined other Chambers in neighboring communities, too.
My #1 piece of advice for small businesses, especially web design businesses: Network, network and network some more. Network as much and as often as you can. Join Linkedin.com; join a local Joomla User Group; attend a JDay event; attend a local tweetup; join your town's Chamber of Commerce, like I did. Get out there and meet people. Tell them all about yourself and your company. You'll gain loads of new contacts, I promise.
Now, they may or may not become clients themselves—at least not right away—but they could possibly tell all their friends about you when asked if they know of any good web designers.
Although I haven't had a web design client in years, I still get calls from folks who were referred by a contact I made at one of those networking parties all those years ago.
Find Your Anchor Client
An anchor store in a shopping mall is one that draws in most of the shoppers, like JC Penney, Sears, or Macy's. Developers will often give these stores huge rent discounts in order to get them in. They know that the mall's success depends on having as many anchor stores as possible. Consumers won't visit the malls without the big anchor stores, and smaller tenants won't lease space in the mall without anchor stores because they bring so much traffic into the mall.
And it's those smaller tenants that make the developers rich; not the anchor stores.
So, what's this have to do with building a successful web design business? Plenty.
One 'anchor' client in your portfolio may bring you dozens of more lucrative 'smaller' clients. Anchor clients are one of the main reasons my own design business flourished.
Here's what you can do to land one:
Target a client that's well-known in your area. The kind of client that will have other potential clients saying, "oh, wow, Beason Furniture is your client? That's pretty impressive. You must be a great designer..sign us up!"
Set up an appointment with the owner or the person in charge and tell them that you'll create their brand new Joomla website or maintain their existing one for next to nothing. Or barter with them--trade design services for furniture, etc. Or maybe you'll do it all for free. Do whatever it takes to get your foot in Beason Furniture's door to make them your big anchor client.
New clients have no idea that you bartered with your anchor clients or charged them 75% less than your standard rate (i.e, the rate you will be charging them) . They're just happy to be working with the web design firm that does Beason Furniture's website. After all, Beason Furniture wouldn't hire just anyone, they assume. You must be a great designer in order to get Beason Furniture's web design business, right? ;)
You see, my friends in New York would NEVER work for free to get anchor clients. That was 'beneath them' they said. They "were worth every penny of their $150 an hour fee and there was simply no way they were going to reduce their rate for anyone!"
Maybe that's why they all went out of business.
The point is, be flexible. Do what it takes to get the anchor client(s). Be willing to take a short-term loss in order to make a long-term gain. Because once you have a big anchor client in your portfolio, new clients will take notice and those new clients will be the ones most willing to pay your $150 an hour fee.
Turn Your Clients into Cheerleaders
Just as landing anchor clients is important, the testimonials from those clients are equally, if not more, important.
After you've completed a job for client, and you feel confident they are 100% happy with the work you've done, ask them for a testimonial. Don't be shy..ask!
Testimonials from clients make your business seem more 'legit'; more credible. New clients will feel more comfortable giving you their business when they see all the great things others are saying about you.
Next, put those testimonials on your website, in your portfolio, and on all of your marketing materials. Post their good words loud and proud.
But don't stop there. Ask each client that gives you a testimonial if you can leave your business cards at their place of business (front register, front desk, by the door, etc) Ask them if they'd mind personally referring folks who need web design services, too.
Help them help you spread the word about your business. You'll be surprised at how many are willing to help you--especially if you've done a great job for them. They'll become your biggest cheerleaders.
Don't have a business card to leave at their place of business? Read on...
Invest In Your Image
I can't believe how many freelance designers & developers I've met over the years who either didn't have a business card handy or weren't able to point me to an operational website where I could review their work. It was always the same excuse, "Sorry I don't have a card. I honestly never thought I'd need one", or, "You know, I've been meaning to create a website for my business for ages. Truth is, I spend so much time on other people's websites, I haven't had the time to create my own!"
Make the time! Before you even start asking folks if you can design their website, you need to first design your own.
Our lead designer Gary Gisclair ran a successful design shop for years and has this to add, "Without an online presence you might as well be carrying a cardboard sign saying 'will work for free' because you won't be getting very many paying jobs without a website, portfolio, business cards & marketing materials."
In this business, you have to project a professional image--especially if you want to land big clients. Having a well-designed website with an online portfolio of your work and a nice logo for your letterhead & business cards will go a long way.
Don't Re-Invent the Wheel
Back in the days before Joomla, designing a website from scratch took me countless hours to complete and "all-nighters" were, unfortunately, all too common in my life. My family rarely saw me.
I wish I had Joomla (and Joomlashack templates) back then. Both would have saved me loads of time, money & frustration—and I'd probably have less grey in my hair!
But seriously, there are hundreds of gorgeously styled, cutting-edge, pre-built Joomla templates available nowadays that pros and novices alike can easily style to their liking.
Why waste all that time coming up with something from scratch when, chances are, Joomlashack, Rockettheme, Joomlart or Gavick have already designed something that's probably close to what your clients want?
Start there first; find a good design; then customize it to your client's exact specifications. I promise you, it'll save you loads of time. Time that you could be spending finding more clients. :)
I hope these 5 tips will inspire you to think of even more ways to market, promote & build your web design business.
Shawn Fields is the Director of Marketing & Sales at Joomlashack. Prior to joining the 'Shack, Shawn was the VP of Sales at Slashes and Dots, makers of the wildly popular JomSocial social networking extension for Joomla. In the good ‘ol days of the mid nineties and early 2000s, he flirted with an indie music career, launched & sold a popular vertical for bands (getsigned.com) and worked with clients such as the Merrill Lynch Corporation, Capitol Records, the Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick and Everclear at his own interactive marketing/web design agency.