There are potentially hundreds of ways you could promote your new Web design business and build up your portfolio. Assuming your target clients are located in a small geographic area — for example your home town — there are a number of ways you can drum up their all-important custom.
1. Get listed
This is one of the most basic methods of business promotion. List yourself in as many business directories, yellow pages, and local business Websites as you can find. Many of these will list your company for free, though some might require you to pay a small fee. This type of promotion is well worth the time and investment, as most people consult these publications when looking for a designer, plumber, electrician etc. You see the point.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This little phrase holds a great deal of water in the small-scale Web design industry. When you’re first starting out, you’ll find that a lot of your work comes in via word of mouth promotion. It’s therefore very important to make connections early. Do a few free sites for local charities, community groups and organisations – this is a great way to build up your portfolio and also spread your name around potential client firms. Eventually you’ll be approached by ‘a friend of a friend of so-and-so’ who wants a site designed. This is an example of ‘viral marketing’ and is one of the most effective methods you can use to promote any business.
3. Your Business Website
This site is it – your big chance to knock the socks off of your potential clients! Here’s your opportunity to show them what you can do, to tell them exactly how your company can help them and why they should choose you over the competition. Never forget that first impressions count, and if your portfolio isn’t the best you can make in terms of design, layout and content, you’re selling yourself short straight away.
A Website for your business is very important. Hey, it’s what you do, isn’t it? Aim for a crisp, clean design that emphasises your professionalism and skill. Give your potential clients as much information as you think they’ll need. Remember, this is most likely going to be your first point of contact with a potential client, and could determine right away whether or not the contract goes to your company, or Joe Bloggs Inc down the road.
4. The Almighty Business Card
Yes, we’re living in the 21st century, and yes, it’s the digital era, the age of technology, the future and all that, but let’s be honest: nothing beats a business card for quick, effective promotion.
Let’s take an example: You’re out with some friends at a suave local get-together. You start chatting to a friend of a friend; the topic of conversation turns (as always) to work; she asks what you do; you tell her you build Websites for a small to medium sized companies in your area. Eureka! It turns out she’s the owner of Jane’s Boutique, a fashionable designer clothing outlet in town. What’s more, she’s been toying with the idea of investing in an e-commerce enabled Website for her business, so she can accept orders online and break into mail order. This gets better and better. So you tell her you’d certainly be interested in helping her out (for a fee of course) and that she should give you a call. Now, do you:
A. Scribble your details on a napkin that she’s most likely going to pull out of her pocket and blow her nose on without realising what it is, or
B. Pass her one of your high quality, professionally printed business cards that contains every method to contact you imaginable, including of course the URL of your business Website, which she’ll place in her purse and most likely use to contact you?
The moral of the story? Sometimes, the old-fashioned methods work best.
Of course, you could always go the traditional route and advertise. Targeted advertising is the key here; billboards and the sides of buses simply won’t cut it. Try placing an advert in the local newspaper, or target your market even further by advertising in publications specifically published for small business owners in your local area. These will vary depending on where you are and what the local economy is like, so take some time to research the various advertising mediums available before you commit yourself to anything.
6. Free Gifts, Bribery and Smarm
This method does take some capital investment to start with, but can yield good results if it’s done properly and is correctly targeted. Invest in some branded mouse-mats, pens, coasters etc to promote your business. Try to aim for items that executives would keep on their desks. Desk calendars are especially good for this purpose because they’ll be in use for a whole year if you’re lucky, and cardboard ones are fairly inexpensive. The advantage of these items over traditional business cards is that they’re more likely to be kept, plus your contact/business information generally remains on open view, as opposed to being in a wallet, purse or filing system somewhere.
This will help get your company name and details out to your target audience, and will hopefully get your name and details seen by the right people.
7. Dealing Effectively with the Public
Dealing with people is very, very, very, very important in Web development or indeed any other type of consultancy work. How you deal with potential and existing clients can be just as important as your level of technical skill or design competency. Remember: your clients are the reason you’re in business — without them you might as well pack up and start selling vacuum cleaners door to door. Treat your clients with patience and respect, and try as hard as you possibly can to make them happy.
Besides the obvious, it’s also a good idea to interact with your clients on a more personal level. Ask them how they are when you meet them, and send them a thank you card when a project is completed. Christmas cards, frequent project updates and other little niceties can make a client feel valued, wanted and appreciated, which will probably lead them to offer you more work in the future, or refer you on to other potential projects. If they do refer you to another paying client, remember to say “thank you”.
8. Your Brand Image
You do have a brand image, right? The establishment of a brand is a key factor in any business’s promotional activities. Create a corporate image for your company, and incorporate it into all your stationary, documents and business Website — these techniques echo professionalism and class. If done well and designed in-house, it can also be a good way to demonstrate your design skills. Business stationery is al so worth a mention here. It’s well worth designing at the very least a professional looking letterhead and invoice that you can use to correspond with and bill clients.
Getting your business name recognised in appropriate circles is one of the biggest hurdles a fledgling company is going to face, but with a little fore-thought and some shameless self-promotion it’s not as hard to get noticed as you may think. Good luck, and happy promoting!
Adrian is a part time Web designer / developer alongside his full-time career as a qualifying social worker and community trainer in the North of the UK. His main interests lie in the areas of accessible Website design, the development and promotion of online learning and the practical uses of the Web in community regeneration and people-focussed work.