Finding clients

Hey everyone…

Ive recently started my own small time (just me) web design firm and im ready to go out there to find potential clients. I have made my home base website that has my small portfolio of sites that ive made for a few friends and also a few ‘demo’ sites that i mocked up as some ‘filler’ for the moment.

I have made up a batch of professional business cards.

I live in a densely populated area with literally thousands of small businesses within a 30 mile radius of my home office. My plan is to go out into the field, walk into these businesses, smile, introduce myself, talk about webdesign and hopefully land some contracts.

Is this basically the best way to go about this?

I wouldn’t just “walk in” – you may find yourself being “escorted out” (usually by security or the owner). Instead, send them a card or letter in the mail, introduce yourself that way and ask the owners if they’d be interested in having a Web site made. Especially if it were say… discussed over lunch (your treat). Don’t go with a standard letter though – they’re likely to be thrown away. If you get creative I’m sure you’ll come up with some good ideas. Like sending a “welcome to the community!” card to a business that just opened its doors (either a new business or one that recently moved in) for example.

Brendon Sinclair’s “Web Design Business Kit” has several suggestions for landing your first clients. Have you thought about buying it by any chance? (It’s available right here on SitePoint in the “Kits” section.)

Hey, and welcome to Sitepoint there joemazz!

I agree with Dan that your chances of talking to someone having just walked in off the street are not that good, and I think there a many more productive and affordable ways you could market your new business.

Personally I’ve always liked the “educational” approach and found offering a free ebook report or “whitepaper” to prospects effective. Not only does something like that help brand you as a local “expert”, if you have an email newsletter prospects can subscribe to it’s a great tool to help get them on your list. It also keeps your name in front of people who may not need or want your services now…but 3 months down they road when they’re ready to buy, you’ll be the one they think to call.

You should of course offer a free guide like this on your website - and you can promote this in your flyer or any direct mail advertising you choose to do.

Another approach I like is to ask yourself “who else already markets to or does business with the clients I want to reach” and see if you can either advertise with them or work out some kind of joint venture to get your name in front of their clients. A good place to start might be your local chamber of commerce who usually mails a newsletter to their members each month - or maybe you could find a local office supply store who would include your flyer with the orders they deliver - or post your offer on their website for you. You could agree to pay them either a fixed monthly advertising fee or give them a nice commission for every website they help you sell. That might cost you more than a regular ad would, but when you’re starting out it’s great because you don’t pay for a thing until you get some referred work coming in.

I’d also agree with Dan that SP web design business kit it a great resource that can help you get started quickly, and you’ll also find some great articles here too.

HTH some!


The idea above about giving something away is certainly a good way, you want to build trust between you and the businesses around you.

The free web report is certainly a good idea for those that already have a website, it gives them the chance to see how good/bad their website is without any obligations.

Im not too sure about that. Ive done the research and it seems like this is the best approach…mailers and fliers get thrown in the garbage. I know thats what i do with them…

Im not sure why you say i would be ‘escorted out’ of a local business for saying “Hi, my name is _______, i am a local webdesigner, here is my card. If youre looking for a website or to redesign a current one give me a call. Also, take a look at my online portfolio.”

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Try doing that here in Aurora, Illinois. Or any other large city or suburb this side of Chicago. Business owners don’t like “cold visits” like that and many of them actually have “No Solicitation” signs on their places of business. And note I didn’t say to send out standard form letters, but to send out things that will likely be kept – such as a card saying “welcome to the community!” (with your business card and a brief lettter inside, of course).

What should they say? Basically let them introduce you and inform the owner that you’ll be calling in 2-3 business days to see if they got the “introduction” and to ask if they’d like to talk about what a Web site (or site redevelopment) can do for their business over lunch – your treat of course.

A lot of the businesses in this area will very likely respond favorably to this approach.

Maybe the business owners that we know are different types of people. In my 31 years of living in this area (since i was born) i dont recall ever seeing a ‘No Solitication’ sign in a storefront. Ill surely be looking when i go out into the field starting tomorrow. Ill report back with the results. If i do see one of those signs, i will simply not go in.

Some of the ‘research’ i did was asking a few friends of mine (who are local business owners - law firm, restaurant and a deli) what they thought about someone walking in off the street to sell their web design services. All three of them said that they welcomed the idea wholeheartedly. They liked the idea that someone would personally (instead of a cold phone call or generic flyer/postcard) come to their place of business to help them make their business better and potentially more profitable.

Im sure the postcard/letter thing would do a lot better for a firm with a large portfolio. In this case, my firm is very small with just about 10 examples of work to show. Im sure a potential client would rather see a local, well dressed, groomed, presentable local business owner like themsevles say hello other than some “spam” in the mailbox not at all knowing who theyre dealing with or handing their money to.

I guess to each his own. I think each geographic area is a bit different when it comes to presentation and approach to others. Im rather confident im going to be walking away with many new clients as a result of my “marketing approach”.

Small business owners schedule their work days just like you do. Walk-in sales people who expect them to drop everything and chat about “their” business are a rude interruption at best. If you want local business, start connecting with people at business and social functions out side of regular business hours. Join a fraternal club (In the US such as the Elks, Lions, Eagles), a social club (such as a country club or golf club), your local chamber of commerce or the Jaycees and become active. People generally like to do business with people they know and trust.

How do I know all this? Because I’ve owned a small brick and mortar business and also because I’ve run a freelance business for 9 years.

You are right that flyers and impersonal letters generally hit the round file. Any print information should be followed up with a phone call and that phone call should start with your name, business and a question as to whether the business person has a few minutes to talk to you.

This article may help you.

Good move. Do it! It will work just fine, and no one will throw you out, probably not even people with No Solicitation signs (can’t say I’ve ever seen one).

If it’s not convenient to talk right there and then, make sure you have a large, sealed, envelope full of your persuasive sales material to leave with them, and try and follow up a few days later by phone. Just before you walk in, write on the envelope, addressing it to ‘The Proprietor’, ‘The General Manager’, ‘The Managing Director’ (or whatever seems appropriate for the business in question), followed by the business name.

If the person you talk to is obviously not one of these, don’t start discussing your business, just ask them if they can pass your envelope to the correct person. (That’s why the envelope must be sealed)

Sales is a numbers game. Cynics will say that people won’t open your envelope, or they won’t pass it on, or they won’t talk to you, or they won’t get back to you and - guess what - most of the time they’re right!

But for sales we’re not interested in ‘most of the time’, we’re interested in the small number of people who ARE interested and who WILL buy, and we’re not interested in anyone else.

So walk-ins are an quick and effective way of getting orders from small businesses.

It’s not a perfect method, but there is NO perfect method. :slight_smile:


joemazz, I would just add onto what everyone else is saying that sales pitches aren’t really the way to go about it if you are explicitally going there to try to push off your services in their direction. What I would say though is if you are a regular customer of that business and have got a working relationship with staff members or the owners (as a client of theirs) you could possibly approach them saying that if they are interested your doors always open (possibly tempt them with a friendly discount). Of course this is only applicable if you already deal with those people in question as you are more likely to appeal to their empathic nature. :slight_smile:

Big, big generalisation there, whether it’s in Aurora, Illinois or anywhere else.

I don’t believe this is a real world solution. This is untested supposition about what might work. It will go in the bin just like 97% of the ‘standard’ stuff. I know if I received a card from a business saying ‘Welcome to the community’ from someone who is quite obviously just trying to sell me something I would just think it tacky and misguided. Not a good plan. If you’ve got something to sell, then sell it. People who want to buy it will buy it. Those who don’t, won’t.

Once again, this is untested supposition, not sound practical advice based on experience. Why would a small business owner want to go out for lunch with a complete stranger? What a waste of time! It’s unlikely they would regard it as a ‘treat’, either, and worst of all it would be a complete waste of money, taking everybody out to lunch. Plus, it is rather limiting, confining selling activity to lunchtime! Not a practical plan at all.

There’s no need for gimmicks. Tried and tested sales methods work just fine for those who know what they’re doing.


But why is that, exactly?

Every day millions of salespeople in hundreds of countries sell billions of things to millions of people in hundreds of ways. The operative word here is ‘SELL’.

Civilisation would literally grind to a halt if they didn’t.

The sellers and their factories would all go bust if they waited passively for people to ‘buy’.

I’m puzzled why it is unacceptable to actively sell something to someone?

This theme comes up so often in SitePoint ‘sales’ threads! I believe it is only in the web design industry that this point of view is prevalent, and that invariably it is due to a lack of practical, real world sales experience, combined with the traditional trainee salesperson’s fear of rejection.

No one will ever admit to being inexperienced or scared, however, so the end result is that we get loads of threads with rather misleading comments based on untested supposition.

It may be food for thought, but I’m not sure how useful it is.


Perhaps it will depend on the business you are planning on trying to market yourself to, but most companies have schedules that they like to keep. As Linda stated, to expect them to drop everything the moment you walk in to talk to you about your services is going to turn off a lot of prospective clients. There are very few times that I am sitting with nothing to do and would welcome a sales pitch on a moments notice.

I would personally do a combination of personal contact and mailing material. I would start by creating a unique mailer as others have stated, making yourself stand out and introducing yourself and your services. Then a few days later, follow up the mailing with a phone call to the company to see if they received your information and that you would like to schedule a meeting to sit down and discuss their needs. Let the prospective client decide when they want to hear your pitch, as long as they are interested. Trying to sell your services to someone that is not receptive to your service is going to be less productive than choosing the clients that have a better chance of actually working with you. The “push” selling tactic rarely works for this industry. Provide them with some information and a reason that they would be interested in working with you (ie, possibility of increasing their revenue, reducing costs, etc).

The main thing is, if you start pushing your service on your timeframe instead of theirs, you will do more harm than good. If you want to personally drop off your packet, that is fine, but don’t try to meet up with them that day. Just let them know that you will be in touch the next week and would love to talk with them about their needs.

One bad impression will ruin your chances, and in my opinion, dropping in for an impromptu meeting would leave a bad taste in my mouth. But perhaps that’s just me …

Well…in half a day i went into 50+ shops. Businesses are really high density here so i can literally park my car and hit 20 places in a short walk down the street.

I saw NOT ONE 'No Soliticing" sign.

I went in, introduced myself, told them im a local webdesigner looking for some new clients and handed over my card. I was greeted warmly by all with smiles, handshakes, hello how are yous, wow awesomes, many questions about what i do…i had some very nice, cordial conversations with very nice people today.

Id say about 10% of them said they had a website already but took my card anyway.

I had a large handful of places say that they are interested, that they would checkout my site and be in touch.

To top it off, i got the go ahead for building mockups for 2 potential small businesses (a wine shop and pharmacy) right there and then and im starting work on them right away.

To those who said going out into the field is a bad idea must have some bad people skills. This was the first time ive ever done any sort of ‘sales’ like this and i got nothing but good vibes about it. Looking forward to getting back out there again tomorrow.


Hi there,

As with the above comments and being an ex Sales Director of an ad agency here in the UK. Do no walk into any office with a forced sales approach. These days everyone has heard of the internet to some degree. Perhaps start off with a telephone call to the person responsible for new business or marketing, then set an official meeting date. Make sure you have a generic presentation to hand.

An internet marketing provider needs a long term relationship rather than a one off buy-it-now approach.

I would also consider putting a cheap press ad in the local paper with call to actions such as ‘Not on the internet? You are missing out on XXXX’ with a phone number for a free consultation provided.


Hmmm - I’m curious, I realize none of us are joe’s ideal prospects, but a quick show of hands…how many here have ever bought something expensive from someone who cold called you either in person, on the phone or via email?

Just my experience, but I never have - nor have I ever known anyone else too, most likely because you don’t know, like and trust the stranger making the pitch to you enough.

Joe, I give you lots of credit for wanting to do something most people don’t like to do and I hope to hear you get the results you want, but in my experience - cold calling’s not the most effective way to get new web design (or most any other) business.


Well, i went out…did my thing, got a few new clients and a whole bunch of “we will check out your site”. One guy threw 3 projects at me at once.

I probably went into 60 small businesses and all i got were smiles, handshakes and general appreciation of me stopping by letting them know about what i do. Many questions were asked, nobody threw me out of the place and it was an overall positive experience. Maybe some of you guys have poor people skills…

Id say 20% of them had their own site, 15% of those said they didnt like their current site and the service with it was lousy. Just about everyone was receptive about my business and many seemed very interested. I had some good conversation and met some very nice people.

My area is densely populated with small business like i said…and today i found out that this place has been basically untapped. Many of these people have never even spoken to a web designer before.

Looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow.


Really happy that worked out well for you Joe and thanks for the update here!

Nice work!

A great example of going out and getting instant results.

And a great example of practical experience trumping endless ‘theory’.

Cold calling works. It always has and it always will. That’s why people do it. It has its place in the great scheme of things. Use it where it works, don’t use it where it doesn’t. Simple! :slight_smile:


Hey, if you have the stones to cold call and you get results, go for it. Good sales people have been cold calling forever. I think joemazz has a point - not all of us have the people skills to cold call. Wouldn’t many of us prefer the customers came to us instead?

Our business is about relationships. People buy from people they know, like, and are competent. It makes sense to me that joemazz is getting results from cold calling, especially if he can take something like web design/internet marketing and explain it in plain English.

Nice going, joemazz. I’d love an update in a few months to see how this works for you.