Most of the clients our agency worked with were in cities hundreds of kilometers away or halfway across the world and we never met them. Attracting remote clients in a profitable way was totally worth it for us, but only as a long-term strategy. That’s how we built our business in the early years.
What we did was make them find us and come to us, because we could not come to them:
We invested time in creating the content for our own website. Content trumps (almost) everything else. Even an ugly, information-rich website can outsell a masterfully crafted designer portfolio website. If a beautifully designed website with zero content does not answer questions of its visitors, the effect of a great first impression is quickly lost and visitors move on to competitors. Advice: spend an equal, if not more time describing in words what you do and how you do it as you spend designing and coding your website.
Blogging. We’ve been writing educational blog posts for years, starting on and off in 2002 and getting serious about it in 2005. People were finding us on Google. That’s how we got most of our first customers. Google has changed a lot since then, but content is still king. If you were to answer fifty of your clients’ most common questions and if you published your answers on your website, I guarantee that you’d start getting results from your content.
Google AdWords. Works great in combination with content marketing. Starting in 2009, our ads were all over the country on Google Search Network and Google Display Network. People told us they had a feeling ‘we were everywhere’. People came to our website, read our blog posts and contacted us for work. Remarketing did not exist then but had it existed, we’d probably spend half the money we spent on AdWords. Use remarketing too.
Talking at conferences. We sponsored a couple of high-profile conferences which guaranteed that our name would be in the national media. This worked great in combination with Google AdWords and content marketing I just mentioned. People saw us on the stage and immediately concluded we were some kind of experts (hint: this happens every time you appear as a speaker in a conference or as a guest in a small seminar with 15 attendees).
Organizing our own seminars. For example, give talks at local Chambers of Commerce. Travel to another city and give an educational talk at an industry association. Make the event free and use the association’s internal resources to get their members to attend: you bring the expertise and the knowledge for free, and they bring people to listen to you. I’d travel 150 kilometers to speak in front of only 10-15 people: it’s that valuable.
Specialize in a niche technology. We attracted international clients who found us on Quora, Google+ and Google when we launched our international website. We specialize in web development with Python and Django only. There are clients who need this particular technologies at affordable prices, but they can’t find what they were looking for back home. The more you expand geographically, the more sense it makes to offer something unique and specific and niche. So, instead of saying ‘We do WordPress’, say ‘We build WordPress websites for medical industry professionals’ or something similar. Highlight three past clients in the same niche and then approach the same niche in another city (by utilizing some of the above and more: content marketing, Google advertising, Facebook, giving talks at their industry associations etc.)