Marketing

How to Get New Business from Local Clients

11 Comments 17 September 2009

How to Get New Business from Local Clients

When start­ing out in free­lanc­ing, among the first of many ques­tions is where do I find clients? How do I approach them and offer my services?

It’s a very scary sit­u­a­tion for those just begin­ning, espe­cially if you may not be the most out­go­ing per­son to begin with. There are lots of places you can find clients. It’s truly a global mar­ket­place with an abun­dance of online oppor­tu­ni­ties to be had.

But I want to focus this post on find­ing local clients. Some­thing I have had a bit of suc­cess with and can often be a neglected source in today’s Inter­net cul­ture. But I have found, espe­cially start­ing out, there is power behind meet­ing and talk­ing with peo­ple face to face and can help land those first clients and projects.

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Spread the Word

The approach I rec­om­mend most in the begin­ning is to start with your cur­rent net­work. Tell all of your fam­ily and friends what you do. Don’t assume that they under­stand. Show them some of your work and explain what types of things you are inter­ested in doing for peo­ple — logos, busi­ness cards, brochures, web­sites, writ­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, programming…wherever your back­ground and inter­ests lie.

You would be sur­prised at who may know some­one that leads to an ini­tial con­tact. The con­tact leads to a small job. The small job leads to another and a refer­ral, and so on.

Per­sonal refer­rals are a strong aspect of most free­lance busi­nesses and devel­op­ing a good rep­u­ta­tion will have many benefits.

The point is, every­one has to start some­where and even if you land a busi­ness card design, treat it like it was a project from a For­tune 500 com­pany. Com­mu­ni­cate pro­fes­sion­ally and promptly and deliver a great design. Leave them with a good impres­sion of you as a designer and a person.

Always remem­ber, peo­ple will be more likely to do busi­ness with some­one they know, like and trust.

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Get Out There and Network

Another thing to do is to join a group or asso­ci­a­tion such as your local Cham­ber of Com­merce. Yes, that’s right. It’s time to net­work! Not the over­bear­ing, busi­ness card shov­ing, in-your-face kind that might come to mind when you hear the term networking.

Net­work­ing is about meet­ing peo­ple and devel­op­ing rela­tion­ships. It’s not about sell­ing. In fact, if you are sell­ing, you’re going about it the wrong way.

The rea­son I like Cham­bers of Com­merce is they often have lots of net­work­ing events, from a “Busi­ness Before Hours” gath­er­ing to ded­i­cated net­work­ing groups. You can choose the events that are best suited for you.

My cham­ber even has a “speed net­work­ing” event where they pair up about 20 to 30 busi­ness own­ers in a speed dat­ing type sce­nario — spend­ing two min­utes intro­duc­ing your­self and then rotat­ing until you have met and spoke with every­one. You may land a project on the spot. But more likely, you have made an impor­tant first con­tact with some­one and now have a good rea­son to send them a fol­low up email, or even a hand-written card telling them how nice it was to meet them. This sim­ple ges­ture makes a good impres­sion. Now, you aren’t a stranger to this small group of peo­ple and you shouldn’t feel weird about con­tact­ing them occa­sion­ally to see if they have any projects available.

Also, Cham­bers of Com­merce usu­ally have sev­eral com­mit­tees in which you can vol­un­teer. This can allow you to work on some good pub­lic ser­vice and com­mu­nity projects, while get­ting to know and work with other busi­ness own­ers and being vis­i­ble. Again, it’s about devel­op­ing relationships.

If you’re won­der­ing how you go about ask­ing if some­one has any projects, nat­u­rally work it into the con­ver­sa­tion. First get to know them. What they do for a liv­ing. Are they from the local area or where did they move from? Try to find some com­mon inter­ests as you carry on a casual con­ver­sa­tion. Be gen­uinely inter­ested in them and their busi­ness. Ask ques­tions about their busi­ness or indus­try. The dis­cus­sion should even­tu­ally get around to what types of mar­ket­ing or design they cur­rently do and then you can dis­cuss what you do.

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Com­mon Mis­con­cep­tions and Things to Avoid

When I first started free­lanc­ing, I wasn’t able to tell who were good prospects and who weren’t. You may asso­ciate the retail stores where you shop or pass by while dri­ving across town as poten­tial prospects. And some may be.

How­ever, too many of the retail estab­lishes are fran­chises who may have to get cor­po­rate approval for any design work han­dled out­side of their exist­ing mate­ri­als. These are not your poten­tial prospects for the most part. So for now, keep driving!

Often you pass by many non-descript office build­ings and com­plexes that you never visit and don’t know any­thing about, but behind those doors they are run­ning regional, national and global com­pa­nies who need var­i­ous types of design work.

Another com­mon mis­con­cep­tion from those just start­ing out is that their city or town is too small and there is no busi­ness there to be had. Or maybe there are already a cou­ple of ad agen­cies or design­ers, so they cer­tainly must have taken all of the busi­ness by now, right?

I live in a town of a lit­tle over 2,000 peo­ple. The clos­est city I would con­sider to be large (most peo­ple would con­sider to be small) is 30 min­utes away. But I don’t live in the mid­dle of nowhere. In fact, most of my clients are local and I fully sup­port myself and my fam­ily as a full-time free­lancer. It’s a great lit­tle area that has an inter­est­ing mix­ture of busi­nesses and entrepreneurs.

But It would be easy for me to have said, “We’ll the area is too small — there’s just not enough work.” Many times, that is just a cop out and is sim­ply cov­er­ing the under­ly­ing fear of “putting your­self out there” and fac­ing pos­si­ble rejection.

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Your turn…

So what tips do you have for work­ing with local clients? Have you found it eas­ier to get new busi­ness locally or online? Please take a moment to com­ment below and let me know what you think!

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Author

Neil Brown

Neil Brown - who has written 16 posts on Freelance Show.

Neil Brown is the founder of the Freelance Show and runs Brown Advertising, LLC, a successful graphic design studio.

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Your Comments

11 Comments so far

  1. meredith says:

    Hey Neil
    Nice arti­cle and nice site! I liked hear­ing you are doing what you do in a small town — I am doing the same.

  2. Leanne says:

    I too live in a small town and enjoyed read­ing that you sup­port your­self in a sim­i­lar envi­ron­ment as myself. I find that I am pre­sented with great oppor­tu­ni­ties that I wouldn’t oth­er­wise get if I was in a large town com­pet­ing with large com­pa­nies. Do you feel that charge less than if you were in a big city?

  3. AtiKuSDesign says:

    Hi Neil,
    I really enjoyed this arti­cle and I’m really lik­ing the look of the site. I’ll be keep­ing my eye on this for the future.

  4. Patrick says:

    I love the lit­tle moti­va­tional quotes and the end of each post. Very nice. I look for­ward to read­ing all of these.

  5. I think this is true, but I also had bad exper­inces with this I think is impor­tant to eval­u­ate your client before tak­ing a project. Many of your knows client may expect you give them things for free or with out any pre­vi­ous pay­ment, they whant first to see and then decide if they whant to stay with it.

  6. Neil Brown says:

    @meredith, @AtiKuSDesign, @Patrick
    Thanks for the com­pli­ments on the arti­cle and the site!

    @meredith, @Leanne
    I love the atmos­phere and com­mu­nity of small towns and glad to hear you are both doing well in yours. I think there are a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties to brand your­self as an expert and get referrals. 

    I think to some degree, I do feel what I charge is less than if I were in a big city. You have to get a feel for it because you don’t want to short change your­self, of course. I try to posi­tion my rates on the higher end of the scale for free­lancers and very small stu­dios, but less than mid-size stu­dios and agen­cies. I cer­tainly try to make sure not to be the cheap­est because we all know where com­pet­ing based on price leads. But I can offer a bet­ter value because of hav­ing min­i­mal over­head, work­ing effi­ciently, etc. 

    @Patrick
    Thanks, that par­tic­u­lar quote was from a book called “The Magic of Think­ing Big” by David Schwartz, which I highly recommend!

    @Emmanuel
    Very good point. There is a down­side and you have to be care­ful to prop­erly posi­tion your­self. You don’t want the low end clients who don’t value design. If they expect things done for free or want to “try” you out first and make state­ments like, “if things work out, this could lead to ____” then def­i­nitely beware. Those are red flags for sure! R-U-N…

  7. Ian Pilon says:

    Nice quick read, Thank you! this gave me a good spark to get back into my local area for some more clients.

    Love how clean this site is. I will be fol­low­ing for sure.

    peace from Cam­bridge, Ontario.

  8. Neil Brown says:

    Thanks Ian, glad you enjoyed the arti­cle the site!

  9. David M says:

    Thanks for the arti­cle. I’ve been strug­gling to get those first clients/projects and this had some good points to consider.

  10. Brian Jones says:

    Thanks Neil — great arti­cle! Local will indeed be my 1st “steps” in grow­ing and expand­ing. Great point about vis­it­ing the C.O.C as this is prob­a­bly over­looked by many.

  11. Nicholas says:

    Great arti­cle. It was well put together with a few gems I can use.


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