How Old-Fashioned Marketing Can Supercharge Your Design Business

Search for any design-related term and you’ll be greeted by a wall of competition.

From invasive AdWords pitches to aggressively marketed websites, online competition in the web design world is rapidly approaching its breaking point.

Small freelance businesses are unable to market themselves without an ample budget and plenty of time.

Increasingly, freelancers are forced to turn to bidding websites in search of work. They compete for projects that offer little in the way of income and that entail a great deal of stress.

Thankfully, there are other ways to generate business. Many go against the “online only” marketing slogans that designers have been fed for years.

While the Internet has generated many marketing opportunities for freelancers, it’s also home to extraordinary competition. This environment can be unwelcoming to newcomers and part-time freelancers.

The strategies outlined in this article aren’t modern or advanced, but they can generate new business when other methods fail. Search engines aren’t necessarily the best place to find business. Apply these “old-fashioned” marketing tactics and you might experience a rapid influx of new clients, projects and income.


Generate Leads and Marketing Data

A designer’s marketing campaign should aim to reach prospective clients through the least saturated medium. Email and search are host to thousands of other advertisers, many of whom use unsavory tactics to get attention. Do you want to compete with them, or would you rather operate on a less competitive playing field?

Generate your marketing data online, but take it offline to approach prospective clients directly. The Yellow Pages is an invaluable pool of online data that can be used for offline marketing. Scan the online phone book in search of businesses that lack a web presence. Record their contact information and add it to your database of marketing leads in preparation for cold calling and email pitching.

Services like Yelp, Google Local and the Yellow Pages can help you understand how in touch a market is with online promotion. Search for industries in your city that lack a web presence, particularly business-to-consumer companies that would benefit from increased online exposure.

Market your services to these businesses. Not only do they have a budget for design and marketing, but they likely understand how valuable the Internet is as a marketing tool. Find out how competitive the Google Local results are for their market segment. A result on the first page of a local search query can often bring thousands of dollars in monthly revenue.


Find the Decision-Makers

You’ve now got a list of several hundred businesses to market to. Small businesses are pitched by marketing services every week, making it fairly difficult to reach them with a single phone call or email, especially if it’s a public phone number or email address for customers.

If you get past the receptionist, making the pitch is remarkably easy. Gatekeepers turn down opportunities out of sheer convenience, because companies are constantly being pitched. Solicitors are refused even before reaching a decision-maker.

Using LinkedIn or a similar network, narrow your list of companies down to owners and key personnel. This will be fairly simple for online-based companies, because most have a personnel page on their website. To engage with offline businesses and gather data on their owners and managers, it might be worth attending a local Chamber of Commerce meeting.


Cold Calling and Other “Old-Fashioned” Marketing Techniques

Most designers are afraid to cold call. The typical inexperienced cold caller generates little interest and practically expects rejection. Have you been told “No” hundreds of times in a row? Not a nice feeling.

However, getting past this knee-jerk “no” and breaking down the defenses of small-business owners are possible. First, stress how valuable your services are. Drawing on search figures from your local area, explain how sizable their marketing exposure could be.

Remember that you have approached the business owner, not the other way around. You need to explain exactly how creating a website could increase their bottom line. Point out that expanding their online presence exposes them to new customers, increases their brand’s value and makes them a bigger player in local search. In short, you need to sell how a website improves business.

Finally, close the deal as quickly as possible. Small-business owners are infamous for taking months or years to retain a service. Use something like EchoSign to prevent your “closed” deal from sitting idly. “Productize” your design and marketing process as much as possible.


Look for Uncompetitive Prospects

The Yellow Pages is both feared and despised by small-business owners. Placement in the phone book can cost thousands of dollars a month and yield little more than a couple of calls per week and an overall negative return on investment. Capitalize on this poor service by collecting the information of local businesses from the Yellow Pages website and then marketing your services to them.

Similarly, Yelp and Google Local contain extensive information on local companies. Browsing Google Local’s map-based business section is a great way to find new clients. Sort the results into “website” and “no website” categories. Call companies in the latter category and explain that they’re missing out on leads from Google Local because of their lack of a dedicated web presence.

Finally, there is a gold mine of opportunities in approaching businesses directly. Armed with data from Google Local and the Yellow Pages, walk right into stores and speak to the owners about their online visibility face to face. You will be rejected at first, but once you perfect your sales pitch, it can become a profitable way to gain clients and long-term business.


Recommended Resources’s “Guide to Cold Calling” is packed with useful information for designers who are struggling to adapt to an offline marketing mindset. From strategy tips to template scripts, it’s all there.

Yahoo’s Local Directory is a great alternative to Google Local. Find cold-calling prospects quickly, and search for thousands of potential small-business clients in your city, region or neighborhood.

Written exclusively for WDD by Mathew Carpenter. He is an 18-year-old business owner and entrepreneur from Sydney, Australia. Mathew is currently working on Sofa Moolah, a website that teaches you how to make money online. Follow Mathew on Twitter: @matcarpenter. Follow Sofa Moolah on Twitter: @sofamoolah.

How do you market your services offline? What’s your experience been like so far? Please share some tips with us!

  • Kate

    You’re giving away my secrets!! :)

    Seriously though, folks. The best jobs still come from face-to-face interaction and word of mouth. One generates the other. Get out from behind your computers and go fuel your businesses. Especially for the Millenial generation (myself included), it’s sometimes hard to see that while, yes, you can do everything from behind a screen…it’s not always the best avenue! You are more memorable in person!

    • Dessign

      Kate, so true go outside, meet people get face-to-face meeting, and you will get the best projects, the stuff on the net is so competitive that is hard to make any money, Once people get to know you face to face they are willing to spend more money on you.


  • Vivek Parmar

    Thanks for this, that’s a nice share and will help anyone to find new and creative design. You have correctly said design business is full of competition

  • TrafficColeman

    I do a lot of direct mail that gets to my clients front door. Its always has may site where I’m given a presentation video of how my marketing services can help them.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”


    Printed marketing can be a godsend to smaller businesses, especially those who tend to meet prospective clients in many varied locations. Even something as simple as a professionally designed business card can bring about great opportunities for working with new clients.

    • Angelee

      I’m gonna say about business cards as well! Still it works, as long as the design is trendy and its content is direct and uncluttered. Otherwise, the card’s existence can be thrown easily into trash bins.

      Helpful tips. Quality old-fashioned marketing lasts.

  • Matt

    Are you saying cold calling is less invasive than AdWords? Some decent ideas but the opening paragraph is overly alarmist. I agree AdWords isn’t the best channel for freelance web design, but thats not your point in that paragraph.

  • Lucian

    Still working on getting more clients from face to face meetings, but I have to admit that they are the best paying ones.

  • Geoffrey Gordon

    I started out this way in the beginning, but in the last year most of my work is just referral based and I haven’t had to look for new business. I think if you do a good job then people will flock to you anyway, but it is tough in the beginning. I would like to make 3 suggestions:

    1) Get your own web presence right, if you not sure then maybe you should go on the inbound marketing course from hubspot its free and it will teach you a lot.
    2) I think your current customers are your best marketing tool, referrals are still the most powerful way to gain new business thats pretty much guaranteed.
    3) Building on the previous point if you plug your customers into your blog or news letter and give them good content they will talk about you more.

    Good article Mathew Carpenter but I think the thinking is a bit antiquated.

  • simon

    I am vomitting some crappy thoughts about the title of this article beacause i haven’t read it but I think commenting here is a good chance to get some page impressions.

  • Chris

    Any new business website will take time to build an online presence. For ClickWebDesign, new business comes from Google, Twitter, and face to face business networking events. Cold calling produced some leads, but was hard work!

  • Fran Jacoberger

    I find Adwords a BIG waste of money these days for advertising web services. The prices are so high and the leads are not qualified. Heaven help you if you do their partner network. You’ll run through your budget in no time.

    These days it does seem you need to diversify you marketing and get your name out there. Direct mail, networking, social media, advertising . These strategies tend to put you closer to your target market and help to build name recognition.

    At the same time if we are all still here after these last few years we must be doing something right :) Good luck this year fellow webbies!

  • web design hull

    Nice article… I already follow most of the advice given, but I do find the cold calling very difficult and very rarely do it. My most successful route is usually just doing a good job, being reliable and helpful to the existing client and getting recommendations through them.

    Also a point not to forget is to have good relationships with suppliers such as printers and photographers as you can also gain plenty of good leads this way. Thanks for posting.

  • Design Agency owner

    Cold calling is my least favourite new business activity but one of the most successful. We get to meet with 1 in 4 of the companies we call and many become new clients. The reason for our high success rate is the time we take to pick the right prospects and find the key contact person.

    • S3bY

      So true..cold calling can be difficult, but If done properly can boost your succes!

  • Web design Shrewsbury

    Marketing can not only be done online – you have to pick up the phone send a letter to introduce yourself to your prospects.

  • nick

    I feel like a lot of designers think the internet is going to make their business successful. All, literally, all, of my clients have been people I’ve met around town. Restaurant owners, store owners, other business owners who genuinely need website-related services are out there, and all you have to do is calmly, politely introduce yourself. A good looking business card and a “i know what I’m talking about” tone of voice is really all you need to land clients sometimes.

  • GraphicDesignBoss

    Matthew, I’m not sure that Yellow Pages will super charge your business. It may super charge Yellow Pages profits, but that is about all.

    I agree that looking at Yellow Pages may help you identify companies, but that is all.

    If you want to supercharge your design business, big OR small. Get. Out. There. Meet people. Put yourself in the right places. Business networks, neighbourhood parties, parent school functions, social business networks. Talk to people and don’t be shy in talking your business up a bit (not too much!).

    This takes cold calling out of the equation, and your contacts become warm and mostly receptive.

    As Kate the first commentator said, word of mouth marketing is also priceless once you’ve won the business. Reputation matters because people talk all the time.

  • vito m

    The most effective in my experience are random people u meet, seminars…go out socialize…go on get those mini business cards; give them away. Talk about the things u do…it will spread.