7 Ways to Garner Local Clients and Referral Business

It is assumed in the online business, especially in the design field, that most big clients are international.

But that doesn’t mean that all lucrative projects are with international clients. As companies such as the controversial BlitzLocal have discovered, there’s a vast and lucrative market for providing local businesses with online visibility.

While such businesses specialize in search marketing, the fact that they exist is fairly solid evidence that there’s a viable market for local design.

Before investing in an international advertising campaign, designers should consider the business opportunities in their local communities.

Whether a small town, regional center or global city, a designer’s community is a source of projects that never runs dry.

The 7 tactics below will help designers locate new clients, attract the attention of local business leaders and generate a region-based design empire.


1. Create an Offline Mailing List

An online mailing list requires hundreds of blog posts, constant promotion and enduring patience. But online marketing is less effective than its offline equivalent in reach and versatility.

Offline mailing lists, particularly for business development, are very useful. The point of an offline list is not to capture email addresses or gain attention, but to scan the local business environment for clients who either lack a website or have an outdated one.

Using the mailing list to provide potential clients with information about your services. It is surprising how effective this “outdated” strategy can be in generating phone calls and emails. Start using it.


2. Get Courageous and Then Cold Call or Walk In

A recent employment survey by CareerXRoads revealed that over 2% of all full-time employees acquired their job by walking into an office and pitching their skills.

Their salaries range from $40,000 to $200,000 annually. Many high-paid employees got their positions because of their skill in pitching to company owners and directors.

Designers need to let businesses know the benefits of their services. If hiring a designer on contract would cost less and be significantly more valuable than hiring a full-time employee, let the business know that. As terrifying as cold calling and in-person pitching can be, it’s effective for generating work.


3. Optimize Your Website for Google Local

Google’s Local Search has created thousands of opportunities for business owners to find new jobs, pitch to new clients and get in touch with potential customers. Web design firms and freelance designers have it much easier now with this tool in their arsenal.

While the listing for services that offer “web design” depends on the region, being listed in Google Local Search can result in a steady flow of leads.

If you’re tired of fighting for competitive international search terms, consider optimizing your website to show up in local search results for “web design,” “graphic design” and “signage design.”


4. Offer a Referral Commission to Local Business Owners

Local business owners never stop talking to each other. Whether it’s a plumbing firm or a group of local lawyers, a bond develops between professionals who share a market. This creates a climate of support and cordiality between otherwise competitive businesses.

Tapping this network is a great way for designers to get their name out, provided they can produce quality work, clean websites and prominent search rankings for clients.

The testimonials and endorsements of local businesses are a sure-fire tool for selling your design services. If a designer offers a small commission to businesses that refer new clients to them, they might never need to actively market again. Business owners talk: make sure they talk about you.


5. Work for Free to Get Your Name Out

Marketing blogger Charlie Hoehn struck gold when he released The Recession Proof Graduate last year.

The former marketing student, frustrated with the lack of stable jobs, started working for free in order to get his foot in the door of major employers and high-profile clients. In Hoehn’s case, the strategy certainly worked: he’s since worked with bestselling authors, top business bloggers and online leaders.

If business is slow and short-term opportunity absent, offer to work with local businesses for free in order to gain their trust. Word spreads, often surprisingly quickly, and a designer could soon find themselves inundated with lucrative proposals.


6. Design a Template for Potential Clients

Pitching your services is one thing; pitching a tested template is another altogether. The economy is still poor, and many companies are struggling with cash flow.

So, keeping your services as risk-free as possible is essential. Offering a template tailored to local businesses could change the way they think of design services. Your service is no longer abstract: it changes from a “could be” to a concrete asset.

If you have trouble selling your services to local businesses, then consider registering a keyword-based local domain name and building a sample website.

With some basic marketing, a slick search strategy and on-site optimization, you could be selling a profitable asset instead of a design service. This could translate into higher profits and more satisfied clients.


7. Sell Everything That Goes With a Website

As tempting as it is for designers to think of themselves as rock stars, most companies want them not only to enhance their brand but to improve their bottom line.

Over the last two years, despite a worsening economy, businesses that have marketed based on performance and customer satisfaction have generated large profits, gained hundreds of clients and grew.

While international clients may be interested in fashionable, clean design, local business websites need to generate leads, sales and eventually income. This is what will earn you referral business. Delivering results will clearly demonstrate to current and potential clients the value of a designer’s time, services and knowledge.

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.

Have you reached out to local clients to expand your business? What has your experience been like? Please share your thoughts…

  • http://kim-maida.com Kim

    While I agree with most of these, #5 can be a double-edged sword.

    If you’re going to do pro bono work, choose the clients with care.

    • http://www.bzimg.com Ivan Zidarov

      Indeed #5 is a tricky one. But if you choose your clients with care there is always a change you going to hit a bad apple! Right?

    • http://dualmediasolutions.com Tim

      Great list!

      #1 Is a great tip, particularly if you make your mailing unique, make it stand out. (And make you don’t mail on a day that will make it arrive monday or friday.)

      #5 can be like juggling a loaded gun. You don’t know if it’s going to be a spectacle that will attract attention, or if “you’ll shoot your eye out kid”. It’s too easy to hit a bad apple – AND – it easily leads to you resenting your clients. As designers we all take pride in our work and feel our time ought to compensated justly. When it isn’t, and the client wants changes done, you start looking at them in a different light. If you lay out boundaries, and work up a comprehensive quote then at least you know what you’re getting into and nothing more.

      #6 Is a great idea – it also helps them feel connected to you, when they see their logo and especially some content related to them (not just lorem ipsum).

      #7 is right on track and invariably the most important step.

      Learn SEO & study their keywords to do the websites *right*. Phone calls are the currency of local business gents and gals.
      And THAT helps #2 be more successful – pitching a clean site that will help them get found and make them stand out as professionals.

  • http://bit.ly/graphicrver Parth

    Great tactics! Will try #3.

  • http://www.roundpeg.biz Lorraine Ball

    To this list I would add:
    Join a local networking group. Most cities have a chamber of commerce, BNI or Kiwanis club. Become a member, better yet, become a board member. Get involved with a local charity.

    Use online social media like Meetup, LInkedIn and twitter to connect with other local business owners as well.

  • http://www.vivoocreative.co.uk Luke

    Some great tips, agree with social media in the above comment too

  • http://www.graphicdesignboss.com GraphicDesignBoss

    Can’t agree with No. 5

    Pay monkeys, get peanuts.

    Lorraine is on the right track.

    Look at your context, your target audience and get out there and meet people. That is the best ever way to win new business.

  • http://www.boraacemi.de Bora

    Great and inspiring.
    I’m looking forward using #4 and #6 and optimizing #3.
    Thanks for this great article.

  • http://dooid.com/joshhumble Josh Humble

    I agree with most of these tips, but like many, I disagree with tip #5. Sure, there CAN be some benefit or profit in the long-run, but the problems with resenting a client and degrading one’s own value, as well as that of the industry, is a BIG problem. Although there can be exceptions, declaring one’s price from the start, adds value to the service or product from the client’s perspective.

    I also love what Lorraine added to the convo. Networking with an honest, helpful attitude will do wonders for one’s business.

  • http://www.webdesignbizacademy.com Web Design Business Academy

    While pro-bono work is certainly not recommended most of the time, I must say that if done the right way it can certainly lead to more paying design gigs.

    My recommendation would be to do a free website for a non-profit. I have done this in the past and it has led to many, many great paying jobs from referrals sent by the non-profit. Non profit organizations have a great network and this is a great way to tap into that network.

    So if you are going to do free design work, best to do it for a charity non profit organization. It’s a great way of giving back and a nice way to get network referrals.

  • http://www.hotelpepper.com David @hotelpepper

    Great article Matthew. I agree with the last comment here too. Pro bono is great when it gives something back to a charity / non-profit and the network referral benefits are clear.

    Pro bono to other clients who themselves are businesses needs to be looked at in another way. You have to be careful that they are not going to take you for a ride (even unintentionally) and that they may promise you “loads of referrals” or “it will give you lots of publicity” or my favourite – “great for your portfolio”.

    Check that they can keep their side of the bargain. If they can, then go for it.

    There is not such thing as a free lunch though, and you’d never dream of going into a shop and walking out with a pair of trainers on saying “I’ll tell everyone about these great Nike Air-Cons – you’ll get referrals”. They are a business and profitable and have expenses, so why can’t they pay you something or give you something in return of value?

    Even if you are starting out, charge something even if it is half your expected rates or just $100. Even free clients flake out and don’t complete projects and demand endless iterations at times, so if you can bill them something you’ll get something for your troubles. Otherwise, that promise of a referral has just disappeared into thin air along with your latest portfolio piece.

  • http://www.dooid.com/joshhumble Josh Humble

    I love the comparison David makes with the Nike Air-Cons. As for non-profits, I agree this may be the exception. I would designate an annual budget, not to be exceeded, for charity work. The structured approach allows the designer to perform limited pro-bono work, without going under, for lack of revenue generated by paid work.