Where does web design business come from?

Posted on February 27, 2019


A question I see frequently asked by web designers at different stages of their career is “where do you get your business from?”.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting out on your own, or you run a large agency with hundreds of clients, finding new business is always at the forefront of people’s minds.

What I do find interesting though, is how people often use the ‘grass is always greener’ approach to their marketing, and their pursuit of new business. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.

I saw a question recently in a Facebook group from a fairly new web designer, and his comments were the sort I have seen many times before. When he started out, his business came from referrals, personal referrals and word of mouth. He received business passed from existing clients to other clients, from people he had worked with in the past and from people he had spoken with.

However, he wanted to ‘step up’ his business and grow. He wanted more business, and asked for ideas of how he could go about this.

Sound familiar?

There were a number of suggestions, all of them great. They included the likes of cold calling, door knocking, Google AdWords, Facebook Ads and newspaper advertisements. As I say, all good suggestions and all strategies many web designers have tried over the years, with varying degrees of success.

However, and here’s the real crux of it, what was wrong with the word of mouth referrals?

He knows they work – he’s built his business on them. He’s obviously good at what he does, and is personable enough that existing customers and people he has worked with or spoken with recommend him. So why does he want to try something else?

Here’s the thing – online advertising such as Google AdWords and Facebook Ads are great. They’re a relatively cheap form of advertising, but they’re not personal. You’re not bringing in the sort of people you would necessarily like to work with – the sort of people you ALREADY work with, and their colleagues, friends and associates.

Newspaper advertising is a very passive form of advertising. It’s a dwindling medium and, one day, will be completely gone in favour of digital. I’m certain of this.

Radio and TV are expensive. They’re also not the best medium through which to target b2b (business to business) advertising due to the low percentage of viewers/listeners who would be business owners.

Leaflets are a cheap form of advertising, but have a low conversion rate. They also need to be dropped at the right time – not just the right time of day, but at the right time in someone’s business cycle that they’re interested in a new website.

Door knocking? No thank you. Never. Not for me.

Cold calling? This, again, is something that works when done right. It’s best to use a professional rather than try to do it yourself, and have a system in place that involves buying in data and following up with letters or emails. It’s time consuming, but can yield results.

The best method, however? The one he’s already tried and succeeded with – word of mouth referrals. A personal referral is more likely to convert into business because the hard work has already been done for you. The door has been opened (which could take hours of cold calling or leaflet dropping to accomplish) and the prospect has already been warmed up to how good you are by the person who recommended you.

So, rather than look at something else, why not put more effort into this? I highly doubt you have completely drained the well that is personal referrals.

Here are some things you can do:

Speak with every current client

Once you have designed and built a website for a client, do you go back to them regularly to see if they need anything else? Do you keep in touch? You should. Have regular chats with them about THEIR business, not yours. Ask what they’re up to, what they’re planning, how things are going. Ask how you can help them, what introductions would they like and if there’s anything they need.

You might get more work out of it without even trying. You’ll solidify your relationships with your clients so they don’t get poached by another web designer, and you’re more likely to be referred by them to other people for websites.

Join a networking group

Have you been to formal networking groups? The best ones cost money and require you to regularly attend, but don’t see this as a negative. If you have to be there every week, so does everyone else. If you’re working for them, they’re also working for you, so you should get out more than you put in. The more you see other businesspeople, both in formal and informal settings, the more they’ll get to like you and trust you, and the more they’ll refer to you when the time comes.

Don’t join those networking groups where 10 web designers, 10 accountants and 10 lawyers all thrust business cards into each other’s hands. That’s not networking, that doesn’t work.

Speak to people

How often have you caught up with old school friends, college friends or family members and never even asked what they do for a living? Ask them. Show an interest. Perhaps you can help them?

Remember, it’s not about selling yourself or pitching to people. Those people who connect with you on LinkedIn and then send you a sales pitch 30 seconds later? Don’t be like them. It doesn’t work. Be of value to people and they’ll see you as someone of value. Help people and they’ll want to help you.

If you’ve already received business by word of mouth referrals, you can receive more. You just need to speak with more people.

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 20 years’ experience in these fields.
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