In the business of web design, to not worry where the next client comes from, is a lie. It’s not a concern only if you build a very good portfolio, gather enough experience over time and possess certain level of notoriety in your industry. To get a healthy and consistent flow of clients is a great struggle unto itself. Comparatively it’s far easier to challenge a Bear to a fight.
If this task sounds daunting to you already then perhaps you should turn around form this stressful business right away and start rethinking about your life plan.
I hope the naysayers are long gone after laying eyes on the previous statement. Getting down to the topic at hand. To get clients is not an easy task. In the absence of clients you don’t have any job to do; let alone make any money.
If you want them, do not lose grip of your emotions! Clients look for confidence in the person whom they are about to hire. You can very well lose your client by losing emotional control or by freaking out. This doesn’t mean that you should be hard to get. You should be calm and composed and display a persona that encourages the client to put their livelihood and reputation on the line by hiring you.
You are all set to gain valuable information about how to handle your clientele. You could be a freelancer or a small business owner. All these concepts will be of great value if understood appropriately. Even if you are a person who doesn’t fall in the aforementioned categories but still has to deal with clients these will be applicable to you too.
Clients are everything in the website design business. They are as important to you as it is blood to the human body. Without them there is no life, no business, no money and you would be forced to shut your doors.
Referrals Are Gold In Business
In the beginning, all the jobs come in the form of referrals. In most cases, there is no formal R.F.P (Request for Proposal) processes. Usually, when we are looking for a new doctor or lawyer you end up asking people who you trust, for names and contacts of such people. It’s a lot faster than doing research and coming up with names yourself and it’s better because instead of relying on some stranger who posted in some blog online; you get the information you need from a person you trust. Not only that, you get to know the background story which usually strengthens your resolve. If they don’t like the service they had, they wouldn’t recommend those people to you.
The base factor is always trust.
For the sake of argument let’s assume that you developed back pain after an intense weekend of football. First, you will go through memory trying to remember your friend or your relative who had similar pain.
Then you reach out to that person and gather information about that pain and the successive treatment process. Had the person been successfully treated; you would want the contact information of the doctor who treated the friend of yours. If their experience is positive and encouraging, you end up visiting the doctor. This is how referrals work.
The process of hiring people for doing design jobs has the same operating procedure. Many people don’t work with design people often. Usually, the contact book of such people has more listings of doctors other than the listings of design people or design studio teams.
This is why, in such cases, they rely on people who they knew about, who had prior dealings with design people. It’s because they trust the people they know more than the listings on Yelp by a stranger or some unknown person replying to their R.F.P.
Let’s say that you are a client who needs to get a job done and you are caught up choosing between two design teams. Always, you would end up choosing the design team with the referral or (in some case where there is a presence of multiple referrals) you choose the referral given by the source you trust the most.
And F.Y.I the vetting process is both ways. A well established and socially popular client is more likely to pay up that an unpopular or unheard of the client.
How To – To Get Referrals
Most referrals come from friends or colleagues or form colleagues’ friends. In all cases, your reputation counts.
“You Reputation is divided into two balancing factors. Your ability to be pleasant to work with and the quality of your work.”
Know everyone forms your client’s team and treat them very well. Make them an integral part of the project and make sure that you hear their voices. In other words, make them feel welcome and important part of the process.
People you work with form the client’s team propagate to other jobs over time. If your project in which they were involved goes well, they will be proponents of your reputation to whichever company they go to. When they are in a position to choose a design team, they will choose you.
Just because you are trustable as you are familiar.
Everything you deliver and every interaction you have with your client is part of your business development process. Every successful job leads to more jobs over time. So, maintain a good reputation.
Be Pleasant, Not Nice
You have to be pleasant to work with because people tend to like working with someone who is pleasant than with someone who is a jerk. At the same time, you shouldn’t fake anything. Good work requires the need for a few hard conversations when the need arises.
Also, you shouldn’t maintain a facade of harmony, unnecessarily. Your job entails you to point out to your client when a poor decision is about to be made by them. If you are being nice you will be too afraid to point it out to them because you simply wouldn’t want to risk being a jerk in the eyes of your client.
As a result, you would end up jeopardising your project just to preserve your harmonic work environment. Be pleasant, nothing more!
Do Good, If Not Great Work
Being pleasant to work with will help but it won’t act as a ‘beacon of great work’ for clients to find you. This doesn’t mean that just the quality of your work is more than enough to have a gathering of potential clients; waiting for their turn to work with you.
Good, if not great work must be the foundation and core mantra of your business. Always remember this. You are replaceable! There is no shortage of talent in this world. There are many design teams out there who have just an impressive portfolio yours.
Your clients are not just hiring your portfolio. Instead, they are hiring you. If you are aiming to improve your metrics of success, you have to be both good at work and pleasant to work with. The actual work you do isn’t the design tasks you execute.
But it is the summation of all the decisions that were made through all the conversations you had with your client during the whole duration of the project. It’s this experience that makes them either love you or hate you. The latter is what you should strive to achieve.
Be Enthusiastic And Unambiguous About Your Work
This is what we call as the ‘Pitch’minus the proverbial elevator. You do it while having a hangout with other people whilst having drinks or other pleasantries. You have to explain yourself in an enthusiastic manner which is not boring to the listeners.
In culinary terms, it’s referred to as having ‘Just the Right Amount of Salt.’
An enthusiastic and interesting person gets etched in the mental picture of the listeners very deeply and hard to remove. But being boring will result in the mental picture hitting the mental dustbin soon.
If you play your cards right and when those people who you were passionately explaining yourself to will remember you when they require a person of your expertise or when they get a chance to recommend you to someone else. This happens all the time. So, be clear and enthusiastic and not boring.
Networking Is a Must
To succeed in any business, networking is a must. It is nothing but research and manners dancing in sync. You never know who is about to hire you until the last possible moment. It definitely makes things easier for you to know a lot of folks. You accomplish this through networking.
If you don’t know how the networking playbook works, follow this. Every time you meet somebody gets to know some things about them. What they like, enjoy, their favourite topics of choice is? Think of something you could do to help them. When the conversation is strong and mutually pleasant, you tell about what you do and what you need.
Just don’t make ‘recommending yourself’ the central point of the conversation.
You have to be genuine and express confidence. This takes a lot of practice. Don’t sweat when you decide to ask someone to recommend. People are usually excited to know people to refer about. If you are trustworthy and solid, people just love doing it.
You Have To Make Yourself Visible
If you don’t say what you think of, no one will know about it. If you are a shy person, you just have to go through it. Push through the feeling that holds you back from reaching out. Unless you make yourself visible, people won’t know you exist.
No clients, no pitches, no money. So make yourself visible to others so that they can approach you and find you worthy and write you check leaves. Publish about yourself, your business and your designs.
Don’t be afraid to try. The more you do it, the more experienced you get and your confidence will grow stronger and stronger with each passing hour. So do your exposure and your clientele. Publish about you, your design work, get conversations going about you (preferably your studio) and your designs over social media. Used in the right way they will help you grow exponentially. Visibility is the key.
Your relationship with your client doesn’t have to end when the project comes to an end. You still have the responsibility to check about the success of your work and the whole enterprise altogether. Find out whether your services met every expectation.
In order to maintain a healthy flow of referrals, you have to maintain relationships. It’s not a hard process. It’s a busy life. Everyone is dealing with their own share of work and other activities. You can send some emails from time to time, without spamming their inbox of course and call them up and just say hello.
Drop by when you are in their vicinity. Congratulate them when they have accomplished something. Doing it publicly is an added bonus. Shows that you care about them. Something which they will reciprocate when the time comes.
Once in a while, you can arrange a meetup and spend some time and drop a hint or two that you are still looking out referrals. But don’t make it the central theme of the whole meet up.
Fulfill Your Responsibility Towards Your Referrer
You have a responsibility towards people who refer you to others. They put their reputation on the line when they are recommending you to someone. So treat the opportunity with the utmost care and do an outstanding job. Such a job well done by you will not only protect your referrer’s reputation but also your referrer network gets big by one more satisfied and extremely happy client.
Poor work on your part will lead to a loss of trust in you for your referrer. Your client at that time won't refer you to anyone. In addition, you will also have strained the relationship between your referrer and your client.
If you are booming in your business you will be flooded with business inquiries. But, of all the jobs that come your way, your studio won’t be right for all of them. In such cases, you should determine this as soon as possible. Every time you spend not doing work on your client’s project is time spent losing money. Which otherwise, you could be potentially making.
To avoid this from happening, I suggest you develop a questionnaire to determine if the lead at hand is a potential client or not. If the lead clears the questionnaire then you can be certain that the person is worth spending your precious time on.
As much as you are evaluating your client, you are being evaluated by them too. It’s surprising but true. So, when you figure out that you are not the right studio or not the right fit, tell them. Trust me, you’ll know. In cases where you deal with clients who were referred to you by your past clients, you are obliged to have a face to face with them.
During this, you can decide whether you are the right fit for them and if possible you could direct them to the studios that are appropriate for them. This behaviour of yours develops goodwill towards you in as they leave you satisfied.
One day those studios will face a situation like this and they might share some client love by referring them you to them.
Other, Less Effective Ways To Get Work
Referrals are the best ways to get work going on and on. In here trust is already established. But we can’t just sit on our hands and wait for the phone to ring. The following are some of the ‘other’ ways to get jobs.
Many big organizations issue R.F.Ps to hire studios for design work. These are good jobs to go after. None in design business goes on without having to deal with an R.F.P in their career. If someone is telling such things to you, they are lying. There are several ways you can go through to handle R.F.Ps.
Usually, R.F.Ps come with a contact number that you can use in case if you have questions. Call up, get in touch with the person who wrote the R.F.P. If possible arrange a meetup. They might even have heard about you. Make friends and gather much detail you can about the organization that issued the R.F.P.
You will come across R.F.Ps that are of prescriptive nature. It is usually because they are freaking out about wanting to have to hire designers. In such case call the person in charge and strike up a conversation.
Sometimes you come across R.F.Ps that even dictate the colour of the buttons. It’s generally a cry for help and you are being provided an opportunity to develop mutual understanding between you and them. Speaking directly to the designer in charge is what is generally needed than sending out replies to poorlyscriptedR.F.Ps. Moreover, how do you think organizations decide who to send R.F.Ps to? It’s by referrals. Surprised much?
It’s natural to want to work for clients; even if they don’t have work at the moment. To be realistic it’s like trying to find an oasis in a desert. With that being said, if you find a client to be very interesting to work with, go after them. If you have developed a substantial network you will know someone you know, who knows someone in that organization.
So meet up with that someone you know and buy those drinks or meals (their choice) and strike a conversation. With a bit of luck, you might be sitting in front of the right person. In such a case you have to go ahead with your pitch. (Put your head in a bucket!) Just kidding. Make a lasting impression. Potential clients do like getting cold calls. So, don’t hesitate.
Advertising is a good way to make yourself visible to the world. But I do not recommend throwing money away into it. A while back we had an opportunity to sponsor a party. Had we paid 5 grand we could have gotten our brand name on the banner.
But we didn’t have any free money during that time. So we decided to print our logo on stickers and distributed them while the party was going on. It only cost us a minuscule 50 bucks and it was a hit. We had really great publicity that night.
So, host a party, buy ads in the conference brochure, etc. occasionally. Make yourself visible in places where potential clients frequent. But, don’t throw your money away.
If you want to meet fellow designers or potential clients, conferences are the place to be. People working in big organizations who can afford to be at conferences flood these events. Usually, they are more likely to spend on dinner for a whole table of guests. Find a bunch you feel catty enough to be with and have fun. Moreover, most of the organizations that are part of such conferences are the big ones who issue R.F.Ps and someone forms the higher ups. People who make crucial decisions is never far from such events.
Another best way to carve your own sphere of influence on the internet is to blog about things you like. Blog about your design ideas (not the specifics, of course) but do give away good ideas that are just ahead of the curb and something you can do with your eyes closed. Such posts not only increase your online following but also enhance your influence on your craft among fellow online peers.
Usually, people who matter (the ones who make decisions in the big organizations, who you wish to be your client) may be following you. Observing your actions online. Imbibing in your expertise. Also, you can inspire young designers. All good and positive propaganda for you.
With a blog, you not only communicate with the world what you like but also show them how confident you are about your craft. When you are being vetted for quality, by your clients; blogs help you big time and they are just as invaluable to you as referrals are.
So, blog about your crafts and things you like about. All these will help you fight the Bear better.