So, you’ve built your website and officially declared to the world, “I am a business owner! And I am ready for revenue!” And then… crickets. Just having a website doesn’t bring in very many clients. It helps and it’s important for many reasons but mostly, people do business with people they know, like, and trust. OR with someone that was referred to them by someone they know, like, and trust.
It’s easy to find web designers online but it’s hard to know who to trust. You need to build your network and reputation so that any time anyone hears, “I need a web designer” YOU are the first designer that comes to mind.
Where to build your network
Local Chamber of Commerce
Almost any town will have a chamber of commerce. The purpose of a chamber of commerce is to build a community of businesses and professionals that have a common goal of building the economy of that community. The chamber will host networking events, ribbon cutting ceremonies, and may even provide classes or resources. There is usually an annual fee associated with membership and some events have additional fees.
Local Networking Groups
There are many local networking groups that aren’t affiliated with a chamber of commerce. It may still require a financial and/or an attendance commitment. These are usually between 10-30 members or if they are larger then they usually are broken up into different regional branches.
Depending on the groups format, members usually meet once a week and take turns presenting their business or educational presentations. Most groups only allow one member per industry to limit competition within the group.
Meetup.com is a website where you can find groups of like-minded people. You can find small business or entrepreneur networking groups that meet online or in person. It’s free to join but if you want to start your own group then there is a fee.
BNI – Business Networking International
BNI is a franchised networking group and it is all about referrals. They have very strict attendance policies, and they track how many referrals you bring to other members. This type of format is not for me. The bring referrals or else atmosphere was a bit intense. With that said, I know of members who swear by it. You can be a guest for free at your first meeting to check it out to see if it’s for you.
Mastermind groups are usually for established business owners or entrepreneurs, and they cost significantly more than a local networking group (between $500 annually or up to 100,000 for highly sought-after groups.) The purpose of a mastermind is to help you solve your business-related problems and have discussions in a protected atmosphere (non-disclosure agreements are in place). These are for very goal-driven members who want support and accountability. Masterminds are typically for smaller groups of committed members.
Trade Shows and Conferences
Attending conferences (in and out of your industry) is a great way to learn and meet new people.
If you know your ideal client, try to find a conference or tradeshow in their industry. One: you’ll be surrounded by potential clients. Two: you’ll learn more about their industry and understand their pain points. You will be better versed to discuss the solutions you provide. If someone asks what a web designer is doing at their industry trade show you can honestly say something along the lines of, “I build website solutions for [trade show industry] so I like to see what’s new in order to better serve my clients.”
Some will advise you not to bother networking with your competition. I say there is plenty of room for us all and not everyone has the same specialty. You may meet another designer who has an industry niche and simply doesn’t want to design a website for a nutritionist because she focuses on construction. You can become referral partners and pass clients to each other who better suit the other.
Real World Example: I’ve gotten clients from friends I’ve made at PHX WordCamp.
VERY IMPORTANT: Don’t try to sell anything at these events. You are there to enjoy yourself, exchange business cards, grow your network, and make friends with other business owners. Get to know these people and their interests. That doesn’t mean you don’t tell them what your business is. Have your ten-second commercial ready but your goal is to make genuine connections, not to make a sale.
But what if I’m an introvert?
Hey, me too. But the pain of going back to the corporate world was greater than the pain of going to these events. In my first year, there was one event where I drove up, walked in, turned around, and drove home because I had so much anxiety. 😬 BUT it gets easier. AND there are nice people out there that have been in your shoes and want to help you. At one meeting another woman could see how uncomfortable I was and literally took me by the hand and pulled me around to introduce me to other people at that meeting.
Build Then Showcase Your Authority
In addition to getting people to trust you in person, you want to display badges of trust on your website. You can influence a positive impression of your business by showcasing your achievements, memberships, and certifications on your website. Try entering your work into design competitions. If you win, you get to put that on your website. If you do join a chamber of commerce, put that badge on your website. You can even make a badge stating your years in business. Certifications can be anything related to your industry. SEO certifications, social media marketing certifications, Google Ads, landing page design certifications, etc.
Business Listing Websites
Register your business on listing websites such as Yelp, Google My Business, Alignable, and LinkedIn. At the very least, you’ll have reputable sites linking back to your website. LinkedIn has evolved to another social media website where you can also participate and become part of the community. Some companies will approach you offering to list your site on 100s of websites. I would be cautious of that offer and be sure to do a thorough background review on them before accepting an offer like that.
With social media you can share your unique twist on the industry on TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and Streaming YouTube. And surely by the time I’m done writing this post there will be another new hot SM app. Even if you don’t create your own content, these apps are all opportunities to interact and engage with other like-minded creators and be part of a community.
I don’t mean direct mail marketing where you create a postcard, and it ends up getting tossed in recycling as soon as it’s brought inside from the mailbox. I mean writing genuine letters and mailing them to your ideal clients.
Real World Example: When I first started solo, I searched for private practice physicians near me that were appearing on page 3, 4, and 5 of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). I wrote about 30 letters listing my credentials and how I could help them with their website. I mailed c3-sized envelopes with personal letters and an 8.5×11 flyer showcasing one of my latest websites for a physician’s office. I got ONE response for all my effort. But that one client ended up being over $12,000 lifetime value. Not a bad deal for the cost of materials and my time to mail those packets.
Start collecting emails on your website now. There are a lot of free-to-start email marketing platforms. You can even start by asking friends and family if they will join your list and just get used to creating content for the newsletters. Add new clients to your list as you obtain them. (Make sure you have it in writing that it’s part of your service agreement that you will email them with updates and that they can opt out at any time.)
It’s important not to be salesy. Instead, share what’s new with your business and feature recent work. Try asking questions and provide useful responses. State what’s new in the industry. The point of the newsletter is to stay top of mind with your audience.
Local Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
You’re a web designer so I’ll assume you have your own website. Sometimes people will simply search for “web designers near me”. Get your site ready to be found online! Optimize your site or at least a landing page for your ideal target area. Create a Google My Business profile and your name will for sure show up in the knowledge graph for those searching for your services near you.
Referrals are the bread and butter of small businesses. Other people singing your praises will be your most valuable marketing asset. Take care of your clients and they will be happy to refer you to their friends and family.
- Do great work so that you are top of mind
- Have great communication
- Meet or exceed expectations
- Follow up
You need to build your network.
- Step one to building your network is to show up. You must step out of your protective bubble and meet genuine people.
- Learn how to listen so you know their pain points and their interests.
- Be honest and authentic. Maintain your integrity. You must treat people the way you want to be treated.
- Be patient and stay the course
Business membership fees or dues used on qualified organizations are tax deductible.