In this business, if you are not moving and shaking…you are failing. Finding new clients is not as easy as some people think. Whether you are a freelancer or a full blown agency, you will always have this hurdle. Fortunately, the more you do it, the easier it is. We have been in the business for a long time and we have managed to bring in new clients that turn into old clients that bring in new clients…so, it does get easier. Where do you start though? Well, hopefully this article is for you. We know some of the ins and outs of acquiring new clients, but like I said…everyone is different and our methods may not work for you, but it should be a start.
How do we find new clients?
When we first started, we would seek clients by networking and going to events where we knew clients would be. Now, we do RFPs and RFQs to sustain our business with the occasional client finding us. This is probably the story with most agencies, but let’s start at the beginning. How did we start finding new clients?
A long time ago, we were fresh and looking to get started in a competitive market. We got together and hit the pavement and went out of our way to introduce ourselves to anyone willing to listen. You never know who you will run into, so always have an elevator pitch ready just in case. We told everyone about us and what we can do. As freelancers (at the time) we started small. We started with friends and family to get either cheap work or portfolio work.
Portfolio work is important, but not enough to put yourself in the negative. Only do portfolio work if it is viable and you can wow someone later with the work. Everyone is willing to give portfolio work, so you have your pick of the litter. So, choose projects that will help you impress future clients. Get the experience you need, but do not make a habit of it.
Back to the point. Start small and get your name out there by talking to people that you know will listen like family and friends. You never know, someone who knows someone is looking for a website. If you do not ask, you will never know.
Referrals and Word-of-Mouth
Next, after you have created some buzz, you may notice people are calling you about projects. Not many, but it is a start. Previous clients, even the portfolio clients, can spread your skills via word-of-mouth. You can find new clients easily if you make a previous client happy. A happy client will talk their friend’s ears off if you do good by them. So, make good connections and those connections spread like wildfire. Unfortunately, bad word-of-mouth does as well.
Compared to other agencies, we did something a little different. We offered referral bonuses for ANYONE who brought in clients to us. Basically, we offered a percentage of the total project cost as incentive for our previous clients and whomever knew about us to spread the word. We gave people incentive to give out our information. With this incentive, our client intake almost doubled. Our referral fees were modest, but just for a name drop…our referrers were happy and kept new clients coming. The cycle would begin again with every new client. The price we paid for new clients never broke the bank so it was always money well spent. However, it is up to you whether or not you can afford to pay for new clients. Remember, sometimes it takes money to make money.
Offline Marketing: Hitting the Pavement Again
We were off to a good start, but we wanted to be bigger and better. After we had established a modest client base, we decided to hit the pavement again and attract new clients…businesses. Until this point we had dealt with small clients and individuals. We had a few businesses under our belts, but none that would have been considered large. With that in mind, we started a marketing plan geared toward large businesses. Our goal was to meet and greet these clients either in person or over the phone. So, we sent mailers (snail mail) that was personalized and professional. We did not flatter ourselves in the letters but we geared our experience towards how we could benefit them without overestimating our boundaries.
We included a small statement at the end of the letter stating that we would give them an in-depth report of their current website and marketing plans for free if they are willing to contact us. We included our business cards and a Google Adwords coupon that could only be activated if they contacted us.
Our plan worked. Out of the 35 personalized letters, we have a success rate of 35%. This may not seem like a huge return but considering these businesses spent $20,000+ for online marketing last year, the end result was multiple high dollar contracts that would not have happened without a bit of personalization.
The Pinnacle Point: Clients Who Pay
We got lucky…many times. We worked hard, but luck was a huge part of our success. We finally made it to the range that all freelancers want: projects valued between $15,000 – $20,000. It was official. We were a web agency. We never considered ourselves a web agency until we had enough to hire people…not freelancers, but people. We could work a 9-5 and we had the work to keep doing it. We became a sought-after agency and we had more clients then we could deal with. We could choose our clients now…we could be picky…we had options.
However, we still had our slow days and running an agency is not as glamourous as it sounds. It is hard work to meet 10 – 20 deadlines all at the same time, to run an office with multiple people and multiple skills. Yet, we strived to be the best, and we made it work.
Making the decision to start with big businesses was the best decision we had made up until that point. They are willing to shell out the money to make sure their projects are design and developed well and they almost always retain the agency just in case. There is usually no more haggling. The larger businesses know what they want and know their budget. This is not their first rodeo. So usually talks go in this order:
Initial Meeting > Budget Review > Budget Approval > Deployment > Training > Payment => Rinse and Repeat.
We love dealing with small businesses. They are what gave us our start. We know that small businesses need to have an online presence with their own website design and dealing with large businesses gives us the opportunity to help small businesses’ website design and development. We pride ourselves on the fact that we never outgrew small business. Our growth helped us make the best of small businesses.
Finally…playing with the big boys: RFPs and RFQs
Lastly on our list of how to find new clients. We offer our knowledge and experience on RFPs (Request for Proposal) and RFQs (Request for Quotation). This market is high competition and high gain. Typically businesses or government organizations do not do RFP for small work. RFPs usually entail tens of thousands of dollars and can work their way into the millions. They are a lot of work and preparation is key. In order to stand out among the potential thousands of other agencies you need to have a plan. While the RFP or RFQ usually gives out many details about what the client expects, you have to do your own research.
You need to research the company, their needs, and their competition. You need to read and reread every word of the RFP to fully understand what you are required to do. This is not your typical proposal…deviate from the RFP requirements and you could look at disqualification. All of your hard work down the drain because you missed a step. So, be careful.
In a later blog article, we will give out our secret to success in the RFP game. For now, just take our word for it and remember…you need to stand out to compete. Whether you are a small agency or a large agency…if you create a terrible proposal, your work does not matter. Budget, timeframe, and design win bids. If you do not have all three, no point in submitting the bid. Work hard now, potentially get a huge payoff later…and once you are in the RFP game…you win more bids. Get your foot in the door and the limits are endless.
Like we said above. We got lucky a lot. We worked hard and had some ideas to bring in new clients…some ideas that may not work for everyone, but they worked for us. Hopefully our story helps inspire you or helps you get creative when trying to find new clients. Share your stories in our comments, help inspire newbies to the web design world.
About the Author
Director of Website Development
With over a decade of experience designing and developing websites, Eric has worked in every position of the agency ladder. He is fluent in multiple backend and front end programming languages and has written multiple international best selling plugins for WordPress. He has been part of or is still part of many startups. He is the Director of Website Development for Future Design Group and one of it's founding partners.