Finding clients is one of the toughest things for most small businesses. Many people are looking for projects online these days with the widespread use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites that allow you to connect and chat about business opportunities. These are great ways to find new business across the country and even in different countries, however finding business locally is equally important. Staying local is becoming a big thing today with "being green" becoming increasingly popular.
Reasons for clients (and you!) to spend locally
Spending money locally helps build your own community. If you spend your money locally, your tax dollars stay there, helping to fund schools and road construction. When a local client commissions me to do a project and then I buy something from a store down the street, our money circles through the community, boosting everyone's business. We're all helping each other by spending locally.
Networking in your community
There are tons of ways to network within your community. Large metropolitan cities offer more options but you can certainly find other businesses to network with anywhere. Search online for small business groups, they provide an excellent avenue for quick leads. As a designer, tons of startups and new businesses need our help right away. They need a logo, business cards and a website to get off the ground. Even after they have been in business for a while they may need help marketing their services or a website redesign because they went the cheap route in the beginning. Even if these business don't need your services, if you make a good impression they may refer you to someone that does need a designer. Meetup.com has lots of small business groups that meet and trade business resources and opportunities, and can be found in tons of cities.
Getting your name out there
Tons of people are looking for quality businesses to work with and a growing number of people are looking for design work, especially websites. Spreading the word that you have a great business that creates high quality work is the key! Hold a booth at local shows, conferences and expos, it's a great way to spread the word to a large group of people in a short amount of time. People at these types of events are looking for businesses to work with, so you're hitting a good target audience of people that are focused and ready to do business. You can hand out flyers and business cards as well as talk to people directly about the services you offer. A less direct method that spreads the word to a number of people is to set up a fishbowl at a local restaurant or coffeeshop. Ask people to leave a business card in the bowl and then draw a winner at the end of the month, giving away a free dinner or some movie tickets. Also leave your information with the fishbowl, so people can see who sponsored the giveaway.
Show your expertise
A great way to market yourself and find business is to establish yourself as an expert in the field. You could teach a class at a community college or be a guest speaker at an event. College classes and community groups are always on the lookout for knowledgeable people to come in and do guest lectures on marketing, advertising, and other business-related topics. You could also set up a workshop for people to learn from you. You could teach people how to use Photoshop, the basics of html, or any topic that would be relevant to a group of people in the community. Business may not come directly from the workshop, but it will get your name out there and show that you're a knowledgeable business person worthy of a referral down the line.
Directly solicit business
Cold calls and emails are usually not the most fun way to get business but it's a great way to target specific people. If you have a niche that you work with, like restaurants, get a list of all the restaurants in your area and call them, asking if they are in need of a new website. Be sure to look at their website before you call and find something new that you could offer them. Maybe you offer a content management system, which makes it really easy for clients to update and maintain their own content. Or maybe they have a small site with hardly any content, tell them you could assist them with a new search engine friendly design and some SEO advice. Make sure they understand what it is you offer, and how spending the money with you will benefit them.
Be on the lookout for business opportunities
I love collecting business cards and I have a large stack at home of good and bad cards that I've collected over the years. So I'm always on the lookout for a business card when I walk into a new business. If I don't see a business card or their cards are less than stellar, I offer to leave my card with some kind words (it's very important to not insult them here!) about how I could help with any design services they need. Be sure to have a great 10 second pitch ready about what you do, but don't insist that they call you. They'll contact you if they're ready.
There are so many ways to find business locally and network with people in your community. You just need to get your name out there and find avenues available in your town. Marketing your business creatively and effectively is the key to succeeding as a small business, and helping to build your community is an important step for anyone.
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