10 things I learned along the way each making it a little easier to gain great clients…
1. Make sure you have traffic
My first job was selling flowers on the side of the road with my friend Polly. We were 5. My house was on quite a busy street with, it seemed, quite a few elderly people living on it. Her house in contrast was up a completely quiet lane with the odd horse, virtually no cars and definitely no foot passers by.
I learned quickly that however lovely our flowers were and what good value they were if there was no traffic then we would make no sales. But a stall where there was plenty of traffic and much of that traffic those with the time and money we were on to a winner.
Your website won’t magic customers, you either need to place yourself in an existing flow of traffic focusing on the right audience, or learn how to entice those people down your lane.
2. The right hire can make all the difference
The next job was a T-shirt business, this started to do really well, they were selling in the market stalls I did at weekends, shops had started to take orders and the odd commission came in. But as I was doing the design, print, sourcing, marketing, selling and distribution I personally was exhausted and completely overstretched. Alas instead of hiring someone in I panicked and gave it all up for web design.
I put that down to being too young. But also we can't do everything some aspect in the chain will suffer and bring the business to its knees (quite literally in my case.) The right hire can get a business back on its feet and jumping to the next level.
3. Be an early adopter
My next job was in web design. No one had email, or websites so we trained people how to use the new software constantly coming out on the market (great word of mouth), at the same time designing intranets for big businesses - the pool was a lot smaller and we quickly became a big fish.
I have noticed time and time again across social media that generally those that become the new social star are those that got in at the beginning and routinely and unfalteringly do their thing. Not always, there are other ways of course, great content is highly addictive.
4. Become the go to person
This followed by a job setting up and running an internet cafe in Quito, Ecuador. Here I definitely had the footfall, the staff, was an early adopter and had the know-how. The internet was very new, people were coming in droves to set up email addresses, make skype calls and drink rum. We were so popular that other tourism business such as hostels, night clubs, restaurants, white water rafting, started coming to us and offering us deals in return for promoting their businesses in ours or taking groups to visit them.
Word of mouth is still the most powerful of marketing tools and everyone knew about us up and down the South American backpacker trail acting like a portal helped us sell our own services but also make commission on others (and get lots of free stuff).
All good things have to come to an end and my time came to move on to pastures new.
5. Cut out the middleman
It depends what your line of business is and in my line the middlemen are recruiters. Don't get me wrong these guys do a very good job, and when starting up this can be invaluable but they don't necessarily get you the sort of work you are after. Suffice to say I designed brochures for incontinence, manuals for industrial marine silencers (what? exactly), packaging for ladies shaving cream, booklets on how to avoid impotence, websites on how to get a one night stand. Logos for genetically modified crops (hmmmm, I know) and a poster about fecal inconsistency, It was at this point I realised I really could do better and although the money was good I wanted to be in control of what I designed so I cut out the middle man.
Even if you find less work yourself, you are not paying someone else to find it out of that income, and once doing the work you want, more work like that comes your way.
6. Find a great workspace
I had a wonderful desk in a loft space with big windows overlooking the Thames, in a workspace with many other businesses. Close proximity, friendship and trust is a great recruiter and work came easily just via other people within the space.
7. Blog like nobody's listening
Until I came to ‘Boast’ this was the time when everyone was building up to the dot.com bubble burst purchasing fearsomely expensive furniture and toys. My regret here was that I didn't start blogging… with a name like Boast you would think we would. Those that emerged from this era became very strong and those that routinely documented became known voices.
Our bubble didn't burst as such but the business burnt down instead, luckily we hadn't invested in expensive furniture but it was the death of some quite fine art.
8. Out of the ashes came forth Phoenix
I learned here the benefits of specialism, in small business I had always been hesitant about ‘pigeonholing’ ourselves. It didn't feel so creative and what about all those opportunities not in our pigeon hole? But I would recommend it. Our specialism was Estate Agent Website Design, and due to specialising our knowledge and our system became up there with the best, we knew our trade inside out, offering our clients researched, mapped, tried and tested advice and website functionality we constantly honed and design that looked at user patterns to better results (this was before UX became the norm). And in return this gave us a great sense of satisfaction - we really knew our stuff and we knew our clients were getting the best.
9. Learning to Network
Unless you are in a certain type of business where networking is the bee's knees and gets you all your clients, unless you are one of those guys the rest of us shudder at the mere thought. But it doesn't have to be like that. Choose your networks wisely and call it something different (just for your own sanity).
Don't sell to the sellers
Don't go to an event where others have paid for a stand and are trying to sell themselves, they won't take kindly to it. Understandably as this is a bit like freewheeling.
Don't go to an event full of people just like you
Well do go to these events or conferences it is a great place to learn, but try and put yourself in an arena where people need your skills, they will then be very open to talking to you.
Choose wisely, a nice venue, an interesting talk, a free bar!
If it excites you you are more likely to have something to talk about… leave your inhibitions at the door.
Don't take a ‘plus 1’
If you take someone with you it is too easy to just talk to them, unless you are both competitive in which case set up a ‘how many business cards did you hand out’ type of game.
Be yourself, don't sell you will become a bore
Just chat, make friends first, friends are people you stay in contact with.
10. It's gotta come from the heart if you want it to work
And now I am me. byAbi, it's liberating being the only cog in the wheel and being small enough to be creative again, day in day out. I’m finding my clients by getting in touch with people, small brands I already love and would really like to work with. So far so good.
I am a freelance Website Designer, Logo Designer and Graphic Designer based in Suffolk.
Contact me for more information.