Local Shop Owner

Start Local to Get New Clients

Maybe you’re just starting to put yourself out there or perhaps you have a few successful projects under your belt and ready for your next web design gig. Either way, you want to get new clients and don’t quite know where to start… am I right? I wish I could tell you to do one magic thing and 50 amazing, low-maintenance, high-budget clients will appear at your doorstep. Unfortunately, building your book of business is a bit more involved than that. Luckily, you have something going for you already—you LIVE somewhere!

Why Start Local?

My previous role as Creative Director for a big digital agency gave me valuable perspective on what clients are looking for in a creative partner. We spent a fortune on PPC advertising each month, which kept a steady stream of leads coming across my desk. I was on the phone with these prospects for hours every day and one concern continued to resurface over and over again; “Are you local?”

When a small business hires a contractor for the first time, the foundation of trust is quite thin. If you take that fragile dynamic and put 2,000 miles between them, it’s even scarier. For this reason, business owners tend to strongly prefer a web designer nearby. They wanna be able to hunt you down if you screw them over—haha! (kidding). It’s less of a leap of faith when you share an area code. The ugly truth is many of them have been ghosted by designers in the past so close proximity offers an elevated sense of security.

As I said, focusing on your local community puts you at an advantage. You’re accessible; you’re neighbors; you shop at the same Target; you root for the same teams; same weather; same traffic complaints. There is a familiar comradery there. By doing business together, you’re both supporting local—so it’s a win win for the whole city. Why wouldn’t you capitalize on such a gift-wrapped opportunity to get new clients?

How to Get New Clients in Your City

Think about businesses you already have a customer-level relationship with. Is there a bar you frequent after work or a sushi place you order from every Friday? Maybe you’ve been buying handmade soaps from a lady in town for years. Where do you already have a foot in the door? Have you forged friendships with any of the proprietors of these establishments? Merely being a fan of their product or service is often enough to start a conversation.

You believe in their company and want to help boost their online presence. E-mail, call, or drop by in person; whatever makes sense. There’s no such thing as wasted outreach. They might not be in the market for a new website today, but you will increase your chances of landing the job when the time is right. If you want to get new clients, you need to make your presence known in the community. Consider this an ongoing effort.

Here is an email I sent to a pizza shop here in Charleston:

Hi there! I have to say, we were SO glad to recently discover La Pizzeria. My wife and I moved here from NYC about 5 years ago and finding good pizza has become an often disappointing quest of ours. Your shop is like a mirage in this vast pizza desert of Mount Pleasant! I just left you a glowing review on Google and raved about my experience to our friends. I’m actually a web designer myself. If you ever need any assistance with digital marketing or your online presence, I want to help you succeed! Let’s talk soon. Thank you again for the delicious pizza!

If you want to look outside of your own repertoire of frequented businesses, there are plenty of directories and apps to get discovered by local clients. In fact, I recently wrote about how to get new clients on Thumbtack. What about posting your service on Craigslist every week? Five minutes of your time will surely be worthwhile if the stars align and you win a gig from it. Does your favorite coffee shop have a business card bulletin board? Bottom line: there are locals looking for website designers—you just need to be where they’re searching!

Lastly, and this feels a bit odd to be talking about on the tail end of a global lockdown—but get yourself out there and network! Find local business meetups, join your Chamber of Commerce, look for other guilds and groups to participate in, and seek out every opportunity you can to get in the same room as people who might need your services. Networking is NOT dead—especially when it comes to small business contracting.

Reputation Goes Far

Yes, it can be an uphill battle to get new clients at first. As I always say; work leads to work. Once you nail those first couple local businesses, you open yourself up to a whole network of possible referrals. Plus, the value of showing familiar logos and case studies on your website will resonate in a major way with entrepreneurs in the community. Do your best work, every time. It’s always bigger than the project you’re working on.