View Full Version : Getting out of the rat race and running it alone...
03-30-2007, 10:20 AM
I run a fairly successful web design company, part time, building high quality sites for various businesses - mostly though word of mouth contacts. Now is the time for me to take it to the next level - quit my full time job and build websites from home.
I know the market is crowded but I think I can find a niche and having worked for one of the most profitable websites in the world for the last two years I think I have a decent product and knowledge to sell.
There are lots of people on here who run their own small businesses and are very successful - but I'm still finding it hard to make the step from word-of-mouth contacts to potential clients finding me for themselves. Does anyone have any tips on marketing to local businesses? Or recommendations to make this startup successful? (maybe it's asking too many trade secrets!)
03-30-2007, 02:47 PM
Having run my own web design company for about 4 years now, I can offer a few tips. I find that I get about half of my clients through word of mouth, and half through my website.
1. Make sure your site is optimized for local search -- you want to be at the top of any searches for web designers in your area. If you don't have SEO software, you can download the free version of WebCEO which is a great place to get started.
2. Submit your site to any local directories you can find.
3. Offer existing local clients a finder's fee if they refer others to you.
4. Print up a nice brochure and hand it out to as many local businesses as possible. Offer them some kind of "local discount" -- time-limited if possible.
5. Make it as easy as possible for people to contact you through your site. I find your contact form a little 'cold' -- you could make it more user friendly by reducing the number of fields and not saying "required" so much.
6. Emphasize your uniqueness. You have a unique name, but it's not immediately obvious how that relates to your work. I'd suggest creating a USP (unique selling proposition) to put under your logo.
7. Build your site into a resource, not just a sales tool. I can't tell you how many new clients have told me that they came to me because I seemed to be trying to help them on my site, rather than just selling them on my services.
Hope that helps -- good luck!
03-30-2007, 02:56 PM
Participating on blogs and forums as an expert in your niche can only lead to more sales for you.
The more you give online the more you get back.
03-30-2007, 04:10 PM
A incredible way to build business is to contact the small local ISPs in your area and work out a deal with them. If you create quality websites you should easily be able to tell a local ISP that you will refer your client's hosting to them, if they refer their clients to you for web design.
My experience is from the ISP side and I can tell you we have relationships like this that are very beneficial for both parties.
03-30-2007, 04:20 PM
Aside from the obvious word of mouth and search engine optimization consider writing articles on your industry and submit them to article publishing directories. When others use your articles they have to provide you with a credit and you can build some traffic from that.
If you do not have a large adwords budget then stay away from it or you can end up paying a couple hundred dollars easily without even one conversion.
Get other websites to post your link whether you are providing a reciprocal link or you are paying them to post it.
design banners and make them available on a link to us page on your website as well. Some webmasters rather have graphics than text links to other websites.
Post ads on Craigslist.org
Don't over-do it or you will get blocked.
Build up a newsletter mailing list and send them a bi-monthly newsletter filled with lots of information that can help them in some way or another. And you can send them promotions as well.
Do a bulk emailing to double optin leads targeted to your industry. This will bring in lots of traffic. I recommend sending a professional ad.
Try sending jumbo postcards via the post office as well. This has brought in thousands of visitors daily for some of my clients.
Provide something free on your website. If there is a software you can have developed that brings your product or service right to the customers desktop for easy access. Post it on download.com and other free software websites for maximum exposure. For example, a mortgage company would provide a free mortgage calculator with amortization and all along with some self promotion links contained in the software.
There are lots of ways to build a client base and I can go on for days but hopefully the listed items above will help you.
03-30-2007, 04:23 PM
A great way to advertise is to approach local cities, towns, scout troops, churches, sports teams and offer your FREE service to building and maintaining a website for them. The agreement would be that they pay for the hosting fees only. The groups and cities would spread the website by word of mouth with your name and link at the bottom. Offer to email out their newsletters with your name and link on them as well. Also if you have an adsense account put ads on the sites and you can collect the revenue from them as well. People will always want to deal with someone they know, if you are doing a website for their church or scout troop they feel like they know you as a trusted person. It can be a lot of work setting it up but it's not much time to add and change it. Once it gets going you will be well compensated. Going out and getting business is better than waiting for the phone to ring!
03-30-2007, 04:30 PM
Try to create co operations with local people that are doing related work. I guess web hosting companies, SEO workers and people working in the advertisement of websites should be able to refer you clients. You can pay those people good commission - this is worth it.
Make sure you have a very good portfolio and send that whenever you offer your services.
Look for freelance projects on websites, I hired web designs few times this way.
03-30-2007, 05:00 PM
I'll tell you I work from home and it can be a challenge to stay focused. I am 29 years old and have been doing web design, SEO and print design work from home for three years now. I feel that I have been pretty successful in what I do without and incredible amount of effort. I dont have a website, I dont even have local clients. All of my work has come from the referrals of three long term clients who live across teh country and I have never paid a finders fee aside from a little free work.
I make an ok salary which has been going up each year. Taxes are a bitch, working long hours can be hard but it is well worth the effort. Especially for me I have no degree in websdesign, I am completely self taught.
However all in all I am doing much better than most people my age who dont have a college education, what I do isnt the most ideal situation especially if you have a family to support. But I make a salary equivilent to most people my age with or without a degree. and the satisfaction of doing it all on my own (as you can see from my talking about myself) is great.
All i am saying is I did not find it very hard to create success. All i really do is work hard every day and keep my clients happy and continue to study and learn. Taking on-line classes for cheap and buying lots of books.
The things which are mentioned here are great ideas and have led to success for many a home business owner. Maybe I should try them sometime, and I will have to if I want this situation to be a long term success.
03-30-2007, 05:08 PM
As someone that has done this for over a decade the best advice I can give you is to network.
Build your networks through the use of social networking services like Ryze, linkedin, MySpace and similar.
Ryze works well for me bringing in an average of 2 clients a week over the last year.
http://www.ryze.com/go/RegDCP is my Ryze home page and http://tis-network.ryze.com/ is my Ryze network.
Ryze is free to join for the basic membership.
The other thing to do is to build your IM contact lists. I find that potential clients like to chat a bit before making a decision to use my services.
I list my IM contact info on my "Contact Us" page.
Word of mouth referrals are the best and there is no easier way for someone to conatact you when referred.
Build multiple streams of income through the use of AdSense and affiliate marketing.
03-30-2007, 05:53 PM
no problem with trade secrets. The market is growing fast enough for new entrants.
The key is to deliver quality - delivering something that's fit for purpose. I come across clients all the time that have been sold over complicated and too expensive solutions. Secondly, find a way of genuinely differentiating yourself from your competitors. Don't become a jack of all trades. Specialise in an area where you enjoy a real competitive advantage.
03-30-2007, 06:20 PM
Most everything I see talks about more forms of cyber networking, which are definitely every effective, but especially when just getting started, if you're looking for local work, get out there and do some face to face networking as well.
I'm in the same boat. I went out this week and visited a few BNI chapters and talked to some friends who were in business and am starting to pick up some work already. get out and network with some sales professionals, offer finders fees. Someone had an excellent idea when it came to offering free work for non profits. Or offer free or greatly discounted service to trade associations if they will help you market your services to their members. There's more than enough work out there.
03-30-2007, 06:28 PM
When you do make the change over..
Don't forget to make time for yourself.
No one (at least I know) ever complained that
they didn't work enough.. :)
I would give credit to the guy in the picture, or
the photographer.. but I don't know who they are..
I just photoshop'd it.
03-30-2007, 07:00 PM
This is a bit of advice for after you get all those new clients.
In the first place, you can actually get too much of a good thing... and it can turn into a bad thing. My experience tells me that in this line of work you can easily get a client-Boom and with it more work than you can handle. It'll be wise to devise right now a plan for when that happens.
Second, if you get a lot of new clients then you are bound to get some bad clients in the mix. Some of the above marketing methods are more prone than others to attract this kind of clients, so I suggest you try to rank all the above marketing methods in terms of risk of getting bad clients and then try to avoid the more risky ones. (of course you should also rank them by economic cost, time cost, feasibility, potential conversions, etc.)
There are all sorts of potential bad businesses out there, some you can spot right away, others you can't. There's no way to know what you're up against if you can't spot it right away, but there are also times when some "red flags" start to pop up. If you are too eager to do business you will probably disregard the flags and jump right in. Obviously, you'll regret it later.
As for working for free, as someone suggested, one word of advice: don't!
If you want to do pro-bono work, pick some worthy cause and treat it like a full-fledged client for the duration of that project. (of course, if it grants you good exposure the better)
If you want to barter that's a completely different thing, but you should never work for free nor sell yourself short. If you want to barter (or if someone proposes you such a deal) you must estimate your costs/benefits before closing the deal.
I have made a couple of quasi-barter deals as a web designer/developer. What I do in these cases is take a challenging project when I have the opportunity and I explain this to the client: this way the client gets a premium service for a minimal fee and I get the opportunity to research and develop some particular technical aspect. (It's a bit like a research grant...) But the subject of such experiments must always be something with a market potential you can later explore to your advantage.
I hope you find this useful.
I started my company about 5 years ago now, and, aside from word of mouth, 2 marketing venues stand out way above the others:
1. Chamber of Commerce: Several people mentioned social networks... well, your local Chamber is a social network of businesses, a perfect venue. 90% of my business my first two years came from my local Chamber. You have to work it, though. Join committees, go to luncheons, take the time. It works.
2. Postcards. I get more qualified returns from postcards than any other advertising venue, and it's easy to get the addresses of local businesses; go to your phone book. The only thing our phone book doesn't have is the ZIP code, so I just start up my trusty Microsoft Streets & Trips (or Mapquest.com would work too) and I've got it. Also, with color laser printers being so cheap these days, you can print your own and do some guerrilla marketing. I send out batches of targeted postcards every month, and always get calls back from them.
The networks like BNI seem to be good, but they are a bit constricting to me. The cost is sometimes high, and I've never personally seen a group with more than 10-12 people.
And I've never gotten any decent return off advertising in any newspaper, magazine, or other web site. Face it, our clients come to us becuase they don't know how to design web sites. I get maybe 20% straight from my web site. There are far more business people that don't have the time to search the web for a designer, so finding non-internet ways of marketing works best, and I say that from one of the biggest "wired cities" in the country. I get more Tacoma/Seattle business interest from non-internet marketing, by far.
I personally also design 1 web site out of 10 for little or no charge for local, non-profit community or Christian-based organizations. That's just me. I don't do it for marketing, just to give back what I get.
Hope this helps! God Bless!
03-30-2007, 08:32 PM
Hi everyone. I'm a commodities broker and work from my office that doubles as "home" a bit more than I like. My end of the business is both .. buying and selling. Probably my biggest challenge is sourcing - finding product for buyers and putting them together with reliable sellers, or finding qualified buyers and putting them together with reliable sellers. I see both sides of the fence.
There're tons of money to be made in the business, but it's definitely not for everybody. You need to do your homework on every product you broker. You need to know how to run a quick background check on both seller and buyer. You need to understand ALL of the terminology of the products you're working in, ALL of the terminology of shipping, and ALL of the terminology of finance. You have to be able to comprehend that when your bank double-dips on processing fees and grabs an extra 800K on a 288million deal, you're only talking about 27 cents on a hundred dollars. You don't go into a tizz over it, unless you want your contract cancelled.
Most of all, you need to be able to live with a schedule that more and more looks like 24/365. You have to talk to China, Turkey, England, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, et cetera ad infinitum; all those lovely places, and you don't have the luxury of only doing it on your 9-to-5 schedule.
There is zero time for surfing and playing, because you have deadlines to meet that are dictated by the marketplace, and you have almost zero control over that.
All in all, it's a rewarding business, and those rewards can be hefty, indeed, but you have to understand that just because you've been promised a commission, doesn't mean the deal will actually happen. Most do not. You will work your arse off for weeks on a deal, only to see it go to hell over a tiny difference in opinion over what the product is worth. Or worse, you'll have it stolen out from under you from some fraudster with a slick line of BS who knows how to lie better than anyone else in the world, takes your customer with promises of cheap prices, and strands you while he rips off everyone in sight. Been there, done that.
The moral is, home business can work out, but if you are thinking about entering the arena of commodities from your dining room table, forget about it. Don't try this at home. The difficulty of completing any deal is in logarithmic proportion to its apparent sweetness.
All the best,
Call me if you need Portland cement, urea, sugar, or anything at all.
Website: http://www.advertrix.com or find Advertrix on tradekey or alibaba.
Hal in Texas
03-30-2007, 09:53 PM
Wow....this is sure a popular topic! A lot of great ideas have been posted above, but I think the most important thing was not mentioned.
Getting good results for your customers should be your number 1 priority. Customers who get good results will refer you to their friends and you will succeed.
I have been doing web pages for over 10 years and in our area a lot of newcomers in the business have come and gone because they could not get good results for their customers. So concentrate on results and you should succeed.
03-30-2007, 10:44 PM
I have been in business since August 1999, for the first 4 years we ran the business as a part time business. I decided there has to be a better life. I was right for the first two years of going alone we relied on our network of customers and there word of mouth that we had built up during the businesses part time period but there is only so far your own network can run you need to access/leverage other businesses networks.
Leverage is the key to any successful business. A friend of mine who ran a family business suggested a network group, where only one person from any industry can join, and they only pass quality referrals not leads, and they meet weekly in a structured meeting to do all this.
BNI (Business Networking International) was the group he told me about I have now been a member for more then 18 months and business generated from leveraging off other peoples businesses has generated a 35% increase in our revenue and more then doubled my customer base. It has also created several key corprate cleints that will be alone worth more then my current operating revenue, you never know who people know till you ask. All I can say is hit the pavement and spend some face time with your customers it goes along way to building a relationship. Anyway check out www.bni.com (http://www.bni.com) and go check out a meeting near you they have 92,000 members world wide and 4,200 chapters to join so you should find one near you.
03-31-2007, 02:43 AM
Graf, one thing you have to remember and prepare for, is the day that G will delete your website. I too quit the 8-5 rat race about 20 years ago, and it's just not worth the stress that has taken a heavy toll on my health. Every day checking to see how many more webpages G has deleted from their index and trashed into supplemental hell. Or worse, wondering not if but WHEN G will delete my entire site from their index.
You must be prepared for these things and unless you have a niche that will not rely on SE traffic, I wouldn't do it. If you're going to be doing something and in such a way that you'll get the bulk of your business from sources other than G, then it may be worth wild.
03-31-2007, 07:57 AM
Wow! Thanks for all that excellent advice, I really wasn't expecting such a range of hints and tips in only 24 hours...
I've had a look into the local BNI and Chamber of Commerce events - I think that's definitely something that's going to help and one of my priorities over the next month or so.
Also, Tig mentioned postcards. I have a design made up and ready to go, just waiting for them to get back from the printers! I had thought about asking local businesses to leave them by the till or in hairdressers by the magazines - never know who might be sitting there.
One problem I have found is the time involved in getting indexed in local directories. I've submitted my main site to about 25 business directories over the last few weeks and so far only 2 or 3 have indexed my site. Luckily I have a reasonable ranking in Google, MSN and Yaho already - just a case of targeting those local keywords! More difficult than I first imagined.
Thanks again for all these suggestions, I'm reading through and working out what will and won't work for me. There do seem to be some differences between UK and US techniques - notably the "local" aspect, to me local is within 50 miles or so (incorporating London, Cambridge, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Northampton) but in the States you're probably looking at 200 miles or more!
03-31-2007, 08:14 AM
It seems like you're getting both sides of the story. This is very good info. Remember like in any business the top 20 make 80% of the money and the rest struggle to keep up. Before you leap figure out your living expenses for the next six months and have that in the bank. Don't include your present income. Business fail every day but new ideas are also born everyday. If it was a gauranteed success everybody would be doing it.
You have to plan ahead. Look into renting an office. When looking for an office remember location - location - location. Like in any business you have to "Dress for Success" an impressive office in a prestigiuos area gives the potential customer the impression you know what your doing. Most times you will meet with clients at their location to learn their business but many times they will come to you. Getting up every morning and going to nice office gives you a professional attitude. Working a business from home were you grab a cup of coffee and sit in your PJ's at a computer doesn't work well for your your attitude. Most often there are way to many distractions. I remember doing just that like everyone else. Once I was on the phone with a potential customer sitting at my desk in my home office when the neighbor walked by the window cutting his grass. Or the times when the neighbors dog keeps barking during your phone calls.
I have a nice location for my office in a busy plaza. We stay open till 8PM a few evenings a week to make it easy for clients. Last thursday a young gentleman called trying to sell his services claiming he could get me top positions in the search engines. About a minute into the phone call his baby started crying.
You have to know what you want - the go out and get it. Always take time to update your own website keep it fresh and dynamic.
Be prepared to hire in help once things get rolling and be prepared for taxes - taxes - taxes. Don't get discouraged just get out there and get what you want.
One comment was beware of the bad customers. There are no bad customers. If you take the time to learn the customers needs, his business and his potential customers you will succeed.
Once a month (minimum) tweek the customers site then call him and tell him what he thinks of the changes. This keeps you in front of him and let's him know that you are working for him and not just collecting a check every month.
Like everything else in life you have to plan for success and go for it. Those that don't succeed or have negative outlooks usually didn't plan to succeed. If you have the time take a few business management classes. Someday you will have to run a business with many employees. I get frustrated because I spend more time managing (putting out fires) than I do programing (which I would rather do). The money is there but sometimes I spend way to much time running things than doing what I love.
What I am saying is either plan to stay small and earn some extra cash on the side or get ready for the leap and go for it!
03-31-2007, 01:02 PM
I wrote a book on marketing a small business (http://www.businesslauncher.com/small_business_marketing.html) back in 1994 - its now available online.
Its pre internet so it has a lot of "offline" tips and tricks, its still very relevant.
I have run web design company for over 11 years, my wife and I started it in our living room and today we have 8 full time employees.
I would get your company site started ASAP (before you quit) and get listed in all the wqeb design directiories like
Freelance Designers (http://www.freelancedesigners.com)
hook up with some local hosting companies, write a blog about your city, the BBB and Chamber aof Commerce can be a good place to meet other local business owners.
You can build up your leads from sites like
It can get stressful if its your only source of income and it takes time to build up a clientelle so be prepared - but its totally worth it, I couldn't live any other way :)
If you want to see my company its http://www.vexcom.com/
03-31-2007, 02:00 PM
I know you are in London but here is a resource quide for starting a small business and geting venture capitol. Maybe it might be helpful to some of the readers. I'm not sure what is available in your country
Business Startup and Venture Capital Guide (http://www.fireplacedistributor.com/marketing.html)
Hal in Texas
03-31-2007, 03:34 PM
A couple more thoughts.....
I tried post cards and got zip. I tried them again and got zip again. So I tried them a third time and still got nothing.
I tried the yellow pages and got one cheap web page.
I tried newspaper ads and that didn't pay off.
The only thing that worked starting out was stopping in to talk to the business owners.
I would suggest that you specialize rather than going door to door wanting to do web pages for just any kind of business. That way you will end up doing web pages for a lot of businesses that won't get good results and will make more enemies than friends.
Pick businesses that can do well with web page advertising and just call on them. You will make more money and have happier clients.
Once you get a lot of happy clients they will refer you to other business owners.
As I said in a previous post, I have been doing this over 10 years. The first 3 1/2 years, I also had a full time job. When I quit the full time job and went full time with web pages, I was able to do that because of a $1,000 a month investment income to help me pay the bills. It was probably 5 years before I was actually making a living with just web pages.
03-31-2007, 03:48 PM
It is good to specialize but many times businesses don't want the same Web guy that did their competition either. As a webguy you learn a lot about ones business and many owners would be afraid you will tell their competiors what works for them. Don't be affraid to tackle a new market just do your homework on the field. Check out what others in the field have done and ad your own touches to make them unique, don't copy but expand on them. Post cards are junk mail and that's all there is to it. Networking - Referals - Cold Calling (in Person) will work the best.
03-31-2007, 06:01 PM
yeah skip the yellow pages - its worthless for web design - google PPC works but it can be expensive
03-31-2007, 06:04 PM
Also, don't be limited. I not only get my own clients but I have many resellers. They mark up my fees and give me my cut and I do the design or seo work. They are happy to have a profit for just talking to the client.
Use sources for networking like MySpace. I custom designed my page at http://www.myspace.com/rankrover and I post ads all over it. When I add friends they inquire on my services for web/graphic design, myspace design, SEO, etc. Show them what you can do.
I found resellers before by chatting with random people on Yahoo Messenger. One person on there didn't have a budget for my services at first but I helped him out. Then he became the biggest income for me and jump started my business. He is now one of my best friends and my best man at my upcoming wedding.
03-31-2007, 08:28 PM
I use meetup.com to network with other people. They have every subject you can imagine. they have business meetups, cooking, books, dogs, everything. I pound the pavement they say. It works for me. Bring lots of business cards.
03-31-2007, 09:13 PM
Have you ever thought about using the PayitForward4Profits approach ?
It's a unique way to build your business...
03-31-2007, 09:22 PM
If you want local clients, joining the Chamber of Commerce is a great way to go. But make sure you get involved. Volunteer for a committee that has people on in that you want to get to know. BNI is a good group, but don't overlook many others. I have two very inexpensive local networking groups that get me a lot of business - all I have to pay are meal fees.
People want to work with a designer they feel they can trust. We get most of our (local)customers from networking and referrals. We optimized our site for local terms and get a number of clients who want someone local because they were dissatisfied with someone they hired online.
Another technique that works well is to speak at seminars or to small business groups. That helps position you as an web expert in your local area.
Finally - Answer the phone when people call with questions. We pick up tons of maintenance business because other developers won't answer the phone and respond to their customers. A lot of this maintenance work leads to redesign work and referrals too.
04-14-2007, 03:04 AM
in all my business experiences I have learnt several solid gold tips and tricks
but the best ones are :-
always be nice no matter how rude and arrogant people are....this is hard but if you master it you will notice a change in the way people treat you...especially as a busines person.
2) always give away great content, the better content it is the more people will refer to your site / products and the more money you will make.
hope this helps. cheers
When I was starting out I got work off the freelancer sites, rentacoder.com and getafreelancer.com but as my portfolio grew I priced myself out of that market pretty quickly. However, it was a good way to get paid (a pittance, but paid) for putting together a portfolio. And I've done repeat work for two of those clients after the fact, and at my present rate, so it ended up being a good experience.
Specializing worked for me. And I don't do any local business to speak of. My business is worldwide, all from my website or word of mouth. I've actually decided, after reading this thread, to maybe approach the local market somehow, though I wish I didn't have to make myself available by phone to do it. The phone is such a damn timewaster!
04-20-2007, 08:20 PM
I still believe outsourcing your web design and software development work to countries like India, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine is best option for home based business owners. eg you can get the design for less than $100. People work for you for less than $20 per hour. I know there are people like me in US, who have somebody in these countries handling the team of professionals. So this makes your task easy becoz, you can communicate with us in US easily and its now our responsibility to get your work done. I think, this is a good thing. Your views ?
http://www.galaxyweblinks.com - Website development and design
Many of my clients use me because of the (lack of) quality they've gotten from contractors elsewhere, notably in the countries you've mentioned (India, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine.) Those same clients were also ecstatic that I'm a native english speaker and that communication wasn't going to be a problem, which it had been with outsource contractors. There is also the problem of what recourse a client has if the job isn't done right (or at all) and the outfit in question is in some other country. So price isn't the most important part of the equation.
With the exchange rate the way it is now, I'm getting a LOT of overseas business, mostly from UK and AU. Now, I know there are exceptions to the outsource issues, and as a matter of point, there's a gentleman I occasionally hire, for parts of my projects, who lives outside of the US/Canada. But when I hear over and over again from my clientele that they've had bad experiences with outsourcing outside of the US and Canada, I've gotta believe there's some truth in that.
04-20-2007, 08:46 PM
I believe then , there are mixed opinions. I have more than 30 extremely satisfied clients in US/Canada who are now bringing me regular business and new clients as well. I agree to you partly becoz, even I have had some bad experience of working with a team/company in which you don't have your own guys. but, when the work I do with my own people with my partner managing them, I see no problems. So definitely, you need to choose and trust the right person.
04-21-2007, 10:24 AM
Give a free seminar.
Contact businesses about your free seminar.
Submit a press release about your free seminar.
04-29-2007, 04:14 PM
Lots of great advice here. I wish you all the best with your new endeavor.