No soliciting, please?
November 15, 2010 12:41 AM   Subscribe

Will physically soliciting my web development service do more harm than good?

I am finally ready to make my dream of transitioning to a full-time web developer a reality. I have seven years of experience consisting of knowledge of HTML, PHP, MySQL, WordPress, CSS, Photoshop and Illustrator. I can handle both graphic design and backend coding. Skill set isn’t my concern. I’m also an accomplished communicator. I feel as though it is one of my strongest skills. I’m a people person, and a yes man, at heart.

I plan to place an ad in our local newspaper, and I also plan to attend Chamber of Commerce meetings. I would really like to physically enter a potential client’s location and solicit business. I would bring with me samples of my work, business cards, and a proposal customized to their needs based on research.

The heart of my question: What can I expect of this? As someone who has already witnessed unwelcomed solicitors doomed to wait endless periods of time in the lobby, I don’t want this to be my fate.
I plan on targeting local surgery centers, law offices, and CPAs who currently do not have websites. I am located in a fast growing metropolitan area.

Other concerns:
Who should I speak to? Should I settle for a receptionist, or wait for a supervisor?
Will soliciting in person hurt my reputation?
What are the chances of being escorted out by some type of security?
Should I bring a gift basket a la Michael Scott?
posted by andrewsa to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Firstly, I really don't think you should be just turning up at places unannounced, because you will be shown the door, and they won't take you seriously again. It's a waste of your valuable time. This isn't the 1950s. People just don't do business this way anymore - well, charities and scam artists do, but that's about all. If someone showed up at my door offering services like yours, I'd be wondering (a) whether it was a scam, and (b) why they were so short of work that they could even find the time to do this encyclopedia-salesman thing. The nearest you should get to this sort of contact is a targetted mailing to local businesses; if they're interested they'll get in touch.

The Chamber of Commerce thing is a good idea. A friend of mine doing what you're doing made a few really useful contacts that way, some of them directly, and some of them through leads. Networking is absolutely essential early on. Later, your focus is likely to be much more on referrals and retention. A local paper ad may or may not be worthwhile; the experience of people I know who've tried it is that it wasn't useful at all. But it may depend on the paper.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:10 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with le morte's take, and, the designs featured on your site do not look at all like good fits for "local surgery centers, law offices, and CPAs." Local bands might be a better target.

(The "about" on your main page leads to "Index of /" and a proofreader would be a boon. Also onsider making your Flickr stream more conservative if you want to target more conservative clients)
posted by kmennie at 4:09 AM on November 15, 2010

Another vote for bad idea. The time you're wasting sitting around someone's lobby could be used to expand your portfolio (if its the one in your profile, its very limited, both in quantity and range, for someone with 7 years experience, I'd expect much more and varied samples).

I've never been short enough of work to try this but I feel your time would be better spent finding companies that already have websites (you don't have to sell them on the concept of having a website or finding hosting) but have old/bad websites and create a mockup design to show them how good their site could look. Even better if you have a friend or family member whose website you could improve to use as a 'case study' - ie. After I redesigned Jo Bloggs site sales/enquiries/donations increased by x%. But email it to them rather than going to their office.

I did a similar thing recently but it wasn't a complete 'cold call', my mum is part of a committee that had a horrible old website that she couldn't even access (despite reporting the problem to their hosting company multiple times), when it was her turn to chair the committee, she found out how much it was costing and called me to ask if that was reasonable. They were spending thousands of pounds for a CMS that their staff weren't able to use effectively, 'database hosting' and hundreds for 'domain registration'. The committee negotiated and debated for months and my mum kept coming back to me for advice and telling me the nonsense their current provider was telling them. In the end I threw together something in half a day (not the greatest design in the world heh, I'm not a designer but it was still better than what they had) just to show them what they could have in in no time at all and for a fraction of the cost of what they'd been paying. They loved it and switched over as quick as they could transfer the domain ownership (their old provider registered it in their own name). I've since referred them to a proper designer but even before that's gone live their registrations are up and their staff are able to edit content and keep the site up-to-date much more easily.
posted by missmagenta at 4:41 AM on November 15, 2010

If your heart is set on the newspaper ad, you may want to try an ad on your local newspaper's website. Your ad deserves to be in color, and if you're just starting out, you may not be able to afford color in print. Plus if they give you the specs, you'll be able to create your own ad in Photoshop or Flash rather than rely on their artist to do it for you.

I think telephone cold calling would be better. Have a letter, a PDF of your rates and a list of links (or a PDF of samples) ready then ask if you can email the information out to the manager or senior partner or decisionmaker. Email, then follow up with a phone call in a few days

And a resounding Yes to the Chamber of Commerce.

Best of luck!
posted by ladygypsy at 4:45 AM on November 15, 2010

Best answer: I’m in a completely different industry, but I have to find my own clients. These things have worked really well for me and I suspect 1 to 2 should also translate and work well for your field:

• Email pple and companies to establish contact – the library (and even pdfs online if you sometimes hit the correct key words) can provide lists of companies, which includes the name and email of people high up in the company. I check out the web page to see if we even do similar type work. Then I send a targeted email that asks if they use freelancers/subcontracts and list a few things from my background that is similar to what they do . In the beginning, it took several months to get this work and maybe from 1/10 pple, now it is up to 1 out of 3 or 4, although I have to spend the time finding addresses, writing emails, etc.

• Linkedin – this has always = 25% of my work, and the customers that have found me this way are great (they come in and already know my rate and are looking for someone with my exact background). If you think that this will work for you, be really specific and list previous jobs (make it obvious that you have industry experience if it apples), provide contact info, and a link to your web page.

• Referrals from people in the industry – do you have friends that you worked with previously and did you do this for a workplace? Tell all of them that you are now independent (use linkedin). I also got a lot of work this way and the people are likely to buy because they have an internal person raving about you (or you may even work with that person).

Never did it, but I think it would work well for you:

• If you are a great in-person, I would find local SCORE offices. These are made to support new businesses, and some new small companies will go there within the first few years of business (or later). I think it would work well if you showed up to some events. I’ve noticed some really good speakers who are knowledgeable in the field are also using it as a vehicle to promote their business (but being subtle, at the end of the talk you can mention your services). You will come across as an expert and a new business owner is looking for people to do some of the tasks and may not have found someone yet.

• Can you collaborate with people in other areas ? Maybe you can find small business owners that offer a service, excel at other types of marketing, but do not do the meet and greet.

• I think what you do may lend itself well to a blog, too, but you can experiment to see if that works for you.

• If you wan to target CPAs, etc, why don't you find a way to target those groups? Look at linkedin and ask if you can join the discussion groups. If you talk to people, ask in person what they read and find out if they read material taht primarly CPAs read and permits advertising, etc. Are there meetup groups for CPAs? Ask if you can show up, etc, before you plan on listing what you do so as not to break etiquette, of course.

Shouldn’t you have samples or a portfolio online? Maybe I missed it, but it should do some of the work for you or back what you say.
posted by Wolfster at 5:01 AM on November 15, 2010

Nthing the "don't do this".

FWIW, I was in a similar boat, and I ended up making contacts at a few design AGENCIES. They do all of the legwork finding the clients, and I freelance on behalf of the agencies. Since proving myself to multiple agencies over the past year, I now get offered more work than I can possibly take on.

And yeah, simply having an up-to-date LinkedIn profile gets me quite a few offers for projects -- don't underestimate it.
posted by adamk at 5:48 AM on November 15, 2010

I'll also add it's REALLY hard to succeed in this business without somehow specializing or focusing on a niche area somehow. E.g. there are people who focus on designing for farmers, teachers, cyclists, etc... If you can find a niche it's much easier to stand out. Look for web hosts or others to partner with.
posted by Blake at 6:00 AM on November 15, 2010

Best answer: The Chamber of Commerce thing seems like a good idea, the cold-calling maybe not so much; I don't imagine you'd make it past reception very often and any materials you do leave at reception are probably going to receive the same treatment as junk mail... straight to the recycling bin.

Joining a local service organization (Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis) could work to your benefit if (and that's a crucial if) you don't abuse it as a sales platform. In other words, don't join and introduce yourself by saying "I'm andrewsa. Do you need a web site?"

Rather, join and get active, and one of the first things people will ask as they get to know you is what you do. At that point it's perfectly reasonable to say that you're a web developer building up a local practice... if you're active in the club and well-liked, people will think of you first when they do need some web work... or when a friend of theirs mentions needing some web work.

It's a subtle distinction; on one level, everyone in these groups recognizes and enjoys the benefits of this kind of passive networking... but nobody likes the guy who joins and solicits everyone for work.
posted by usonian at 6:43 AM on November 15, 2010

Don't go in person. Also, I might consider a website redesign if you're targeting local surgery centers, law offices, and CPAs. What I got when I saw your website was a cool hipster guy who would be great at making band websites pop. It wasn't clear from the website that you have experience with professional sites.

Also, your index page is really difficult to parse. It took me several seconds to figure out where to click to navigate, and in web terms, that is an eternity. You might want to also consider axing the "skills used" and "skills" descriptions, it really sounds basic resume-ish and not like what I'd expect from a professional I was considering hiring.
posted by arnicae at 9:43 AM on November 15, 2010

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