Many web designers or small web design businesses are lost when it comes to gaining new web design clients. It's true, many web designers get much of their business through repeat clients, but what happens when you don't have much for referral business at all? This can definitely be the case when one is just starting out, or if you're changing your niche and business model.
Image credit: MrTopf
When there is not a lot of past work leading to new work, it is the responsibility of the designer to go out and actively search for new clients. A great prospect list is the place to start. In this post we'll look into what prospects are, how to define a good one, and how creating a good list can help any web design business.
What is a Prospect List?
In the world of marketing, there are a number of phases prospective clients go through before actually becoming paying clients. A prospect is a person, usually a business person, who meets the requirements for being an excellent client in a specific niche. In other words, a person who meets the definition of the target audience perfectly for a product or service.
A prospect list is simply a detailed list of great prospective clients. Each prospect in the list can include the name of the individual, their company, and any direct contact information. A list like this can be extremely beneficial to finding clients, as it is the starting point for marketing effectively.
The Master Marketing Formula
The popular book, The Wealthy Freelancer, has an interesting and effective strategy for freelancers. It's called the Master Marketing Formula, and it focuses on this prospect list, and how to narrow it down to firm clients.
Below is the visual used to understand the Master Marketing Formula. Everyone should buy the book to find out more about it, and also to read all the other great tips and strategies in the book. However, one can see how prospects play a big part in marketing.
First let's define what the above types of individuals or companies are:
- Prospects - Individuals that meet the freelancer's target audience well. Good prospects also have the means and high probability of hiring in the freelancer's niche as well. These individuals at this point have not put out a specific job yet though.
- Leads - A lead is an individual you've had contact with who has indicated their interest in your services. These are the type that want to know more, but may still be shopping around.
- Opportunities - An opportunistic individual is one who may still be shopping around, not quite sold on your services, but has definitely narrowed things down to you. You now have the ability to discuss project details and send over a quote. They've gone from interested, to very interested.
- Clients - Those individuals you've won over and can now begin working with!
The mistake many freelancers make in marketing is that they try to start at leads or opportunities and turn those individuals/companies into clients directly. Clients that come directly from these two types are rare. For example, opportunities or leads can come from a client finding your portfolio and liking it enough to contact you. Or, you may apply for a job on a job board and obtain it, which would be coming from one of these two as well.
Yet, this strategy isn't foolproof. Because obtaining projects from these two can be rare (especially from job boards), it is essential to start with a bigger pool of prospects to ensure a steadier flow of clients. The prospect list, with this formula, is at the top of the pyramid, indicating that if a freelancer were to build a large list of prospective clients, then the freelancer could nurture and narrow down those individuals until many of them end up as clients.
The book suggests finding at least 100 prospects. This may seem like a lot, but keep in mind that it is likely that only a fraction of those will become leads, and then even less make it to opportunities. Finally, the tiniest amount will actually become working clients. The point is to start out with a large pool of prospects, and narrow it down to a workable number of clients (ideally amounting to a couple of clients at a time).
Defining Targeted Prospects
So now we know why prospects are so important, and why it's important to have so many of them. What's also important is that the prospects that one does find are targeted, reasonable, and likely prospects. For example, if you're a new freelancer focusing on small businesses at the moment, it would be silly to target large corporations that are at this point beyond your reach. In contrast, it would also be unrealistic for a well-developed freelancer with well-developed rates to target new businesses that can't afford those higher rates.
The first step to building a prospect list is to define what an ideal prospect is. Consider the following areas:
- Large corporations vs. small businesses
- The type of business - business, restaurant, technology, band, or others?
- Profit or non-profit organizations and websites
- The type of work you want to specialize in - WordPress themes, static web designs, custom applications, writing
Examine your own design style and your preferred work style when defining the perfect prospect. Also know where your strengths are, and find prospects that will be specifically looking for these strengths in someone's work. For example, a band website would probably be looking for an artsy or young look, while a technology website would be looking for a sleek and modern look.
After defining what the perfect prospect is, start finding them. It can be helpful to start a list simply in a Word document, or an Excel document for the more organized types. After finding each prospect, get their name, email address, website, business address, and any other relevant contact information.
Image credit: andercismo
Some places to find prospects include:
- Conferences & Events: Take time to attend both events related to your field and related to your target prospect's field. In other words, if you are targeting small businesses, be sure to check out web design conferences as well as small business, marketing, and entrepreneurship conferences.
- Google: If you have specific companies or individuals in mind right off the top of your head, simply Google their information.
- Network with Like-minded Freelancers: Start networking more specifically with freelancers in your targeted niche as well.
- Local Business Directory: Check out local businesses for more easy-to-gain clients.
After creating a large list (keep in mind it should be big so that clients can eventually funnel through), you must contact them somehow. Cold emails rarely work, and it would take a lot of time to contact them individually. Instead, try some of the following casual 'business' introductions.
- At those events and conferences, hand out business cards while chit-chatting about 'what you do.'
- Start a newsletter for your prospects, offering discounts and special services.
- Send out a sales letter. (Similar to a newsletter, but more direct).
- Cold-call or cold-email if necessary, even though this isn't always very effective, save for special cases, or when you're eager to hear from certain individuals. It can't hurt, though. A more personalized approach may work better.
A great prospect list is essential to a steady stream of clients, and steady clients are essential to being a stable and profitable freelancer. Remember, a great prospect list consists of many individuals, is targeted, and provides a means for action. For any opportunities you do get out of a prospect list, always follow up, and always be trying to move prospects down the triangle (above) to turn them into clients.
We'd love to hear where you find prospective clients, and if you've ever worked with a prospect list. How successful was it? What strategies worked better than others for finally turning those prospects into clients?