4 Rules for Pitching to Offline Clients
Being based online has its share of advantages. Clients are plentiful and easy to come by, your company can operate from anywhere in the world, and with enough promotional efforts you can easily create a long-term client base that brings in recurring income and major projects. When it comes to ultra-low operating costs and simple marketing, running an online business is the way to go.
However, a number of online service businesses are in a unique position. Rather than sticking exclusively to online business, they have the ability to pitch to local clients in their area for extra income and major projects. From local online marketing clients to web design and development, the opportunities for online businesses that aren’t afraid to approach offline clients can be huge.
These four rules aren’t exactly rules – you’re free to break them if it works for you – but they’re high quality guidelines for transitioning to the world of offline business. Local clients can be highly valuable, especially when approached in the right way, and as a beginner it’s best to use these rules to structure your offline pitches, local client queries, and potential projects.
Start with an Email, and Keep Things Casual
￼Email pitches are low friction. If potential clients aren’t interested, at least they won’t be annoyed by your pitch.
Companies with long-term potential are pitched all the time, especially through the annoying salesman-in-the-office style hustle. There’s nothing most local businesses hate more than an aggressive cold call, which is why you should avoid it entirely for your first approach.
When you spot a local business that could benefit from your web design and marketing abilities, check first to see if they have any kind of web presence. As a designer, you’re in a much better position if they already have a website than if they don’t at all. Businesses with a somewhat effective online presence understand the potential of the internet for the business; those without it typically require explanation before they’ll consider one.
If they have email listed on their website, send them one. If not, call them personally, ask to speak to whoever is in charge of online marketing (if no one is, ask for the owner or local manager) and introduce your services gradually.
Sell the Benefits, But Not the Website Itself
Steve Jobs is a master of selling the experience, not just the technical product. Focus on the business experience that a website can deliver.
Most companies understand what a website is, but few understand why and how they’re so valuable. Most local business websites are, for lack of a better term, horrible, and completely ineffective from a marketing perspective. The relatively incompetence and lack of value amongst local business websites isn’t a bad thing – as a designer it’s very much a good thing for you.
Explain to your clients how a website can help them. Even a simple action-driven static website is enough to increase the bottom line for a lot of local companies. Explain the potential leads that a favorable SEO presence can demonstrate. Instead of boring potential clients with technical sales talk, explain exactly how a website can introduce more value to their business.
Arrange to Meet in Person
￼Coffee, some projects notes, and a quick chat can go a long way towards developing long-term professional relationships.
In-person meetings feel a little foreign for online entrepreneurs and freelancers. We’ve grown so accustomed to eating at our desks and arranging projects over email that lunch with a client feels like a business scene from the 1950s. Still, the vast majority of online clients will want some form of physical meeting before committing to a project – especially if it’s a long-term marketing project or large scale design task.
Be prepared for any offline meetings with physical copies of your online materials. If you’re used to marketing your design business online, transition to offline marketing with your own business card and basic summaries of future projects. Remember that most offline clients are unfamiliar with the value of internet business and marketing – reassure and inform them with clear project schedules, projected costs, and the overall benefits of the project.
Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
￼Fail. It happens. Don’t let it hurt your offline marketing; let it refine and optimize it.
There’s a slight emotional barrier that pops up when the majority of your client communications happen through email. Every ‘no’ feels like less of an issue, every turned-down proposal is a minor deal, and success is easily manageable. The world of offline business moves significantly slower, but it also carries a much greater emotional impact.
Getting the old ‘no thanks’ email is nothing compared to having a potentially giant client turn you down in person. There are going to be times when your offline marketing efforts will fail, and with that failure comes the chance for you to do two things: pack up and leave, or concentrate and improve your efforts.
A large portion of offline clients simply don’t understand how valuable an online presence could be for their business. When you get turned down for a major project, it’s not a jab at your skills or your business. Instead, it’s a failure of your own marketing abilities. Focus on being able to sell the service to offline clients, and use failed pitches as a chance to refine and optimize your sales message.