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Many web design agencies consider it a badge of honor that they win work exclusively through word-of-mouth recommendations. In this article, Paul Boag explains why that is entirely the wrong attitude and what to do about it.
Without a doubt, word-of-mouth recommendation is an incredibly desirable way to win work. It requires zero marketing efforts and typically converts at a higher rate as your agency has been recommended. You should always be seeking to nurture word-of-mouth recommendations, and projects which come this way should make up a significant percentage of your income. However, you should never rely on word of mouth alone.
Word of mouth recommendation suffers from two distinct problems. First, it is a passive approach to marketing the services of your agency. It requires your clients to recommend you, and you can only do so much to encourage that. That means that when work dries up, you can take few active steps to bring in new work.
I encounter far too many agencies that find themselves panicking when the phone stops ringing because they have no mechanism in place to attract new clients.
The second problem with word-of-mouth recommendation is that it tends to attract similar clients. More often than not, those who recommend you do so to people working in similar companies and at a similar level. That is not a hard and fast rule, but this is what I usually see.
That is not a problem as long as you are happy with your clients. However, if you have any ambitions to win bigger or better clients, word of mouth will be a limiting factor.
You will need a way of reaching the specific kind of client you would like to work with, and that needs a strategy that word of mouth cannot supply. Unfortunately, it is just as easy to get that strategy wrong, and doing so can prove a waste of time and money.
The problem is that generally speaking, many struggle to get the returns that justify the investment in time and money. Let’s briefly look at the shortcomings of the many tactics available, starting with cold contacting potential clients.
Cold contacting a potential client is almost certainly the most demoralizing kind of marketing you can do. People hate to be contacted out of the blue, so the chances of winning work are poor.
You also need to factor in that your timing has to be perfect. For example, you have to contact somebody when they are considering running a project you can help with; otherwise, they will quickly forget you.
Finally, you have no status in the eyes of the potential client. You are just a random supplier and so are unlikely to grab their attention.
You face a similar problem with advertising.
When somebody stumbles across your ad, they don’t know who you are. You haven’t been recommended, and they probably haven’t heard of you through other sources. There is nothing much to make you stand out from the crowd.
In addition, advertising tends to attract smaller clients. That may be appropriate in your situation, but if you seek larger clients, you will find they tend to rely on recommendations and reputation rather than advertising.
Even if larger clients contact you via advertising, they may be including you to make up the numbers. Often, larger companies have procurement rules saying that employees need to go out to multiple suppliers even when they have a preferred one. That means that you could well waste your time tendering for a project with a low chance of success as they already have a preferred supplier.
That is also something that you can find when using a procurement website.
Larger organizations often post their invitations to tender on procurement websites. Although responding to these can lead to work, it suffers from the potential issue of you just “making up the numbers.”
Smaller procurement sites like Upwork or Fiverr can also work, but they are highly competitive and price-sensitive in these cases.
One way to stand out from the crowd and ensure you are in a stronger position when bidding for work is to establish a relationship with the client ahead of time.
Networking is an excellent way of doing this and is a reliable way of finding new work opportunities. The downside of networking is that it is time-consuming and doesn’t scale. That is why many turn to content marketing.
Content marketing is the primary marketing activity that many digital agencies use, from blogging to social media posts.
On paper, this is a good move. After all, content marketing:
Should lead to good search engine rankings if well written and targeted;
Educates clients about best practices;
Demonstrates to readers your expertise;
Builds a relationship with your followers at scale;
Offers the ability to reach a large number of potential clients.
However, in practice, the results can be underwhelming. That is in part due to the success of content marketing. Because it has been so successful, it has become trendy and, as a result, highly competitive.
There is now so much content out there that to get somebody’s attention, let alone rank well on Google, is incredibly hard. Nevertheless, content marketing can still be one of the most effective techniques if it is appropriately focused.
More after jump! Continue reading below ↓
How To Focus Your Marketing
Most agencies that utilize content marketing lack focus in their efforts. They post sporadically on a range of subjects with no consideration of the audience or their needs.
However, if you can rectify that, you will find that content marketing offers the key to a regular stream of potential leads. What is more, you can even decide exactly the kind of clients you want to attract by targeting your marketing efforts.
This targeting involves two steps, the first of which is defining your audience.
Defining Your Audience
Who is it you are trying to reach? Unfortunately, it is a fundamental question that seems to be regularly overlooked by freelancers and agencies as they blog or share content via social media. Too often, they seem to be writing to impress their peers rather than prospective clients.
Instead, picture your ideal client. Are they a small business owner or an employee of a multinational? Are they senior management or a lower-level employee who can influence that manager?
You might want to create an empathy map if that helps or even imagine that your marketing is being created for one of your existing clients you particularly enjoyed working with.