Marketing | Ways to Find Your First Customer
Anyone that has push-started a car will know that the hardest part is the first bit of movement. Inertia as a new freelancer or agency is the same – the hardest clients to get are usually the first ones. Everything gets easier after that.
Here is a short guide on how to overcome this, based on how we got started and what we learned over the past 5 years.
What I don’t recommend
Walking the streets
When we first got started, I literally walked around London, going into shops asking if people needed a new website. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? It was! I only tried it a few of times, but it never worked. Perhaps I was doing something wrong, but I would not recommend this approach!
Cold calling is not only the most painful approach to take, it is also the most annoying to be on the receiving end of. It’s also not very effective for selling websites unless you have a lot of time to dedicate to it. We did get one good client out of cold calling, but this was out of many painful afternoons sitting, phone in hand, staring out the window.
I have spent many hours doing this and whilst it can work, it never seemed to offer a return on time invested. I had some good lunches and met some pleasant people, but in the end I felt I could better spend my time elsewhere.
With that said, we have some good agency relationships that came out of random emails and calls, with subsequent coffee meetings that ultimately led to us sharing business. I wouldn’t rely or focus on this too much though, as it takes a lot of time and the payoff is unpredictable.
Relying on word of mouth
Word of mouth is great and something to be proud of; this is how most good agencies grow. However, we were frustrated with the passive nature of this approach, and felt we could speed it up. This wasn’t the case though — even offering incentives for referrals didn’t work. That’s why we turned to content marketing.
Building a predictable funnel
The approaches above rely on the customer being ready to buy at the point of interruption, but buying a new website is an expensive purchase and takes a great deal of consideration. Choosing a platform is a big decision and for an established business, changing workflow and migrating content could require a great deal of effort.
What I recommend is nurturing your leads by educating them, establishing yourself as a trusted expert, and then being ready for them when they are ready to buy. Here is one way to do it.
1. Attract interest
The first step is to start building interest in your services. It goes without saying that you should have your own website to use as a platform for your brand. A portfolio is essential for an agency — so consider doing a couple of free jobs for friends or family so that you can show examples of your work. They don’t have to be the most elaborate projects, just show some of what you are capable of. This is infinitely better than nothing.
How do you get people to your site though? Here are some good channels to begin attracting good quality leads.
The best converting channel for us is the Shopify Experts Marketplace. We earned our spot here by bringing a few high quality clients to the platform. Leads arriving through Shopify Experts have already chosen Shopify as a platform and are just looking for the right person to do the work. They are at the buying stage and are set on Shopify — so it’s straight to making a sale.
Again, having an Experts profile with at least four examples of your work will help. Make sure you have a persuasive introduction to your company and include testimonials as soon as possible.
Create blog posts that answer questions businesses may have during the research stage of an ecommerce project. For example:
- Questions related to various ecommerce platforms
- Advice on how to write an ecommerce business plan
- An overview of good homepage design
Don’t write posts for other freelancers on your company blog; try to make all your blog content appealing to potential retail clients.
Ensure your website has good SEO and share your best content on social media. Google will reward popular content with more search visibility.
Another way of bringing people to your website is to begin a PR campaign. This doesn’t have to mean aiming at big publications — it could just mean trying to get other blogs to write about you or even writing the content for them, otherwise known as Guest Blogging. Write a few articles and send them to reputable blogs in the industry. Getting published raises your profile and also provides valuable links back to your website, which will raise you through the search rankings.
If you are feeling confident on the SEO front, you could try to appear high on the first page for key terms like ‘Shopify designer [your area]’ or ‘[your area] web designer’. These keywords are often highly competitive, so this isn’t easy, but it’s something you can work towards improving over time.
We started a meetup for Shopify in London and the response has been tremendous. This is a great way to meet potential clients that are considering Shopify as a platform or that are already on Shopify and are looking for a partner to help with future work.
Organizing an event requires a lot of effort both in terms of marketing and logistics. The main thing is to ensure you send regular email updates in the run-up to the event so you can increase awareness. A good list of talks will help draw the crowds. You’ll probably need to ploy people with free booze, so factor that into your costs. You don’t just need to limit your meetup to Shopify — why not create a fashion retail or designer-maker meetup in your city?
Coworking spaces are shared desk offices. Many of the newer ones are impressive to work in and are typically full of interesting people trying to build companies. This support network can be useful at the start for sharing advice and contacts. You may even find you get some business out of it. Join the mailing list and watch out for people looking for ecommerce help. Another advantage of joining a coworking space is that it can make you look a bit more professional when those first clients want to come see you.
Social media can be a great way to show off your expertise and offer real value to prospective clients. Here are some tips:
- Choose one or two social networks to pay attention to. It’s hard to do all of them well and some work better for B2B, such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Use imagery where possible to liven up a post.
- Consider using a person as your avatar and profile name, even though this is your company account.
- Just show off your latest work all the time. You need to earn the attention of your followers by offering something of value beforehand, such as advice.
- Go off topic with your tweets — nobody wants to know what you’re eating for dinner.
- Do include links to your social media pages on your website, but don’t go overboard and put a feed directly on your website. If people have made it there, you want to keep them on your site!
Some of our earliest clients arrived from Gumtree, a popular classifieds site in the UK. We simply posted an honest ad explaining that we were offering premium web design at a low cost so that we could build a portfolio, and out of a few enquiries came a lot of work.
2. Nurture prospects
If the person is ready for a new project straight away, we skip straight to the next step. However, most people aren’t ready to buy right away. They are researching a potential project or they may have stumbled across your site for some other reason. If your conversion rate to enquiry is 2%, this means 98% of the people visiting your website are then disappearing!
How can we retain some of those visitors so that they come back?
What I’d suggest is creating a lead magnet that is irresistible to your target audience. Create a killer long-form article such as ‘5 ways to instantly attract more customers’ and ensure it is prominent within your website. You could even use a modal pop up. Ask for an email address in return for accessing the article; that way you can begin a mailing list of interested leads. Note that the ‘lead magnet’ has to be something that would be appealing to your target audience, to ensure the leads you get are relevant.
Even in the age of social media, email addresses are gold. They allow you direct access to your audience and over time you can build your brand by sending useful and informative content to your mailing list.
This type of content is great because it simultaneously builds your brand and provides utility to the prospective client.
Send out your best new blog content to your mailing list and you’ll notice the perception of your brand will improve. Best of all, you may even get people recommending you that haven’t met you, but are just reading your content! We actually individually email each new lead that downloads our lead magnet with the following:
Thanks for downloading [lead magnet]. Are you considering a new ecommerce website? Our ecommerce websites feature:
•Mobile, tablet and laptop friendly design
•Easy to use admin screens
•Powerful selling features like personalized product recommendations
•Analytics and reporting
•SEO and paid ad management services if needed
•Point of sale (POS) terminals, if you need them
Please get in touch if this is of interest, the next stage is a free consultation from which we can prepare a proposal for your project. If you have a project in mind please email us and we can provide a quote.
You’ll often get replies and out of these a dialogue around a future project could begin.
3. Making a sale
Now we arrive at a critical step! How do we convince this potential new client that we can deliver what they need? Once we have a bit of information on what they are trying to achieve, we send a proposal (see Chapter 3 on writing a killer one!).
Make sure you follow up a couple of weeks later. Website projects have a habit of slipping down the priority list for clients, until they become urgent! Stay in the loop with your leads and don’t worry if you don’t win every deal. If this happens, find out why you weren’t chosen and improve on it.
4. Repeat business and referrals
You’ve got your first client! Congratulations.
Don’t forget that the Lifetime Value of a client may be far more than the initial project. Once you’ve done an excellent job of delivering the project, catch up with the client on a regular basis to see how the website is performing.
Referrals are probably the easiest way to your grow your business, so think about how you can create a process that encourages clients to refer other leads to you. Most retailers will know others that could benefit from your services.
Measuring your success
Always measure your key activities. Create key metrics for each part of your funnel, such as how many new subscribers you have, what the click through rate of your emails are and which marketing channels your new projects are coming from. Then refine what marketing activities you’re doing by taking this into account.
Never stop learning and improving. Finding your first customers will be a huge learning curve but it’s just the start. Good luck. Go forth and build your ecommerce consulting empire!
About the Author
Alex O’Byrne is a founder at WeMakeWebsites, one of the top ranked Shopify Experts in the UK. He speaks regularly on the topic of marketing and ecommerce. WeMakeWebsites builds beautiful and effective online stores for creative retail companies and produces weekly advice for their mailing list of 8,000 retailers.