Q: I started a Web site design company last year, and I am now having trouble building my clientele. How would you suggest that I build my customer base?
A: One of the problems you are facing is the uneasiness that people feel about hiring a company to provide a service about which they know very little. In your case, computer-challenged people may be intimidated because they don't understand the jargon, and they're not sure of how many hours or how much money it takes to put a Web site into place with design, content, links, hosting, registering, etc. So when you tell them it will take a certain amount of time to complete a task, they have no way of knowing whether they're getting ripped off.
Often Web site design companies do not reveal that they list themselves as the registrants of the client's domain, and are therefore in complete control of the site and often its content as well. For the client, getting the domain and site contact back from such a company can be worse than getting out of a bad marriage.
Since you're asking a company to trust you and the services you provide, it would be appropriate to present your policies in writing, including the fact that the client is always listed as registrant and retains all rights to the domain and site contents (if that's what you do). Show your client how to access the "WHOIS" section of Network Solutions and other sites to verify that your other clients are indeed the registrants of their domains. Design a brochure and include definitions of such terms as registrant, domain, content, updating the site, search engine submissions, hosting, etc. and show all costs. Explain these things to your clients in understandable terms, and give it all to him or her in writing.
Appeal to different budgets by putting together some basic to elaborate "packages" for clients to choose from, such as:
- A one- to two-page basic Web site, including a specific number of updates per month and a specific number of submissions made to major search engines per year
- A three- to five-page site with a more designer look, perhaps with animation, fancy wallpaper, more updates, more frequent submissions, etc.
- A large site with elaborate design, secure pages, ordering capabilities, sound, video, virtual tours, unlimited updates and search engine submissions six to eight times per year, etc.
List the consistent costs separately, such as registering and re-registering domains and hosting charges.
If you're trying to bring potential clients to your site, make sure you let them know how to get there-in other words, advertise your URL everywhere and run traditional ads (print and electronic) to get your Web address out. I used to see outdoor billboards that read something like "Two-page basic Web site: $500" and included the company's URL. Once you get a client to call, you can go over the other options you have to offer.
As clients come on board, don't take them for granted. Work as hard for each client as you did when you were courting them. The key word in your question is "build." That means you have to keep current clients from bolting while you prospect for new ones.
Kathy Kobliski is the founder and president of Silent Partner Advertising, where she oversees multimedia advertising budgets for retail and service clients. Her book, Advertising Without an Agency, was written for businesses owners who are working with small advertising budgets and can't afford professional help. You can reach Kathy at (315) 487-6706 (weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST), or visit her Web site at www.silentpartneradvertising.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.