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Use the Net to Find Customers for Your Service

Selling a service online is not that different from selling a product online.

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Q: I recently started a business building Web sites for small and midsized businesses. I haven't been successful generating business by cold-calling. How can I use the Internet to reach potential clients that may be interested in establishing a Web presence?

A: Selling a service, like Web design, online is not as different from selling a product as you might think. In fact, almost all the traffic techniques used to drive visitors to product-based Web sites can also be applied to service-based sites.

However, there are some specific online techniques you should definitely use to your advantage. Let's take a look at some of the strategies you can use to generate a steady stream of potential clients for your online Web design business:

1. Take advantage of freelance sites. Professional services marketplaces like Elanceand Rent A Coderare great sources of clients. Post your qualifications and bid on posted jobs, using your Web site to help "close the deal" once you've entered into a one-on-one discussion with a potential client.

2. Joint venture with other online services. Since you sell a service that is typically needed at the same time as various other purchases (domain name, Web hosting and so on), you're in a great position to take advantage of joint ventures to reach your target market at the time when they need your service most.

Starting with the services you already use yourself, contact ISPs, Web hosts and domain name registrars to propose joint venture relationships. Position yourself as someone who can provide a great resource for their customers, while also ensuring that their customers continue to use their services. It's a win-win situation for everyone.

3. Encourage referrals and repeat customers. You may not have a ton of clients yet, but once you do start to generate some business, make sure you have a follow-up plan in place. Ask your clients if they are happy with the job you did. Is there anything else you can do for them? Do they know anyone else who might benefit from your service?

If you've done a good job for someone, they'll likely be more than happy to refer their friends and business associates to you. And since the business owners who use your service likely have lots of connections (through business associations, local Chambers of Commerce and so on), even one satisfied client can result in lots of new business. But if you don't ask your clients to pass your name on to their contacts, they'll rarely think to do it themselves. Don't leave this to chance.

4. Close the deal. Of course, getting visitors to your Web site is just the first step. You'll also need to establish your credibility so that your visitors become comfortable with hiring you as their Web site designer. Make it extremely easy for them to contact you about your service. Here are some simple ways to establish your credibility and quickly increase your client base:

  • Include a good, professional picture of yourself. Giving visitors a professional image to associate with your business will go a long way.
  • Provide evidence that other clients have been satisfied with your services. Testimonials from clients are a great way to establish your credibility. An online portfolio of your work is also a great option. And, of course, make sure your own site design is spectacular.
  • Make it easy for leads to contact you. Provide an online form, your e-mail address, your phone and fax numbers, your mailing address and any other relevant information (like the best times to call you). Make sure this information is highly visible and easily accessible from every page of your site.
  • Build an opt-in list. Some of your visitors may not be ready to hire you right away. But if you provide a great opt-in offer--like a newsletter that features weekly Web design tips--you'll be able to collect their e-mail addresses so you can continue to establish your credibility long after they've left your site. When they are ready to hire a Web designer, you'll be the one they'll call.

Once you put these strategies into place, you should start seeing much more qualified traffic to your site. Then you just need to establish your credibility so your visitors understand you're the best Web designer for the job. Follow up with opt-in leads and previous customers by e-mail, and you'll be well on your way to establishing a great client base!

Corey Rudl, president and founder of the Internet Marketing Center, is the author of the best-selling course Insider Secrets to Marketing Your Business on the Internet. An internationally sought-after Internet business consultant and speaker, Corey focuses his energy on the research and development of practical, cost-effective Internet marketing strategies and software for the small and homebased business owner.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of 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.

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