.... where and how to find them
As the Internet develops, more and more web related freelance employment, contracts and tenders are being advertised via this medium rather than traditional print - which only makes sense. Employment sites usually contain their fair share of Information Technologies based employment; but so much of this work is now being outsourced by companies to contractors - especially web and graphic design/development, ecommerce implementation, Internet marketing and software applications programming.
Other services have geared up to act as a networking point for developers, marketers and designers to locate freelance work or contracts for their companies. These are highly competitive marketplace where a client can offer a project to the entire world and interested parties bid and compete against each other to gain projects. Probably the best known and largest marketplace is Elance.
Not all would-be clients are aware of these services. Some, albeit far fewer these days, don't even have an Internet connection, let alone a web site. How do you reach these people? As much I hate to admit it, the best solution is to use your feet (physical exercise...hmm, now there's a concept!). This is one exercise where "walking" through the telephone directory just won't cut it....
Hitting the web development pavement..
Back in around 2001 as I strolled around the central business district of Adelaide (capital of South Australia), I was surprised at the number of businesses that still didn't have an online presence; even ones directly involved in Information Technologies. I remember calling several computer stores asking for their web address, only to be told that it is "currently under development" which tends to mean "we haven't had time to even start on a web site" - or I had visited their sites only to find that they had not been updated for years. Again, these situations are becoming rarer, but they still occur - and if it's still happening in IT, then it's most definitely happening in the wider business community on a bigger scale.
It would be well worth the effort to research the stores in your home town to ascertain which businesses do have web sites, and those that do - perhaps they need updating? This applies not just to design, but search engine optimization and general web marketing aspects. So many people still don't understand that having a web site is not just a case of "build it and they will come"
Create a professional introduction letter..
With your list of businesses, you could then research them further by investigating the products and services they sell - getting to know them as intimately as possible. Then find the appropriate contacts within those businesses and introduce yourself via a professional letter, telephone conversation or meeting.
Just a note on telephone contacts - I don't believe it's the best way to go as an introduction. A telephone call is rather demanding as it requires the business owner's immediate attention. You are in effect dragging the business owner away from core tasks and customers - unannounced. An email (if you can find the address) or a letter may be a better method of introduction. However, a personal and direct approach can be most effective as long as you pick your time well and are able to easily strike up a general conversation that steers around to the issue of their web site (or lack thereof).
If you opt for the letter/email approach, during your initial communication, relay the fact that you have knowledge of their product line. Don't go too much for the hard sell. Basically state who you are, your background and what you offer.
Too much techno babble may frighten prospective clients off and too much hype will probably have the same effect. A well-worded letter may not see you with a torrent of contract and project offers initially, which is probably a good thing. But you would have sown the seeds for future work. Businesses that grow too quickly face as many problems as those that don't grow.
Here is a sample of an initial contact letter, focusing more
on web development for a business without an online presence, but it could be
easily adapted for pitching web marketing or for updates to an existing
Dear <Person's name, not "To whom it may concern">,
I visited your store today, <name of store> and was impressed by your product range. I mainly purchase via the Internet and was surprised to find that your business did not yet have an Internet presence - especially since the products/services <perhaps name a few products or services on offer by the business> would prove to be very popular in such an environment.
I am a web developer of x years experience, and am the proprietor of <your business name>; specializing in assisting businesses such as yours in establishing a financially viable Internet presence. My experience covers many sectors including: <name the industry experience, both web based and non-web - as any work history does count in these situations as it is relevant industry experience>
We work closely with our clients, helping them to avoid the traps and pitfalls that are associated with taking a business online <or "making the most from their online presence"> and have a number of referees who would be happy to attest to that.
The Internet is an excellent medium by which a business such as <name the business again> can increase it's profitability. Many other reputable businesses in your industry are enjoying a greater market share through an international audience; such as:
<name a few high profile destinations selling the same type of products and services>
If you are interested in learning more of how our services can benefit your business, please contact me at your convenience. My rates are extremely reasonable and we pride ourselves on excellent client support, both during and after contract. Utilizing our services, <name the business> will discover that "going online" can be a hassle free and profitable experience.
The idea is to keep the letter short and sweet - business people traditionally do not have a lot of spare time on their hands. Make sure that you pitch the letter in accordance with cultural guidelines. A letter format such as the above may meet with success in one country, but not in another.
If possible, send the letter on your business letterhead and better still, attached a business card. People tend to throw away letters after reading them, but not business cards.
Many business people are still coming to grips with the power of the Internet and eCommerce. But when the time comes for them to go online or to update their web sites, your name may be the first that comes to their minds - especially if you follow up your original contact periodically, to keep your business and Internet development skills fresh in their minds.
The start-up challenge..
One of the major challenges facing new web design and ecommerce development companies is the fact that since they are just in start-up phase, of course the cupboard will be a bit bare in terms of portfolio. If you don't have a portfolio, it's very difficult to convince a client that you are the right company for the job. There are a couple of ways to get around this challenge.
1) Ensure that your own web presence is a quality site.
Your own site will be something that either makes you or breaks you. Take care in the online representation of your business and make it a little bit more than a couple of pages that simply state, "Hire us". If you have a particular expertise in a field of development or marketing, by all means let it shine but don't box yourself in so much that a potential client may feel that is all you can do.
You can further prove your expertise by including a few tutorials on your site. These tutorials can be offered free for reproduction on other web sites. The more suitable content on your site, the more chance of search engine representation, more people will visit your site etc. etc. Publishing your own tutorials will also give you greater credibility amongst your peers. If you don't have the time or inclination to write articles and tutorials, there are many places on the Internet where you can find free articles for reproduction.
Ensure that your site is viewable to the widest range of browsers and platforms possible. If your specialty is bandwidth heavy elements such as Flash, don't incorporate that wonderful 10 minute animated presentation as your home page, put it into another section and give the client the option of viewing it. When people are looking for developers, they are usually flitting from site to site - if your page takes too long to load, they'll more than likely move on.
2) Build other sites for yourself.
Clients will want to see a bit of variety. Choose an appropriate subject area and build a small site around that topic. Using affiliate programs that are offered by many companies, you can then also make money from it by advertising related merchants products and services. This strategy worked particularly well for
us when we were still building sites for others! Add these "mini-sites" to your portfolio page. With the price of domain names and some
web hosting services offering multi-domain support standard with each account, this strategy is also very economical.
3) Dig into your web design archives.
When your site is looking the way you want it, add other good examples of your work to a portfolio page. It doesn't matter if these elements that you have created over the years were never implemented, just as long as they look good and function well. These elements may be images, animations, page design concepts, software screenshots etc. - if it looks good, then use it on your portfolio page. List all the items with a brief description and thumbnails to decrease load time.
4) Sub-contract work from other developers
Having done all that, gather the names of relevant web development companies and email them with offers of taking on subcontract work. Make your email as brief as possible, but be descriptive in what you are offering and personalize the email. Don't let the company get the impression that they are just one name on a bulk mailing list. Compliment the company on some aspect of their work that you've seen.
Many web development companies have so much work, they will be quite happy to outsource various project components to someone they can trust. Although the jobs may be quite sporadic and small at times, it will give you the opportunity to rapidly build a credible portfolio - and at the end of the day, credibility is what will make you an online success!
Web freelancer project resources
As mentioned earlier, services such as Elance are places where freelancers and design companies can compete for development work in a global arena.
A low price won't necessarily gain you the job - customer support and "going that extra mile" is also of paramount importance when clients review bids to decide whom to award the project to. Remember, it's a risk for them to take on a stranger and you need to be able to convince a prospective client that you are skilled, credible and reliable. If you are a small design company or a one-man show, a service such as this can be of great value, as many clients prefer this type of business relationship.
As you undertake more projects under this service, you are rated on performance, which is available for all to see. Many small design companies are not only using these services, but it's creating so much work for them that they are employing others to meet the demand. Millions of dollars worth of tenders are currently available through services such Elance, covering various sections:
Even if you don't find yourself in a position to benefit from this type of service, it's worthwhile visiting on a regular basis to gain some ideas on pricing, sales pitches and services offered by other successful web development companies and freelancers.
Related learning resources
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In Loving Memory - Mignon Ann Bloch
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