Tune in every Wednesday for a weekly "small dose" of advice, an explanation, or an interview with a web veteran. Lauren Bacon has mentored and coached many web professionals as they were starting out and loves sharing all that she's learned from her 15-year career as a designer, front-end developer, and agency principal.
Skill Level Beginner
- [Lauren] Hi, I'm Lauren Bacon and welcome to this week's edition of the Web Career Clinic, where I explore how to build a career you love making good stuff on the web. It's time for another member question. Today's question is, how do you promote and grow your business in slow times? Well, this may sound obvious but I recommend focusing first on whatever has gained you the most customers in the past. So if you generally have a lot of repeat business, reach out to your existing clients and find out if there are ways that you can support them.
If your email list has been a valuable source of leads, then focus there and make sure that you're writing the best possible emails you can. If you get a lot of referrals from other freelancers, set up some coffee dates or phone calls with the people who sent you clients and let them know that you're available. The second piece of advice I have is be genuine and be generous. What that means in practical terms is work on stuff that interests you and share it with people. That might be pro bono work for projects that really light your fire.
It might be personal projects, something creative and experimental that might get you on people's radars, someone who does cool things. It could mean devoting time and energy to marketing your business while you have some spare time. And by marketing, I don't just mean talking about your services, but rather offering something useful to the people you want to attract. Here's an example of what I'm talking about. Have a look at the Aeolidia.com website. This is a design agency that works with creative businesses that are selling stuff online and every part of their website, from the homepage to the blog, offers helpful, informative, and encouraging content for those customers.
From the moment that those prospective clients hit the homepage, they can recognize themselves and find tips that they can use right away. So if you're going through lean times in your business, it's a good opportunity to ask yourself if you could be doing more with your marketing materials to make yourself insanely useful to your target audience. And since you have time to spare, why not brush up your website and draft a bunch of blog posts that you can publish on a regular basis? You'll thank yourself later when business picks up and you don't have time to blog anymore.
If you feel like your marketing is doing okay, it's also worth considering simply taking some time off during slow times. This is probably the last thing you feel like doing if you're worried you need to be drumming up business, but in my experience, sometimes there are lulls that feel panicky at the time, but that are really just an opportunity to come up for air. So think about taking a couple of days off and enjoying yourself while your inbox is relatively empty. I mentioned pro bono work as one option to pursue in slow times.
Doing a project at a reduced or free cost can be a great way to stretch your creative wings, try out new technologies that you've been hoping to play with, or simply add to your portfolio. I have a whole chapter on this in my Planning a Web Design Portfolio: Getting a Job course, where I talk about the many benefits of including personal work in your portfolio. Of course, there are also some caveats. You want to make sure that you always establish up front what the dollar value of your work would be if you were getting paid, so that the client appreciates that.
This is important not only so they don't underestimate your contribution, but also on a practical level, if someone comes to them and asks how much their project cost them, you want them to be able to say that it was a donation with a value of X, so that everyone else's expectations are set at the right level. It's also important to think about how much free work you can afford to donate in the longer term, because odds are, paying projects will come down the pipe, and then you'll have to juggle them in with the pro bono commitments that you've made.
One strategy you can use if this happens is to let your pro bono clients know up front that in exchange for donating your time, you'll need to prioritize paid work, which might mean their project moves a little more slowly. My experience has been that when people are getting work for free, they're usually very happy to accommodate themselves to your schedule. In short, pro bono work is just one strategy among many that you can use to expand your reach and get the word out about your services when your project roster is a little lean.
Whatever you decide to do with your downtime, I encourage you to be as strategic as you can about addressing any gaps in your marketing and to take a breather and enjoy your downtime if you possibly can. That's it for this week's Web Career Clinic. If you have questions about your web career, I'd love to hear them. You can drop me a line on Twitter at @laurenbacon, using the hashtag #ProWebClinic. Tune in next time as I explore another topic for web professionals. See you next week.