Proven Direct Mail approach to getting web design clients on a near zero budget. (Pssst…works for other industries too)
Today I wanted to pull back the curtain a little bit about my business and give you an inside look at what it’s like to be a web designer/marketing expert for local clients.
While it’s true that as a web designer you can have clients from literally anywhere in the world I’ve found that my business has always relied very heavily on word of mouth and finding local clients has been the bread and butter of our growth.
If you’re looking to become a web designer or start a web design business or if you’re a small business owner who wants to grow locally, direct mail can be an amazing arm of your growth strategy and I’ve laid out a step by step actionable plan below for you to follow. Most of it isn’t actually about writing or creating the piece of mail but the research you do before you start the mailing…but first a quick question I think most of you will have.
Isn’t mailing stuff expensive?
Direct mail CAN be expensive if you’re blind canvassing people like crazy. I’ve read tons of courses and blog posts out there that tell you to buy a huge list of new business that just got formed or an industry specific list and to blast them all with postcards or form letters that you trick people into making them think they’re personalized. That’s not what I’m talking about here.
Direct mail works really well when it’s super duper ultra hyper targeted. What do I mean by that? I mean that each piece of mail you send out should be completely personalized to the recipient and written in a way where you’ve clearly spent a lot of time on doing your research on them before you sent them a piece of mail.
Your Dream Client
The first step of the process in direct mail is actually thinking a little bit more about your own business and what your dream client looks like. Real direct mail, or real marketing in general, takes a lot of work and if you’re going to put the sweat equity into making it work for you, you should at least be going after your dream clients.
How much will you charge them?
You should, of course, keep it realistic. Everyone’s dream client for a web design is someone willing to pay $30,000 for a one page website that takes you three hours to create…but those don’t exist. Instead think about what you’ve charged in the past and have actually been happy with. If you’re just starting out in web design maybe you’ve managed to get a couple clients at $1,000 and were really happy with that and you want to shoot for that figure. If you’re more seasoned or a small boutique design house like us you’ll more than likely be focusing on clients who can afford paying $5,000/website or more.
Once you’ve got the price you’ve been happy with getting you can move on to the next step of figuring out what type of client has that budget below. Before you jump to that section though, I just want to caution you from over-pricing yourself.
If you’re truly new to the web design world and you decide to charge $5,000 right off the bat you might be in for some rude awakenings. Clients who pay that much demand a certain level of service and if you’ve never dealt with hacked sites, a board that has to vote on your proposals, creating meaningful slide decks to sell a company on why you’re the right choice then you’ll really be wasting your time for the most part.
You should be 100% confident that your price is fair. If there’s a sneaking suspicion in the back of your head somewhere that you’re over-charging for your services then chances are you probably are. I would suggest working on smaller-level clients or even going after a couple big clients at your current rate to build out your portfolio and gain experience so that you can become that confident designer that does charge more than 5k for a website and can justify why it’s worth that much.
Who can afford you?
I promise you that no matter how much you charge (as long as it’s not free), there will ALWAYS be people who can’t afford you. That’s okay. You don’t have to be able to help everyone. Plastic surgeons can make almost anyone look incredible but the bottom line is that not everyone can afford elective surgery so they work with a decidedly smaller population and they do just fine.
If you’re charging $500/website your doors will be open to people who are just starting their business, including stay at home moms who are starting a side hustle, real estate agents who just got their license, therapists who are just starting their private practice and generally anyone who is really strapped for cash but is really trying to push themselves to start something new.
Chances are your rate is too low to go after anyone who’s been in business too long because they’ll get suspicious as to why your rate is so low.
At $1,000/website you’re looking at people who make a decent living, but nothing outrageous, doing what they do. Generally they will be open to having a website and kind of believe they need one but aren’t in a rush to get it and refuse to pay much more.
When you get into the $2,000 – $4,000 range you’re generally dealing with non-profits or companies that should be spending $5,000 but are trying to get a bargain or an occasional ambitious start-up with little funding who believe their website should be a top-level marketing item (go them for figuring that out)!
Finally, at $5,000+ generally I’ve found that you’re dealing with people who need a little more customization, perhaps some light ecommerce, bigger non-profits, organizations with a board that you’ll have to prepare a formal proposal for, and entrepreneurs who can afford to finally have a site that looks like it cost $5,000 to make themselves stand out from the pack. I’m not going to touch on sites in the $10,000 – $20,000 range as those are usually enterprise level sites for clients who earn more than $10,000,000/year and that’s a whole other ball of wax.
Doing your Research
Let’s say that you were browsing the internet and come across someone, say an attorney, who seems reputable for one reason or another but has a website that is at least five to ten years old. You take another quick look around and notice they don’t have any social media going on, no blog, no marketing in general. You even find that they don’t really even have a logo – it’s just default type in the top right corner of their website.
Instead of cold-calling an attorney (which is almost impossible because 99% of them have gate keeper receptionists that will never put you through). You decide to write him a letter about where he could improve on his marketing. But instead of talking about yourself in the letter you talk about him.
You’ve gone to Google and searched his name and found pervious cases he’s won and figure out that he has had great success in employment mediations that end in very lucrative settlements for his clients. You dig a little deeper and you find out that he went to the same college you went to or that your best friend went to and check that off as something you have in common.
After a little more gold-mining good old Google you find that he actually has some good reviews on attorney rating websites. With a few solid pieces of information like this you can start to think about crafting a well thought out letter for your potential lead.
The Goal of the Letter
You may think that the goal of the letter should be to land the client or to book a session with them – wrong. Your approach should be to HELP them.
You have to understand something as a web designer. Your clients don’t look at you as a web designer, they look at you as a marketer. Ask any real estate agent and they’ll tell you that their clients often ask them for referrals for good plumbers, electricians, contractors and even information on the local schools. As soon as you put on the hat of web designer you fall into the “marketing” category and clients will want to look at you as their go to marketing guy. They’ll ask you about email marketing, SEO, Pay Per Click, I’ve even had people ask me about how to sell stuff on etsy.
The goal of your letter should be to help them grow their business and not ask for anything in return. People know you’re going to charge them, you don’t have to talk prices or packages in your letter, just give them some good solid advice.
The Power of Good Advice
Good advice, when it’s tailored specifically to the potential lead, does two very important things for you:
- It shows that you put time and effort and care about their success which builds trust.
- It establishes that you know what you’re talking about and positions you as an authority figure to them to turn to with their marketing efforts.
Giving away some of your best information to potential clients is something you should not be scared to do. If you tell people that creating a free mailchimp list to market to on a regular basis and simply outsourcing the email template design on fiverr.com for $5 I would be surprised if even 2% of the people would follow through on that. The reality is they just want to focus on their business and have you take care of everything else.
Writing the Letter
Alright, so we’re finally ready to write the letter. We know a few things about the client. We know his first and last name (let’s call him Mitch Appleton) We know they’ve been in business for a while, they’ve been successful with employment cases, they went to the same college as you did, and they’re website absolutely stinks. Here’s what this letter might sound like (analysis and in-depth explanation follows below).
Dear Mr. Appleton,
I happened to stumble across your profile online when I was doing research for another client of mine and saw that you went to UCLA (I’m a fellow bruin myself). I noticed that you have had a lot of success in acquiring lucrative settlements for clients with wrongful termination, congratulations by the way. I even saw that you have an excellent rating on lawyers.com which makes you really stand out from the pack.
I went to your website and noticed, if I may be frank, that it wasn’t nearly as impressive as your legal accomplishments. I don’t have a crystal ball but my guess is that you haven’t gotten a single new client from your website who hasn’t either met you in person or was referred by someone who knew you.
I think you’re missing a really big opportunity here in growing your practice. I run my own marketing firm where I specialize in optimizing client websites to grow their business and I thought I’d throw out some ideas for you to mull over.
If I were in your shoes, I would put your amazing ratings front and center on the website with an image of the lawyers.com logo next to your rating. Showing a third-party review source like this really adds credibility to people who might stumble onto your site.
The next thing I would do is create a very strong call to action that focuses on your most successful/lucrative client right at the top of the site. This call to action would be to connect you with the potential client so you can learn more about their case and decide if it was for you or not. Assuming your niche is wrongful termination the call to action could be something like a big, bold contact form with a strongly worded title right over it that spoke to their pain. Something like this:
Did you deserve to get fired?
If you think you were wrongfully terminated chances are you were! Don’t let your former employer walk all over you. Let me show you how I can help.
Get help Now!
The headline speaks directly to their problem and the sub-title underneath shows them that you’re on their side. It urges them to reach out and call/email you and when someone is browsing on the internet they really want to connect with someone fast. Statistics show that online consumers use the first service provider they connect with over 80% of the time. Making sure it’s easy to contact you is key and putting something like this front and certain will really increase your chances of getting new clients from your site.
I’d love to take you out to coffee if you can spare fifteen minutes and just talk through some marketing ideas I have for you to grow your practice. Like I said earlier I’m just a couple miles down the road so it’s always nice to connect with other people in the area in person. It would also be nice to get a good attorney I could refer people to who might have wrongful termination suits. I often create website for people who are starting a new business because their last job ended suddenly.
In the even that your case load is full and you’re not looking to grow your practice I totally understand and applaud your success. If that is the case and you have a good attorney you refer out your overflow to who you think could use some help with their marketing please let me know and I’d be happy to reach out to them.
PS Another quick marketing idea – have you ever thought of promoting yourself at Job fairs? A good portion of the attendees are recently terminated and most job fairs have some affordable sponsorship opportunities on their websites and marketing materials.
I thought I’d list a few other things I noticed about your site that could use some improvement:
It doesn’t work on cell phones (which is over 50% of internet users these days)
You’re not coming up on Google Maps when I type in attorney Los Angeles
You don’t have any kind of consistent logo branding on your site.
You’re not bragging about your lucrative settlements or awards which is what your clients really want to hear about.
You don’t have many reviews on Google or Yelp.
Phew that was a long letter
I usually use open sans as my font of choice when I’m composing the letter in Microsoft word and use a font-size of 11pt. That letter would be over 2 pages long. If you’ve ever done direct mail marketing before you’ll know that anything over a page is considered a cardinal sin, but that’s what makes this approach different.
Spending time to really get to know your lead and writing content tailored directly to their site is something that nobody, I mean NOBODY else is going to do. A letter like this will make you stand out instantly, even if they don’t read the whole thing.
Breaking down the parts of the letter
Personal Content First
It’s important that you quickly establish that you’ve done some research on this person and it’s not a blind, pre-formatted template letter. The first paragraph should show them that you know something about them that has taken a few seconds to look up.
It’s also important to connect with them on some level (in this case the college connection) in order to make them feel like you’re a real person.
Complement them on their success. If this is an ideal client for you chances are the reason is because they’ve had some sort of success. Even if they’re a start-up that you found on Facebook or heard through a friend, you can congratulate them on starting their new venture and talk about how exciting it was when you started working for yourself. Anyone who is able to earn income doing what they do can be congratulated in some way. Make sure to pat them on the back a bit and put things off to a good start because you’re about to slap them with the bad news.
Pointing out the problem
If they have an ancient website they will most likely know that the site is old and ugly. So in this paragraph I just point out the obvious that their website isn’t doing them any favors by being so ugly. I still temper it by saying “if I may be so frank.” This is not an aggressive letter and the goal here is to develop a relationship that will turn into a client so you want to be personable and polite.
Giving some good advice
I try to pick at least two really strong marketing tactics that would improve their site other than just being a more modern design. When you’re dealing with a client who has an ugly site you’ll usually get a “wow” from them when you submit your first mock-up if you’re doing your job right but until you get there you have to sell yourself on concepts.
In this letter putting authority signals like third-party reviews and a strong call to action submission form are two simple things that they’ll read and slap themselves in the forehead for not thinking of themselves.
I go a little further in the letter by writing some sample copy. Most people don’t know how to write good emotion-provoking copy and with attorneys tapping into people’s anger and fear are always going to yield the strongest conversions so I’ve tailored the content to tap directly into the anger of a terminated employee.
From my experience with attorneys, this is something they do themselves when meeting with the client. They go over all the bad stuff their old boss used to do to them and almost like an nlp trick the client gets furious reliving all those moments and gets charged up and ready to fight.
Ask for the meeting
Again, this is a local direct mail campaign and the best way to land local clients is with an in-person meeting. There is a natural human expectancy that as soon as you’ve taken somebody’s time face to face you owe them something. Once you’ve had a meeting with someone in person and establish a real relationship the close ratio goes through the roof.
Even if they don’t have time to meet with you they might call you because you asked for a meeting and just do it over the phone – still good! Asking them out to coffee (where you would pay obviously) is a great way to show that you’re a real person who cares about their success and that you’re interested in building a long-term relationship.
Almost nobody has too much business. In bringing up the idea of them having a full case load you’re actually telling them something very subtly here: you’re saying that the only reason NOT to work with you is if they are over-booked.
There is the rare person who is indeed over-booked, and there’s also the possibility that the person is just months from retirement. If either of those are the case than you’re asking for a referral and if they’ve read this far into the letter there’s a pretty good chance they’ll actually refer you to someone so why not put that out there as well.
Additionally, by telling them you’d be open to working with someone else you’re also subtly letting them know that you will work with their competition if they don’t hire you. You could do this more aggressively by saying something like “I only work with one attorney per city” but again this is about growing real relationships where you’re not the pushy sales guy.
When I first got into copywriting I thought the PS was really cheesy but the truth is that the PS has proven time and time again to be quite effective. It’s the last thing they read so there’s a higher retention on a PS.
I use my PS to almost always reinforce my expertise and connect with them personally. In the first PS I’m showing them that I’m just bursting with ideas on how to help them grown their business and in the second PS I’m showing them that I’ve spent time analyzing their site and adding a sense of urgency by pointing out all their flaws.
If I were to put a list of their mistakes at the top of the letter it would be too aggressive and not the type of relationship that I would want to build with someone; however, after giving them ideas on how to improve and complementing them throughout the letter we’ve earned an opportunity to point out some things that are in desperate need of attention.
Other things to consider
People get a lot of junk mail. Lots of direct mail courses will tell you to get what’s called lumpy mail. If you’re not familiar with lumpy mail it’s what I like to call shtick mail. Instead of mailing it in an envelope you mail it in a pill bottle or a bank bag. There’s tons of this garbage out there but if you’re trying to build a relationship with someone where you’re looked at as a reliable authority do you really want to start off looking like a cheesy used car salesman?
Web design is expensive. If you want to get into the discount web design world you’re going to be competing with wix and all the other diy solutions that have millions to spend on marketing. You will never win without some heavy heavy spending and lumpy mail really only works on people looking for cheap solutions.
There are two sure-fire ways of getting them to open the letter.
- Send it in a priorty or fedex envelope. Expensive but works every time.
- Send it in a normal, off-white or colored envelope and hand-address it.
The first solution is expensive and it works but it’s cold. I put it here just because I know it works and it’s not cheesy so I totally approve of using it but the second option of hand-addressing an envelope so that it looks like a thank you card or an invitation works just as well (sometimes better) and it’s only going to cost you a stamp.
You can put a return address but put your name and not your company on it. I would opt to leave the return address off in most cases though as it doesn’t add anything and sometimes gets them to question if they know you or not.
I do recommend getting some professional letterhead printed though. As soon as they open the envelope it’s time to be professional and having letterhead is the way to go.
Also, I didn’t list it here but make sure to put your phone number and email address under your name in the letter. I usually put both my office line and my cell phone (reinforcing the personal connection yet again). The last thing to do is to sign the letter by hand and mail it off.
The truth is not everyone will respond to this letter. Some people will read a couple lines and toss it and others may read the whole thing and still not call you. I usually give it about four business days before I follow up with a phone call.
At this point you are far from cold-calling. You’ve taken the time to research the person and their business and you’ve provided value to them free of charge. You can definitely call to follow up on your letter at this point and expect to be put through to the person at least 50% of the time. They might not always meet with you but you’ll be connecting with a whole heck of a lot of people.
Again the Steps in a nutshell for this campaign are:
Figuring out who your ideal target is
Finding your ideal client in your local area
Researching your ideal client to prepare the direct mail piece
Writing the direct Mail Piece
Following up after the mail is sent
This whole direct mail strategy is really targeted at expanding your local market as a web designer. You’re asking them out to coffee, you’re talking about how you’re local and really pushing for a meeting. This type of letter wouldn’t work well if you’re more than fifteen miles or so from your lead. You would really have to rework a bit to suggest a phone call or a skype meeting but it’s doable.
Like any piece of marketing the biggest part of this to work is taking action. If you sit around and think about doing this it will never work, but if you put it into practice your chance of success goes from 0% to 100% if you give it enough time. If this is the first time you’re doing something like this I would recommend starting with 5-10. Don’t do just one or two as it’s a bit hit and miss but if you commit to doing 5-10 in a 2 week span you might be surprised to find that you’ve landed thousands of dollars in new business from a few hours of work and five bucks in postage.
Feel free to ask questions or post your success/struggles with this approach in the comments below.