My Secret Weapon to Getting Contracts


In my first days of freelance web design, I did all the right things to get business — web-site done, Chamber of Commerce joined, social media networking done. So why wasn’t the phone ringing? I suspect many freelancers feel the same way. The big question remained: where do I get business?

Then I discovered a secret weapon. I wanted local business, as it’s easier to build referrals that way. I went through the local directory looking at businesses without web-sites, or with very old and poor sites and made a list. I made a small brochure, put on some decent clothes, grabbed my business cards and actually physically walked into their offices! I got enough business within two days to keep me busy for months, and had a blast at the same time.

It seems many of us have trouble getting over the fear of actual cold-calling. We will do anything possible to avoid it. We will waste time on catching up on blogs, RSS feeds, Facebook, anything to avoid cold-calling, and still chalk it up as ‘work’. However, once you try this method you will forget all other marketing ideas.

So, if you are new into freelancing, or business is slow, try the GOYAKOD method — Get Off Your Ass and Knock On Doors!

About the author

Hollis Bartlett1 is a full-time freelance web designer & developer located in Nova Scotia. He loves the freelance lifestyle as it gives him flexible time to spend with his wife, 3 daughters, supports a blacksmithing hobby and still gets the bills paid.

Editor’s note

This post is one of the finalists of our guest author contest2. Over three weeks selected top-10-lists and discussion articles will be published. To rate the articles we’ll analyze their popularity, users activity, quality of backlinks, traffic and further data.


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  1. 1

    So obvious. But a good reminder. Thanks!

  2. 52

    I find it amusing when the commenters have longer post + have more valuable information than the article.

  3. 103

    Yea… so many people go tapping their heads… “err i dont know how to get work”… its rule #1… to be honest your advice like this isn’t worth posting tho… if people dont think of this themselves they should suffer in business ;¬P for that exact reason! =¬D

    ps. your method only works if you know how to generally interact… dont forget this is the internet your speaking too ;¬)

  4. 154

    Thanks for the heuristic that it really is an effective way, and via the Internet is usually harder… I don’t like face-to-face that much, a lot of people in the IT industry don’t, and we hope there’s another way to getting work… so the ‘obvious’ point is a Get Off Your Ass wakeup call!

    Trouble is, I can never fit the standard ‘identity’ and ‘look’ of the Preconceived Intelligent IT Dude, and I live in a closeminded city… so face to face is quite likely to lead to less leads for me than the abovementioned, if you get what I mean. “First impressions” and all that might lead to potential leads having less confidence in my actual ability. I’d like to think through ways to first get interest before meeting face to face.

  5. 205

    #53 Loque: My man.. However, I wouldn;t agree that they > should

  6. 256

    #53 Loque: My man.. However, I wouldn;t agree that they *should* suffer in business. Looking at most of the comments it seems to me that there’s a lot of people out there, who needs advice or at least some encouragement. Being a developer and being a businessman are two different things. That made me think ’bout writing some longer article ’bout it. Hmm..

    (sorry for the previous broken post)

  7. 307

    #54 Kite: I think that’s possible if your portfolio is strong (quality, not the amount of projects, so those browsing it get exited and call you) and your clients satisfied (so they will recommend you to their folks, if they look for someone).

    I don’t even have my portfolio online and I got few calls this month. Three business-card sites, three interactive enterprise sites and one BIG portal. Despite my own business, it’s a lot of work that I didn’t even asked for. From time to time I have to reject proposals. But that’s normal when your friends are businessmen respecting high quality, they know you can provide. Or not even.. Let your mother know what you’re doing (one of those little sites I’m gonna do is for my mother’s friend’s husband), let all of your friends know and spread the word, they don’t particularly need to be businessmen. They all got parents too, right? They got other friends, etc.

    You said you’re from a “closeminded” city and that you prefer not to meet face-to-face first. Well, I have a girl friend, who is just like you. I had to encourage her a lot before she founded her company, ’cause she has a great talent. She doesn’t code, but makes great print works, illustrations, logos and layouts too (still, needs to learn about them more). Anyway, she started her business officialy, got a lot of support from her father and sister (clients, biuro) and some EU funds in addition. It’s been year and a half and her hands are full of work all the time and she haven’t managed to make her own site yet.

    Hope that ‘lil bit storytelling helps.

  8. 358

    Thank you for posting this article, it’s something I knew I had to do (cold calling) but I wasn’t actually sure if anyone else did it. It’s such a reassurance to see that this is the way to get jobs, well at least the first few jobs.

    Only problem I’d have is what exactly to say.. and also I’m 19 but I look really young so I’d be worried my appearance would put clients off, hopefully my portfolio would ease any concerns though of course!


  9. 409

    GOYAKOD method — Get Off Your Ass and Knock On Doors!
    Yeahh.. nice and fun slogan.. but i’m very agree with you..

  10. 460

    I’m still studying but already know that one, I agree though!

  11. 511

    It’s no longer secret. ;)

  12. 562

    Nice point aptly made, but really thin on how to go about it – which is a shame – especially if you are the nervous type, as many of us are.

    In a previous small business cleaning cars I did some reading on marketing (when it rained, in the UK it rains a lot)

    Go to the same premises on the same day every week for 3 weeks.
    They get to know your face, you say you will be back next week, and dammit, you are nothing if not reliable!

    Set yourself mini-targets : cold call 4 premises each morning. Don’t worry about whether you converted or not, just do the target. Week 1 drop off some literature and find out the name of the DMU (decision making unit).

    Thats all, just see yourself floating through the door, smiling sweetly, saying your prepared piece, droping off the docs and retiring gracefully. Nothing else, no pressure, do your 4 new premises and give yourself a clap on the back.

    Then do the 4 you visited on this day last week, that’s easier, you know the layout maybe you know the name of the DMU is he/she busy? Drop off more infom try and get an interview, get chatting with the “gatekeeper”. (the person whose job it is to keep the DMU away from people like you)

    By the time you are at your 3rd week, you will have developed so much patter, and your ability to walk through doors will be so imense that you will start to exude confidence. Unless your product service is so badly preseneted it must need review, you will win new business.
    It will eat every morning of your life though.

  13. 613

    This method might work, the only problem is, it’s a perfect dead end. You can only target small (usually very small) businesses in your area. There’s nowhere to go from here. If your only goal is to able to feed your family or your hamster, fine, walk this path. But if you want a little bit more than that, try something else.

    There are two actual ways to get serious biz, both being equally difficult:
    1. You are good at social networking (i don’t mean facebook and such, i mean real life actual human relations), you know the key personnel and decision makers at large organizations. It requires not only great interpersonal skills but a certain background that allows you to start developing contacts at an early age.

    2. Your work is truly outstanding and it is recognized by the worldwide design community. You win competitions, you have a distinct style, you are on the map.
    Remember how MTV and Nike and other international brands hire fresh talents from time to time. Once you are in the loop, you’ll have enough assignments for the rest of your career.

    I’m not UK based so i don’t know how business is done there but it can’t be a lot different. But here’s how it’s done in my country: Some 5 or 6 years ago there’s been a government website launched to allow citizens to submit electronic tax declarations and stuff. Three hours after the grand opening it crashed and remained down for another 3 weeks. They charged for this job as little as 2,85 million GBP (in local currency). This year the same company was hired to deliver a website for the speaker of the government, for a ridiculous 630.000 GBP. It was built on a free CMS, with whole pages not functioning properly, terrible design and typography throughout, dead links and so on. How could this happen? It’s easy: the owner of this online agency and the decision makers in the gov building are buddies. Nothing else matters.

  14. 664

    I agree with Dog5.
    your advice is maybe nice for starters, but somewhere in your carreer you probably want to get a bit further that your local garageshop.

  15. 715

    #64, Dog5: No conspiracy theories please. Of course connections matter, but the example you gave does not reflect the whole business. It’s just an example of a business-meets-politics situation, same shit happens in every branch. Years ago I worked calling big companies (we wasn’t interested in small ones even ’cause our products weren’t cheap), asked to talk the big fish (we always knew his name before) and if we somehow didn’t manage to talk him, then some other director from the board or the marketing director in the worst case (that usually didn’t work in the end ’cause – at least here – they’re usually some assholes with no clue) and just talked. The purpose was simple – to arrange the meeting, not sell anything or convince anyone, just to arrange a meeting where face-to-face the proper impression and the right decisions could both be made. In worst case you spend half an hour drinking free coffee eye in eye with the company president (who usually happened to be at least very mannerly man) on talking stuff, not business only, but the life, city, etc. They like guests and because YOU ARE A PRO he treats you as an equal company. Even if the answer’s NO you had a nice time, maybe learned something, met an interesting, rich man and gave him your business card. Not bad, huh?

    To be continued..

  16. 766

    But you can’t meet the right guys you don’t know yet without the risk of meeting the wrong ones. Sometimes they invite you too. Thick skin and calm nature is what you need. Some life experience and flexibility to talk their language too ’cause it’s not that hard to make someone think as you do, especially if it’s an asshole. In worst case, you’ll have some fun watching an idiot in action (two types: “i know better and i don’t need you!” and “what? i don’t understand, so i rather not, we’re fine”)

    When the president takes the decision, everyone else at place will serve you.


  17. 817

    Good article.

  18. 868

    Loving this article!

  19. 919

    h-a-r-v, i get your point but most people (myself included) are extremely uncomfortable making cold calls. Earlier this year, our office manager quit and for two weeks i had to answer phone calls (normally i’m the lead designer). 7 out of 10 calls were from telemarketers who tried to make you buy some sort of pathetic product or service. I’m a friendly dude who avoids conflicts but with those telemarketers on the phone, i’m downright rude. They go like ‘i want to speak to the CEO’ and i usually ask who happens to be the CEO and the answer is umm…dunno. Then i ask why the bloody F do you think he would want to waste a second on you. And this is where the conversation ends. Most of the telemarketers (at least over here) are unsuccessful, uneducated, unhappy people who aren’t good enough in any decent job. Lately when i see the caller ID is hidden and i hear this totally bored tone i just hang up on them the second they start to sound off. I think cold calls are a particulary rude way to abuse your privacy.

    You must be fortunate that you’ve been treated the way you said. But my experience is, serious managers usually don’t make business with someone who just dropped in from the street and don’t bother to deal with telemarketers.

  20. 970

    Abdulsalam Alasaadi

    August 13, 2008 12:58 pm

    Thanks for the post. I have gone through this and I totally agree. Keep it up

  21. 1021

    #70 dog5: No, I wasn’t. As I said: most of the companies I called wasn’t interested. However, among hundreds I called there were several dozen I had good business and time with. I believe several dozen is enough. I’m not saying this is a perfect way to get a bigger contract. I’m just saying it is possible and it’s one of many ways. Surely, them calling you ’cause you’re so damn good is the best one, but you gotta be though nowadays if you really think about success. The way described is also not intended to be followed forever. After few months you should have enough clients scheduled not to worry about your portfolio quality, I guess. This is also a harsh way, yes, but the difference between you and that pathetic telemarketers is that you DO have something real to offer the company can benefit from. Managers are aware more than ever now that a good website is a pretty key thing. Not all of them, sure, but you gotta find this few only. Bearing the process might be stressful at the beginning but what doesn’t kill you.. you know the rest. I learned a lot back then.

  22. 1072

    most of you are thinking far too hard about this and it fuels the insecurity about the “cold call”. Like the author stated, just get out there and do it. There are no secrets beyond that. Doing it more leads to confidence, and confidence can go a long way. You’re going to be constantly selling yourself throughout the rest of your life anyway by owning your own business, so you should start getting used to it now.

  23. 1123

    Thanks for the short article. As simple as it sounds, it sometimes is the most challenging thing to do. Just open your door and go out and ask for business.

    Using this method, I have been able to secure over $10,000 worth of work this month alone.

  24. 1174

    sometimes you don’t need to do that. clients will go after you automatically. web design and graphic works are so trendy now adays. clients will flock automatically

  25. 1225

    @Fausto Carrera I think H-A-R-V is being sarcastic not ironic

  26. 1276

    ahahaha nice! the problem is, at least in Brazil, the client knows that need our job but he don’t want to pay for it!!! when we say “well all this job will cost 1.000,00 USD$(a thousant)” the client never more call to us!!! How is in your country?

  27. 1327

    lol i dont want to know how many ‘designers’ act like you did a while ago…the problem is that designers see theirselve as artists and not businessmen…

    • 1378

      Hallo Herr Cussok,
      bitte nehmen Sie unverzüglich Kontakt mit mir auf. Betreff iPhone

  28. 1429

    This is exactly what i did. now i have enough works…

  29. 1480

    Awesome! I loved it. I was expecting more after that short paragraph, thinking you tell us more about how you did it. Thanks!

  30. 1531

    Interesting article. I found some more information here

  31. 1582

    I’m totally f’n going for it. This week. Been looking for work for two weeks with nothing. Why didn’t I think of this.


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