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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 Link

Hollis Bartlett 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 Link

This post is one of the finalists of our guest author contest1. 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.

Footnotes Link

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  1. 1

    Great :)

  2. 2

    Oh, rly? I never thought it’s even possible to make any business without face-to face meetings first. That’s just the way you do business. Everywhere.

    • 3

      NOT true – I have tons of clients I’ve never met face to face. Your reputation will carry you here.

    • 4

      You will be surprised to know how often this is not true.

  3. 5

    Fausto Carrera

    August 12, 2008 7:24 am

    @h-a-r-v don’t be ironic, but in this world the common sense it’s the less common of the senses.

  4. 6

    I don’t want to be unkind, but that’s not exactly a revelation. What about some opening lines, some common requests you’re likely to face and should be ready for, some ideas on how to price when cold-calling (there’s more sticker shock when meeting in person, I find, and it can be well worth dropping the price along with the number of features offered)?

  5. 7

    Fadi Aboualfa

    August 12, 2008 7:27 am

    I would suggest everyone pick up a sales book or two. I was an Outside Sales Rep for Xerox and ADT Security and believe me Knocking On Doors Works. Its all about the numbers and filling up your funnel.

    Say, You decide to knock on 20 Doors a Day. Your goal is not to get the business but an appointment. See what there needs are. Maybe they need more than just a plain website. Maybe they don’t want the shopping cart you are offering them. So Get an appointment.

    20 Doors a Day – 5 Days a Week. 400 Doors a month.
    Out of those 400 Doors (that you have researched and belive they need something) you’ll prob. get around 40 Appointments. Then your closing ratio will get you 6 Deals.
    These numbers are for total begginers at knocking on Doors. IGNORE THAT “NO SOLITIATION SIGN”

    Not bad for 1 Months Work Is it.

  6. 8

    #3 Fausto Carrera: I know. I just expected a little bit more from a finalist than telling me a completely basic and obvious thing and calling it a secret weapon. I totally agree with the author, though. It’s a nice observation and I’m glad he started getting successful. Maybe that’s gonna help others doing so. It’s jut no advice for me.

  7. 9

    This is a good post, but I do agree with Schmoo that a few more specific tips would help us to learn more from your experience. Which types of businesses seem the most responsive? How do you effectively “get through” the front desk person and to a decision maker? What did you include in that brochure that they noticed most?

  8. 10

    You may think this is so base and basic but you would be surprised at how many people NEVER do this. They think having a website will be the guarantee they need to make the big bucks. I’ve seen so many freelancers go dry because they never once walk around, give their brochures, chat with people … not once.

    Another idea that is definitely worth a try (I’ve gotten a good handful of jobs) is to join a few local business groups. These are groups of businessmen who get together, have coffee and chat about the local business economy and exchange cards and see what’s going on. I’ve not only gotten a few of those businesses under my belt but they’ve also handed my business card to other businesses – getting referrals (which is a very powerful ally).

    And while #5 Fadi says to ignore the “No Solicitation” sign … I’d recommend handing your brochure, asking for someone’s business card and contacting them outside the office. This way you’re not soliciting. You can walk in and say, “Hello, I’m from XYZ Design and just wanted to ask if there is a business card for someone who I can contact later about your web and graphic design needs. Hey thanks for the card, could you do me a favor and give this to him/her and let him/her that I’ll contact them later? Thank you! Have a great day.”

    Just remember, be polite, pleasant, can the corny jokes – you want to make sure you don’t monopolize their time because if they feel like you’re just a pest they’re just going to try and push you out the door.

    You’re not selling design at this point – you’re selling yourself.

    And remember – FOLLOW UP is just as important if not more important then the initial contact. Send a letter, an email and call .. make sure they know you’re still there and be sure to know what they’re going to need.

  9. 11

    This works for all other types of advertising as well. I go through the yellow pages and find the ugliest, spartan-looking businesses, then do a quick ‘makeover’ brochure on glossy stock and walk in with that.

    Here’s how I do it:

    (walk in, introduce myself)
    “Hi, I’m Ted Bragg. I handle smart advertising for local businesses. I took the liberty of making this (hand them the brochure) and would like an appointment with Mr/Ms So-and-so (I usually call a few days ahead, posing as a customer and ask who their manager or owner is).”

    More often than not, I get to talk to the big dog right away. It doesn’t always get a sale, but I make contact and the brochure makes a huge impression. If they take the sample and get some cheapo shark to do it (it does happen), I don’t sweat it. I don’t want them as a customer to begin with. Like Mr. Xerox above said, you’re out to fill up your funnel with appointments — out of that you get your actual sales.

    As someone who’s been on both sides of the counter — business owner and freelancer, this article is great advice. Don’t let its simplicity fool ya.

  10. 12

    This is totally true. Short post but makes a good point. I was struggling while freelancing and I was the same, sending emails or messing around on my site to try and get work in. It wasn’t working well.

    So one day I went out walking. After 20 minutes I had interest, and after a follow-up call got a job. From that job I’ve had referral work and further work from that client. I was still nervous about doing it though.

    But I bet if I’d spent just 1 day a month knocking on doors – that work and the further work from referrals would be enough to keep me busy without any other form of marketing.

  11. 13

    You are right – but i really hate that ;-)


  12. 14

    Good point. It seems obvious, but the majority of young freelances make the mistake of trying to find ‘global’ work by answering classifieds, or joining bidding sites, and often learn important freelance lessons the hard way.

    Being from New Brunswick myself, I understand how this is especially important in our markets – many small businesses are late adopters of web marketing, and the majority of advertising dollars are still spent on ads in the local paper. You know, they ‘have a website’ their brother-in-law made.

    One of my secret weapons – make friends with a local hosting/tech company, and a local printer. The referral circle never ends!

  13. 15

    August 12, 2008 8:08 am

    When I started out as a freelancer – I cold-called every print shop in the city saying that I was a recent graduate and had some availability to take on some design projects if they found themselves with too tight deadlines.

    I had a call the next day from one of the people and they begged that I come in and help put together a flyer for a client that needed it designed and printed the next day! It was crazy work but I got it done and next thing I knew I was getting projects every couple days…(with much better deadlines)

    The hardest part about cold-calling was initially picking up the phone book and making those calls with something prepared to say. It was total apprehension but after the first call or two, everyone seemed to be pretty nice so the other calls were much much easier!

  14. 16

    @Tadd – I agree that you’re selling yourself first, and not looking for a contract right away. However, in spite of this I have walked away with the next meeting being the interview for the website content as opposed to trying to still sell the idea in the first place many times.

    My approach isn’t that defined, it doesn’t work for me if I try to have a planned speech or anything. Quite often my opening line contains the phrase ‘you need a website’ In fact, I walked into a place just last week, and that was indeed my whole opening phrase – but only because I knew beforehand who the owner was and that I was talking to the right person. Be up front and honest about what you’re doing. The fact is, I don’t try to sell something I don’t 100% believe the client needs, and 100% believe I’m the best person for the job. Those facts comes through I think in your delivery.

    I think my apporach is really nothing more than assuming they want a website and want me to do it, as if we had already talked before. Something like “You need a website. When can we get together to discuss the details?” – well, maybe not that direct, but you get the idea. Assume they’ve already said yes. It’s not some slick saleman trick if you truly know they are going to benefit from your services, and that you really are doing them a favour by talking to them about it.

    Anyhow, the point of the post was really that we all possibly know in the back of our mind that getting clients requires talking to them first, however for whatever reason we avoid it like the plague. Once you get over that mindset, and really start talking to people it becomes much easier and you question why you wasted so much time and money on useless marketing attempts.

  15. 17

    Yep ! This is how things work ! =)

  16. 18

    How else would you do business? I mean, you can’t just email and say “Hai I make websites and I’m rly gud and I can make one for u” or something… I always have to do a face-to-face meeting with my clients before starting their website.

    A lot of people near my area need websites… Or better ones for sure. Businesses all around the WORLD need better websites. Come on web designers, GOYAKOD :)

  17. 19
  18. 20

    bruno byington

    August 12, 2008 8:51 am

    first things first: One mor hour then Im done with work for today JUHUUU!

    sure the main point of this article is communication with an unknown/known maybe future client. Im in general a very communicative person. I can easily go up to people and say hey how is it going and all that what it takes to get to know a customer and know what he wants. – without trying to be arrogant. Im not a marketing sales person, im an artist.

    The other thing you have to consider when trying to get a customer and whilst you are being communicative is to – yeah sure its important how you present yourself but also your price. If you hurry to a customer and you have ajob but have to work 12 hours for 4 bucks an hour, you are not worth your profession. I mean we are all in the end qualifies people because we have done our bachlors/masters/collegeDegree/workedFOrSoLong already that we can go for a solid number. It would definately be alright to be lower then usual with the price the first time – give a taste. but if its too low the customer might expect your fucking dumb if you understand what I mean. Cheers

  19. 21

    The articles have been good but the contest highlights one dilemma. I am wondering if 1200 characters is actually too short. It seems like the articles are over before they even start. Just an observation.

    Maybe the top 10 authors should be invited to write a longer article (2400 characters) to flush out their ideas.

    Either way, great job smashing magazine.

  20. 22

    U just earned your a DUH award.

    (enough said)

  21. 23

    This is a double edged sword… business in small towns can be good – or it can be a pain. Everybody knows one another & everyone expects a good “deal” – what ever that is. I am debating the risky move of leaving a local organization because of the politics yet risk losing a lot of business in the long run due to a good ole boys network.

    It’s not the gold mine you’d expect.

  22. 24

    Julio Cesar BR

    August 12, 2008 9:20 am


  23. 25

    Fadi Aboualfa

    August 12, 2008 9:23 am

    Every person will develop their own style. I do suggest not selling your services but a solution.
    For example, when knocking on a lawyers door, they’re not interested in your services. Period. Sure the off chance that they might be looking for a designer at that point in time is possible but minimal.
    Go In and Say, “Hi, My name is Fadi. I’m just doing some old fashion knocking-on-doors. I help law firms establish a better image around the community that will help them get quality business.”
    “No I’m not interested”
    “You’re not interested in getting more clients?”

    ….see where i’m going with this?

  24. 26

    @ h-a-r-v: If it’s not good advice for you, then just move along. No need to be derisive.

  25. 27

    BANG! That’s it brother!

  26. 28

    I think this article its interesting, its the experience of the author.
    But, a opinion its one thing, refuse other’s comments its other thing, and very stupid thing.
    sorry for my english.

  27. 29

    Many comments in this page sucks!!

  28. 30

    What this article lacks in content it makes up in discussion. Great points of view from all commenters above. Thank you for unearthing this time honored gem of wisdom.

  29. 31

    Do an excellent job everytime and referrals will flow continuously.

    Make your few clients very happy and you will never cold call again :)

  30. 32

    lovely ideas for a know nothing student like me. thanks to the commenters. this kind of discussions really inspire.

  31. 33

    #24 Mike M.: I didn’t intend to be derisive and I think I explained my point of view well enough not to do this again. Forgive me that “O’RLY” thing, if anyone felt opposed. That was Jon Stewart kind of humor I prefer, nothing more. Maybe I should have add a smiley ;-)

  32. 34

    Been doing it like this for years. While the rest are praying to the google gods, I’m getting paid.

  33. 35

    Has anyone else noticed that the quality of articles has been poorer lately? I guess we’ve become spoiled with the high quality content of the past, but there’s a reason I read Smashing Magazine on a daily basis and this isn’t it.

  34. 36

    thats because these articles (lately) are for the contest. grin n bear it!

  35. 37

    These kind of articles would be a welcome addition to smashing magazine. Longer, of course. Really insightful and fun to read. Pretty thumbnails get old after a while.

  36. 38

    as much as this articles are interesting they should be longer, they finish just when you expect some detailed informations. just a thought

  37. 39


  38. 40

    You idiots… don’t take the title so literally. This is very obviously not a secret. But, for us geeks who prefer to a computer screen to a party, it is very easy to for get this import step.

  39. 41

    I have never seen so many poor loser in one place.

    Great article, thanks so much! I always find it helpful to read what other designers are doing.

  40. 42

    It’s a decent blurb of a topic covered on many freelancing blogs around the web, as well as something I’ve discussed with numerous designers on many different levels form art directors of major European firms to just successful freelancers.

    But it would be nice if there was more information. For instance, simply walking in with said brochure won’t be enough, there are specific points you want to cover when you talk to someone. Also, calling a week or so after the brochure is delivered is a good idea. But beyond all of that the way you approach people and the information you give them is very important.

    Those are the sorts of things that it would be good for this article to have covered.


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