How to Successfully Localize Your Design Business

Standing out from the huge, and always increasing, numbers of web and graphic designers can be a very daunting task. If you are having a difficult time finding enough work to keep you busy you may want to consider focusing on local clients. There are a few significant reasons to consider this:

1. You’ll have fewer competitors in search engines and in the marketplace by focusing in on this target market.

2. Clients often prefer to work with someone local.

3. Developing your reputation and building referral business can be easier by targeting your specific area.

Although it is not a strategy that every freelancer or design agency needs to follow, localizing the business has produced positive results for many. If you find yourself struggling to land enough clients to stay busy take a look at the tips in this article to see if localizing is something that you would like to do.

If you would like to get more business from local clients and build your business around this target market, here is a look at some things that you can do to make this happen.

How to Successfully Localize Your Design Business


Decide on Keywords to Target

Before you can effectively optimize your website for local search you will need to gather some data about the habits of people who are doing the searching.

There are tons of different keyword research tools out there, some are free and some are not. For basic research you don’t need anything more than the free Google AdWords Keywords Tool.

Simply enter a few phrases that you think people might use when searching, and then compare the results. So you might try a list of phrases like Philadelphia web designer, Philadelphia web design, Philadelphia designer, web designers in Philadelphia, Philly web designer, Pennsylvania web designer, Philadelphia website design, and so on.

When you pull up the results be sure to check the “exact” box and uncheck the “broad” box under “Match Types”. This will show you how many people are searching for the exact phrases as opposed to phrases that contain your keywords.

When you have the exact match results you’ll probably see one or two phrases that get a lot more searches (you’ll want to pay the most attention to the “Local Monthly Searches” column) than the others. These keywords/phrases will give you the biggest impact if you’re able to reach the top of the rankings.

If you want to do some research to see how tough the competition will be for specific keywords and phrases you can install the SEO for Firefox add on from SEO Book. This add on will show you a lot of relevant details on the pages in the search engine results, most importantly the number of inbound links, PR, and domain age. This will help you to get an idea of whether a particular phrases will be easier or more difficult to rank for than another.

Optimize Your Pages for the Localized Keywords

Once you have decided what keyword or phrase you want to specifically target, you will need to optimize your site accordingly. The most significant factor is your page titles, so be sure that you are using the exact phrase in the title of your homepage, and maybe some other pages that you would like to use for driving new business.

In addition to the page titles, other basic on-page SEO would include using your targeted phrase in heading tags, in the body of the page, and in alt tags if appropriate. You don’t need to go overboard with it, make sure it is still natural for your visitors.

Build Links with the Appropriate Anchor Text

While page titles are the most important on-page factor for SEO, links are the most important off-page factor. If you want to rank at the top of Google for your targeted phrase you should build some links from quality sites with anchor text that includes your targeted phrase. Again, you want to keep this natural and relevant for visitors, but try to get keywords in the anchor text when appropriate.

List Your Address and Phone Number on Your Site

Having your address and phone number listed on your website can help in a few ways. First, it helps to show your visitors that your are an actual local company/designer. Even though your page may come up in a local search you still could be located anywhere. For local clients, seeing an address and a phone number can be re-assuring and it may make the difference between being contacted and not being contacted.

Also, by listing your address and phone number on the site you’ll make it easier for Google to know where you are located, increasing the chances of ranking well for a local search.

Get Listed in Online Business Directories

You’ll have an even better chance for attracting visitors from local searches if your business is listed in directories like Google Places, Yahoo! Local, YellowPages.com, and Manta. Even if your portfolio site is ranking well for local searches, directory listings can give you additional presence in the search engine results. Google often likes to show local results like maps and business listings very high in certain types of searches.

Consider Localized PPC Campaigns

If you have an advertising budget, even a small one, pay-per-click ads may be a good choice. With PPC programs like Google AdWords you can set it to show your ads only in your local area, which will ensure that your advertising money is being spent on the audience that you want to target. Also, you can bid on searches that include words of cities, or regions that you want to target.

Another great benefit of PPC campaigns is that you can turn them on and off whenever you like. So once your campaign is set up you can run it while you are looking for new clients, and when you’re too busy to take new clients you can pause the ad. Then it can be re-started whenever you are ready. You also have full control over the maximum amount that you want to spend, and it can be effective even with small budgets.

Write a Newspaper Article

Many designers take advantage of the opportunity for exposure by writing articles for design blogs, but there are also opportunities to write for print publications like a local newspaper. Many newspapers are open to publishing articles from professionals who are willing to write articles that may be helpful to readers. For example, you could write an article about e-commerce, online marketing, or some other topic that would be of interest to local business owners.

The article won’t be a blatant advertisement for yourself or your services, but it will help to get exposure to the audience that you’re targeting and you’ll probably be able to list your business and your website address or email address.

Network Offline

Since designers spend so much time online we tend to forget about networking opportunities that don’t involve the internet. Local chambers of commerce, professional associations, other groups, and conferences all present valuable opportunities to get to know other professionals in your local area. Many of these people would be able to benefit from your services, and others may have contacts with people who could be potential clients. While there are plenty of networking opportunities online, meeting face-to-face makes it easier to build stronger connections.

Lead a Seminar

I know of a few designers who have had excellent results with giving free seminars. You could contact your local chamber of commerce and offer to lead a seminar on a topic related to doing business online and you will have the opportunity to meet and build the trust of a highly targeted audience. While running the seminar will certainly take some work, if you’re able to demonstrate your experience and expertise it is likely that you will get some new clients out of it.

There are plenty of topics that you could choose from, ideally you would want it to be something that targets the type of clients that you are looking for (for example, small business owners). It should cover a subject that you know very well, and it should be a broad enough topic that it will be of interest to a lot of people. Working with a chamber of commerce is helpful because they will typically take care of the promotion by sharing it with their members.

Post a Classified on Craigslist

Millions of people use Craigslist to search for all kinds of things, including service providers. It’s quick and easy to create a simple classified ad to promote your services and you can have it listed for the specific city that you want to target. I’ve been surprised by how many designers I have talked to that get business from Craigslist. The clients you find may not have the highest budgets, but it can be worth your time, especially if you’re just getting started with your local marketing.

Offer Services to a Well-Respected Local Organization

One of the best ways to attract clients in your local area is to do work for other local clients. It can help by leading to referrals, and potential clients also like to see what you have done for businesses and organizations that they know.

Well-known organizations are great clients for this purpose because they will be well-connected and other local business owners will be familiar with them when they see the work you have done. Non-profits are a good target because so many of them are in need of good design services and because they tend to be well-known and respected in the community.

The work that you do for these local businesses or organizations can be paid or volunteer, depending on the situation. If it’s an organization that you would like to support it may be worth your time to offer your services at a discount or for free in order to get the benefits of having it in your portfolio and having them as a reference. Of course, this depends on your own situation.

Showcase Local Clients in Your Portfolio

Be sure that your portfolio includes work that you have done for local clients (assuming that you are happy with the quality of that work). Clients often feel a stronger connection when they see the work that you have done for other businesses and organizations that they know, and it helps to show that you have a proven track record in the local area.

Showcase Case Studies and/or Testimonials from Local Clients

In addition to simply displaying the work that you have done for these local clients, presenting case studies that detail the results of the project and testimonials can be especially powerful. These case studies of other local businesses will resonate with your potential clients more than a case study of some random business half way across the world. Anything that you can do to show that you have had success with local clients can help to encourage other local businesses and organizations to hire you.

Partner with Local Service Providers

Through your local networking you will meet people in a variety of different industries. You may be able to develop stronger relationships with some of these people that could involve formal or informal partnerships. For example, you may find a local accountant that has a number of business clients that could benefit from your services. Or you may partner with someone who runs a local printing shop that has customers in need of help from a designer. You won’t be able to make these kinds of connections without getting involved in local networking.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you tried to focus on local clients? If so, what have you found to be the most productive methods of finding those local clients?

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19 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Nathan Beck, June 23, 2011

    Great article, lots of simple but useful tips.

    You briefly mentioned business directories such as Google Places etc. I think this point should be stressed; considering Google is the most popular search engine, getting your website at the top of the listings for area-based searches (eg ‘design agency Manchester’) can be done really easily by taking the time to add your business to Google Places.

    At BLISS (www.thisisbliss.com) we’ve put together a short guide to help you get the most out of your Google Places listing. It really is a great shortcut to help your website and business get a lot more attention.

    You can download the guide here:

    http://www.thisisblog.co.uk/google-places-revisited

    I hope it comes in ‘handy’!

    Cheers

    Nathan

    • Vandelay Website Design, June 23, 2011

      Nathan,
      Thanks for linking to the Google Places guide. I agree with you that this is a really important point. It seems to me to be one of the easiest ways to have a real impact.

  • very helpful article, many thanks for the post.

  • Nicole Locklear, June 23, 2011

    Thanks for the information! I’m actually working on a geo-targeted campaign and working on some localized keyword PPCs.

    I was wondering about your Craigslist suggestion. I wanted to run a referral program in Craigslist but I’m worried about getting flagged off. Do you have any suggestions on how to approach Craigslist.

    I wrote about my geo-target briefly here: http://www.adayatdiscrete.wordpress.com

    Thanks again!

    Nicole

    • Vandelay Website Design, June 24, 2011

      Hi Nicole,
      I don’t have any personal experience marketing at Craigslist (not for myself anyway). I talk to designers all the time who have used it to find clients, but unfortunately I don’t have any experience to help you with.

  • Jesse McFarlane, June 23, 2011

    Don’t forget about geo sitemaps, this tool makes them really easy to generate:
    http://www.geositemapgenerator.com/

  • Mark Matthews, June 23, 2011

    Another great resource for getting your name out there is through social media. Promotions and contests are great in order to gain more Twitter followers and Facebook likes and shares. With Google’s new Panda algorithm placing much more importance on social media, every host should use Twitter and Facebook as a highly important marketing campaign.

    • Vandelay Website Design, June 24, 2011

      Hi Mark,
      Social media is definitely a great way to promote yourself, but specifically for marketing yourself locally I think there are better ways.

  • Vance, June 23, 2011

    These are all great! thanks for the post.

  • Josué, June 24, 2011

    As for all types of business not only in design, it takes much time and effort to promote your services, I think the key to success is to take advantage of all the tools already mentioned in this article, of course the media are essential.
    I love this article very well focused on the promotion of services …
    happy day …

  • aledesign.it, June 25, 2011

    Thanks for the post. So useful. In some case the best way to work is have a local client. But the most important thing is that they are serious! Some client need to talk face to face with the “graphic” many times.

  • Virtual Agents, June 27, 2011

    Going local for your search engine efforts is a good idea.. However, I have found that google does not have Google Maps for other countries such as the Philippines. I hope that there will be one soon

  • Decorating with Maps, June 27, 2011

    One thing I tried that I had success with was collecting ugly business cards from banks or places where they let you hang your card in a front lobby, and then sending a marketing letter directly to the business owner with a sample of some of my work and prices so they could see how much better their cards could be.

  • Asim Craft, June 27, 2011

    Great Post! Very informative and clients love to work with local designers. Check us out, digitaldesignzmedia.com

  • Vladimir, June 27, 2011

    I agree that Newspaper ads and Craigslist ads are important for promoting your local businesses.
    Thanks for the Good article :)

  • Kristin Currier, June 27, 2011

    This is actually very good advice for any small business owner or independent creative. Great article.

  • Mirus Group, June 30, 2011

    Wonderful post! Each of these tips is so helpful for any business that really wants to make it out there. I specifically agree with the tip about getting listed in business directories or getting listed in any directory for that matter. It will be the best thing you can do for your business to get your name out there and show your work. Make your business known and show clients why they should work with you and/or hire you.

  • Web Design Malaysia, July 8, 2011

    I think another way that works would be getting the local blogging community to write about your services and get them published on their blogs. Bloggers are as influential as mainstream media these days!

  • kate, July 28, 2011

    I guess all the designers must go through this post,because many of them dont actually localize their designs. seriously i must read post for designers.