Designers, do you pursue local business?


It’s no big surprise that the majority of my design business thrives on national and international clients. Having a presence on the web will do that for you – your business is found by people from all over the world. If you run a design shop – your experience is probably much the same as mine, in that regard.

But when is the last time you turned your focus locally to build business relationships? There is probably a virtual landmine of business opportunities right in your own hometown that you are possibly overlooking when your focus is global.

I live in a small town in Wisconsin called West Bend. We have an estimated 32,000 population here and its a thriving city with many small businesses. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that nice website design is not a concept that has touched this city very much at all – – most small business in my community have really poor websites. Take the Official website of the City of West Bend for example and you’ll see what I mean! These poor guys are in desperate need of someone, who knows what they are doing, to step in and take control of that beast!

Here’s an example from an experience I had last week:

My husband, Chris, and I like to fish. We consider it stress relief. We’re not serious fisherme…er.. fisherpeople, by any stretch of the imagination. However, I’ve been a fishing enthusiast since before I knew how to walk. My Great-Grandpa Ame taught me all about the art of fishing on the banks of the Mississippi where we would fish for bullhead and catfish. Then we’d go camping in Iowa where I’d learn how to reel in perch, sunfish and crappie. By the time I was 7 years old – I was baiting my own hook, reeling in my catch, removing the fish from the hook all by myself – – not bad for a girl! Though, I never did catch on to the art of cleaning the fish. Seriously, I would mangle those poor things into unrecognizable pieces that could only be described later, at the dinner table, as fish nuggets.

I digress.

A couple times a week, Chris and I drop what we’re doing and head out to fish for a few hours. It’s quiet and peaceful and it doesn’t require a computer – which is a bonus! When we’re just fishing for fun – we’ll go down to the Milwaukee River with a fishing pole, a hook, a bobber and some nightcrawlers and pull in bullheads, carp, catfish and bluegills. Since I was a kid, the general rule of thumb for fishing in the Milwaukee River is that you don’t eat what you catch – – just don’t risk it. So we practice the whole catch-and-release method of fishing there. When we want to do some serious fishing – we’ll head out to Big Cedar Lake or Little Cedar Lake to fish for walleye, bass and northern pike.

Back to my story about local design work…. recently, we’ve decided we’d get a little more serious about chasing the big and small mouth bass in the area. We needed to learn and read a little about different techniques and equipment that other experienced bass fisherman have had with bass in the area. So I, naturally, turned to the internet. I found a great deal of information by just typing the keywords “Bass fishing for beginners” in Google and spent a few hours just reading about it.

Armed with that information – I now had the names and types of lures to use for bass fishing.. so I turned to Google again and searched for local bait and tackle shops where we could go pick up some of this stuff.

I found a great looking Bait and Tackle shop right here in town – – not 10 minutes away from our front door! Based on the information presented in their website – – they have a great selection of everything we’re looking for… including free advice on where the fish are biting and different locations that work best for area fisherman. Ready to become pros at this bass fishing thing, yesterday, Chris and I drove out to Main Street to find this place, so that we could spend an unnecessary amount of money on spinners, crainkbaits, jigs and other things we probably don’t need. (I’m sure bass will hit a worm just as easily as they’d hit a spinner, but we were getting serious now, you know).

We approached the address and pulled into the parking lot and were face-to-face with a Mexican grocery store. Confused, we looked around the area to see if maybe we had the address wrong, and couldn’t see the place. So, I picked up my cell and called the phone number that was listed on their website to see if I could get the address to their new location.

A recorded voice told me “the number you are trying to reach has been disconnected.” Damn.

So, off we went … we headed out to Little Cedar Lake and fished with minnows and nightcrawlers, figuring we’d have to wait a few more days for our professional bass fishing to begin… at least until we found another tackle shop that carried the lures we have been dreaming about.

Later that evening, I looked at the bait and tackle shops website again. I noticed an email address in the bottom left corner of the site and decided to drop them an email. Just a courtesy, mind you – – requesting that they remove their website, since they are clearly out of business and how mildly irritating it was to drive to their location only to find that they are no longer there.

To my surprise, the next day – I got a reply! “Jim” told me that they are not out of business — they’ve just moved their store location to a smaller city called Port Washington (which is about a 15 minute drive east of here). “Jim” went on to explain that they have contacted the company who hosts their site and asked to have the site updated to reflect the new information – – but it’s been out of date for several months, as they have not heard back from their hosting company…and the site cannot be updated without them.

Of course, I could not resist. Seriously – – could you resist?

I wrote him back and explained what business I am in and how I could easily set him up with a website that would enable him to have control over his own changes. I explained how, with a content management system like WordPress, he could update his website daily…HOURLY if he wanted to – – and he wouldn’t have to be dependent upon a third party company to make those updates for him. He could keep his website updated with the information that his clients, and potential clients, need to know – – little things like, oh..I don’t know…. new store locations, perhaps??

See, having an up to date website isn’t just important for the big guys. These little small town business thrive on the locals to keep them in business. If I hadn’t emailed “Jim” – I would have just walked away thinking that the bait and tackle shop had gone out of business completely, and would have taken my business elsewhere… probably to one of those big, corporate sports shops. I would not have assumed they just up and moved their store to a different location.

More and more, even locally, people turn to the web to find information on what is available in their local area. It was a thrill for us to find a nice locally owned store so close by – – and it was a let down to drive there and find that it was now a Mexican grocery. Nothing against Mexican grocers – – but I’m not sure how well tamales work for bass bait!

We’ll see if “Jim” takes my bait (ha!) — I hope he does though! I seriously wouldn’t mind trading design services for some Lake Michigan fishing charter trips! 🙂

Update: I heard back from ‘Jim’ tonight. We have a meet scheduled this week to discuss the business of hosting and redoing his entire website set up. He also referred me to a Lake Michigan Fishing Charter that he works with and they want to launch a brand new website, as well. Being a cranky website visitor pays off in the end..ha!

21 thoughts on “Designers, do you pursue local business?”

  1. Yes, if fact most of our marketing efforts are with local businesses and organizations. We have gotten a few requests from out of state but for the most part we like to work with clients in the Upstate of South Carolina which is where we are located. We have a lot of competition but we also have a lot of opportunities especially in the area of using new media, social network and e-commerce to help our clients grow their business.

  2. I’ve tried to work with local businesses in my area before and I mostly have mom & pop stores/restaurants to deal with. And usually I’d get told that they don’t think it would be a good idea because the majority of their customers are elderly and wouldn’t use a computer. OR that they wouldn’t want me to work for them seeing as I’m “inexperienced”.

    I did however land the job with the area school district after I had told them that their website had out of date info and didn’t work on all browsers. So that got me a small start local business wise..I think.

  3. Patrick and Mike – thanks for that feedback. I’ve found, in my local area, small business owners aren’t placing an emphasis on having a web presence.. so its somewhat of an uphill battle trying to convince them that it is important – – even for local businesses.

    I have a friend who runs a local flower shop who tells me all the time “What do I need it for – it’s not like I’m marketing to people in other states”.. her website has a picture of her store and a phone number…that’s it.

    I don’t know – – sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person in this city who uses the internet to search for local business?? haha 🙂

  4. I just started my business (took a leave from teaching) and I am currently in the process of contacting many of the businesses in my area whose websites are outdated and unpleasing to the eye. I hope to be able to drum up some business as my portfolio does have a major areas high school’s website as one of my jobs.

  5. I can’t believe you call a place with 32000 population a “small town” 🙂
    Anyway, I live on the prairies and am pretty much the only designer around, so yes, I do a lot of local business.. And I like it. Face to face meetings are the way to go for me!

  6. I guess I’m fortunate enough to live in a city(small compared to others) that has a significant tech presence in local industry. At one time we were the “textile capital of the world” (at least that’s what the marketing said) but thankfully the Greenville area has now become the North American Headquarters of Michelin, BMW, We have a GE Turbine plant and for some reason we are the home to quite a few ad agencies and related businesses. We are half way between Charlotte and Atlanta without being too “big city.” A lot of people here are transplants either because of local industry or one of the several large colleges in a short driving distance, Clemson, Furman, Greenville Tech, Bob Jones, USC, etc. So thankfully a lot of the business owners see the need for an Internet presence. Most think they need a web site but now the trick is educating them on new media like podcasts, blogs, etc. While our business is primarily “new media’ we do provide a few old media services like print design and basic photography that are easier quick sells between big web projects and also get our foot in the door with clients while they consider something like an e-commerce related web site.

    Finally we would not be as successful as we are without sales training and a significant presense at local business networking events like the Chamber of Commerce, local groups like BNI, PNC, etc.

    This month I will be speaking to a local business network on, RSS – Blogging and Podcasting – taking your message beyond the web.

  7. @Mark – well, my husband is from the UK – though, he grew up in New York City and spent much of his adult life (before marrying me) living in Los Angeles. Whenever we go to NYC to visit his family…I come home and realize just how small a town with 32,000 people really is. heh.

  8. @Kristina – I tried with our local high school….though the schools website is actually a result of the graduating class. The kids who take courses in web design and internet technology are the ones who design and maintain the website for that year as part of their Senior project ….so my attempts at redoing their site went nowhere 🙂

  9. @Patrick – sounds like you’re positioned really well, locally. You do have a point about being involved in the local business network groups like the Chamber of Commerce. Most local jobs I’ve been involved with were either a result of networking through the Chamber… or through direct marketing.. like with the bait and tackle shop I spoke of in my post.

    I find it’s a really great opportunity to swap services, too. There have been many times I’ll swap services with local contractors. Like my hair dresser – – she’s been doing my hair for 10 years now. She finally opened her own shop/spa within the last few months – – her and I are negotiating a swap of services – – hopefully I won’t be paying cash for my professional hair care needs, at least for awhile 😉

  10. Lisa, I had an in with the local HS. I am a teacher and worked for the HS. In NYC the DOE gives every school a website but it is very limited. My Principal understood the importance of a website and knew that I had experience. Long story shot, she asked me to complete it ASAP.

    I am on leave as I mentioned before. But, I am almost tempted to quit all together so that I can become a contractor for the City and maybe do websites for other schools. It is a possibility.

  11. @Kristina – definitely anything is possible and good luck with your pursuits! Sounds like being a teacher in the district gave you a leg up, in that regard… and designing the schools web sites will give you really super exposure in your community for future design clients. Keep us updated on how things go 🙂

  12. I usually don’t…just because Texas is so damn big, and I keep moving around in this state! lol.

    But I think Kyle is going to start soliciting local businesses to see if they need any copywriting work done…of course…I have to do his website, since his business cards have the URL on them.

    I’ll trade ya. I’ll take one of yours, if you take Kyle’s! haha!

    Ok…it’s late and I’m going crazy…

  13. A pleasure to find your website.

    I have to send a note out to Mark. There are plenty of people here from towns under 1000 who’ll tell you that, traditionally, West Bend has generally been even smaller — despite the larger population. ;^)

    That’s changed a lot over the last few years. But just.

    Best wishes,

  14. That’s the frustrating part of being a webbie. I look for mom & pop places on the ‘net ALL THE TIME! I would really prefer to give my business and money to the smaller places, but usually they have no presence on the web. No one uses the phone books anymore… those things are sooooo yesterday. Plus, phone books are only updated once a year.

  15. I’ve found it difficult not to target local companies. You comment on their site, or they learn what you do, and a business relationship starts. They want to be in control of their own site, and I can make that happen.

    32,000… small? I grew up in a town, my high school class had a grand total of 15. The capital of North Dakota only has 60,000 people, is it small?

  16. Hiya,

    I have just stumbled across your website. It looks great and of course pink is awesome! my own site is purple..

    Its really strange to hear other females talking about fishing. I love in NZ, and its really a males sport here. I occassionally go out with my partner, but we dont have any good spots that are close to us. Bummer.

    I will be definitely coming back for another read!

  17. I’ve talked to a few local businesses. I find most just want a presence, and being about to update hourly would be just another non-business related task to stay on top of. Not that they don’t value marketing, but when you’re in the landscaping business, you aren’t going to be updating you site daily.

    Still – I got to believe there is some money in pursuing these folks. Most of the time I’ll see the name of the hosting/design company listed in the footer of these sites and will click through to check out their work. Generally it isn’t all that great.

  18. Lisa, great name by the way! I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, love it! I totally agree about the need for quality small business web design, that “de-mystifies” the web for regular business owners. I had gotten so frustrated with CMS platforms that I quite wanting to use them, until I found and fell in love with WordPress. I’ve done several small biz sites on WordPress and clients LOVE IT! It makes developing a high quality site very affordable and easy. Anyhow, preaching to the choir…

    Very cool that you love to fish. I do also, but haven’t gotten to for a few years so I’ve forgotten most of what I know. I can tear up the bream, have fair luck with catfish, but my PASSION is striped bass. We’ve got massive ones here in our lake (Lake Lanier, GA), and I’m obsessed with catching them. Keep us posted on your bass fishing journey. 😉

    @Patrick – I grew up in Greenville and it sure has changed a TON — into quite a tech savvy “cool” city. I’m a Gamecock grad and currently in a NE Atlanta metro. Good to see a “neighbor” here!

  19. I prefer working locally than dealing with boards and such. I would prefer making the pitch over a beer at my client’s Italian joint over starring at 10 board members who really just want to know how much its going to cost and when it can be done.

    Also, bass fishing is what its all about. I grew up in a town of 5000 in Tennessee and we used to ride our bikes to the various farm ponds looking for giant bass that heretofore had been undiscovered. My favorite method of bassin’ is top water lures, mostly because they are the only fish that really fly up and chomp on them and subsequently put on a display of mid-air acrobatics that is as fun to watch as it is a challenge to land.

  20. @K – I completely agree with you on pitching over a beer, as opposed to speaking to a committee. There’s something more organic about that one-on-one contact with the client.

    RE: bass fishing – my favorite lure is also the top water lure. Usually a light worm, cricket or crayfish tugged over the tops of lily pads gets them hitting (keep the hook tucked into the lure so I’m not draggin’ weeds)

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