Last January, our website development team was struggling for a way to break out of our old market and into a new, more profitable niche. How we did it could work for your business too. Let me explain:
Whether your development team is a one-man band or a full orchestra, your goal is probably to grow.
Growing leads to more connections, more resources, and most importantly more profit; but when you’ve hit a dead-end with marketing, where do you go? Our development team at Metal Potato (my web design agency) faced that issue at the beginning of last year.
We were really stuck in a rut.
The company was profitable, but we weren’t serving much of the audience we were looking for—high end web design clients.
Traditional advertising was okay, but we knew word-of-mouth was our most effective strategy and we needed to find a way to spread it like wild fire.
Perhaps more critically, we had to spread that fire in the right communities. So how did we light it?
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We took a risk.
We gave away websites for free.
And it wasn’t easy at first.
Most of our development team thought we were bonkers. People talk about giving away service all of the time, but to actually do it; to actually put money on the line and risk it all for nothing was a big leap of faith.
With a development team of over a dozen people, we still had overhead to pay.
As we sent the first forays out into our target audience, we were unsure of what to expect. We thought people would be interested in a new, free website, but these were not all local customers near our home base in Plymouth—we were reaching out to PR firms in London. We were going after celebrities and national brands.Those were the companies with the contacts we needed to meet.
Initially, we were rewarded with skepticism, turned away before our foot was even in the door.
Then, slowly but surely those doors began to open.
Our very first giveaway was to an iPhone repair shop, Shiny Apples. We redesigned their eCommerce site; and their owner hooked us up with referrals to several more small businesses.
That first victory proved that our model could work!
But the big winner for us came when persistence paid off and we finally landed the perfect platform, a burgeoning PR firm in London.
We were in.
For the next several weeks, we worked feverishly on Emerge, Ltd’s website. The result was a perfect example of the kind of work our team loves to do—innovative, attractive, fun.
The referrals from Emerge sent us into the stratosphere. Our most successful spin-off from them generated over 100,000 unique visits in one day: that’s a far cry from anything our old marketing strategy was doing.
And it’s a strategy that you too can use to leverage your own business into a new position.
Landing our first big firm was a coupe for the Metal Potato team.
Yes, it was a gamble, but the gamble paid off big when our work was put on the right stage. Since then, we’ve gone on to land paying jobs from other high-profile businesses and celebrities who are promoting our brand all on their own.
And that’s a lesson as well— we could have required written recommendations as a stipulation to the giveaway, but we didn’t.
Here’s why: our goal was always to connect with our clients’ networks organically. That meant we had to earn their trust and recommendations through old-fashioned hard work. Why? Because recommendations that are earned—not bartered—turn into word of mouth marketing, and there’s nothing more valuable than that.
Need proof that it’s worth trying?
Our giveaway to Emerge directly resulted in a dozen more clients and thousands in new revenue.
Now, we’ve come to the crossroads of another January. Here, just 12 months removed from a brainstorming session that started some major moves, our business is doing what businesses should— growing.
In fact, our sales have grown by 300%.
And it’s all because we took a gamble to light a fire for free.
What do you think of this strategy? Will it work for your design business? Have you tried something similar? Share with us in the comments.
PS: Don’t forget, our new business-building design community, Stoked, launches in less than three weeks! You can still enter to win 500 business cards from one of our partners and get on the list to be notified when Stoked officially launches!
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