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If you’ve ever experienced the “joy” of moving* (especially if you’ve accumulated furniture), you know that not only are you learning the ropes in a new community personally, but as a business, nobody knows you.
- Nobody knows that you volunteered 200+ hours per year in your previous community.
- Nobody knows you would love to design the local cancer awareness basketball tournament logo.
- Nobody knows that your posters improved sales at your previous locale’s zoo store by 20%.
And that’s a really big problem.
As we all know, word of mouth is generally our most effective means of securing new clients.
But breaking the ice in a new community can be a little bit scary, especially for freelancers used to spending more time in front of their monitors than with new people.
So here’s a list of things you can do today, this week, and this month to get local attention for your business.
* – Joining a new community can be an awesome new experience. Moving is not.
Things you can do today
Take a break from lugging around heavy items and take the first steps toward new local clients:
Always carry business cards. When you’re walking your dog, at your kids’ soccer practice (see below), at the grocery store, on a weekend ski trip. It may seem old fashioned, but you never know when you’ll run into someone or overhear a conversation where you have about 5-10 seconds to share your business information.
Talk to your neighbors. They won’t bite (usually). Be friendly, introduce yourself and almost automatically “what do you do” will come up. Don’t forget to have an awesome 15-second pitch line!
Visit Town/City Hall. Even my tiny community of 3500 has a town hall, and this is an excellent resource for how to get your name some local visibility. Likely they’ll refer you to the Chamber of Commerce (see below), but you also might have an opportunity to get a business spotlight in the community newspaper or learn more about an upcoming business fair. Pro Tip: The neighboring community is also a great resource!
Things you can do this week
Take a break from washing every. single. wearable. item. you own that smells like storage and set up some longer-term prospects:
Meet with your Chamber of Commerce. Most chambers have a full-time recruitment employee who specializes in securing and retaining new businesses. They can share the value of membership with you and help you leverage marketing tools and sub-groups most useful for your business.
Talk to local businesses. Downtown areas are a great place to start because they generally promote unique local businesses that are often in serious need of design work. Bring a business card, your best pitch, and possibly a brochure or freebie how-to guide as an enticement.
Pull a stunt. Okay, so I’m borrowing this from Bianca, but it’s seriously good, fun advice that needs to be shared more than once! Go somewhere with a lot of foot traffic around lunchtime or the end of the workday and do something unexpected.
Get your kids involved. Where kids are involved (dance, drama, baseball, chess, Girl Scouts, etc.), there are lots of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. All of these grown-ups work for or own companies and volunteer with organizations who might need your expertise. Don’t forget your business cards!
Things you can do this month
Now that all of your essentials are generally in place and you have more empty boxes than you know what to do with (bonus tip: get rid of them quickly by offering them for free on Craigslist), it’s time to get back to business (literally).
Meet local business groups. Bianca beat me to this point, but she’s so right. Find business groups in your area that would benefit from your expertise and offer to speak at their next meeting. You’ll gain mad credibility with local businesses, and before you know it, they’ll be hiring you to come in.
Get involved in your HOA / neighborhood association. Not only will you have a say in how you’re required to keep your house, you’ll also meet a ton of new contacts, including the property management company your association is likely working with. Offer to maintain the website or update the handbook and it’s even easier to spread the word about the best new business in town.
Throw a house-warming party. Sure, the walls are still blank, but what better way to meet the block than to host a house-warming party? And you can announce it with the best invitations anyone has ever seen…with your logo on them, of course!
Volunteer. Get involved with a cause near and dear to your heart, even if the work you’ll be doing has nothing to do with your business. You’ll be exposed to a network of people who already have something in common with you (and a reason to like/trust you), plus the added benefit of being one of the first people on your non-profit’s list for paid work.
Now go make some friends!
Do you have a success story from one of these tips? Have you used a unique and fun way to get known in a new community? Do you have a cool idea and want to run it by a great group of readers?
Share with us in the comments on this post.
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If you continue to wait for referral in order to get new clients, it may be difficult for you to get enough clients. So, instead of waiting for referrals around, you should just ask around for referrals. Discovering how to find new clients through referrals will just give you what you need.
April, great post. I moved to a new city about 6 years ago but my business is pretty new – I became a freelance designer about 6 months ago so (and I did move to a new neighborhood) so these are great tips! Really appreciate the great content!
You’re very welcome, Ryan! Good luck getting started. 🙂
Birthday parties! I design my kid’s birthday party invitations, and then at the party when I inevitably get the “those invitations were SO CUTE” compliments, I can thank them and say I’m a graphic designer and made them myself. The next time they want to through a big kid’s party and need awesome invitations I’m in mind.
I also met a client once while at another kid’s party and socializing with the other mothers. What else could we do while our daughters got pedicures but sit around and talk about our jobs? It’s a perfect time to casually mention you’re a freelancer and find out that at least one person there needs your services or knows someone who does. Perfect time for a business card!
Fantastic idea. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.
I’m not moving soon but these are excellent tips for my business now. I design and build custom furniture and find that my experiences with clients are not unlike graphic designer’s.
Therefore I look to your advise as it affects me.
Can I ask here about design services I need for my web sites? I also need someone who might be interested in programming my chess variant game.
Glad to hear our design advice fits all types of designers!
Thanks for your kind words,
Having moved to a new, very small, mountain community in Colorado 2 years ago, the info you just provided is exactly what I did. The single most important thing I did was volunteer a bit of design work for a couple community enhancement projects. This put me in good steed and broke the ice. I quickly became very busy – even in such a small town.
I live in a small town in Colorado, too! (East of Fort Collins a bit.) Especially in a small town, being known as a good person is huge.
Thanks for sharing!
I agree with the recommendation about visiting business groups. Better yet, join one 🙂 I have been part of a BNI group for the past 5.5 years and it was a great way to get introduced to the business community soon after moving to the area.
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