Taking myself on as a client

It’s been probably five years since I’ve put any sort of effort forth into my own web presence, which seems very odd coming from the founder of a development and marketing agency. As a web designer and SEO, you’d think my primary marketing platform would be the creation of a first-class website which has also achieved top search engine rankings, but this hasn’t been the case. I’ve thrown together a few iterations of this website over the years, but since the very beginning, I’ve mainly kept the business moving forward by way of client referrals, which is fantastic, but…

That method of lead generation does not equal sustainability or predictability, nor has it helped me reach my target market; however, all of that is about to change. I am finally devoting the time to marketing iArtisan as a business.

But first, let’s review some of what I’ve learned over the past several years.

Client referrals…a great way to get established

With every new client I take on, I strive to deliver a level of service that will prompt them to recommend me to their peers. This should be a fundamental goal of any web services provider, because if you can reach a level of trust and credibility with your clients that has them personally recommending you, then you are obviously doing something right.

When you’re starting out as a freelancer, your desire is to take just about every single job which is coming your way. You need the business and you need the exposure, so often times you begin your freelance business by working with friends and associates – in an effort to stay busy, gain some experience, and get your name out there. This is how most of us get established.

To build a successful business, you first need clients, but eventually…there will come a time when your real world experience starts to define and shape your course. Plus, while getting ‘work’ is great, the right kind of work is what’s most important. Exposure is great, but it’ll only get you so far.

Defining my niche

During my first few years as an aspiring web professional, I began to determine which areas of website development and administration I enjoyed, along with what sort of things I didn’t enjoy doing. Generally speaking, we gravitate towards the activities we excel at and/or bring us some degree of satisfaction. In my case, I found myself compelled to dive deeper into the results-driven, marketing aspect of web development while steering away from the über-technical programming end of things.

Initially, I’d take on any job thrown my way, even if it was outside my wheelhouse. By doing this, I was able to further develop my skill set and define which areas of development I wanted to focus on. I feel this was a great path, because regardless of whether or not I wanted to be a hot shot programmer or designer, I felt it was important to at least understand those areas of development so that later on I could properly communicate with outsourced contractors.

[Tweet “Focus on the things you’re best at and find skilled subcontractors to handle the rest.”]

I have very high standards when it comes to what I do, so rather than try to be all things to all people, I determined it was in the best interests of myself and my clients that I focus on the things I am really good at, which are…

  1. Building attractive and highly optimized WordPress websites that rank well.
  2. Establishing practical and effective online marketing solutions.

Reaching my target audience

Educating your existing and prospective clients about what it is that you do is a continuing responsibility. After a couple of years into this, I started to discover that a few of my clients had sought outside help for certain things simply because they were unaware I offered those services. Similarly, I am sure that I’ve missed opportunities by not detailing out my list of services and properly positioning iArtisan in front of prospective clients.

In addition, clients who I took on years ago may still see me as that same low-priced developer – eager to take on any and all work – always at the lowest cost. As you can imagine, perpetuating that sort of image is a surefire way to stifle the growth process, so it’s important that you let your clients and everyone else know what you can deliver on, and what you’re worth.

Why is it that the cobbler’s children have no shoes?

I make a living from building finely crafted websites and providing complementary services for clients which would greatly benefit me in my trade, yet…

Why is it that a veteran web developer and SEO would not provide himself with a proper web presence? There are so many excuses, but not a good reason among them. I know there are plenty of freelancers out there also suffering from ‘the cobbler’s children’ syndrome as well, so perhaps some of my excuses will sound similar to yours…

  1. Not enough time! I am so busy with client work, I don’t have the time to work on my business site! This is probably the number one excuse that we developers crutch on, and frankly, it’s really weak. Although it may seem like we don’t have the time to spare, it can be made and it must be made. We must summon our inner task master to set aside time each week to undergo this process. If it’s something you think you can bang out over a weekend, then you’re sure to fail, yet if you set out to complete it over a 30 or 60 day period, then it is entirely doable.
  2. I am too much of a perfectionist! This has been a real roadblock for me. When I am faced with unlimited time and resources, it’s very easy for me to get carried away with details while not focusing hard enough on the important aspects. Client projects are easier for me to manage because the scope and budget are quite often clearly defined, providing me with more structure, and the ability to make clear cut decisions based on the project estimate and outline. When I’ve acted as my own boss, I’ve always struggled to meet expectations.
  3. Lack of a plan. I’ve found that developing a web presence for my own business is the same as with any other client…you must start with a clearly defined set of goals and expectations, determine an initial investment and timeframe, then break it into actionable and measurable steps. Building your own brand is not something you can necessarily wing over the span of a few free evenings. You need to sit down and carefully plan your steps, ensuring that you have a clear vision of your brand and your website’s intended purpose before you even start building.
  4. I’ll never finish it! This is a combination of reasons #1, #2 and #3, but it all boils down to the acceptance of something I tell all of my website clients… “a website is never truly finished”. I’m famous for getting carried away with wanting to add more content, features and functionality, but the fact is…it can’t all be done at once. Just as I would approach a client’s project, it’s important to set realistic expectations for an initial launch – adding additional content and features as resources permit.
  5. I’m still planning. Not having a plan is easily solvable, but getting stuck in the constant-planning with no action phase is quite the trap. For me, this is made doubly worse by reason #2. I used to get so caught up in wanting to build the most ass-kicking and successful business website, that I never even got started on it! The fact is, simple is best. As long as you have a well-defined scope for the actual business itself, you can lay a foundation for it then expand things later on. Furthermore, you never truly know how visitors will respond until you go live, so it’s best to experiment and perfect.
  6. I don’t know if I can handle the increase in business that a great website would provide! This one is just plain silly, l but I used to use it. I don’t care what type of business you are in, the ability to be choosy about which clients you work with and the problem of having to turn down business are 2 things you absolutely want to have. This thought usually struck me during times when I had a mountain of work to get to and I was overly stressed. Unfortunately, much of this time was spent doing things I didn’t necessarily want to be focusing on, making my need for a proper web presence all the more important.

I want to thank Pamela Wilson and Sonia Simone of Copyblogger for their encouragement, guidance and support, and also for smacking me upside the head with such a fitting analogy. Why is it that so many of us always put the needs of others before our own? I know I’ve been guilty of this to a fault – in many areas of my life – but the truth is, we can’t properly serve others if we don’t first take care of ourselves.

It’s been a long time coming, but this cobbler is outfitting his baby with some proper kicks.

Welcome to the new and improved iArtisan.com!

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