Selling Webdesign, Development and Consulting in a Downturn


The economic downturn is touching all facets of the working world. Advertising, Branding, Design and Development consulting companies are not immune. It’s observable through the cutbacks in staff amongst major firms like Razorfish, BBDO, Ogilvy and on and on. I have also had a number of colleagues and friends recently downsized at smaller regional companies. Sales are down, not surprisingly, with companies spending less on marketing, advertising and other typical expenditures in this realm… So what’s a small company to do in this sort of climate? How can you grow sales? Gain clients? Expand your offerings or deepen your specializations? The ways are myriad, but here are some things I’m kicking around lately and with it, gaining excitement and momentum in a pretty bleak landscape.

  1. Stop selling “branding experiences”, pointless microsites or juiced up brochureware… While the spigot flows and the economy is good, these sorts of projects might keep on coming in, but, when people are tightening their moneybelts and stuffing their savings under their mattresses, these types of projects are met with dead glances from across the conference room table. For a change, give full and serious consideration to ways your can save your client money by making problems go away. Maybe its deeper integration with their CRM, ERP or other business process management software. Perhaps you can help them transition to webservices, better manage their metrics and conversions via smarter reporting or even hands on training. The point is, pretty and “Wow!” aren’t enough right now.
  2. Use the time to augment your skills. You could then try selling these new skills at a slightly lower rate to get the bites. This allows your designers and developers to stretch, feel good about their professional path and pick up some techniques they might never have thought of before. I recommend getting a company subscription to a training library like Safari or Lynda.com.
  3. Get those clients started on Social Media. You twitter, you blog, you facebook, you linkedin, but, your client doesn’t… why not? Fear? Lack of time? Lack of motivation? Perceived lack of expertise? Well, you have all of them. Help push them into the world of communication with their customers. This is one area set to take off. Many multinationals are are already playing there, but I doubt the local establishment or even the regional clients are playing here with any sort of regularity or defined effort.
  4. Take some work for a nonprofit/501(c) organization. You might get some amount of revenue from this, but you’ll most likely have to seriously discount or even consider doing pro bono work. Use these types of projects to do award wining work, or try out new tools, cross train your staff or even venture into new specializations or vertical markets. In the end, it won’t make you wealthy, but you may find some tax advantages or even *gasp* feel good about the work you do!
  5. Submit, submit, submit! Beyond the typical CommArts, How Magazine, WebbyAwards and Addy Awards, virtually every trade association gives their own awards for marketing and design efforts. Talk to your clients about this! They may be aware of conferences, conventions or publications sponsoring awards that you haven’t heard of. Granted, some are certainly more valuable than others, but as you attempt to grow expertise in your targeted vertical markets, a few niche awards only increases your credibility in that area. in addition to making you look good, your client will get recognition and praise as well… Win win!

So there you have it. No street pounding, cold calling or nepotism involved, though you could go there if you wanted. ;-) I’m attempting to use this time to remain upbeat, increase productivity and enhance internal work processes. These sorts of ideas, coupled with smart cost management and a competitive spirit can allow your small company to flourish, even when things can seem their darkest! What are you doing to expand your offerings, improve your sales or spin a negative into a positive? I’d love to hear it!

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14 comments

  1. Tom Ortega Jan 25

    This is a tough one for me that I’d like to see the answer. As a business owner, I spend very little money on marketing or design. The main thing these companies need to do is setup a portion of their website, blog, twitter, whatever, explaining to the small fish like me why we need them.

    Probably not the feedback/comments you were looking for, but maybe another request to add to the list.

  2. Chad Jan 25

    Tom, not a bad idea at all… It was, after all somewhat the root of why I wrote this post. It’s difficult for a custom consulting business to go on record with a page like that, as it seems to devalue some of the “custom” part of the work we do.

    Here’s a parallel… Nothing is more difficult than being in a pitch meeting, faced with a a question like “What specific things are you going to do for us in this project that make you the right team for us?” … This sort of hypothetical places you in a position to divulge some of your best ideas, with them taking notes… then after you pitch and your price is a tad higher than a company you compete with, they get the job and then take your idea at the client’s request. Not fun at all!

  3. Tom Ortega Jan 25

    I think though that the custom comes through the process. Take for instance, SHR. They list their process right on the site. They know that it’s not the steps that make them unique, but rather how they execute the steps.

    I’d like to work with them someday, but they cost a buttload of money. The thing though was they explained it all beforehand. Now, before I can afford them, I’ll likely have to go through a smaller shop that’s more affordable. So, yes, I can see your fear. However, you need to make the case why you, why your process, why now.

  4. Chad Jan 25

    Ah, Tom… I understand now. The firm I work for has a similar listing on our site, too…

    http://ionagroup.com/experience/process.php
    http://ionagroup.com/learn/process.php
    http://ionagroup.com/discover/process.php

    Click on the tabs on the left to learn more…

    Chad

  5. Chris Free Jan 25

    Great post. I particularly agree with #2 and #4. Both of these together can help out both sides of the project, while still keeping the gears of business turning and your portfolio growing.

  6. David Needham Jan 25

    Great post Chad – very informative. As someone preparing to enter the workforce full time, I’m counting on being able to get freelance work to sustain me until I find something full time. I’ve heard people theorize that freelancers are in a much better position at this time because they’re often seen as bargains to businesses not looking to make a commitment.

    On a side note, have you considered applying to write at freelance switch? This is exactly the type of post I read nearly every day from there.

  7. hyipcoder Jan 25

    With the appearance of free themes and designs, premium designs are really in jeopardy. There are thousands of bloggers born daily and there are also hundreds of free theme published daily… Most people who can afford go with custom designs.

  8. Christopher Eggleston Jan 26

    Being a small company I have had to learn some new tricks to, first, stay in business and second, to grow my business…and to address your questions Chad “…whats a small company to do in this sort of climate? How can you grow sales? Gain clients? Expand your offerings or deepen your specializations?…”

    I notices that the larger companies are starting a new trend as they begin to downsize. Laying off employees that once performed a specialized task, only to find out that the people left to fill in the cap cant handle the request for those specialized tasks. So they look for a solution outside the company. Outsourcing, over the passed few years has quickly become a more popular and affordable process. Hiring a “consultant” or a “freelancer” to handle a single project, or to take over the projects requiring that specialized talent.

    So I have positioned my company to be the answer to the solution that these larger, more established companies are looking for.

    Currently I have 4 companies that outsource a variety of different services to my firm. Blogging, web design, SEO, and the list goes on!!

    These companies already have a list of clients, they are already spending the money to market the services that they are going to outsource to me, so my spending is cut, and my work load increases.

    My end result is not always to be the outsourced consultant, but, “in this sort of climate” my business is going to grow and we will continue to see more opportunities!

    Someone once said that “this is the time when fortunes are made” and as a small company I believe that we can be more flexible, adjust quicker and more frequently, and with smaller budgets = smaller spending = more work from those that cant afford the big guys.

    Best of luck to everyone!

  9. Webdesign Jan 27

    With the appearance of free themes and designs, premium designs are really in jeopardy.

  10. Chad Jan 27

    hyipcoder and Webdesign,
    Not sure if these are legit comments or slightly spammy, but I don’t think that the question of premium design vs preexisting themes were really the focus of the post. i’m really talking about web application dev, integration and consulting… if a client is going to use some sort of premade theme available for a low price, there is little I can do to change that… this is more about getting a client to stop thinking about web sites as pure marketing plays and more as full cycle business tools.

  11. Eva Vesper Jan 29

    Hahaha, street pounding and nepotism. Made me laugh despite being a serious post.

    Great stuff though.

    I don’t think “Webdesign” has a clue what they’re saying, but I agree with you Chad, web design is about the about whole picture not just something on the ‘net.’

  12. web design london Feb 6

    Interestingly we’ve been busier than ever in the downturn.
    I really think it’s all just a state of mind and companies that are making understand that web design and search engine marketing services are totally the way to go what with the high street being dead and record internet sales.

  13. Debbie D May 21

    I find this information very useful, i just started working for a web design company in sales. i am the only sales person in the office ans am starting from zero. i have to educate my self on the software and come up witha way to sell it to clients and first i have to find those clients. so hearing what small business owners are facing and what they are looking for really helps. now more then ever finding cost effective ways to increase productivity and ROI is so important! need some advice !

  14. Sales Lead Management May 28

    I think people should still try to spend some money on advertising and marketing. Saving money right now only helps the recession and economic downturn. Getting your company out there is so important

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