Over the past 15 months or so, since I started doing freelance web design and communications, I've approached quite a few smaller boat builders, guides, and related businesses that I thought could potentially benefit from my services.
I hate cold-calling and I'm terrible at it, so in every case I do pretty extensive research; examine the person or company's web site, social media presence, and other marketing efforts; learn as much as I can about their products or services; and check out their competition.
Then, if it looks like I might actually have something of value to offer them, I send an email outlining what I've learned and how I can help, and then follow up a few days later with a phone call.
The responses fall into four basic categories:
Maybe 20 percent of the time, I get a dismissive and/or angry blow-off, which I totally understand. Frankly, that's probably how I'd react. "No thanks, not interested." Click.
Another 20 percent of the time, it's positive interest that generally leads to working together. This usually seems to happen with folks that have already been thinking about doing something with their website but aren't sure what the first steps are. Then they hear from somebody who speaks their language, shows them a portfolio of work that impresses them, and proposes a reasonable cost and timeline.
Another roughly 20 percent of the time, I hear that they're already working with an individual or firm on a redesign or rebuild of some kind, or that they're happy with their current designer/developer. Remarkably, I'll often take another look four or six months later at sites I've been told are already being rebuilt and find that nothing has changed. Maybe telling me that somebody was already working on a new site was just a gentle blow-off. But if not, it amazes me that folks are willing to put up with builds that drag on and on. A month or two at the outside should be more than enough.
The ones that really get me, though, are the large portion — honestly 40 percent or so — who tell me that they have a buddy/brother/sister/customer/wife/kid/niece/nephew/whatever who handles their online presence for free or very cheap.
I make a point not to challenge folks on it, but what I want to say is, "That's not the place to economize! Like it or not, these days your website is the first (and sometimes only) place potential buyers or clients go to see what you have to offer. Letting your nephew build your website just because he'll do it for free is like letting him hang your engines or take your clients out. The job will probably get done somehow, but how is it going to reflect on you?"
In most cases, the buddy/family member/customer in question doesn't know what they're doing. But even if they do, things often don't go well when you're getting professional services as a favor or family obligation. After all, what do you say when your buddy/customer/spouse who's working for free or cheap doesn't deliver the quality you want or doesn't get things done on time? Fire them?
Websites and other aspects of online presence are so hugely important these days that it's tough for me to understand many of these outfits saying, in effect, "That's not a high enough priority for me to put in the time and resources to find and hire a real professional. I'll just let my nephew Johnny take a shot at it." Just as in nearly everything else, a professional relationship tends to work better — a relationship with somebody whose reputation and paycheck depend on your satisfaction.