Reaching out to businesses that you think need help

As a new designer, it seems there is a tempting scenario that goes something like this. They don’t like a local business’s website and decide — with good intentions — that they need to reach out and talk about it. They think they know better. They think it knows just what they need. They go as far as creating a concept with the intention of just presenting it to them.

What happens though, is rather than getting an excited client from the deal, they put the owner on defense. The owner might be mad before they’ve even considered something needs to change. They’re angry because assumptions were made and someone is crapping all over what they did. At that point, the bridge is all but burned.

The truth is, we all know that as designers, we can’t design for something that we don’t know anything about. Even if we think we know more about it than we do.

It’s easy to get excited about the creative process. Of course it’s a good feeling when you can take a website loaded with Comic Sans and redesign it into something sleek and modern. But the backstory as to how it got there in the first place is important. 

A few years ago, I was approached by a local business that realized it was time for a redesign. The website was exactly what I described above. Comic Sans and an ugly shade of green. It didn’t reflect at all the physical business they had built. 

It was easy when they came to me, because they realized they had a problem that needed to be fixed. We easily went through the design process and created something beautiful to replace the old design. It served them well for a long time with a lot of positive feedback.

The trick was that I didn’t just walk in there. I was actually referred by someone. If I did run across the store, even before that introduction, I doubt I would have said much about their website at all.

What I learned working with them, was that the budget was simply not there for a number of years. It was a husband and wife that were working to keep the doors open and the rent paid along with hiring a couple of employees.

If I had walked in there even six months prior, there was no budget set aside for design. They knew what they had was terrible. But at the time when they were starting their business, it’s what they could afford. Had I just walked in there and created something, I know I would have insulting them. I know that even if they did come to the same conclusion, a few months later that I was definitely out of any kind of running had I showed up unsolicited.

On top of that they didn’t know what to look for when they were working with designers. Because there’s so many things flying around with starting a business and running a business, they never had the time to slow down and take a look at what a good designer would do for them. Fortunately, as things got close to hiring me, they began to take some time to do that kind of research, but it was a process for them. It wasn’t something that happened overnight or having somebody unexpectedly coming in and saying you need to change — oh, by the way, I happen to be the person for that.”

It’s not likely that you’ll have the luck of an unexpected introduction. What I would suggest is getting to know the owners from a networking standpoint. Don’t come in and tell them to redesign their website right away.

Become a customer or client on a regular basis. Stop in, get to know them and be friendly. At some point, it’ll come up about what you do, and you can insert that then. But don’t be a salesperson. And be pushy about it.

Just build a relationship. When they’re ready to make the jump, they have an existing relationship with you. It will be much easier to translate from that to an actual working design relationship where you can then create something stunning, beautiful. You’ll know more about their story and what’s going to be important to them and their business moving forward.

Sign up for Finally Friday

Get weekly updates from me, as well as a free sample copy of my typeface Harvest Stout!

Daniel Nisbet will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. You acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.