Guide to Localizing Your Design Business

One of the benefits of working as a freelance designer is that you can work with clients all around the world. Location isn’t the same type of barrier that it is with most traditional businesses. However, because of the possibility to work with clients in just about any location, most designers do not market themselves to clients in their local area.

With the amount of competition that exists from other freelancers and design agencies, one way of standing out and potentially increasing your workload is to specifically target clients in your local area. This can be effective both in terms of offline marketing as well as search engine optimization.

If you would like to pick up more clients in your local area here are some tips.

1. Make it Evident on Your Portfolio Site

Having an effective portfolio site is an essential contributing factor to the success of almost any designer or design business. If you are targeting local clients, in order for your portfolio site to be effective it must address the needs of this audience. One of the first steps towards attracting more work from local clients is helping them to feel comfortable with you and showing them that you are interested in working with them.

For targeting local clients your portfolio site should clearly state where you are located and what services you can provide to clients in the area. Some clients will not care where you are located, but others will feel more comfortable with a designer that they know lives and works nearby. When these people arrive at your portfolio site they should clearly see that you are interested in working with local businesses.

2. Optimize Your Page Titles for Searches with a Locality

Clients who are looking for a designer in their area will often include the locality in a search, such as “New York web designer”. Since page titles are one of the most important factors in determining search engine rankings, make sure that your page titles are optimized for the words and phrases that are likely to be used by potential clients. You can use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to get an idea of what phrases are most commonly used in searches.

In addition to simply including localities in your page titles, you could also create a page specifically for the purpose of targeting local clients, and of course optimize it to rank well for those searches. The page could include basic information about your services as well as examples of work that you have done for other local clients and your typical process of working with them.

3. Build Links with Localized Anchor Text

Another factor that will help to improve your chances of ranking well for localized searches is the anchor text of the links that point to your site, or to the particular page that you are optimizing. This includes links from within your own site as well as links from other sites. If you’re targeting a phrase like “Philadelphia web designer”, try to get links with anchor text that will match.

4. Run Pay-Per-Click Ads Targeting Your Local Area

Pay-Per-Click ads, such as Google AdWords, are great for targeting local clients. You can choose to show your ads on searches that include the name of your city, state or local area, and you can set up the ads to include copy that will appeal to these people. Additionally, most of the major PPC programs allow you to choose to show your ads only to visitors within certain geographical areas. With a well-planned and executed PPC strategy you can target local clients without spending a fortune on advertising.

5. Promote the Work You Have Done for Local Clients

One of the best ways to attract new local clients is to show the work that you have done for others in your area. Showcasing the work is the basis of any portfolio site, but this is always most effective when the potential clients viewing the portfolio feel that the work being shown is somehow relevant to them and their situation. Those potential clients may see some work that you have done for a business that they know, or maybe even for one of their competitors. They are more likely to be able to relate to this than they are to a random business that they have no association with.

6. Partner with Local Businesses that Offer Complimentary Services

Most likely there are other businesses around you that are targeting local clients for services that are complimentary to yours, especially if you live in or near a major city. By building a relationship with this person or company you may be able to work together for mutual benefit. For example, it may be a company that provides SEO services but does not have an in house designer. Or it could be a local printing company that sometimes has clients who need a brochure or business card design.

7. Attend Local Networking Events

Almost every locality has a chamber of commerce or some type of professional group that provides opportunities for face-to-face networking. Many times, building a stronger connection to other professionals is easier with face-to-face interaction as opposed to just emails or even phone calls. You may find new clients this way, or you may find others that offer related services who you could partner with. Many designers choose not to do this type of networking because it can easily be more time consuming than online networking, but if you are specifically working to land more local clients it may prove to be a good use of your time.

8. Get Quality Business Cards

If you’re meeting with potential clients or fellow professionals face-to-face, it is important that you present a positive impression by having a quality business card to distribute.

9. Provide Services for a Well-Known Local Organization

Working with local clients is a lot like working with any other type of client, a good job for one will usually lead to more. If you’re able to work with a business or organization that is well-known within your local area, it could provide exposure and connections to a lot of other local projects. In an interview I did with Dan Noe I asked him how he had landed a number of local clients and he said that it all started with some work he did for a local non-profit organization. Non-profits often touch a lot of local people and businesses in one way or another, so doing a good job with one can often lead to more work.

10. Contribute to Local Publications

Many designers are using blogging as a means to market their services, including writing guest posts for blogs other than their own. This approach can be adapted to target a local audience. Instead of writing for other blogs, you could pursue local newspapers or publications, or websites that target your local area, to see if there are opportunities to contribute articles. Instead of writing for other designers as you would likely do as a guest blogger, you could write an article or a series related to small businesses and online marketing, or any other topic that would be relevant to businesses in the area. If you’re able to get some work published it could provide excellent exposure and credibility for you and your services.

11. Advertise Locally Offline

In addition to using online advertising, such as PPC, to target local clients, you can also conduct an offline advertising campaign. Local classifieds, yellow pages, radio, or any other type of advertising is possible. In general, most designers find that online advertising works better for them, but if you are looking to increase your local profile it is something that could be considered.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you attempted to target local clients? If so, what have you found to be most effective?

For more business and freelance related content please see:

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design, a popular design blog.
  1. April 1, 2010

    Great concept. Appreciate your efforts in putting this together.

  2. April 1, 2010

    Very nice informative article thanks for enlightening.

  3. April 2, 2010

    Because the design market is global a lot of designers neglect their localized market. Some people prefer to work with local talent, if they can find it!

  4. April 2, 2010

    What is the best thing to do when you have a business in New Jersey and you have to move to Texas. That’s will happen to me in a few months and I will lose all the credibility I built here in NJ and I will have to start from zero in Houston.

  5. April 3, 2010

    I think we can also add some client testimonial. This will also help to focus locally and globally…

    Nice post and collection of various points to focus business locally…

  6. April 4, 2010

    Great suggestions! Thanks!

  7. April 4, 2010

    Great article. Most of my work is local and helps me to utilise word of mouth. I’ve tried advertising and it doesn’t seem to work too well for me. Word of mouth has got me nearly every single piece of work.

    When times are quiet, its always worth having some flyers created and heading out to potential clients and introducing yourself face to face too.

    I love the whole idea of local work, much easier to gain prime position on google too.

  8. April 6, 2010

    I just trying to find this article, thanks!

  9. April 11, 2010

    Gracias! It was a very helpful article, great ideas to promote my work locally. Thanks!

  10. April 11, 2010

    Great article! Thanks so much for sharing. Lately Google announced they are using site speed for their ranking so I think this could be added to your list. Full article here:

  11. August 14, 2010

    It was a very helpful article, great ideas to promote my work locally. Thanks!

  12. December 8, 2010

    excellent guide! im gonna employ the tips u suggested.

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