Can you think of someone who you thought was going to be sending you referrals but they aren't?
It is really exciting when you meet someone and it looks like they're going to open up a whole new world of clients for you. Maybe you even do some heavily discounted (or even free) work for them because they are going to be sending you leads. But then they don't. No leads. Nothing.
Doesn't it feel totally unfair? How could they be such jerks? It seemed like you could trust them so you got your hopes up. You were ready to go out of your way to prove that you do great work and that you're a great person to team up with because – unlike those other options they were considering – you actually care about your work and your clients.
It's the kind of thing that can really make you angry. If only they would do what they actually told you they were going to do then everything would be great. But it turns out they were all talk and no action.
Don't they realize how important this is to you? This is your job, your life, your family. You were counting on them and they're not coming through like they said they would.
I know exactly how that feels because I was there once too. Then it hit me in the stomach. It's not their job to get clients for me. That's my job.
It's great to get referrals but relying on strangers you barely even know to sustain your business is nuts.
Having Skills vs Having A Business
There's a huge difference between having great skills and having a solid business. You can have the best skills out there but if you don't have clients then you don't have a business? There are some people who only want to focus on developing their tech skills and that's totally fine. But those people should work at an agency where someone else worries about lead generation.
If you want your own business, you have to have both the tech stack AND the marketing stack (thus the name DoubleStack).
If you are not in control of your leads you don't have a business.
That's a hard sentence to swallow, but it's the truth. That friend who was supposed to send you all those leads… they're busy thinking about their business and worrying about their life. They probably are not intentionally ignoring you. They probably just got busy with something else. The truth is it is not their responsibility to get leads for you. It's yours.
It's so easy to get frustrated and even angry because those referrals can seem like the answer to your biggest problem. But if you are depending on someone who you just met, who doesn't work for you, and barely even knows you to save your business that should be a red flag.
Where Will You Be In A Year?
There's another problem with relying on referrals. All the work you're doing is just tech work for clients. It isn't making progress towards building your business.
Is the work you're putting into your business now going to put you in a better position in the future? Or, are you going to be in the exact same spot next year as you are today – always hunting for the next project? What about five years from now?
It's one thing to have to really hustle right now to get things off the ground but what are you doing so that you're not always stuck in the same situation that you have right now?
Portfolios Don't Generate Leads
It's easy to slip into thinking that if you had a bigger portfolio then you would get more clients. The truth is portfolios are not marketing plans. Having a solid portfolio may play a role in converting a lead into a client but your portfolio does almost nothing to generate leads.
The reason people lean so heavily on their portfolio is that it's something they feel is in their control. I know I fell into that trap. I know how to build websites so I just buckled down and cranked out a bunch of sites. Some sites were really just “demo” sites for nobody. I just wanted to have examples of my work.
So I put in all that work doing cheap sites for anybody who wanted them. And when nobody wanted a site I just build free sites for myself. After putting in al that work on thing became crystal clear. Portfolios don't drive traffic and they don't generate leads. You can be just as unknown as you are right now even if you double the size of your portfolio.
What happens is web designers look at successful agencies and see that they have awesome portfolios. Therefore, it easy to think that if you build a big portfolio then you'll be successful too. But this is putting the cart before the horse. You don't become successful because you have a big portfolio. You have a big portfolio because you're successful.
Having a good marketing plan brings in a bunch of leads. Those leads become clients. Those clients build your portfolio. Fix your lead generation problem and your portfolio will build itself.
Whose Fault Is It?
It's easy to blame the guy who said he'd hook you up with some great referrals. When I was first getting started, I had to go through that stupid experience way too many times. Right now I can think of at least a half-dozen people who, if they just did what they said they would do, I would have had plenty of work.
It's also tempting to blame the leads by saying, “I just need to get better clients who actually have a fair budget.” But some people are just getting started and they don't need a high-ticket online marketing consultant. It's not their fault for not being ready for a high-end solution. Imagine if the guitar salesperson got mad at their customer for not buying a $5,000 guitar for their first lesson.
The real question to ask is what is it about your website, marketing, and reputation that's causing people to think you're selling cheap websites?
If your business is stalling out it's not your new friend's fault for not giving you referrals. It's not the fault of the guy who is just starting up a small side business. The bottom line is there is something wrong with your marketing.
From working with and coaching thousands of web designers over the years I see a combination of these problems:
- Not doing any real marketing at all while holding your breath for referrals
- Building a reputation as a low-budget developer (usually through reduced pricing as you try to build your portfolio)
- Marketing generic tech services (web design, branding, SEO, etc) sounding exactly like everyone else
Solution First Marketing
To build your business you have to generate leads. The problem today is that the “web design” market is crazy saturated. So, trying to market yourself based on the normal keywords like “web design, branding, SEO, etc.” leaves you lost in the crowd. Then people try to underscore their value by lowering their prices. That's how we've gotten into the terrible price race to the bottom where very talented web designers are severely undervaluing themselves.
The answer is Solution First Marketing. We just wrapped up our three-part series so you can see how it works.
The bottom line when it comes to your business is that generating leads is ultimately your responsibility. But, you don't have to figure out the right strategies by yourself and you don't have to try to do it alone.
It's a lot faster, easier, and more fun to build your business alongside all the DoubleStackers. If you're going to put in the work, make sure you're putting your energy into something you know works.
If you want to talk about whether or not this is the right fit for you, give me a call. Pick a time on my calendar that works for you and I'll call you at the time you selected. We'll get on the phone for about 45 minutes. Tell me about your business and what you've been working on and together we'll come up with strategies for what you should be saying on your website, what you should be charging, what services you might consider offering to generate recurring revenue, etc. It just might be the best 45-minutes you've ever spend talking about your business. It's been a total game changer for a lot of people.