In my city there are many shops that don’t have a website. I’d love to explain why they should have one and offer my service to them.

However, I’m unsure how to approach them. If I’m a regular customer, it’s no big deal. But I don’t visit most of these shops regularly.

  • I could cold call. Feels kind of shady to me (maybe because it’s forbidden to cold call private persons in my country).
  • I could write them a letter. But wouldn’t this be too formal? Where begins unwanted advertisment?
  • I could just enter the shop and talk to them. But I’d probably catch an employee. Even if it would be the shop owner, might he/she feel overwhelmed? Is it considered rude?

How should I approach them? Anything important to keep in mind when doing so?

  • DO u have a website of your own? May 25, 2013 at 16:12
  • possible duplicate of Best approach to finding clients in your own city?
    – Canadian Luke
    May 25, 2013 at 16:13
  • @Luke: I don’t think it’s a duplicate. I already found the clients, so to speak. I just don’t know how to contact them. Also, this question here is focussed on shops for walk-in customers.
    – unor
    May 25, 2013 at 16:18
  • I'm not sure this is a duplicate. This question focuses on more specifics and actually identifies an important consideration that the op is overlooking: Building a website business isn't limited to only local clients! It scales globally.
    – jmort253
    May 25, 2013 at 20:54
  • Understood. That's why the comment is possible duplicate. Sorry though, regardless.
    – Canadian Luke
    May 25, 2013 at 21:08

7 Answers 7


Rather than any of the notions you list, I would start by getting to know them. Because you want to get to know the owners, you want to think about where the owners might hang out. For example: Is there a local chamber of commerce or other general-purpose business group in the area? Or there might be a general trade organization many participate in, like a restaurants association or retailers group.

Once you know that, you'll want to find a way to participate in meetings. With a chamber, you can simply join and attend meetings where your prospects are likely to be. Other organizations might have conferences or other events where vendors can meet prospective clients.

Attending meetings regularly, meeting members and telling people about what you do will open the door to this type of conversation much more easily than cold interactions with strangers.

I've seen this work for other folks who develop websites. But don't expect 10 new websites from a single meeting. This takes time and regular attendance to be successful.


I have a technique that I have been using that involves cold calling, but it's slightly different than what has been said. It's working another angle. First you need to be up to date with building for mobile, tablets and overall Responsive Design.

Here is what you do: every time you see a website advertised on a billboard, truck, commercial vehicle, etc, pull up their website on your phone. Most likely it is not designed for mobile. Call them and explain how you came across their website, and explain that you help companies redesign their sites to make them more friendly on cellphones and tablets. Considering the way they are advertising, it is in their best interest to look into responsive techniques to make their potential customers have a better experience on their website.

First impressions are very important, so tell them you can do a simple mockup of their homepage and bring it to them running locally on your machine for a consultation. I have landed 5 jobs this way in the past few months, as local small business jobs.

  • This is a brilliant way to find customers who need your services.
    – jmort253
    Nov 3, 2013 at 5:18

Walk in and see them. Pick a relatively quiet time, perhaps during the morning on a weekday. Whoever you see working there, ask them "is this your business?" They'll usually direct you to the owner. From there I expect you know what to do - if not, you would probably do better to hire a salesman rather than do this yourself.

One trick I like personally is to take my baby with me, in the pram. Great for breaking the ice!

A lot of marketing books for small businesses recommend the letter approach. For example, The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Book recommends personal letters on high-quality paper with handwritten envelopes. I've not yet done this myself, but I will in the next few months.

  • 1
    Can you define in the pram? Is this an idiom? I've never heard that term. Other then that, I would totally agree with everything you said. +1
    – Canadian Luke
    Oct 21, 2013 at 21:33
  • I mean literally a baby in a pram.
    – paj28
    Oct 21, 2013 at 21:36
  • 1
    Ahhhh. We call that a stroller or baby carriage in Canada, which explains why I haven't heard that term before
    – Canadian Luke
    Oct 21, 2013 at 21:39
  • 1
    Kind of like this: mandab.co.uk/images/Joe_pram_20020519.jpg Seriously, it's a great way to get them talking. If you haven't got your own baby, you may be able to borrow your nephew/niece or maybe a friend's baby
    – paj28
    Oct 21, 2013 at 21:41
  • 1
    @jmort253 - never been an issue here; it just helps to break the ice. I'm in the UK; maybe it is a cultural thing. I wouldn't normally take a baby to an appointment; it's just for first contact. Anyway, feel free to ignore my advice as you wish :-)
    – paj28
    Nov 3, 2013 at 21:06

Honestly, the best approach is this:

Cold call. Don't offer them services directly. Offer to get to know them, sit down, find out what they need, and what you two can do to help eachother. Local businesses are best when they are interdependent. Rather than seeing them strictly as possible clients, you should see them as potential allies, clients, friends, and strategic partners. If you are focusing on local businesses, you should approach this as a brick and mortar business would. There is nothing wrong with this.

The second thing is don't expect a lot of business right away. The first step really is just to increase your presence. Make sure they know you are there, what you are doing, etc. Make sure you know what they are doing too. Maybe you end up referring some business to them when it comes up (for example, "so and so make the best donuts in town!" if that is really what you think).

Keep in mind one thing I have learned over the years: "business follows presence." Do what you can to get involved and stay involved. This should involve everything from chamber of commerce get-togethers, face to face meetings, etc.

There is nothing wrong with pursuing a local strategy btw. I did this for a few years (though my niche evolved away from what the local economy could support) and I know freelancers and self-employed individuals who have made a career out of it. It is a reasonable strategy because very often people prefer that personal touch. In the end if you are pursuing a local strategy as one aspect of your business, keep in mind you are selling that personal touch and make the most of it.


In a way, you're thinking too much like a brick and mortar business. :) Restaurants, mechanics, dry cleaners, local grocery stores, chimney sweepers, painters, and other jobs and businesses that require on-site presence don't scale very well beyond the borders of their town or city.

However, as a website developer, your services scale beyond the city limits or the town borders. With technologies today like Google Hangouts, Skype, and other forms of online communications, you can meet with many of your clients remotely, without ever needing to physically step across their threshold.

Likewise, we live in a world where people seek the Internet when they look for a vendor. Therefore, you'll be much better served by having a website of your own and a blog with articles that reach out to the prospective clients you hope to seek. As an example, my first client was in New York while I am in Oregon.

Also, attending networking events and conferences that your potential clients may go to may also prove helpful. Sometimes, you can find free events you can attend, which helps with your budget. Depending on the event, you may meet people with global connections, and this may have a much stronger impact than becoming a 1950's door to door salesman. :) A person I spoke to at one of these events knew the company he worked for needed someone with my development knowledge, so I landed the contract thanks to his referral!

Lastly, consider that many businesses who don't have a website may not actually benefit from having a website. In a world where many local businesses are found on Yelp, Facebook, or other aggregate sites, the value of a website may not be all that great or desirable to them. Then you must consider whether or not these businesses have enough revenue to justify the expense of paying you a decent fee. In my experience, it's better to target businesses that have a more global reach, as they'll more likely have a need for a more global presence on the Internet and also have enough income to pay you what you're worth.


I think the best approach to this is soft selling / PR. I would establish yourself as an expert in a particular niche and develop yourself as a brand.

What this means is:

Network with local businesses

Attend local events either a BBB and offer to provide a presentations, or just meet with them. Always be out there to sell yourself and if the need arises people will come to you.

Find a hackathon or attend professional events

Establish contacts with others in your own field. Build relationships with other freelancers. There are lots of work to go around. Other contractors can't take it all.


Personally I would say never cold call. Warm contacts are you way forward.

As the previous answers have suggested networking is a good way forward, BNI is a great example. It lets you build a relationship with them. I have even done a great of research in the past to find out if the shops have a get together every so often, which they do and see if you can go there. Forget sales to start with, build relationships - in the long run it is a very efficient way of going about it.

I would also point out, don't just talk to your customers. Talk to others in your profession, I regularly meet up with email marketers, SEO experts and small business advisors that I have met in networking events. This is really important and many businesses I see focus on only ever having time in the day for people who might have money in their back pocket, you never know who that person is the son/daughter/partner of.

Lastly, go to the pub. You will hear the well off bankers and business owners saying "oh we need this". Break the ice by saying "sorry I have had a pint but I couldn't help over hearing XYZ, I can help you. Here is my card give me a ring an we can talk about it over a pub lunch". That's a genuine bit of advice, as I have done that numerous times and some of my highest paying and best clients were found in that way


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.