Building Websites that Find Clients for You

Regardless of your job title or the size of your company, one thing is universally true: If there’s not enough business coming through the door, bad things are going to happen.

We’re all able to do the work we love because someone decided it was worth paying us—and there’s no guarantee that will always be the case. Ensuring that there’s enough paying work isn’t something any of us can afford to leave to chance; you need to intentionally and constantly pursue it. But how?

We all have this slimy image of the stereotypical sales guy in our heads, and none of us ever wants to be that person. In fact, you may have gotten into the creative field in part to avoid all that soulless “businessy” stuff. But then, one day, you found yourself owning or managing part of a business.

Time to break out the power suit and hair gel, right? Or not. The web has changed what was once called the sales cycle into what’s now called the buying cycle.

That slight but important shift in wording happened because we can no longer expect to “sell” anybody on anything. The best we can do is put ourselves out there and hope our prospects are interested in our expertise and our work. While this sounds scary, it’s actually a great thing, and the smaller your firm is, the better it can work. The web has leveled the playing field for everyone.

The traditional concept of sales is passé. To ensure the long-term viability of your business, you need to focus on effective marketing. If you invest the time it takes to market your firm properly, you’ll find that sales becomes easier and easier. Ultimately, sales should be about answering the phone when a qualified prospect calls and deciding whether or not you’d like to work with them. This isn’t some utopian dream—it’s entirely achievable. The only thing standing in the way of you and this reality is your willingness to put in the work to market properly from now on. Market hard so the selling is easy.

how to market your creative business with a website

How to market creative firms

The first step in effective marketing is to be an expert in a narrow field. If you do everything for everyone, you’re a generalist and compete against many thousands of other generalists. Generalists are tied to their local market because they aren’t differentiated enough to compete in markets outside of their immediate geography. When you’re a specialized expert, you break the chains that geographically bind you. When you’re an expert, your marketing, which is grounded in your website, has the potential to create an endless stream of business for your firm.

But just being an expert and having a website isn’t enough. You need to have a website that’s constantly attracting, informing, engaging and nurturing your prospect base—every hour of every day. This is a lot to expect from a website, and the truth is, it takes quite a lot of effort to make this happen.

More marketing advice

Mark O’Brien will be speaking about modern marketing websites at the HOW Interactive Design Conferences in Washington, DC, and San Francisco this fall. Register before the events sell out!

I’ll be the last person to say that this sort of marketing is easy—it’s really quite difficult. But it’s the most reliable way to create a constant flow of well-qualified leads. And however tough this approach is, it absolutely beats the traditional sales tactics of cold-calling, sending mass e-mail blasts and standing at lonely trade show booths for perpetuity. Marketing is no longer about writing a white paper and blasting it out to a paid list when your pipeline is looking a little dry. Marketing is about constantly demonstrating your expertise through your website.

The engine that runs your modern marketing website isn’t your portfolio—it’s your content. Content you add to your site, blogs and newsletters needs to educate your prospects, not promote your firm.

The heart of your marketing is your content strategy, which I define as a plan for regularly adding unique, expert and indexable content to your site. Your content strategy may consist of writing and adding a 2,000-word newsletter to your site once a month and e-mailing it to your subscribers. Or you might prefer writing four 500-word blog posts each month and sending a monthly e-mail digest of your posts to your prospects, for example.

If your website excels at attracting, informing, engaging and nurturing your prospects, I guarantee it will create business for your firm. Let’s take a look at each of these roles in detail.

the buying cycle graphic, new marketing theory

Click on the buying cycle graphic above to see the full-size version.


If you decide to implement a content strategy, your website has the potential to attract prospects who desire your expertise but don’t know that you exist. This is pretty amazing. No other marketing platform can do this, and it doesn’t cost you anything but your time. When your site is full of content that describes your expertise, Google indexes your site, and when prospects search Google for keywords that relate to your expertise, Google refers them to you. Referrals are always the best source of new business, and Google is the world’s largest referral engine.


Once your prospects land on your site, the site needs to first intuitively guide them to the areas they are most interested in, then communicate your expertise in detail.

Is your site intuitively navigable? Take this quick test to find out. Go to the deepest, darkest, most obscure page on your site (or your blog if it’s separate from your main site), and ask yourself, “If this page were the first experience I had with our company, would I understand who we are and what we do? Would I be able to get to any other page on my site within one click?”

If the answer is “yes,” your site is probably intuitive to navigate. If not, it’s time for an information architecture redesign. (Read more about information architecture here.)

When the prospect we described in the previous section arrives on your site from a search engine, they are most likely going to land on a page other than  our homepage. That’s because they asked Google a detailed question and Google sent them to the exact page on your site that had the right answer. That means that any page on your site could be the first experience your top prospect might have with your brand—so treat every page like your homepage. If your prospects can easily glide through your site and access the content that’s of the most interest to them, they’ll quickly (within a few clicks) be able to develop a sense of who you are and whether or not your site is a good resource for them, which it hopefully is.

Developing your content strategy

This selection of books, articles and online courses will help you develop a content strategy that will work for your unique business needs.


After your site attracts a prospect and communicates your expertise through your content strategy and portfolio, its next role is to engage them. This is done through clear, concise and compelling calls to action, like an e-newsletter signup form. It’s just a short form that lets the visitor give you their name and e-mail in exchange for the convenience of receiving monthly e-mails with links to the newest articles you’ve added to your site.

There should be at least one and no more than three calls to action on every single page of your site, and these forms will only be effective if you’re actually implementing a content strategy and have something your prospects can sign up for. No one is going to sign up for your e-newsletter about the latest awards you’ve won. If you’re not creating content that’s educating your prospect base, you’re not implementing an effective content strategy.


Most prospects who discover you through search engines and sign up for your e-newsletter are doing research today in order to hire someone like you down the road. This is why the fourth goal of the marketing website is to nurture.

When a prospect signs up to receive your e-newsletter, they’re basically saying, “Please remind me of your expertise once a month so I’ll remember you when I’m ready to hire a firm like yours.” Your content strategy gives you a great excuse to keep in touch with all of your prospects on a regular basis in a helpful and unobtrusive way.

If you called your prospect once a month and asked if they were ready to hire you yet, they wouldn’t be a prospect for long. If you send them a monthly e-mail with an article that speaks to the overlap between your expertise and their pain points, you’re steadily increasing your reputation—and the likelihood that they’ll hire you.

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of HOW

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