In winter 2018, tempted by the notion of financial freedom, I started a company. Ambrest Designs embarked on the bold enterprise of digitizing small-town Ohio by means of sick logos and responsive web pages. My close friend Simon and I were going to catapult local businesses into the modern era, website by website.
During the initial planning phase, we perused Google for businesses that “looked right.” These were then ordered into a list, and we scanned Facebook and Yellow Pages for the owners’ contact information.
An hour of cold calling had surprisingly generated two or three meetings. In preparation, I took a trip into the city and bought myself a suit and tie, got a haircut, and prepared a ten-page pitch for our first potential client: the local bowling alley.
This pitch proudly displayed our logo and URL on the front page. Inside, it held mock-ups of different logos, website designs, Google Ad campaign strategies: the works. That meeting took place in a gravel parking lot and lasted all of two minutes. He only needed to take one look at me and my little coupon book to make his decision.
Nevertheless, he was polite and promised to “stay in touch”. I drove away from that bowling alley smiling from ear to ear, certain that I had made my first sale.
Of course, I never heard back from him. The auto garage, local museum and a handful of motels were not interested in my offers either.
To know why, it is important to understand what we were trying to sell. Fancy logos help separate your business from the competition. SEO gets customers clicking on your store before the others.
Our entire county only had one bowling alley, and it was proudly displayed at the top of any Google search remotely related to entertainment, fun, or even tourist attraction. People in small towns do not search for mechanics online: they go to their high school buddy’s garage.
We were offering nothing of value. To survive, it would be essential to put ourselves into the shoes of potential customers. We needed to find the holes, the growth potential, the inefficiencies in their businesses and hand them personalized solutions.
It was important to keep in mind:
- An online presence only adds value to a grocery store if it generates sales.
- A website isn’t worth much to a pizza place if you can’t use it to place orders.
We reworked our pitches to focus on the dollars, the foot traffic, the functionality: the things that mattered. Each proposed a strategy to solve a problem or earn more money. Hours were poured into drafts, the calls, the research. We got about as many meetings as previously, but they were starting to last longer. People were more interested in our company and services.
It had taken us maybe a month to find Michael, the owner of a local gym. I spent maybe an hour designing a fancy logo and responsive web layouts in Photoshop, hopped in my car and went to meet him at his gym.
Calling him massive would be like calling the pope holy: it may be true but doesn’t even begin to describe the extent. Every muscle in my body had to resist the urge to about-face and sprint out the door. At least in my memory, my hand trembled as I handed him the packet.
He hated our designs, our logos, our concepts. He wanted American muscle, not the vegan pastries we were trying to feed him. But the thought of his merch on display made his eyes light up.
“How much?” he wanted to know. It felt like I was fishing. The fish had bitten, and my only job was to not pull too hard.
When making a final decision, a customer will subconsciously make a cost vs. risk assessment. If they have no way to verify your legitimacy and trustworthiness, it is impossible to sell high- ticket items.
𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑏𝑎𝑏𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑦 𝑜𝑓 𝑝𝑢𝑟𝑐h𝑎𝑠𝑒 = 𝑡𝑟𝑢𝑠𝑡 𝑐𝑜𝑠𝑡 ∗ 𝑟𝑖𝑠𝑘
As a digital business, we had a difficult time gaining customers’ confidence. Any schmuck can set up a professional-looking website and waltz into your place of business. Companies like Amazon can lean on word of mouth, partnerships and expensive ad campaigns to win trust. Without a storefront, who could your customer even turn to if you steal their money?
One trust-building strategy is to bring your business into the physical world. Anything professional-looking with your name on it that clients can hold in their hand makes your business real, tangible, tactile. Most consider business cards to be old-fashioned, but I think they fulfill this purpose quite well if done right. A minimalist translucent business card can help you stand out, and it will feel good in clients’ hands.
Unfortunately, we did not have any business cards, previous contracts or even a basic portfolio. The only option left was to reel Michael in as softly as possible. At the final price, I believe Simon and I made out with a measly $0.10/hour for our effort. After a combined couple hundred hours of work, I raised the pen in my clammy hand and signed my name on the contract.
You may be afraid to sell yourself short. At first, it seems unfair or impractical to work for so little but trust me. After your first sale, the customers start coming to you.
Walking out to my car was one of the most euphoric moments of my life. Now the easy part was over. It was time to deliver on our promises.