February 20, 2011
Getting into the web design field is easy. It’s actually probably the easiest industry to throw yourself into. The barriers to entry are minimal at best, and the cost to bootstrap your own venture low. All you need is a domain, website, and business cards. Stamp a logo on those cards and it’s official.
Ha! You’re going to fail. Or maybe you already are failing. That’s because there’s a hidden barrier to entry; one that only few see and even fewer are able to actually overcome.
That’s a barrier to entry? Yes – the ability to inject yourself irrevocably into a community is essential. The community could be online or it could be in your town. But it must be a circle of people with whom you can interact with, share your expertise with, and eventually become a leader of.
So many designers (and developers) fail because they have no community. Setting up shop and expecting a flow of business from the likes of Craigslist, Elance, and others is a pipedream. Very few make money from those sites, and those who do are usually dealing with the bottom feeders of the internet. That’s no way to operate a business – not if you want to succeed.
Finding a community is simple. It’s so simple you’ve probably already tried it but failed to insert yourself. Start with a local business association. This may be a chamber of commerce or a rotary club. It doesn’t matter. Wherever people who own businesses that have money aggregate is where you want to be. And no – you don’t want to be there so that you can be a sleazy salesman – you want to be there so that you can begin fitting in.
Fitting in means going to events, shaking hands, talking, and listening. You don’t bring up your business unless asked, and when answering, you never give a sales pitch. Sales and elevator pitches are a myth. No one makes a buying decision based on lame, rehearsed statements devoid of any personality. Buying decisions are made based on three things:
First, you need to develop connections within your community. Drink beers with members from your community, talk about football, attend events in good spirit. These are all activities that help strengthen connections. It’s fun, too (for some people – I’m not one of them, but I know plenty of people who are good at this stuff). Taking time (and money) out to spend with non-profit is also a great way to bolster your value within a community. The higher you can increase this value, the more connections you’re able to develop.
There needs to be evidence that you are the master of your realm. So many people are great at talking but dismal at actually producing anything. Talk can get you far, but once prospects realize it’s all fluff, you’re done for. Web design is incredibly easy to provide evidence. A professional portfolio followed by testimonials (preferably video) that is then supported by a natural ability to speak intelligently about what you do is all it takes. Maybe this isn’t so easy, but for the passionate, it’s a cake walk.
Finally, price. Everyone knows what price is. It’s dollars. Bottom-lines. Sometimes it’s the most important consideration for a prospect, and sometimes it’s just a tertiary concern. That’s why I put it third. In most cases, prospects will pay a higher cost to work with people they’ve developed strong personal connections with – people who are active members of the community.
The problem with web designers who are struggling today is that they fail at connection. It doesn’t matter if evidence or price is pegged down; if your connections are weak, you stand very little chance against competitors who put forth the effort to insert themselves into a community. That’s why community insertion is the real barrier to entry. Or maybe it’s better to think of it not as a barrier to entry but as a guarantee of failure if not practiced.
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