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  • Diana Schneidman

Creating websites for local businesses: Opportunities for freelancers and consultants

Sixty-three percent of small businesses do not have a website and one-fourth of small businesses don’t even show up in search results.

However, a full 85%(!) of consumers have searched for local businesses online, reported ReachLocal in November 2012. (See ReachLocal’s blog for an impressive infographic that presents these and other findings.)

Furthermore, more people than ever are using smartphones to assist them in shopping, with 66% of these phone owners using their phones in making purchasing decisions and 44% employing their smartphones right in the store aisle where a product is sold.

These statistics suggest exciting opportunities for freelancers and consultants who can help businesses reach out to local residents through websites, associated social media and other marketing. This includes writers, website designers, marketing pros and more.

Because these prospects are local, it’s easy to meet with them in person and use physical proximity to create a personal relationship. We can meet business owners by simply visiting them in their stores or offices, attending networking events sponsored by chambers of commerce and similar organizations, and joining MeetUps or LinkedIn groups or even religious and other community organizations. Plus there’s all the usual remote channels for forming relationships and pursuing assignments.

My public library offers, via its website, free access to a terrific database of businesses. ReferenceUSA is searchable by city, type and size of business, and many additional criteria. This is a great starting place for selecting local businesses to contact.

The challenge in doing this type of work is in how you define the work you offer.

If your prospects are price sensitive, you may be tempted to keep your price low.

However, they may need outrageous levels of service to determine their niche, position their business, pin down their competitive advantages, select a tagline, etc.

Just because they want to hold down costs doesn’t mean they won’t expect a lot of service. They may demand hours of consultation at the start and continued back and forth on even the smallest decisions as work progresses.

If they have been in business for awhile and still don’t have a website, there may be a reason—too many decision makers? a desire to be all things to all people?—that will impede their moving forward, no matter how much you try to help.

Years ago when I embarked on a resume-writing venture, I mistakenly thought I’d start with fast, low-paying, quick-turnaround resumes.

I found this plan totally unworkable. Simply because people want work done fast and cheap doesn’t mean there is any relaxation in their standards.

My occasional efforts over the years to work with local businesses have met with a similar problem: I couldn’t find a way to limit the work to a reasonable amount of time relative to my fees.

This is a problem that must be addressed early!

One solution is to expand the definition of the project to include marketing fundamentals as well as implementation. This means charging a substantial sum. It also calls for a specific contract that spells out what you will do, deadlines, how you will work together, and when you will be paid. And once you have spelled this out, you have to stick with it no matter how much you are tempted to do lots of work for free.

Another solution is to limit the scope of your work, but again, you must specify what you will do and the other particulars.

In summary, there is opportunity here but there’s also risk.

Originally posted 3-5-13

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