I started my first web development business back in 1998, and like most new ventures, I didn’t start with any customers. I was in college at the time when I started, so my first few websites resulted in free food from the snackbar and some free flyers printed by the campus copy shop. But I wasn’t making any money yet.
The next time I was home at the end of that semester, I knew that if I wanted to make this thing work, that I needed to get paid. So I created a little one page document that outlined what I did, put together a small portfolio of those horrible looking sites I had basically done for free (including one I did as a class project and another I did for a professor) and I started driving around my hometown. I had no idea what I wanted to say and no idea what type of “customer” I was looking for. And for reference, back in 1998, websites were not top of mind for your average small business.
While driving around, I came across a small, family-owned furniture store. I thought to myself, “how do these small stores compete with the likes of big stores like Jordan’s Furniture who are advertising like crazy and have pretty extensive websites?” And my sales pitch instantly hit me. I walked into the store and the man that approached me to offer assistance just happened to be the owner. I introduced myself, told him I was just starting out, and that I’d love the opportunity to talk to him about building a website. He was interested, so we sat down in the middle of the showroom, I unpacked my sales sheet and portfolio (which was printed out by the way) and began a pitch that I had just come up with a few minutes prior.
After about 45 minutes of pitching and answering questions, I had closed a deal to build his website for $500. I was a college kid that was used to making $8 an hour for most jobs I worked ($15 when I worked landscaping), so $500 for a few days of my time seemed like I had won the lottery. That customer remained my customer until I sold off my company 15 years later.
What I realized from this experience is that it was about having a little bit of confidence in myself and just putting myself out there. I didn’t even do research about that furniture company. I had no idea if they had a website or if they’d be interested. I wasn’t even a designer, so even though the crappy little websites I used in my portfolio were awful, it was enough to show that I could do what I was promising. If I never built up the courage to talk to that owner, I don’t know where I’d be today.