Faced with a shrinking economy and local design market, Barbara Jean McAtlin decided 18 months ago to construct an online presence for her freelance design, marketing, and copywriting business. 80% of Solid Imaging’s revenue now comes from online customers. In a fiercely competitive freelance market, how does Barbara Jean do it?
Building a Professional Online Presence
Perhaps the most important part of her early online business-building strategy was the need to diversify. Barbara Jean recognized this early on, and joined two freelancing marketplaces, Elance.com and Coroflot.com. Early in 2009, Barbara commissioned a programmer she met online to build her current website, SolidImagingDesign.com.
Diversification is important for a number of reasons:
- E-commerce businesses in the service industry are exposed to a variety of markets.
- Clients are assured that the business is an established and professional one, with several points of reference to show that they are, indeed, a real business.
- The business doesn’t have all of their eggs in one basket, which is a critical error for a service company trying to make money online.
Barbara Jean recently joined Twitter and LinkedIn to further brand her online business and build a solid web presence. The profiles on these sites cost nothing but time to build, and offer great networking and marketing opportunities.
The Pros and Cons of E-Commerce for a Service Company
Barbara Jean enjoys the diversity of her clients and their variety of freelance design projects. She works with clients the world over, keeping communication expenses low with email and Skype. “I find it slightly more difficult,” she notes, “But online communication gives me a record in writing, in case there are questions regarding payment, progress or edits/corrections.” Clients don’t even have to be in a similar time zone, allowing her access to a larger market.
E-commerce companies selling products process payments during ordering. However, selling a service is more complicated. Few consumers will pay 100% of the project price upfront, especially online.
When asked how she avoids non-payment issues when selling a service online, Barbara Jean said, “I’ve been fortunate, all things considered. I believe in the good in people.” In her time operating a freelance design e-commerce business, however, Barbara Jean has had to file one lawsuit for non-payment of a contract. She now uses escrow services when available, or sets up milestone deposits, payments and deliveries to remedy this problem.
Clients most often pay through a third-party payment processor such as PayPal; Barbara Jean appreciates this accessible payment option that gives clients a variety of bank transfer, credit card, or check payment methods. The cost of using third-party escrow services, job posting sites, and payment processors can be expensive. Barbara Jean hopes to reduce these expenses by attracting more clients directly to her website.
Online Service Providers Need a Professional Website
Barbara Jean could have used a template to create a website for Solid Imaging. Instead, she hired professional designer Arturo Civit from TheNewMediaStudio.com. He came highly recommended by previous clients and Barbara Jean knew the importance of presenting her company to online visitors in a positive, professional light.
While many e-commerce websites offer ordering and payment processing options, Solid Imaging, as a freelance design service company, focused on showcasing their portfolio and business reputation. Barbara Jean states that while search engine optimization is certainly important, it wasn’t her only consideration in writing her web content. “I didn’t write the copy on my website with the intention of getting to the first place in line on Google. I wrote what needed to be said, instead.”
It is important to keep all aspects of the online business professional, and to make each part accessible from other sites. Because her goal is to drive traffic to the SolidImagingDesign.com website, Barbara Jean links to it from her other websites and profiles on networking sites and job boards. Each profile, while formatted according to the rules of that site, mirrors the others. The result is a fluent, cohesive online business presence.
Tips on Selling Services Online for New E-Commerce Companies or Entrepreneurs
Despite the downturn in the economy and an influx of newly-unemployed Americans seeking freelance opportunities in the online service market, Barbara Jean is hopeful that prices will remain fair and work plentiful. “Don’t undercut yourself in order to make a quick buck,” she says. “You’re better off pricing your freelance design slightly lower than brick and mortar prices and standing by your principles. There are clients who will pay a fair price for your work.”
- Personal conversations with Barbara Jean McAtlin, 2009.
- For more information on starting an online business, see Starting an E-Commerce Business.