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How to sell yourself as a freelancer

It’s important to get your work and ideas under the right people’s noses and convince them that you are the best person for the job – to sell your work.

Here, we’re defining sales as direct (one-to-one) methods of approaching potential clients when more indirect methods just won’t do. For example, if you have a complicated idea to explain which might include an in-depth presentation of your work, a meeting with the client will get you better results than an email – assuming that you perform well!

If you balk at the words ‘sale’ and ‘sell’, just think of it as giving yourself the best chance of getting more of the work that you want to do. No doubt you’re aware that most freelance industries are highly competitive so if you’re going to stand out from the crowd, it’ll be advantageous to understand and use even a few basic sales techniques.

Selling directly usually takes time, effort and possibly money but the rewards should be worth it. This is why it’s important to take a targeted approach to avoid wasting valuable resources. The following process will help you maximise your efforts.

Past and current clients are often the best source of new business – assuming they are satisfied with your work to date.

Identify your most likely potential clients

  • Work out who has/is/will be commissioning work in your field – your ‘hot’ leads. To do this you’ll need to keep up with industry developments through, for example, established news sources and networking events.
  • Keep a contacts list/database so that you can keep track of your clients or potential clients. While some contacts might be ‘cold’ at this time (i.e., they are not commissioning currently and haven’t anything in the pipeline), things can change quickly so you’ll still want to remind them that you’re available through less direct marketing methods (see next section).
  • Keep your contacts list updated and add new potential clients. You can also add contacts that may influence commissioning decisions and provide you with valuable information. But remember your main efforts should be focused on the people who can make the buying decisions, i.e., have the final say in commissioning work.

Give yourself realistic targets

When you’re busy with your core work it can be difficult to find time to do anything else. However, if you’re trying to create new opportunities, it’s advisable to fit in this sort of support work.

Perhaps commit to contacting one new person per week. Of course, if they are hot leads, it’ll be worth your while making time to contact them immediately – before someone else does.

Decide on the best way to make contact

In your sales efforts, you’ll have several different methods of communication at your disposal:

  • Written, e.g., email
  • Verbal, e.g., telephone
  • Face-to-face, e.g., a meeting to present your idea(s).

Your methods will depend on client preference to a certain extent. Some people have a reputation for being impossible to contact by phone for example, but don’t take the word of others for this – give it a go and find out for yourself.

While email is a popular and useful form of communication, don’t rely on it. Try to speak with or meet the client so that you can create a two-way communication channel, build rapport, understand what the customer needs and demonstrate that you are the person for the job.

If you decide it is appropriate to use email, do follow this up with a phone call to check that the client has received it and to gauge their interest in what you have to say.

Be prepared to use several different methods of communication over a period of time to convince a client to commission your work.

Preparation and planning what you want to say (your pitch)

Doing your homework before pitching your work will help increase your success rate.

The amount of time you take to prepare will vary depending on what you want achieve. If you’re telephoning a client to arrange a meeting, it might take just a few moments to jot down a few pointers you want to get across. On the other hand, if an important and lucrative piece of work is up for grabs, you might spend days putting together a suitable presentation.

When you’re preparing, think about the following:

1. Identify the client’s needs

Your aim is to match your skills to what the client needs at that particular time. This is often different for each client as well as being different for the same client on occasion. This means that you’ll need to find out what specific needs are at the time first to avoid missing the mark completely. To do this you may need to ask several questions.

2. Work out your key messages

Understanding what each client wants will help you to work out how to present your work in a manner that most appeals to them. You may offer a range of skills but homing in on the one/s that the client most needs is the trick.

In most cases, you’ll have a number of key messages to get across and preferably you’ll want to prioritise these in order of importance to the client. If you only have a chance to get one point across, make sure it is the one of most interest to the client (not the one that is of most interest to you).

Delivering your pitch

1. Highlight the benefits

People are not interested in your work per se but how your work can benefit them. Also, benefits won’t just include your work as such but other less tangible things like trust, ease and lack of stress for the client.

To ensure that your clients understand this, it means that you need to be clear on what benefits you offer. Work them out when you prepare and remember to emphasise them when you have the chance.

For example:

‘I specialise in writing about environmental issues and have many high profile industry contacts’.

This statement is the feature or explanation of what you do not the benefit to the client who might be left thinking: ‘So what?’

With this in mind, a better way to spark interest would be:

I specialise in writing about environmental issues and have many high profile industry contacts (explanation). This means that I should be able to supply you with the most up to date news on key industry developments and in some cases exclusives so you’ll be first to break the news (benefit).

Always think about what you’re saying from the potential client’s point of view: What’s in it for them? How does your work benefit them?

2. Gain agreement

As you talk through each of the benefits that your work can deliver, check to see if what you are saying is hitting the mark. If not, you will need to ask more questions to find out what the client is interested in and find other benefits from what you do that does fit their needs.

By gaining agreement as you go along, you build a positive momentum which will help you get a final ‘yes’ to what you’re proposing or help you find out what else the potential client might need from you so you can show how you will fulfil this.

3. Provide proof of quality

To help demonstrate that you can do the job, it’s helpful to back up what you say with examples of your experience and credentials. Do choose the ones that are most relevant to what your client is looking for though. For example, if you’re trying to get hired as a wedding singer, saying that you sung opera at the Proms last year (even if it’s impressive) is likely to be too left field if you’ve found out that the client wants a medley of 80’s hits.

Also if you can use ‘testimonials’ from others, it makes what you say all the more believable. For example: “I’ve sung in five weddings in the last year so I know the ropes and will certainly make sure that you get the music that makes you most happy and ensures that your guests have a great time. I’ve got a whole repertoire of 80’s songs too. Actually, I recently sang at your vicar’s daughter’s wedding and she said it was fantastic. Please do ask her what she thought. Also, you can see several videos and testimonials on my website which will give you a better idea. Does that sound of interest?”

4. Close the sale

Even if the client seems enthusiastic about your work, don’t assume that they will make a decision without prompting. Don’t be shy of asking for the work.

You won’t always get the commission you want even if you’ve performed a great pitch. However, it stands you in good stead for the future because things change quickly and new opportunities come up on an on-going basis.

This is where good marketing devices come into their own: Even when you’re out of direct contact with a particular client, it is important to ensure that you stay on their radar.