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Last year’s annual ‘Freelancing in America’ study found that 50% of all millennial workers are freelancing – and, based on the current working trends, that over 50% of the overall US workforce could be freelancing within 10 years.
Incredible times. That is, until you pitch for some work and realize you’re up against hundreds, if not thousands, of other talented freelancers.
These figures make one thing clear – it’s no longer enough to be talented; you’ve now got to know how to make yourself stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
I’m a freelancer – and I’ve won a lot of work. I’m also a small business owner who’s had an extremely mixed bag of experiences hiring and working with freelancers. I’m going to point out some easily avoided mistakes that I and many other freelancers have made, explain what definitely needs to be in a pitch – and, tell you a little bit about how a high-school dropout from the 1930s can revolutionize the way our clients perceive us…
What not to do
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If you think I’m coming at this with an ‘I’m perfect’ angle – you’re very much mistaken! I’m far from perfect – but I do learn from my mistakes. I’m into working out what can improve my quote/pitch conversion rates all the time.
After all, wouldn’t it be great to win every piece of work we go for?
With that in mind, let me run you through some of things I (and people I know) have done that most definitely don’t win people’s business…
- DON’T create false urgency: It might work for department stores on Black Friday, but it’s unlikely to work for freelancers. Try to avoid the ‘I can only do X number of projects at this price’ kind of sell, it comes across as insincere – and, are you really going to turn someone away if they come back 24-hours late? The kind of people you’re pitching to are likely to see through this and might perceive you to be desperate – which will likely raise some associated concerns.
- DON’T churn out canned emails: This tactic is really just one stop short of being spam. If you’re just cutting and pasting a pitch into an email and hitting send to bunch of people you don’t know you’re likely to be getting a LOT of misses.
- DON’T use impersonal quotes: Similar to the canned emails – you might think you’re saving time but you’re actually just making your client feel like they’re a standard customer getting standard treatment. Not a great way to stand out in a crowd.
- DON’T strive to be the cheapest: This is a tricky one. You might win business this way – but you’re probably going to find yourself working for less than you’d be on at Walmart with clients who expect a LOT. This is a fast route to over-working and burning out.
Remember – I’m not saying these won’t ever work, I’m just saying you’ll get better results if you change things up a little.
Getting the basics right
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Putting a great pitch out isn’t all about deeply psychological selling techniques that’ll have your clients eager to give you their money – there are a lot of basic and essential elements it’s easy to overlook.
Be sure to include the following:
Client and project information
Include your info and contact details, the company and contact you’re dealing with – as well as the date and the name of the project you’re working on. If you’re not sure of the latter, go with something easily understood “Images/copy for Christmas 2018 marketing campaign”.
This is your chance to show you’ve been listening. What does the customer want and how will you deliver that?
If it’s a big project, break it down into what you consider the different elements to be – and use the kind of language they’ve used when they’ve discussed what they need.
If you’ve got solid turn-around times in mind (or the client has) then make sure you quote them here. If the client’s given you their deadline date, make sure you’re working with enough time to make revisions to your work comfortably.
If it’s a big project, you might want to think about different phases and attribute different timescales to each. This shows so great planning skill and a way of working that keeps your client informed.
Explain your costs and payment methods. Depending on the service you offer, you might want to break this down into different elements.
Breaking your price down will help you deal with objections relating to cost – and also help you handle people who come back asking for discount – for instance, if someone’s looking to knock your price down, you can offer to remove one of the elements, therefore lowering the price without devaluing your service or taking a hit on your hourly rate.
The ‘next steps’ section of your pitch is super important – people like to have they action they need to take spelled out for them. The more you make a customer think, you more work you give them. Make these next steps as easy as possible.
Once you’ve got these things in place, you can work on making your pitch or quote something extra special…
How to make an exceptional impression
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Got the basics down?
Now, it’s time to talk about that ’30s high school dropout and how he can teach us lessons that are going to send your pitch conversions rates through the roof…
His name’s Ben Duffy. He dropped out of a Manhattan Hell’s Kitchen school in the early 1900s and, by the ’30s, was running a small advertising agency and pitching for jobs much bigger than an agency of his size could realistically hope to land.
He arranged a meeting with a large tobacco company – and knew he was going up against agencies he could never compete with on experience, size or price. Because of this, he decided to approach the issue an entirely different way.
Prior to the meeting, he sat down and plotted the questions he would have if he put himself in his client’s shoes. He boiled those questions down to the 10 he thought were most significant and prepared answers for those. When the time came to sit down with decision makers from the tobacco company, Duffy explained what he’d done – and that if he were on the other side of the table, how he’d want to know about him, his company, how he does business and how they could work together.
The tobacco company president approved, presented his list of questions – and found that 6 of them were identical. In one simple move, Duffy had shown his potential customer that he understood them and their needs. After a little further discussion, Duffy’s agency won the contract – and it was all because he demonstrated empathy – an appreciation for what his client was truly looking for.
Displaying empathy to your customers
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Empathy – the art of appreciating what another person’s experience is like – is key to standing out in our crowded freelance marketplace.
What does the person you’re sending your pitch to really want to know?
It will change a little from person to person, company to company (and doing your homework on each is vital) – but largely, they’re going to want to know that you’re reliable, you produce quality work, you’ll turn it around on time and you’re easy to communicate with.
In a vast ocean of creative freelancers, it’s easy to get bogged down with how fancy your site is, how impressive your image, copy or technical portfolio is – or sometimes, how well designed your quote is. Sure, if you’ve got it, flaunt it – but either way, reliability and a decent human touch will still almost always win the day.
Fortunately for you and I, those things are far from a guarantee when you’re looking to hire a freelancer, so, learn about your potential clients, get a feel for their business, then talk to them about how important you understand these things are to them.
You might not be the cheapest, you might not be the most qualified, you might not be the most experienced – but if you can show a client that you understand how important these things are – then display how you’ll tick those boxes, you’re going to stand out – and see your conversion rates soar…