As a freelancer, it’s practically guaranteed that you have great creative skills. In your chosen field, you can come up with inspired solutions to big problems and absolutely wow your clients. But actually landing those clients may be another story — few freelancers come from a sales background, which can make actually landing projects harder than it needs to be.
There are plenty of consultants and trainers who are willing to teach a person how to be a great salesman. If you’re not in a position to take those courses, though, there are some steps you can take to improve your ability to make a sale.
There are certain skills that are crucial to the sales process. Once you think about the skills listed below, they’ll seem obvious — but you need to practice them just the same.
Maintaining confidence: In order to be able to consistently sell your own services, you need to have confidence in what you’re offering. No client wants to give money to someone who seems wishy-washy on whether she can effectively complete a project.
Of course, you need something to be confident about, so you may need to find ways to remind yourself of your own talents and skills. If you find that you have a hard time actually building up your confidence, this is one situation in which you should consider faking it. There are extremely experienced freelancers who still have some uncertainty about their work, but they can provide a confident presentation just the same.
Building relationships: Networking is obviously a big part of marketing yourself as a freelancer, but if you’ve had a hard time closing sales, consider working to deepen your relationships. Without a strong connection, you’re not going to be the first person that a prospective client thinks of when they decide they need a freelancer.
To take it a step further, strong relationships give you the opportunity to skip cold-calling and some of the sales techniques that may feel a bit icky. If you’ve got a great relationship with a person who you know may need your services, you can call him up and ask if you can put together a proposal before he even starts looking for a freelancer.
Listening to prospective clients: While we all think of salespeople as fast talkers, the best always listen to their clients before doing anything else. After all, you have to know what your client needs before you can sell her anything. That can mean letting a client just talk for a little while, asking just a few leading questions.
Many of the prospective clients who come to you may have a very clear idea of the project they want completed — because they equate a completed project with a very specific result. If you can find that result that your clients are looking for, rather than the project they think they need completed, you’ll have a much easier time of selling them the project that they actually need done (and you’ll have a happier client at the end of the process).
Persuading listeners: That isn’t to say that being able to speak and write effectively is not important. You’ll probably exercise your vocal cords more than your typing skills during the sales process, because most people find it easier to trust a business associate that they can meet with or at least talk to over the phone.
But you do need to be able to explain the value of the services you offer through any medium you use for communication. Even a basic public speaking class can help build your communication skills, along with your confidence.
These are skills you may very well spend the rest of your life polishing, but the more time you can invest in training yourself in these areas, the better.
A Sales Mentor
Sales is certainly not the easiest part of operating a freelance business. To sell well, you need to do more than just read articles about the sales process. It’s worth your while to find a sales mentor — someone who has already honed her ability to close a sale who can critique your technique. Even just finding a few friends who will let you practice selling to them is a step in the right direction, but a full-fledged experienced salesperson is even better.
It may be best to look outside your own area of expertise for your mentor.
It may be best to look outside your own area of expertise for your mentor. While having someone who already knows the ins and outs of selling creative work can be a great help, it’s at least as valuable to find someone who is comfortable with selling to the same audience you want to work with. That can mean a very different type of mentor than a more experienced freelancer.
It’s worth just keeping an eye out for who is able to really sell in your niche. You may hear industry gossip about who has just hired away a fantastic salesperson from the competition. Offer to buy that individual a congratulatory cup of coffee and see if she has any interest in becoming a mentor. Just like in any sale, the worst that can happen is that your prospective mentor might say no.
Understanding What You’re Selling
As your ability to sell evolves and you read more about the sales process, you’re going to hear about the concept of the ‘unique selling proposition,’ or USP. This is an easier concept to convey than to put into action: it’s essentially what makes you different from the competition, why a client should hire you over every other freelancer out there. Ideally, you’ve go some specific expertise that sets you apart from other freelancers, which can serve as your USP.
It’s not necessarily an easy thing to identify. It can require you to sit down and make a list of all the characteristics that make up your freelance credentials before you can isolate what makes you valuable as a creative professional — the reason why your clients are going to want to work with you over anyone else.
You may also want to do research into any specific industry or type of client you want to focus on, so that you know there’s a match between what you see as your USP and what your clients see. Consider research in the following areas:
- How do the big players in the industry handle the procurement process? How do they make their decisions on which freelancers to hire?
- What sort of services and products do your ideal clients routinely buy? How do your services fit into that picture?
- How have your past clients seen the work you’ve done for them? Can you contact them for an after-the-fact survey or interview?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses compared to the competition? For that matter, who is the competition?
You may need to do a fair amount of analysis to take this pile of information and turn it into a USP that you can use to guide your sales efforts. Once you have that proposition in place, though, you can use it to guide those skills you’re developing. Obviously, knowing why you’re the best choice for your client is going to make persuading them to see your value a lot easier, but it’s also a confidence boost to even discover what your USP is.
You’ll also be in a better position to see which prospective clients are even worth listening to in the first place. Not every person or organization will be a good fit for you, even if on the surface they seem to want a project that’s right up your alley. A sizable chunk of the sales process is being able to identify who you’re even going to be able to sell to in the first place — and that means knowing who is going to value your USP.
Your Sales Prospects
That information lets you skip waiting around for someone to want to offer you a project. When you know who is likely to want your services, you can be proactive about reaching those clients, both directly and by marketing to them.
It’s worthwhile to identify at least a few individuals or organizations who would make ideal clients and actually start reaching out to them, at least to build initial relationships. You may not feel comfortable pitching immediately, and, considering the low rates of success among even the best cold callers, it’s often better to take a slower approach.
But building a rapport with the types of clients you want to work with is one of the biggest secrets to effectively selling your services. If you can hone the underlying skills of sales, identify what really makes your services special and communicate that value to the people you want to work with, you’ll be well on your way to closing a sale.
It’s likely to be worth your while to learn a great deal more about selling services, but if that’s all you do, you’ll be ahead of many freelancers.