Does the thought of selling make you a little sick or anxious? If it does, you're not alone.
Most freelancers started their freelancing business to do something they love and are good at. Often we work in creative fields like web design, graphic design, programming, or writing. We may not even think about sales as being part of our job, but it is.
Every time we close a deal with a client, we've sold our freelancing services. Selling is what keeps our freelancing businesses afloat. Yet many of us struggle to get clients to commit.
If you're like many freelancers you have no sales training. You probably have prospects you know are interested. They seem like a good fit for your services. But the process seems stalled. What can you do to turn those prospects into clients?
This tutorial goes into more detail on how to close a sale. It provides you with effective closing techniques to improve your sales effectiveness and help you to get more clients.
Before we talk about closing techniques, it's important that you have the right mindset to sell. George N Root III describes the sales mindset in the tutorial, Do You Have the Mind of a Sales Professional?
Root emphasizes understanding the customer's point of view. Root also specifically mentions the importance of listening. If you adjust your attitude to focus on these two areas you reduce the chances that you'll seem to pushy or annoy your prospect. The points are excellent. I'd like to focus on two in particular for the purposes of this tutorial.
Now let's take a look at some closing techniques.
1. Give Prospects a Reason to Buy
You've qualified your prospect. You know they're a good fit for your services. You know they're interested. And nothing is happening.
Merely being interested in your product or services is not enough. You have to give your potential client a compelling reason to buy your services. If they have no good reason to buy your services, they won't. It's that simple.
There are two common methods salespeople use to give prospects a reason to buy:
- solve a problem
- create urgency
Let's look at each method separately.
Solve a Problem
One good way to give your prospects a reason to buy is to solve a problem for them. Of course you can (and should) start to learn about your prospect's needs by asking questions.
But keep in mind that many prospects will not tell you what they really need. The reasons for that vary, but they include:
- Embarrassment. The prospect doesn't want to admit to having a problem with their website, existing programming, or any number of other problems.
- Lack of knowledge. The prospect knows there's a problem, but they aren't sure exactly what it is. They need help to discover their problem.
- Given up. The prospect knows there's a problem. They even know what it is, but they don't know it can be solved. So, they don't bother to mention it.
To discover your prospect's true problem so that you can solve it, you need to become a bit of a detective. And you need to really listen to what your prospect says.
After asking what problems they are experiencing, try also asking more general questions. For example, a web designer might ask:
If you could change anything about your website what change would you make and why?
A writer could ask:
What is the one message you'd like to get across to your readers that isn't currently being conveyed?
With both questions, you invite the prospect to share their problems with you. Plus, you give yourself an opportunity to solve those problems.
Mark Suster, writing on Inc., calls these problems "pain points." Finding out your client's pain point is so important that Suster says in the article,
Pain is a reminder that unless your prospect has a need to solve a problem, they are not going to buy a product.
You can read more about Suster's thoughts on pain points in the article, How to Identify Client Pain Points.
2. Create Urgency
Should you create urgency to sell your freelancing services?
Okay, so you've presented a solution to your prospect's problem and the prospect still won't budge. Is there anything you can do?
If the prospective client isn't in a hurry to sign on the dotted line, creating urgency may help.
At this point, many people make the mistake of turning to high pressure sales tactics. But high pressure tactics can backfire. So, watch out. Be careful about creating urgency in ways that pressure the buyer.
Here are some better ways to create urgency:
- Help the prospect to understand why buying now is better for their business.
- Run a limited time offer.
- Look for hidden objections.
If you've done all you can and you still can't close the deal, the prospect might have an objection you're not aware of. Hidden objections are often the true reason why deals don't close.
3. Discover the True Objection
If your potential client often brings up questions and objections and doesn't seem satisfied with your answers, there may be a deeper objection that they aren't expressing. They may even be withholding that objection deliberately.
Discovering what that hidden objection is can be tricky. It involves a lot of careful listening. You need to take some of the steps you originally did to discover the prospect's problem.
Because many freelancers will read this tutorial, I want to address a common misperception. Many freelancers immediately jump to price as the main hidden objection. But price often isn't your prospect's main concern.
There are several other hidden concerns your prospect might have:
- Trust. This is a big one. The prospect doesn't want to hurt your feelings by admitting they don't trust you to do the job. They have some doubts.
- Time. The prospect doesn't have the time to support you on the project or even examine your proposal, but they won't admit it.
- Authority. The person you're speaking to may be fully sold on your services. However, they might not be the decision-maker who can approve the deal.
- Need. You may think you qualified the prospect, but sometimes a prospect appears to be genuine when in fact they have no real need for your services.
If you suspect that one of these common, hidden objections is the culprit, there are ways to find out for sure.
For example, if you feel that trust is an issue, share your testimonials and portfolio with the prospect. Use the testimonials or the portfolio as a starting point for conversation. You could say something like:
Do you have any questions about my work experience?
If you suspect you're talking to the wrong person, it might not be wise to come out and say that. Instead, you can say something like:
Is there anyone else we should bring into these discussions?
With this question your contact doesn't have to admit that they don't have the authority to make the final decision. They are free to name the true decision-maker without embarrassing themselves.
If you suspect the prospect doesn't really need your services, you can ask (for a web designer):
How do you think an updated website would make a difference for your business?
If they're not really your prospect, they may admit that they don't think an updated website will make any difference.
4. Ask for the Sale
Freelancers, especially, tend to hesitate to ask for a sale.
It turns out that freelancers aren't alone in their hesitation to ask for the sale. According to an article by John Treace writing on Inc., even professional sales people have trouble asking for the sale. Traece lists "Fear of asking for the order" as one of the 4 Things Salespeople Fear More Than Anything Else.
So, fear of asking for the sale is pretty normal. If you struggle in this area, here are three ways to help you let the client know you want the sale:
- Be interested. If you're interested in your prospect's business, that sets you apart from freelance competitors. Many of them are mainly interested in getting a paycheck. Your prospect will appreciate it if you go the extra mile to learn about what they do.
- Be helpful. If you see a way to be helpful to your prospect, do it. This could mean forwarding an article to them that you think they will find interesting. It might even mean introducing them to another client or prospect.
- Be direct. Your prospect is not a mind reader, so just ask for the business. You could say something like, "I'd really like to work on this project with you" or even "when can we get started?"
Of these three techniques the direct approach is the most important.
There have been times when I was sure a prospective client wasn't ready to close, but I've asked to do the work anyway. And they've surprised me by saying "yes."
Asking for the sale pays off. Literally.
If you have a chance to meet with your prospect in person, do it. Grant Cardone offers helpful advice for face-to-face sales in the 12 Commandments for Closing a Sale on Entrepreneur. Cardone's includes practical advice such as "always carry a pen" and "remain seated."
5. Follow Up
Follow up is important when you're running a business. It can mean the difference between regular work and struggling to find your next client.
Yet many freelancers I know fall short in this area. They complete a project and they never contact that client again.
Don't be like that.
You need to follow up with two types of contacts:
- those who bought your services
- those who did not
Following Up with Former Clients
When you close a sale, you're not done selling. You have to provide an excellent product or service to keep this client happy.
Once the project is finished, take steps to stay in touch.
Staying in touch with a client is partly about strengthening your relationship with them. It's also about keeping your name in front of them. Here are some ways to go about meeting both goals:
- Connect with them on LinkedIn. Acknowledge anniversaries and work announcements.
- Follow their blog. Once in a while, share and comment on interesting posts.
- Invite them to opt-in to your email newsletter.
- Ask them for feedback on the project you did for them.
- Introduce yourself to new contacts within the company.
Following up with Prospects
Even if you've followed all the steps above, your client still may hesitate. Now may not be the right time for them to buy.
That's okay. If you have a good relationship with the prospect, stay in touch using some of the techniques listed for staying in touch with former clients. The more prospects you communicate with regularly, the more likely you are to have steady work.
When a prospect fails to buy, many freelancers (myself included) have a tendency to give up on them. Even if they were close to buying at one point, we move on and the prospect never hears from us again.
If you're doing this, you could be losing business.
One good example that illustrates the importance of staying in touch is from my own experience. A few years ago, I wrote about a software tool for an article. The tool wasn't a good fit for my own business, but a contact from the software company reached out to me. Even now, after several years, I still hear from that contact from time to time.
If I'm ever in a position where I need a tool like the one they sell, guess which one I'll probably buy?
Above all, don't take the failure to close personally. Even experienced sales people sometimes fail to close a deal. Just move on to the next potential project.
Know When to Walk Away
An important part of closing the deal without seeming too pushy is knowing when to stop communicating with a prospect.
Here are some examples of when you should end your relationship with potential customers:
- They tell you directly they aren't interested. Always respect requests to be removed from your mailing list.
- They change positions. If your contact works for a company that has no need of your services, it may be time to remove them.
- Too much time has passed. If it's been over a year and the prospect hasn't shown even a tiny bit of interest, then it's time to move on.
By offering a solution to your client's problems and asking for the sale, you can learn to close more deals and get more gigs. Good sales skills are essential to a healthy freelancing business.
If you struggle with sales, it's a good idea to learn better selling techniques. Practice and try some of the suggestions found in this tutorial.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in November of 2015. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.