Selling skills for the solo creative

Published:  October 4, 2010
Selling skills for the solo creative

You’ve set up your business, identified your branding and even done a bit of marketing. You’ve been in touch with the industry and networked with the relevant people. But now it’s time to start making some money from your business. Attracting and landing clients is one of the biggest challenges for freelance professionals, entrepreneurs and micro businesses. Where do you start? And how do you find your first client, secure paid jobs and ongoing customers?

Bron McClain has a range of experience in both freelancing across creative industries and setting up her own business, Conquest Marketing. She says it’s important to clearly identify what your product or service is, what your key message is and what benefits you can offer to clients. “Everyone always wants the very, very best of what they pay for,” she said. A good place to start looking for work is through your network of family and friends and getting them to respect what you do. Word of mouth can be powerful so it’s beneficial for people to be clear on what you offer and to get them talking about you. “Cold calling was never as successful for me as being referred,” explains Ms McClain. Start with a list of all your friends and relatives that are in business and pinpoint what services or products you can offer them. “Friends are usually more comfortable dealing with people they know, people they trust, people whose skill set they’ve witnessed.” From there, ask for referrals to people who they do business with and you can then build up a client list, testimonials and a portfolio of successes to showcase when cold calling new clients.

While securing those first customers can be a challenge, McClain says she has learnt to turn down disagreeable or aggressive clients despite the potential revenue resource. “Run, don’t walk away from difficult customers,” says McClain, explaining that some people will try to get so much more out of you than what was initially agreed. It’s worth asking yourself whether a demanding and difficult customer, who continues to come back asking for rewrites or redesigns for an original fee, will be worth spending the time on. This type of client will demand far and away more servicing than is reflected in your invoice or quote explains McClain. “You didn’t get into self-employment to continue to work with irritating or aggressive people,” she says.

When trying to secure paid jobs, contracts and ongoing clients expect to be rejected but do not take it personally. Just because a client doesn’t need you now doesn’t mean they won’t need you a few months down the track. So it’s important to be open-minded and to think strategically about how you can find work. Try targeting industry sectors that appeal to you and approach them with an offer that would pose a benefit to their business. Perhaps you’ve noticed that their website design could be improved or that their brochure copy is not communicating their core message as well as it should – think about how your service could be used to generate work in a way that offers value to others. “You will always do your best work when you are working in areas you enjoy, with people you like,” says McClain. And when doing so, don’t undersell yourself or your services. People need to understand that they have to pay for a quality service so doing things cheaply or at a discounted rate simply because they’re a ‘mate’ won’t do any favours for building a reputation for your business says McClain. “Never undervalue your own work or contributions to an organisation.”

Define your unique selling point. Perhaps you offer superb customer service? McClain says there’s a misperception that good customer service is about answering the phone after three rings or responding to an email within 24 hours. It should be about treating people with the highest level of respect, being kind and courteous, and giving people more than they expect. “It’s the customer who ultimately determines our success and we keep forgetting that. A happy client is a returning and referring client.”

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But be cautious of setting unrealistic goals or taking on too much in the early days of setting up business advises director of The Sales Guy, Alex Ross. “Be careful of trying to tackle everything at once because this will become hard to support via a small business structure,” Ross says. Instead, it would be a much more effective approach to assess how much is manageable within a given week and the resources you have to manage that workload. Identify how many businesses you can approach, clients you can meet and direct mailings you can follow up with the time and resource limitations of your business. For example, ask yourself a question like “can I make fifty phone calls per week and still effectively run my business?”

For the shy or inexperienced types, Ross advises simply starting somewhere but most importantly believing in yourself and what your business can offer. “Back yourself 100%… and your confidence will come,” he said. The reality is however, that unless you’re prepared to put yourself out there and expose yourself to people then you won’t succeed. Think hard about all the time and effort you’ve put into creating your business up to this point – if you’re passionate about what you do and truly believe in the product or service you can offer then the sales component should be a natural progression.

Ultimately, it is important to understand your audience and how to effectively target them says Ross. Keep a surprise element in your direct mailing so that you’re not giving everything away about who you are and what you do. It also gives you a good reason to follow up with a promised phone call that can aim to further explain your services or product. But be careful not to be too forceful at the phone call stage. “You don’t want to sell anything over the phone,” says Ross. Proceed with a quick and direct explanation that will then break down the barrier and get a rapport started with the client. This will then make for a smooth transition into the meeting phase where the discussion based around selling can happen. “Make it very clear that the meeting will involve talking about sales so the expectation will already be there,” said Ross.

For service-based businesses, the focus should be concentrated on offering an experience so your approach needs to highlight the key benefits of your service. Demonstrate how it will add value to the organisation you are working for says founding director of Qt Transformation Vesna Grubacevic. A good way to think about this is to ask: “What’s in it for the customer?” This is why getting your approach right from the start is very important says Grubacevic. “You want someone who is going to value your product or service.”

When starting your business from scratch, think about ways to constantly fill up your pipeline of customers. It’s about balancing the act between having a flow of new and existing customers says Grubacevic. Often a great way to start is to have an official launch event for your business. It doesn’t need to be an expensive, lavish affair but can get the word out there that your business is in operation and it’s often a good way to source clients. “I was referred my first client through my business launch event,” says Grubacevic. A good strategy to acknowledge loyal and returning customers can be to reward them with a special offer, a discounted service fee or a small incentive to keep them in the pipeline. “It’s nice to be recognised,” says Grubacevic.

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According to managing director of Sales Consultants, Kurt Newman, sales is all about giving people what they want and doing it in a non-confrontational manner. “Honesty and integrity play a large part in doing sales,” he says. Not only does Newman agree that sales forms one of the most crucial functions of driving a business, he also believes that these skills can be learned. To find customers, it’s important to have a mix of different business development strategies that include generating short term and long term clients. You can begin by learning what your natural selling style is and identifying the buying style of prospective clients. While there are numerous types of buying styles an easy way to start is to recognise whether the prospective client is task focused, people focused, introverted or extroverted and adapt your approach accordingly. This technique is also known as ‘style shifting’ and refers to having a flexible approach that will allow you to cater to the needs of different customers. Ask yourself whether the person is direct, has little time to waste, wants quick answers and is a decision maker. Or perhaps a prospective client is more people orientated, enjoys a friendly chat and building a rapport over an extended period of time before committing to a sale. “Your approach needs to adapt and adjust to the different buying behaviours of clients,” says Newman.

It’s also important to have a varied volume of activity as part of your sales tactics says Newman. Selling requires a lot of energy and takes time to build so it’s worthwhile doing it properly to ensure effective results. For freelancers or micro businesses time spent at local networking events can prove valuable as it offers the chance to meet similar small enterprises and is often a good way to start as a beginner. Your local Chamber of Commerce should provide monthly meetings or see the previous article in this series on networking for a list of events in your city. While a business offering a service can often be harder to sell than a tangible product, Newman says you need to be better at asking questions to uncover a problem a client may have in order to offer a solution and show how you can help through your skills. “Show clients examples of previous work you have done and testimonials to show your capabilities. This will make the prospective client feel more at ease.”

Some tips from Newman for getting started with selling:

  • Always ask for referrals. Get friends and relatives to refer you to their peers.
  • Purchase a database of individuals or businesses you want to contact.
  • Conduct a direct mailing (mail/email) with an offer and follow up with a courtesy call.
  • Attend networking functions and industry-specific events to meet potential clients, and
  • Use the range of available social media to connect with others and communicate your core message.

Highly recommended reading for comprehensive selling techniques:

2 Responses

  1. kesavan

    thanks for such good advice

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