Design Festival Podcast #3: Winning Work in the Tough Times with Paul Boag

Today’s podcast is from Paul Boag, a Web designer from the UK, founder of the Headscape web design agency, writer, and producer of the popular web design podcast Boagworld.

Paul talks about how to keep a consistent pipeline of clients coming, even in the current tough economic climate.

Paul can be found on Twitter: @boagworld

DesignFestival Podcast #3 – Video – Winning Business in the Tough Times from SitePoint on Vimeo.

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Episode Summary

Here are the topics covered in this episode:

  • Distributed marketing
  • Pitching
  • Pricing
  • Personal sales
  • Delivering outstanding service

Audio Transcript

Hello, my name is Paul Boag. And you’re watching a presentation for DesignFestival.com. The great guys at that website have asked me to give this presentation. It’s a presentation I’ve only given once before. And it’s not online anywhere else, so you get exclusive content. I hope you enjoy it.

The subject we want to talk about today is Winning Business in the Tough Times. It can be really hard sometimes to keep that work coming in, to keep yourself busy especially as a freelancer. It can be a real challenge. So, that’s what I’m going to look at in this presentation. And no time is it more difficult than at the moment when we’re at en economic crisis, or downturn, or depression session (or whatever you want to call it).

So, this presentation really looks at two areas, two objectives. One is to market yourself better, to present yourself online so people know about you and understand what you’ve got to offer. And then, the second part of the equation, the second objective is to sell yourself smarter, to really sell yourself into organizations well and effectively and to make a difference.

The reality is we all have to sell. Even you’re watching this and you’re not a freelancer, you might not be responsible for sales, but you’ve still got to sell because you’re selling yourself, you’re selling your brand, your identity that will get you that next job. Obviously, if you’re a freelancer, you have to sell. But it’s not something we always think about very much as freelancers.

Before we go and become a freelancer, the first thing in our minds, the thing that obsesses us is, “Why am I doing this for somebody else? I could be doing it for myself. I can build websites. I can code HTML, CSS, do design and all that great stuff.” But there’s so much more to running a successful business. There’s so much to being an entrepreneur. There’s so much more to being a freelancer than just having the skills to deliver. You also need to be able to do the business side of things and you need to be able to sell and market yourselves. We might be great at what we do, but we’re not always good at marketing ourselves. So, that’s what this presentation is about.

I’m going to share with you three secrets to sales, three things that will make you a sales monster, a sales genius, a sales guru, the thing that will enable you to transform your freelance business and allow you to pick and chose the work that you do, allow you to have the security of knowing you’ve got a good pipeline of work lined up for you. And that is possible even when times are tough at the moment, when people are not spending a lot of money on marketing and websites and that kind of stuff. You can still have a great pipeline and you can still be successful in your marketing and sales strategy.

So, what are my three secrets we’re going to look at in this presentation? Number one is distributed marketing. I’ll tell you more about what I mean by that in a minute. Number two is personal sales, making your sales process a lot more personal and a lot more engaging. And I’ll talk a little more about that in a little while, as well. And then, the final, final secret of outstanding sales and marketing is to provide outstanding service. We’re going to talk a little bit about the idea of customer service.

But let’s start at the beginning. Let’s start talking about marketing: how to market yourself, your company and all the stuff that you do.
The thing that’s really important to remember is that marketing has changed loads over the last few years. There were a lot of techniques that worked very well for a long time that just don’t work in the world of social media and online marketing and certainly don’t work particularly well as a freelancer and web designer.

Now, I’ve run workshops on the business of running a successful web design agency, and we’ve looked at sales and marketing. And time and time again, one of the questions that I would ask (almost always when I run these sessions) is, “What hasn’t worked for you? What doesn’t work when you’re marketing yourself?” And I’ve heard some complete horror stories about things that have gone wrong.

Just to give you a few examples of the kind of things that really don’t work very well (and probably you’re better off not wasting your time and money on), the things are like traditional broadcast marketing. So, things like radio or television or stuff like that. Now obviously, you probably won’t have the budget for television. But broadcast marketing generally doesn’t work very well.

For me, that includes things like that traditional advertising, as well, newspaper advertising, even things like Google Adwords. Generally speaking, a low conversion rate and the quality of the work is particularly good.

Other things that don’t work very well is cold calling; just calling people out of the blue. The only time when cold calling really seems to work is that if it’s not really cold. If there’s some kind of relationship or link there whether you’ve been recommended by somebody else that you give this person a ring or whether you’ve got a really good portfolio or a similar piece in a particular sector to the person you’re calling. There’s got to be some kind of link there. But generally speaking, don’t waste your time cold calling. One is that it takes a lot of time and a lot of energy and two, it’s so demoralizing to you picking up the phone and ringing people.

There’s no engagement. That’s the trouble with all of these things whether you’re talking about marketing, advertising or broadcast marketing or cold calling or sending out flyers or letters or anything like that. There’s no engagement. There’s no relationship there. You’ve got a really low likelihood of actually winning the work because with all of these things, it just depends on whether you’re hitting the client at the right time to get the work in. For example, if people are only thinking about redesigning their website every two or three, maybe even four years, you have to send that letter or pick up the phone or post your advert at just the right time to pick them up when they’re just beginning to think about web design companies.

That really creates a very low likelihood of you winning it. Often, as well, I find that the people that are responding to these kinds of cold calling or advertising or whatever else tend to be low-value projects with a lot of the associated problems and the hassle that goes with them. The high-end value clients (clients that really know what they’re talking about), they’re looking for recommendations from other people. They’re doing their research and going out and finding someone. They’re not going to just take someone that happens to call them up or happens to advertise on the right blog.

So, I would suggest don’t waste your money on advertising. Don’t waste your time on cold calling. There are better ways.

A slight tangent would be bidding websites. Have you ever tried those? The kind of Elance-type website where somebody comes along and then, post a job and then you respond to that job with a quote or whatever? Oftentimes, they involve a lot of speculative work, which is expensive to you as a business. They’re often very price-oriented which means they tend to take the cheapest of the different options available to them. So again, I don’t think bidding websites are really the best way of approaching getting in business.

So, when you think about marketing, I would argue actually that probably we’ve got the wrong mentality when we think about marketing. Marketing is seen as an essential function. Within a company, you would have a marketing department. And you might be even as a freelancer tempted to go, “Right! I’m going to spend this time marketing.” Our perception is that marketing is all about the brand and the organization and it’s something that’s handled by marketing people. You might even be tempted to think that you don’t really want to market your work because it’s kind of dirty and not something that you really want to be associated with. Marketing has that slightly dodgy reputation about it.

But marketing isn’t something that’s isolated. It’s not something you go off and do. I think it’s an intrinsic part of everything you do. And so, in my opinion, marketing is as much about just exposing yourself as a freelancer or as a company, letting people behind the business, behind the façade. Often, when we create our websites as freelancers, we do a terrible, terrible thing. Our current website is where we use words like, “We do this…” and we have a brand name and we talk in that brand name. We don’t let people see us an individual. We almost hide the fact that we’re a freelancer. But if you look at some of the most successful freelancers out there, they’re the people where their business is built around them, their reputation, who they are. I think the most effective forms of marketing that you can do is where you’re transparent and you are open and you’re honest. Organizations’ people, people that purchase web design services want to purchase from people, buy from people rather than brands.

Look at my own company, Headscape. Headscape has got reasonably large. There’s sixteen of us in our company. Yet when we sell ourselves, we don’t sell ourselves so much as Headscape, but as the people behind Headscape. It’s our enthusiasm, our passion, our characters the make up of the people that work for Headscape that attract clients and they buy from us.

So, don’t hide who you are. Celebrate who you are in your marketing. Blog honestly about your experiences and your feelings working on projects. Don’t hide who you are behind a company façade (for want of a better word). Don’t hide behind your brands. People want to know that you’re real. They want to know what you’re like. They’ll engage you for who you are as much as your type of work. The number of times we’ve won work at Headscape not because we’re the most amazing web design company in the world, but because we’ve shown a passion and the enthusiasm and the excitement that people want to work with us rather than just a generic web design agency. Personality sells. Personality is a key way of marketing yourself.

And not everybody is like me. My way of marketing won’t be the same way that works for you. For me, it’s all about enthusiasm and dynamism and talking and that kind of thing. You might be a more considered, a more quiet person. That’s fine, too. There are clients out there that want that, that want someone that isn’t overexcited, that is considered and methodical. So, whatever your character, make sure you’re promoting that online. Make sure it’s visible through blog posts, through tweets, on Facebook, go to conferences, maybe speaking in conferences, whatever the thing is that works for you. Make sure you’re projecting that personality at every opportunity.

In my opinion, everybody should have a voice. Everybody’s job should be marketing. Everybody in your company whether you’re a freelancer – obviously, if you’re a freelancer, this applies, but if you work for a slightly bigger company where there’s more of you, even if it’s not your job to market and promote your company, I believe every one of us actually should be marketeers. We should be encouraging everybody in our companies to engage potential clients. And everybody, every one of us should be blogging, tweeting, attending network events and conferences. And if you’re a freelancer, that’s extra, extra important that you’re out there doing that kind of stuff, that you’re making yourself known, that you’re putting yourself out there, that you’re having an opinion, that you have a voice, something that you want to say. What is it that you’re passionate about, particularly within web design? What are the things that you should be out there talking about?

And it took me a long time to find my voice, but it’s a really important thing to do. You can look out there and you can look at someone like Jeffrey Zeldman. Jeffrey Zeldman’s voice is Web Standards. That’s his thing. What’s your thing? My thing is talking about business objectives and measurable success criteria and generating return on investment for your website. That’s my thing. What’s yours?
Think for a moment. Take the time to work out what your voice is, what it is you’re trying to say and who you are.

I think another important aspect when it comes to this whole business of marketing is to set aside time for your marketing. Don’t let it get pushed out when you’re busy. The trouble is, what happens is you get really busy with work and you’ve got lots going on, and so marketing is pushed out and you say to yourself, “Well, it can get pushed out. That’s okay. I’m really, really busy.” But there actually is the lead time with marketing where the marketing you do today is going to generate work for you in six months time. So, you may be really busy today, but if you slack off on marketing, you’re going to miss out, you’re going to be slower in six months time. There’s not going to be as much around.

What we tend to do is we tend to market a lot when we’re really slow, which means we have, in six months time — I’m picking six months out of the air. Obviously, it varies from person to persons. But in the future, you then suddenly get really busy again, so you stop marketing, which means you then go through another slow patch when you marketing loads again. And then, you get really busy again. You see? You get this kind of rollercoaster effect. In actual fact, we should be marketing consistently and continually the whole time and not allowing it to slip.
But of course, when you are slow, when you don’t have got a lot going on, don’t sleep on your backside. Get out there and start marketing yourself more. But that doesn’t mean you can let it slip when things get busy.

So, for those of you that maybe work for a slightly larger agency or there’s more of you, you might be slightly concerned by the way that I’m talking, because I’m talking all about promoting individuals, individual brands. Does that mean that you shouldn’t have a corporate blog, that you shouldn’t have some kind of brand identity? Are marketing people obsolete? No, I’m not saying that. I think there needs to be, in large organizations, a central marketing team too that blog and tweet and all the rest of it, but that doesn’t meant that individuals shouldn’t be doing it, too. We should all be engaged in that kind of thing of promoting ourselves.

No, you may need to provide guidelines to enable and facilitate your staff into doing these kinds of things because often, they worry about putting their foot in it. So, giving them a framework to work with makes a huge difference. I’m not saying that there isn’t a role for marketeers. But I know most of you listening to this are actually freelancers. And so, I’m saying there be honest about being a freelancer. Be honest that it’s you behind your company, not some team of 20, 30 or 40 people.

Let’s just revisit this whole thing of finding your voice. So, how do you become well-known? Well, it’s this thing of specializing again. I think this is a big area. And I talked about what’s the thing you’re passionate about. But beyond even that, what type of client are you looking for? Who do you want to work with?

Now, the trouble is (and I do ask it quite a lot in the workshops I run), the response I normally get, “Well, we’ve got lots of different clients from lots of different backgrounds.” And when I ask, “What is it you deliver,” they go, “Well, I do a bit of design work and I do a bit of back-end work. And I may do a bit of primp work, as well and whatever it takes to make ends meet.” I’m saying you should do the opposite of that; that you should specialize. And I know it feels counterintuitive and it’s a good idea and I’ll tell you why from a marketing perspective at least.
If you try to market to everybody, your little drop of marketing, the little time that you can put into it is lost in the massive sea of your potential target audience. In effect, you’re a very, very tiny fish in a very, very big pond, if you’re not going to in any way distinguish who you’re marketing to.

But if you pick a specialist audience, if you pick one group of people, then you can make an impact, because you’re little bit of marketing time go a long way. You become perceived as an expert within that specialism. You gain a reputation within that group of people. And it also provides focus to your marketing, whether it be your blogging or your tweets or whatever else. So, specialize.

But how do you specialize? How do you achieve that? Well, I think there’s three ways to specialize when it comes to marketing. Number one is within the supply chain. And this is probably the weakest of the three. But let’s say for example you won a client. Let’s say you get to do some work with Tesco’s (chances are, you won’t get to work with someone as big Tesco’s, but we’ll use that as an example).
Now, Tesco’s have a load of people that provide products and services to them. So, what you’re going to do is approach those other companies and say, “Hey, look what I did for Tesco’s. Wouldn’t it be great if I did something for you?” You can specialize within that supply chain. Equally, with some other companies, you’ll find that supply chain goes the other way where Tesco’s sell straight to the consumer, you may work for another company that actually supplies Tesco’s. You then got a reason to go to them. So, you could be anywhere in that supply chain.

Another way to specialize in is in your deliverables. You might be just an expert in WordPress. You might be specializing in information architecture or accessibility or usability or whatever else. Become known as the go-to-person in to talk to about accessibility or the person that has the answers when it comes to Drupal.

So, specializing is in there. And you can see this all over the place online of people that specialize in a particular area.

And the final area, the final way you can specialize is across a market. And this is how we’ve specialized. So, we will target one market at a time. For example, the first market we targeted was the heritage sector. That’s because we won the National Trust, which is a big conservation organization in the UK that protects buildings and countryside and that kind of stuff. And they were a big case study for us.
Then we started working with Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty with National Parks and all these kinds of related organizations. We became experts in the heritage sector.

Then alongside there, we started to do some higher education stuff. Now, we’ve become an expert in higher education. We understand the challenges that people building higher education websites face. So, we’ve become specialists in that area.

That way, my marketing could be focused on that audience, as well. So, I write a lot about higher education issues. I take part in mailing lists for higher education website owners. I speak at higher education events. Get the idea? You specialize. That’s what gives you the real power and the real opportunities in your marketing strategy.

So, there are just a few thoughts and ideas about marketing. I guess what I’m encouraging you to do is sit down and think about your own voice. What are the things you’re passionate and you care about? I’m encouraging you to be much more open about who you are and expose yourself, rather than hiding behind a corporate image. And I’m also encouraging you to specialize in your marketing, and focus that marketing so you can be effective within a small subsection of the general populace of people you could possible work for.

But let’s move on from marketing and look a little bit at sales. And there are lots of different areas of sales that I want to look at. And I’m going to start off by looking at proposals and proposals writing. If there’s more of you other than just being by yourself, the first thing I would argue is that a proposal shouldn’t be just something that the salesperson puts together. It should be something that is formulated by everybody. If you’re a freelancer, obviously proposals fall to just you. It’s down to you to write proposals. But chances are, you’re not a great salesperson. And you’re probably not even a great writer. You’re a great web designer, sure. But that’s only half the battle.

So, let’s talk about proposals and what should go into proposals. First of all, the size and length of your proposal should be proportionate to the value and size of the project. I always think actually taking the brief that you receive gives you a good indication of how much detail your proposal should have. So, if the brief that you receive from a company is 60 pages long, then your proposal should be fairly detailed in response. However, if the request from the client is just scribbled on the back of a napkin or on a short email, then you should be able to reply in kind.

The size and depth of your proposals, in other words, should be directly related to the size and complexity of the work.

However, in whatever case, your proposal should be thorough and detailed. And it should respond particularly to the brief. I’m amazed at how many proposals are generic, bulleted, reusable kind of content that’s used from project to project. Make sure you’re responding particularly to the brief. If the client asks a question at the brief, make sure you respond to it. If they asked for a specific piece of functionality, respond to how you’re going to build that or if you’re not going to build it, why you’re not going to build it.

Sell your suitability, as well. When you write proposals, it’s easy just to focus down on responding to the requirements. It’s easy to think that your proposal turns into a functional spec of how you’re going to build this, what you’re going to do. But you also need to sell your suitability. And that means, putting examples in of other works you’ve done, work that is similar in some way to the piece of work you’re tendering for.
Now sometimes, you might not have anything that’s similar, so you’re going to have to maybe fudge it a little bit. And the work that you put in the proposal, you might need to explain why there is a relationship here, why in some way it’s similar.

And get it checked, as well. I think it’s almost impossible to check your own proposals. There’ll be spelling and grammar errors in there and your time scales might be unrealistic if you’re not getting anyone else to check it. Now, if you work as a freelancer by yourself, that can be tricky. But surely, I’ll bet you know of other freelancers out there. So, make an arrangement with them; you’ll check their work if they’ll check yours and get that kind of quality assurance. If you can’t do that, then get your girlfriend to check it or your boyfriend or your husband or your wife. Get somebody to check your work. It’s amazing how many little problems and errors slip through, and it can look really unprofessional.
Talking of timescales, make sure that any timescales or any pricing that you put in there is realistic. It’s very, very tempting to compromise over timescales and price in order to win the work, but that will come back and bite you.

So, let’s look at pricing in more detail. How do you make sure your pricing is right? Well, the thing I would say is first of all, ask the client upfront to share their budget. Now, this can be a difficult conversation, and clients often don’t like to share that information with you, but I’ll tell you why or how to present it.

I describe it as buying a car. If you go in to buy a car, the first thing that the salesperson will ask you is how much you’ve got to spend? That goes without saying. If you went in to a showroom and said, “How much does it cost to buy a car,” they’re just going to look at you blankly. They need to know your price. Why do they need to know your price? Well, because obviously different cars cost different amounts. Now, you could argue that “They all go from a to b, so why aren’t they all the same price?” But they’re not because some are made to a better quality, some have got extra features and gadgets on them.

You could compare it to buying a house, as well. When you buy a house, the Estate Agent will ask you how much money you’ve got because it will affect where you can buy the location, the number of bedrooms you can have, how modern, what state of repair the house is in, et cetera.
And it’s exactly the same with web design. If the client doesn’t share with you their budget, you might be quoting for a Rolls Royce when really, they want a Skoda. And that is the problem. And that’s why you need to know what the budget is.

Now, sometimes the client is reluctant to tell you. If they don’t tell you then what I tend to do is give a real big ballpark figure. “Well, I’ve done something similar to this in the past and it costs approximately 20k”. And then, you say to the client, “Is the price range totally unrealistic?” And then, you start a conversation about it from there.
So, you need to be upfront and you need to grab hold and have a conversation about pricing and make that conversation happen. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and you’re wasting the client’s time if you’re just not a good match for whatever reason.

Secondly, what I do when we find that our pricing doesn’t maybe quite match up, and it’s hard to know whether we’re a good fit or not is we do modular pricing. So, we break down our proposals so that we have different elements in it, like usability testing is separated out, or this piece of functionality or that piece of functionality. We break it all down into modular pricing. We mark some of those items as core items that can’t be taken away and some are optional items because then, it allows the client the option to say, “Well okay, I’d like to work with you guys, but I can’t quite afford you, so can we drop this piece of functionality or can we come to this later,” et cetera.
But remember, you don’t have to respond to every project. And if the pricing doesn’t fit, then don’t go for it.

And that brings me onto the next subject, which is when should we walk away from projects? It’s very easy to be tempted to just pitch for everything. If something comes through the door, you feel you have to respond to it. But ultimately, that can be very damaging for your business. You could waste a huge amount of time tendering for things that you aren’t the right suit for.

So, what are the criteria that you use to decide when to walk away from a project? Well, I believe inadequate budget is a big one. We’ve just talked about pricing. So, if they don’t have the budget, don’t squeeze things down to fit their budget. Just be honest and see how they respond.
Next is unrealistic deadlines. You can get yourself in a real mess if you pitch for projects where you can’t really get the work done in time. So, don’t try. Don’t pretend. You’re better off being honest with a client. Sometimes, you’ll be surprised. Sometimes, they’ll turn around and say, “Well actually, we could shift that deadline.” So, you’re much better off being honest. And even if they can’t work with you, they might come back to you because of your honesty. So, just be honest about your deadlines.

The other times where we’ll walk away is if for some reason, working with the project would be damaging in some way to your reputation. I could give you an example of this. As I’ve said, we did a lot of work for the heritage sector. These are people that are trying to preserve the countryside in the UK. So, when we were approached by a quarry company that digs massive big holes all over the UK, even though it’s a really good project and it paid very well and the rest of it, we decided that we weren’t going to go for that project. We weren’t going to undertake it. We felt that it would damage our reputation with the heritage sector that we’ve been targeting.

So, making decisions like that are quite important, as well. And it’s very hard to turn away good work. But ultimately, you do need to think about your reputation and how you’re going to be perceived within the target audience that you’re going for.

Other times we turn clients away is if they’re difficult. And this is just sometimes quite hard to work out beforehand. But there are often little impressions you pick up that make you think that a client is going to be a problem client. If they’re particularly picky over staff or if they don’t respond promptly to your questions or if they put lots of hoops you’ve got to jump through to win the work, it’snormally an indication that this isn’t really going to work. So, you’re better off cutting and running at that point before you’ve gone and gotten a contract in place with them.
One example of a difficult client is a client insists that you do spec work. By that, they insist that you show some designs before you go in and actually win the work.

So, let’s talk about spec work in a moment. I’m pleased to say that less and less freelancers are doing speculative work, putting forward ideas without being paid for them. But if you still do spec work, if you do submit designs, I want to just explain why I think it’s not a good idea.

First of all, actually, refusing to do spec work can weed out undesirables, as I’ve said. If a client is so inflexible and weren’t willing to change the goal posts, then really that’s an indication they’re going to be a problem client anyway. You may be better off without them.

Also, we find that often, you gain a lot of respect from a client if you say, “Well, I know you’ve asked for this, but we don’t do that. And these are the reasons we don’t do that.” There have been some situations where actually, that won us the work because other people had put in spec work, but we’ve convinced the client is not a good idea. So, some of these other web designers looked a bit silly for doing it.

So, how do you persuade a client that, actually, spec work is not a good idea? Well, I think a series of things. Firstly, we say that design is a process. If we go away and produce a design now, we haven’t worked through the process. What we’re doing is creating pretty pictures to impress you. They’re not designed to provide the right solutions; they’re designed to impress you. They’re not designed to meet the needs of users; they’re designed to impress you as the client. So, design is a process.

Secondly, design is a collaborative process. A client is as much involved in establishing the design as we are as web designers and that without their constant input and involvement, any design isn’t going to be very realistic or very good.

The design is built on a business analysis. We need to understand the business in a lot more depth than we will do in a tender process. And so, without having that understanding, again the design is going to be very superficial. It’s all showmanship, rather than real, good, solid design. It’s all about looking good and looking impressive and impressing the client, rather than providing the right design solution.
But the most, I think, persuasive I think argument is a financial one. Let’s say you have client a, client b and client c and you do speculative work for client a, client b and client c. Now, you lose client b and client c. You don’t win that work, but you do win client a.

Now, client a has ended up paying for their own speculative work because you have to recover the cost of that speculative work ultimately, and that’s reflected in the right that you charge out. So, client a is paying for their own speculative work, but they’re also paying for those two other projects that you did speculative work for and then, lost b and c. So ultimately, it costs the client more money if you do them speculative work.

So never, never do speculative work. Well, almost never. If Coca-Cola come to you and say they want to spend a million pounds with you if you do a piece of speculative work, I would be tempted. I have to be honest! But as a rule of thumb, generally speaking, avoid doing speculative work.

So anyway, that’s the bit about sales. I want to move on and look at pitching – pitching. So, you’ve done your proposal. You’ve submitted your proposal. The client loves what he’s seen, but he can’t quite make his mind up between two or three freelancers. So, he says, “Come in, talk to me. Explain your ideas to me,” you go and pitch.

Pitching is difficult. Pitching is challenging, but actually is an incredible opportunity. I think, first of all, remember what I said earlier about people buy from people and not organizations. So, there’s a few secrets as to how pitching best works. First of all, they want to see the real team that are really going to work on a project. So, even if you work with other people and somebody else deals with the sales, when it comes to pitching, you need to be there if you’re the one doing the actual work.

You need to make the right impression at the pitch. It’s so vital to come across the right way. If they don’t like you, they won’t buy from you. Even if you’re capable of delivering that project, if they don’t think they can work with you, they won’t buy from you.

So, why do people hire? How do people make that decision? All things being equal, let’s say you’re just as good as design, you’re just as good at HTML as your competition, what sets you apart from the competition?

Well, the first thing I would argue is it’s about enthusiasm. You need to care and be seen to be caring about their project. If it’s just another project to you, that’s no good. Waste of time, waste of energy. They want someone that’s passionate about their project and wants to make it happen.

The second thing that’s really important when it comes to pitching is confidence. You have to come across as the expert, the person that knows what they’re talking about, that’s confident about how they work and how to find the right solution for the client’s needs. The client needs to not only know that you care about the project, but you have the ability to deliver it.

And finally, it’s personality.

But let’s look at these in a little bit more detail and I’ll explain what I mean by each of them, particularly personality. Let’s start with enthusiasm.

Too many web designers look like they don’t care, that they don’t care about the project. You need to find something in the project that you feel passionate about. And I would argue that even in the most dull project, there’s always something. There’s some element, some cool little thing you can do (i.e you’re working with a target audience you’ve never worked with before or it’s got some piece of functionality that you’re really excited about building). There’s normally something. Find that thing. Latch onto it and show the client that you’re excited about doing that. It will go a long way to making a difference.

When it comes to confidence, it’s all about being well prepared, about coming across professionally, giving examples and demonstrations of the kind of work that you’ve done before that’s relevant to that project. It’s about not over-promoting yourself. You don’t need to say how good you are or how great you are. You want to kind of take that for granted, that that comes across.

I see a lot of people will be too desperate to please, to desperate to say how great they are. And that just comes across as exactly that, as desperate. And that’s the last thing you want to do. If you’re somebody that’s confident, if you’re somebody that’s sure of themselves, you don’t need to over-sell yourself.

Be willing to suggest and challenge in that pitch, as well and say, “Well, I know you said you wanted to do this. But actually, I’ve had this idea that I think will work even better.” Challenging a client and making suggestions shows that level of confidence and that they would be in safe hands with you.

Be willing, as well, to say, “I don’t know.” Sometimes, you’ll get asked a question and you won’t know the answer to it and what you’ll do is you’ll bluff it, you’ll try and over yourself and just kind of say, “Blah-blah-blah,” and come up with some answer. You’re better off saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll go away and find out.” That shows a real confidence in your own abilities. So, You don’t know everything, but you can find out and that’s fine, “I’ll come back to you and I’ll let you know.”

Talk, as well. Take the client through your process how you go about producing a website. It’s really important that you do that because that shows the client, “Look, I’ve done this lots of times before. I have a process that works. Let’s just go with that. And it reassures them that they’re in safe hands.”

And then, finally encourage them to contact existing clients. Say, “Oh, I’m selling here. I’m going to say that everything I do is great, but go and talk to my clients. You’ll see what they think. See what they tell you.” And we got a step further at Headscape and we say, “You can contact any client you want. If they’re willing to talk to you, you can talk to them.”

And so, that’s the kind of approach that we take. And that shows a huge confidence of the quality of work that you produce.

Now, the final area that I skipped over a little bit is personality. It’s really important to make a connection with the person that you’re talking to, the client, and for there to be an interaction and a relationship that comes out. People buy from people. People like to buy from people they like.

So, encourage questions throughout. Ask all the time, “Does this make sense?” because that gets them nodding. They’re responding to you. And it builds a kind of backwards and forwards, a conversation there. Use a bit of humor. A self-deprecating humor always works particularly well. You have to be careful. Obviously, you can put yourself your foot in it massively. But a little bit of humor, if you can get them laughing and relaxed, that’s a huge difference to their decision-making.

Be willing to go off-track, as well. If they ask you a question that leads on to a tangent, don’t just stick with your prepared presentation, but be willing to go with them and discuss what it is that’s their concerns and on their mind.

And remember to always read your audience. Look at them and look at how they’re responding. If they cross their arms, do they seem quite uncomfortable? If they do, ask them if there’s a problem. Ask them whether they’ve got a question or whether something is making sense to them. Try and re-engage with them. If you can get them nodding, if you can get them smiling, then you’re doing well.

Empathize with the process, as well. I often think it must be quite hard sitting in pitch after pitch after pitching, listening to all these different people. So, empathize. Say, “It must be really tough making this kind of call.” It’s all about showing that you’re interested them, their needs and what they’re going through. So, empathy is really important.

And finally, I know it sounds sad, but do think about what you wear. I remember going to one pitch where all the people in the room were wearing suits and ties. And it just so happened we were, as well. And we walked out of that pitch and there were the next people going in sitting out there and they had Hawaiian shirts on. And I knew straightaway they would get the job.

And it’s silly that you’re judged on stuff like that, but you will be. The way you dress is important. And the way I pitch it is not about going as smart as possible. It’s going just approximately at the same level, maybe slightly smarter than the other people that were in the room. It’s always good to make it look like you’re trying. You can however go too far. If everyone else is dressed casually and you go in with a suit and tie, it’s not going to happen. You need to try and pitch it at about the same level.

So, we looked at sales. We looked at marketing. Finally, let’s look at this area of service. Everyone in your organization, in your company, impacts customer service. If you’re a freelancer, everything you do impacts customer service and therefore, impacts your chance of winning new work.

Even if you don’t speak to the client regularly, what you do will affect whether that client perceives you in a good way or not. Customer service is vitally important. Why is it vitally important? Because customer service creates repeat business. And repeat business is the lifeblood of any successful freelancer or agency.

Why repeat business is so important is because it’s got no marketing cost associated with it. It’s got low-cost of sale. And it provides a higher-value clients, clients that are willing to spend with you again and again. And once you’ve established a relationship with a client, a good working relationship, those clients less hassle, as well. So overall, repeat business is so, so important.

So, how do you foster repeat business? Well, after each project, we always try and do post-project debrief where we sit down with the client and we chat over what went well and what went badly and how we can improve things.

Obviously, keeping up the quality of the work that you provide is really important. It’s very easy to take existing clients for granted and the quality creeps down and them some other freelancer or agency comes in and basically shows you up because your quality has been reduced.
Also, keep your clients informed about innovations. Pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I’ve seen this really cool thing. I think it’d be great on your website” maybe even arrange regular reviews with them where you’re regularly getting in touch and going over the website. Show them what you’ve done for other people and other projects, as well. And that works particularly well if you specialize in a market, because you do something for one higher education institution, then you show it to another and sell it to them.

Basically, maintain the conversation. Keep talking to clients over a period of time. That’s how you’re going to ensure that kind of repeat, ongoing relationship.

So, that about wraps it up really. The three secrets to successful sales are: Distributed marketing approach. In other words, a marketing approach where it’s not just done by marketers, but it’s done by everybody in your company. If it’s just you by yourself, then it’s an intrinsic part of everything you do. Every piece of work that you produce, think about ways that that can be used to marketing benefits.

It’s about personal sales and making that personal connection with your clients and in your pictures and your stuff really engaging with them and getting to know them. And then, it’s also about outstanding service, where you really get to build that relationship with people and provide quality work and an ongoing relationship.

So, there you go! Those are my secrets of how you can be more successful in bringing in that work in the tough times. If you’ve got any questions or any comments on this presentation, I’m sure the guys at Design Festival will open up comments below and I’ll keep an eye on that and respond when I can.

Thanks very much for watching this. I hope you found it useful.

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  • http://twitter.com/warnerchad Chad Warner

    Can I download an MP3?

    • Aaron Osteraas

      Hi Chad,

      We’ll have the MP3 up in the next day or so

  • PSW

    Error in the Podcast download .. can’t download it!! Will check back often to download when fixed. Thanks :-)

    • Aaron Osteraas

      Hi PSW,

      Sorry for the problems with the podcast, it’s been updated and is good to go now.
      Cheers

      • Prestyman

        mp4 is still not available for download.  link doesn’t have a url!

  • http://benmelluish.com Ben Melluish

    Paul you are a legend mate. Top advice cheers.

  • http://www.designbull.co.uk/ designbull

    Really good, sound advice. I agree with pretty much everything here – especially saying no to spec work and giving your reasons.
    I also struggle to get budget figure from the client, so will have to use your analogy of the car purchase!
    Thanks
    Andy Fuller

  • http://www.e-crm.co.uk cassyput

    Thanks to Andy for pointing me to this article and, like him, I agree with large chunks of this – not surprising as we work so closely together! In my experience the points about people buy from people and confidence and ideas when pitching are crucial.

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