Step-By-Step Guide to a Signed Contract

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As a freelancer, you can expect to experience some tough competition when you pitch for a job. For any one job, you might compete with other freelancers, small Web design firms, and even larger interactive agencies. So how can you make sure your quote or proposal wins the job?

The New Rules for Quoting

My advice for quoting is this: never, ever charge by how long it will take. Don’t charge by how skilled you are. And certainly don’t charge less than the competition. Charge more — usually lots more. I base my charges on how much I think the client will pay. We win 95% of all the jobs for which we pitch, and I can just about guarantee we’re the most expensive every time.

Why? Well, the key to quoting is to realize this: clients won’t assess you on your skill or programming level. They won’t assess you on your creative genius, or even on your design ability. They usually don’t have the technical expertise to objectively judge that stuff anyway.

The only thing the client is interested in is: can you do the job? And, more importantly: is contracting you as the designer going to be less risky than using someone else?

How To Win With a Higher Quote

We won a job a couple of weeks ago for $17,000. We were up against two other designers. The other quotes were for $3,000 and $3,500. So why did we get the job?

  • Are we better qualified? No.
  • Would we finish the site quicker? No.
  • Are we better designers? Probably not.
  • Do we live closer to the client? Nope.
  • Is the client my dad? Good question, but no!

I’ll go through what we did so you can see exactly why we got the job and continue to get jobs at a premium price.

Initiation

The client rings the office and tells me he wants a Website. I make an appointment for 3 days time.

Letter of Thanks

As soon as I’m off the phone I send a "Thanks for the call" letter confirming the time and place of the meeting. We include a business card. The client receives it the next day.

Research

We do as much research on the potential client as possible, including when the company started, products, people in the firm, etc. This takes a couple of hours.

The Meeting

I arrive on time to the meeting wearing a perfect blue suit and a blue tie (as this is the client’s corporate colour). I’m carrying my beautiful leather briefcase. I open the conversation with some small talk and tell the potential client what an awful weekend I had because I shot a 85 on the ABC Golf Course. He says "Really? I’m a member there. I love golf." Gee, what a co-incidence that is.

We finish the small talk and get onto business. I bring out a manila folder with his name, position, business name and logo on a sticker on the front. Also evident is the time and date of the meeting. From this I pull out a 6 page ‘Assessment Form’ that I’ll use to identify his needs and wants. We go through this at the meeting, and I make many notes using my lovely fountain pen.

After an hour-long meeting I thank him for his time, tell him I’ll be in touch again on Thursday, and leave.

Letter of Thanks

Back at the office I draft the "Thank you for your time" letter and post it off.

The Follow-Up

On Thursday at 9am I ring and let the prospect know that we’ve reviewed his needs and wants and have a draft proposal ready. I explain that we need to go over the draft to "ensure I have everything straight in my head" and I make an appointment to meet with him in 3 days time. I send off a letter confirming that appointment.

The Second Meeting

I go to the next meeting with a neat, concise overview of what his needs are, and what we need to do together in order to achieve them. I toss in a few case studies of previous clients to show we have a complete understanding of what he requires.

The client says "Yep, that’s about what we need." I ask when he needs our quote, and the client says "It’s quite urgent, so the middle of the week." I promise to deliver it to the client by Wednesday at 4pm.

Letter of Thanks

You guessed it — the client gets another "Thank you for your time" letter.

Proposal Delivery

On Tuesday at 9.30am the client receives the quote from us via courier. We’ve attached a polite note that explains that, as he needed the quote urgently, we worked on it over the weekend to have it ready early.

The quote itself is actually a 30-page, nicely-bound proposal that reiterates his needs and wants, and shows how the site will address them. It includes testimonials from previous clients (with contact numbers), proposed site flow charts, and a timetable of exactly what would happen and when.

We also include profiles on the team members who would work on the site, and the FAQ section has 20 of our most common questions and answers. We also include copies of articles from computer magazines that have reviewed our previous sites, and a CD-ROM that contains examples of our previous sites.

Proposal Meeting

I visit the prospect as promised and ask if he has any questions regarding the proposal. We discuss these, and I then ask for the job. "Well John," I say, "would you like us to work with you on this project?"

Letter of Thanks

When he says "Yes", we send him a "Thanks for choosing us" letter, along with our first invoice (of 50% of the total quote). We include a Reply Paid envelope that he can use to mail us the cheque.

Thanking the Referrer

I then send the person who referred this client a "Thanks for the referral" letter, and then take him and his wife out for a very nice dinner.

Following Through

As it turns out, we didn’t do what we’d promised on this particular job… we did more: 2 extra pages, a little Flash, and one or two other things.

When the site was finished I took the client out for lunch and thanked him for the assistance with the project. I told him what a pleasure it had been to work with such a professional, and gave him a gift of a framed photo that we’d scanned and put on the site. It was a photo of the business’ founder — the only photo that they had of him. I also sent flowers and chocolates to the graphic artist who had helped us on the job.

After we started work I found out that the other two firms who pitched for the job never met with the client. They took his details over the phone in a 10 minute conversation. Both provided a one page quote a week later, and one of them hand delivered it wearing a pair of gardening shorts.

Take a stab in the dark and guess who the client has just signed on to keep their site up-to-date, submitted to the engines, and more — at a very, very healthy fee!

Why We Won

The reason we got the job was predominantly because we were perceived as less risk than our competitors. They may well be better or quicker designers, but the client doesn’t know that. Also, the way we developed the relationship indicated to the client that we had a very thorough working knowledge of the obstacles facing their Internet strategy. And finally, clients do tend to associate a lower price with lower quality.

The strategy I’ve outlined here relies on two critical elements:

  1. Relationship: the better the relationship we establish with the prospect, the more comfortable he/she will be with us. That equates directly to more sales.
  2. Perception: positively influencing people’s perception is vital. People will make an assessment of you within about 3 seconds of meeting you. That’s why I always visit clients impeccably dressed, carry a briefcase and use a fountain pen.

I disagree 100% that skill and talent are the requirements for success in anything. The perception of those things is more than a little important, too. The designers we were up against may well have been better than my team. They may have more skills. They may be better qualified. But it doesn’t matter. The client only wants to know that you can do the job and that there is no risk involved in employing you.

We convince the client that we are the better people for the job by convincing him to perceive us as expert, reliable and safe.

People buy for 2 reasons — and 2 reasons only: fear and greed. People equate higher prices with better quality. It’s human nature.

If we have a prospect who is the middle manager from a big company, we focus on his fear that if he picks the wrong designer he will be in trouble with his boss. We show him that we’re the right choice by making sure he thinks we’re the best by a million miles. The price is very, very rarely an issue with these guys — aside from their budgetary constraints. With smaller clients we focus on the fact that they don’t want to risk their money by going with someone who doesn’t understand exactly what they want and need.

If you have 100 equally talented designers vying for a job, the job will be won by the designer who is perceived as the best — by that, I mean the most reliable. And that’s decided by things like what he/she is wearing, testimonials from previous clients, and how quickly you respond to them etc. It’s not decided by who’s the best designer — that’s just a subjective thing.

Don’t charge by the hour, and don’t charge based on what everyone else charges. Charge what you think the client will pay someone of your (perceived) professionalism.

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