When I was set up as a freelancer full time I was regularly pitching for new work and having conversations with people who thought they might want my services but weren’t 100% sure. 5 years of wins and fails taught me a huge amount about what it took to secure a client and get them signed on the dotted line.
More recently I’ve been working client-side and in the past three months have had 13 meetings and pitches with agencies who’re trying to win our business. It’s been fascinating sitting on the other side of the table and making the decision on who to go with.
Some meetings have been painfully awkward (they couldn’t talk confidently about the work they’d done or have a well-prepared business proposal) and some have been a lot of fun (with rapport and passion bouncing between all involved).
What these experiences combined with my own as a freelancer has done is clarify that whilst a good reputation gets you through the door, it can only take you so far, and this is exactly what will wow and win over your prospective clients:
1. Focus on the results
Can you confidently deliver the results the customer is asking for? Both you and your client need to be 100% sure that you can for the relationship to progress to the next stage. Too many people focus on how they’ll tackle the problem or project instead of demonstrating that they can deliver the outcome that’s required.
Of course, that means you have to know what the desired outcome is. So start there and use those initial meetings and calls to ask them exactly what success looks like for them. Then, tell them how your business has helped others achieve similar results through working with you.
Clients want the outcome, and if they have faith you can achieve it for them, it’ll be very hard to turn you down.
2. Listen carefully and answer accordingly
I sat in one meeting with the co-founder of an agency who was struggling to communicate how they’d tackle our project. I asked him very specific questions to try and glean the facts, but, for some reason, he did not answer my questions and kept going back to his agenda and what he thought we wanted to talk about.
It felt like I was talking to an evasive politician. The sad thing is, I don’t even think he realised he was dodging our questions or that we wanted to get out of that meeting as quickly as possible.
The lack of listening to our questions and answering accordingly cost him the opportunity of pitching for the business.
Make sure you really pay attention to what your prospective customer is saying and asking, and answer their questions. You might have your own agenda but sticking to a prescribed formula to win business could cost you dearly.
3. Set detailed expectations
We got some way down the line with one agency who seemed to understand what we were looking for but when they began scoping out the first stage of work it became very clear we were on completely different pages. Whilst we took our responsibility for not giving a clear enough brief as their client, they too failed to set our expectations clearly. The level of detail we were expecting was not going to be delivered and if we’d known that earlier on, we’d have avoided some disappointing and difficult conversations.
The lesson here? You cannot be too clear with your client about exactly what you can deliver for them.
Of course, you might not run through every single step of a process during the pitch for the work, but if it’s progressing to sign off, clearly scope out what’s involved and be sure you’ve enough of a brief to interpret the customer’s needs correctly.
And don’t forget to ask them if your scope of work meets their expectations before you start doing anything!
4. Discuss money early on
Regardless of budget, the client needs to know they can afford your services. If you get a few meetings in without discussing money you could be wasting both yours and their time. Most people know what their absolute maximum budget is, so be upfront about your rates and fees and check in with them to see what it is they can invest.
This will help them rule you in or out before either party has invested too much time. Plus, being upfront about the money conversation also shows confidence and professionalism, and allows a conversation about what realistically can be achieved with the fee the customer can pay.
5. Demonstrate your enthusiasm
Whilst I think each tip here is important, this is the one that, if lacking, could see you fall down at the final hurdle.
Everyone wants to feel like they’re going to be the most important customer on your books and it’s your job to really show authentic passion for their business and the work you could do with them. Fail to do this and they might doubt your commitment.
One of the agencies I recently met had their whole team discuss the products we sell and choose their favourite. At the next meeting with them, they’d laid out those choices on the table and let us know that everyone (regardless of whether they would work on the project or not) really enjoyed sharing their passion for our products and this was their selection. Although a little corny, it showed they’d taken time to think about what would demonstrate their enthusiasm and it really cemented our confidence in them.
It isn’t rocket science (business rarely is) but you’ll be surprised how few people do a good job at these five things and lose out on potential clients. Focus on the following and you’ll be winning new business in no time: