How good are you at business development?
I used to suck.
But years of growing my own freelance business taught me a few things about getting new clients.
Some of them I put into white-papers like the First Meeting Success Formula, which you can grab a free copy of here.
And all of them I share with my students…
We held a seminar recently with members of my Business Accelerator to handle some of their most common issues.
It was so productive that I thought it worth sharing some of what we covered with you.
Before the seminar, I collected a ton of questions from all our members.
Then I condensed them down to a few main problems that we all seemed to be experiencing.
These questions are pretty common; I’ve come across them many times over my 25-year career as a business consultant.
Hopefully, my answers can help you out too:
1. How do I craft a better cold email to clients and prospects?
I don’t recommend using cold email if you can help it.
Years ago it used to be more effective one-to-one but these days cold email is pretty ineffective.
This counts even more if you’re stretched for time.
I use Twitter to break the ice, which works well for me.
You do need a compelling reason to connect with them, not just ‘hey check out my portfolio’.
Have a compelling reason and it can open the door to an email.
To be fair, this can work with cold email too, except that your reason has to be super compelling.
You have to research that client and that person pretty extensively to do it well.
Detailed client personas will allow you to craft copy in your cold emails that will get much higher responses.
This works well when you have a specific person to connect with, but cold emailing has largely passed its time.
2. How do I strike a balance between getting the work and doing the work?
When your sales cycle leaves you no room to get work while you’re doing your work, it can be stagnating.
This needs to be your top priority – set aside time for it each week, no matter what.
Don’t skimp – it really is the most important part of your business.
The more consistently you can do it, the more effective you’ll be at it.
So block off the time and stick to it. I cannot stress the importance of this enough.
The more you do it, the better you’ll be at identifying ways to make it more effective.
For example, Friday afternoons seem to be a good time for me to connect with people.
Seems contrary to belief but it works for me.
Whatever it is, finding that set time will keep your momentum.
Want to know the formula to successful first client meetings? Download your free copy here.
Look for ongoing clients, rather than one off projects, where you can.
I’ll cover that in another blog post.
For now, just try to look for opportunities for work to develop, or long-term needs of the client you could satisfy.
3. Referrals and personal connections etc. seem to be our best source of leads – what can we do to increase the number of leads we get without attending a tonne of useless evening events?
In my experience, most freelance creatives or small agencies don’t do a great deal of marketing of themselves, for exactly this reason.
Or at least, they don’t do it consistently.
What you want to do is make sure you’re finding and working with your ideal client.
This has to start with getting a good idea of who you work best with, and who is more likely to have a problem you can solve.
Then you need to get on their radar.
You need to find where they hang out and make yourself known there.
This could be certain areas of social media. It could be specific niche events. It all depends on your ideal client persona.
Idea client personas are key to this – so you have to start with this marketing essential
Like it or not, if you want to get more clients coming to you for work, you do need to spend time on your marketing.
4. What is the best way to get clients in a new/different market?
The key with entering a new vertical is always positioning.
You need to make sure that you understand the problems of your potential clients in this niche.
Better than the existing competitors in the sector, if you can. If you want to succeed in a niche, you need to know your audience as well as you know yourself.
It sounds really hard and scary, but it is so essential for you to buckle down and do your research.
Know anybody in the market you want to enter? Take them out for coffee and grill them for info.
Whatever it takes, for success in any marketplace, you need to first understand your audience.
5. When planning a new launch how do you work out the best channel to market in with the most success..i.e…ppc/social/email?
Assuming that you’ve put together personas for your ideal client, this shouldn’t be too hard.
So it’s largely a matter of getting down to your marketing strategy.
You ideal client persona will give you hints about where to target.
For example, which social media channel will be more effective, or keywords to target on Adwords.
The best thing to do is to use them to put together a basic marketing strategy.
PPC ads can quickly become very expensive, so it’s important to have clearly defined budget and goals.
Sit down and put together a simple plan, define a budget, some goals and a time period, and really track your results.
When your campaign is underway you’ll be able to tell if it’s cost effective or not and adjust your strategy to fit.
6. How does an introvert begin to develop business?
I get asked this question a surprising amount.
I think this is because a lot of people who are on the more creative and artistic side see themselves as more introverted too.
Most of the time I tell these people it’s a great idea to become part of a business group.
Even better if it’s one with potential clients in it.
There are a lot of different techniques I could teach you to help you get used to breaking the ice with people.
Too many for this post.
So join a business group with like-minded people, and commit to attending regularly.
As you feel more comfortable with these people, you’ll start to find it easier to get into the conversation.
I’ve put together a formula for successful first client meetings, which you can grab a free copy of here
Really if you just keep showing up, it’s great practice for meeting people.
It’s going to be hard to start, but as you get out of your comfort zone and get used to talking about your business, you’ll reap the rewards.
7. How can we deal with pricing with clients? So many clients think graphic design is easy/always want it never yesterday/never want to pay more…
Ok, this is the big one. It comes in so many different forms. But it’s always there.
It’s probably the single most common question I get asked by clients and Business Accelerator members alike.
Many people aren’t going to like this answer, but it’s the only thing I’ve found effective over the years.
It comes in two parts:
1. Become a problem solver/increase your value
You really have to work on your research here.
Find out what their problems are.
You need to consider yourself as a problem solver, not just a designer.
Most businesses don’t care about whether something looks good unless it solves a problem for them.
That’s where you come in.
By doing your research by asking the right questions, like the three killer questions I talk about here, you’ll be able to offer so much more to your clients.
Think of it like back pain. Seriously.
If you’ve ever had back pain, you’ll know what a relief it is to find a practitioner, whatever they specialize in, that can help with the pain.
When that pain goes, you don’t care if it’s a chiropractor, a physic, or tiny needles that did it.
You’re just happy the pain is gone, pay whatever it costs, and book your next appointment.
So imagine how delighted your average business owner will be if you design them a good-looking website, that also helps to increase their conversions (or whatever their problem is).
If you’re delivering that kind of value, you’ll find your clients much happier to part with their cash.
2. Don’t be afraid to say, “No”
The second part of this answer is much harder to do.
Especially if you’re struggling.
Usually, even if you’re not.
Saying no is one of the hardest things to do, in any situation, but one that is well worth practicing.
Not only do various studies that show it can actually make you more likable, it can help your business grow too.
Analyzing your existing or past clients, and creating an ideal future client profile, will help you a lot with this.
It will help you identify when a client isn’t going to respect the work you do or want to pay your prices for it.
We all struggle to turn away work.
But if you’ve ever been in the unfortunate position of wishing you’d never dealt with a client, you’ll understand the power of the word, ‘no’.
So don’t be afraid of turning down work that doesn’t pay what you need, or with clients you suspect will be trouble down the line.
It just isn’t worth it.
Hopefully, you’ve found some of my answers useful.
I’ll be adding plenty more articles and resources here over the coming months, so make sure you subscribe to get more!
Want to read more? Check out my 4 Steps to a Winning Freelance Proposal post
Do you ever feel like you’re wasting your time writing proposals?
You’re not alone. I’ve definitely wasted hours of my life writing proposals that never got me a client. Some of them didn’t even get a reply. I wonder if some of them were ever read at all??
It can be frustrating at the best of times.
So many freelancers I’ve met over the years have complained of the same thing. It sounds something like this:
“How can I produce the best work when I’m spending so much time writing proposals for new clients.?!”
Take my client Matt, for example.
For years he was struggling to break his feast and famine cycle, and a large part of the problem was because of his proposal technique.
He’d spend hours putting proposals together for a client, only to find they’d given the work to someone else. That’s time he could’ve been working on another client’s project…
…or working on his fitness…
…or spending with his kids.
We all have things have things we’d rather be doing than hurling proposals into the ether.
Over the years I’ve honed my technique to win clients much, much more often than not. Here are the steps I take to create a winning proposal (almost) every time.
Step 1: Make a Connection
The first thing to do is forget about getting them as a client.
“Whaat?!?!” I hear you cry…
Seriously, this is probably the most useful tip I’ve even been given.
It can be a lot easier said than done at times, especially when the wolf is knocking at the door. But it’s well worth the effort to do it.
Instead of getting them as a client, try to get them as a date.
Sounds weird, eh?
A lot of time, the success of a business is a personal thing to the person you’re speaking to. Even in larger corporations, the success of a project could be fundamental to a person’s career.
So be positive, be yourself, and be open to learning about them and their business.
Keep your phone or laptop off the table and let them to tell you why they want their problem solved, not just what their problem is.
Try to approach your meetings with the question, “How can I help this person and their busienss? in the forefront of your mind, and you will quickly find your client meetings taking a warmer turn.
When you show you understand what they want as a person, as well as a business, you’ll be well on your way to success.
You may even make a new friend!
For more info on making a winning client proposal, check out my First Meeting Success Formula, which you can grab a free copy of here.
Step 2: Explore the Gap
Once you’ve got to know them and their business a little bit, you can start to move on to the problem at hand.
The reason they’re speaking to you is because there’s a gap between where they are, and where they want to be.
And you need to be the bridge.
So it’s important to get a proper grasp of their issue (the gap), and exactly what materials you can use to solve it.
Note that ‘lead’ doesn’t mean you do all the talking.
Let them talk as much as you can, and probe deeper wherever it’s relevant to.
Take notes if you need to, but try to keep your focus on them as much as possible.
And don’t assume that just because they say they want a new website, that’s really what their problem is.
Often when probing deeper into a prospect’s answers, you will discover other issues which are either connected to, or will be affected your project.
Stay focused, and if you can get to the root cause of why they need help, you are on the way to success.
Step 3: Transition to Solutions
With any luck (and possibly some clarification) your potential client will now have told you the most pressing problems they’re currently facing client.
Now you know where they’re feeling pain, you can show them you’re the person to fix it.
This doesn’t mean you have to give away all your ideas, just a ‘taste’ of them.
The idea is to get the client excited about working with you, so go for the jugular.
“Based on what you’ve told me Dave, I believe I can help you out.
What would you say if I told you I could [build/design/create] you a [insert your solution here] that would [solve their issue]?”
Ideally, they’re going to respond with something like, “Yes that sounds like exactly what I’m looking for.”
With practice, you’ll be able to come up with on-the-spot solutions that literally have your prospects itching to do business with you.
Remember that if you’re following these steps correctly, you should have a lot of information about the client.
And you’ll have had a fair amount of time to think about solutions, and draw the dots between the problems.
Use your time wisely and keep them focused on problems they are having that are relevant to the project at hand.
That way you are much more likely to have the answers on the tip of your tongue.
Want to win more work and spend less time on proposals? Download my First Meeting Success Formula for free here
Step 4: Set up the Scope and Budget
It wasn’t really so long ago that I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out the pricing for a proposal.
Money can be a funny thing to talk about, especially pre-negotiation, when neither side really wants to show their cards.
When you follow this approach to your first discussion with a client, you’ll find you have an opportunity at this stage to scope out the project right there with them.
So you’ll no longer be writing your proposal in the dark.
Whatever your solution is will need to have collateral behind it.
For example, if it’s a website it’s going to need copy, images, logos, a domain, hosting and branding guidelines, just to get started.
So ask the client if they have those ready, or if they would like you to source them.
This is also a good place to establish some timelines with them, and set their expectations for what you can deliver.
Now you have your client working with you on a totally different level to many other freelancers – scoping out your proposal with you!
If the meeting is too short to do this properly, you can always sketch it out on your own and then circle back to ask them to confirm the details.
Step 4.5: The Proposal
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t covered writing a proposal at all in this blog.
This is no accident.
I firmly believe that if you’re putting together a proposal without following these steps (or something very similar), then you’re wasting your time.
But why would you?
When you follow these steps, the client pretty much writes the proposal for you.
These steps can be very powerful you combine it with some of the other techniques I show you in the First Meeting Success Formula.
How many meetings do you take your portfolio, or a presentation of your work along to?
Why are you still bothering?
If you want to increase the number of new clients you get, you need to change your approach to first meetings with clients. And here’s why:
When you spend your first meeting with a potential client presenting your work, you’re only talking about yourself. And the only person who wants to talk about you is you (and maybe your mom). So stop.
Instead, purpose your meetings towards getting your prospect to open up about themselves, their business, and their challenges.
With a little practice, you shouldn’t find this too hard, and you’ll win lots more work using it.
Below I’ve put together three questions that you can use to keep the conversation on track and get the info you need for a winning proposal.
If you’re interested in learning more about winning clients at your first meeting, I’ve put together the ‘First Meeting Success Formula’, which you can grab a free copy here
Question 1: Where are you now?
This is a great question to start off with. You should have some idea about what the company does before the meeting, so the object of this question is to get more detail about it from an insider’s perspective.
It works best if you give them a little more context to start off with, for example:
“I see that XCompany has tripled in size over the last two years, that’s quite impressive – how did you achieve that?”
You want to get a sense for what the client has tried, what has worked and what failed, so that you don’t waste time. It’s useful to gather some of their likes and dislikes, anything that could help you personalise your proposal.
You should also to look out for information on how the company works, their size, budget, brand style, day-to-day challenges, and expectations.
All this gives you the context in which to frame your proposal.
Question 2: Where do you want to be?
Now you want to start to bring the conversation towards the project at hand.
This second question helps to put the it into to the context of the business as a whole – why do they have a need for this project? And why is it important to them?
It may also bring out some other areas you could help in, which are not directly connected to your project. These can be a powerful tool in winning you clients.
You should give them a specific scope, or time-frame to keep it relevant to your project.
“Where do you want your website to be 6 months from now?”
Your prospect may say something like,
“We’re trying to double the time visitors spend on the site by December”.
Later, you can refer back to these in your proposal as tangible benefits related to the wider business.
So instead of the quite uninteresting, “I’ll design you a good-looking new website”, you can say:
“I’ll design you a website that’s optimised to increase the time visitors spend on your site.“
Do you see why the second might be more compelling to a potential client?
You’re not just giving them a product, you’re giving them a real benefit to their business.
By taking the things that you know they want and demonstrating you can help them achieve it, you’re massively improving your chances of winning the client.
You can get your free copy of my guide ‘The First Meeting Success Formula’ for more great tips on winning business by clicking here.
Question 3: What challenges are in the way?
In reality, this question often naturally becomes entwined with the answers from question two, and you should encourage this.
The aim is to get an idea of what issues they’re currently having, or expecting to have, with a view to how you can help.
This could be wider company goals, such as profit or growth, or specific challenges related to the project itself.
You may discover that their sales are falling because of high website bounce rates. Or it may be that they can’t hire a full-time staff member due to budget issues.
Whatever it is, you may be able to use it as leverage in your proposal, as with the answers to question two. Except that question three should help you to establish the immediate issues they’re having.
Imagine your client has just answered question two with,
“We’re trying to double the time visitors spend on the site by December”.
You follow up with question three framed as,
“What obstacles can you see to doubling the time visitors spend on your site?”
Their reply may be something like,
“We’re getting a high bounce rate from mobile users.”
Later in your official proposal you can bring all their answers together:
“I’ll design you a website that is mobile-optimised, which will reduce bounce rates and help increase the time visitors spend on your site.“
This is so much more powerful than simply proposing a design to a client.
Shut Up and Listen
These questions can become an incredibly powerful technique when used properly.
It’s not hard to see why.
You’re getting your potential client to scope out the project for you, and tell you why it’s important to them. With that information, you can put together a winning proposal almost every time.
One of the keys to a successful client meeting, and using these questions effectively, is to just shut up and let them talk.
Don’t be afraid to clarify things you think may be important. But let them talk!
As they do, narrow down their answers into THREE main objectives you can relate to the project. When they’re finished, repeat these three objectives back to them.
Get them to confirm that those are their most pressing issues. And then use that as your base to scope out the project with them right there and then.
Once you have it, you’ll leave your preliminary meetings with the bulk of your proposal ready!
Would you like to know more about winning clients at the first meeting? If you do, I’ve put together a mini-guide you can download for free here.
Want to know the next steps to writing a winning proposal? Download your FREE Guide to First Meeting Success here.
As a creative professional, you know the impact of branding, market differentiation, and design, on your clients’ business. But what about your own business? Have you established your own brand positioning? Do you really recognize and understand your own target audience?
When you try to work on your own branding, marketing, messaging, or differentiation, do you get confused and overwhelmed? Do you find it so challenging to achieve consensus with the key players in your firm that your business stagnates? Establishing brand positioning is incredibly difficult when you are your own client and almost impossible when you don’t clearly understand your audience. Grab the target audience worksheet here.
Step away from your comfort zone
It’s tempting to position yourself as a ‘Jack of all trades’ ready to take on any challenge and help every client succeed, but being all things to all people is tough in today’s very crowded marketplace. It’s a bold – and sometimes frightening – step to pinpoint a target audience and go after it, but it may be just what your firm needs to succeed. Most business I work with are reluctant to choose a specific audience, fearing they will lose out on business opportunities from other sectors. But once they begin to understand their audience more deeply, they soon begin to reap the rewards of specialization.
Understand your best clients
You may find a target audience that is a very clear fit with your firm, right under your nose. I have one client who did 80% of their work with boutique hotels, yet continued to take on whatever work was going, spending time and money trying to be all things to all people. Once they decided to focus their attention and new business efforts exclusively on the boutique hotel sector, their new message drew new clients to them, and the time they spent with one client was directly transferable to others.
If a specific market sector does not seem to be a good fit with your firm, think about the client types you work with successfully. For example, you may find that you connect well with CEOs or marketing directors and are more successful when you tailor your message specifically to these roles.
Start making a list
Want a clue about who you might want to target? Write a description of your top 5 clients. What do they have in common? How much of your annual revenue did they generate? Are they easy to work with? Are they all in the same kind of business? Does the work you do for them build your reputation or increase your expertise in a specific industry? Do they have the same position within a company or the same way of working with you? As you focus your attention on these top 5 clients, you may find that they have more in common than you thought – and that their similarities help you differentiate your business and develop a successful target market
Talk – and listen.
Once you know who you’re speaking to, stakeholder interviews can help you learn more about the messages that will resonate with them. Using the boutique hotel firm as an example, stakeholder interviews with marketing directors at several boutique hotels showed that “keeping rooms filled” was a top concern for all of them. Knowing this, we were able to design and implement marketing campaigns focused specifically on filling rooms. Within 4 months of inbound marketing, my client started getting calls from prospects who said: “You understand our business and we want to talk to you about a project”. Does it get any better than that?
Want new business? Start now
New business doesn’t usually ‘just happen’, it takes time, planning, and thoughtful analysis to stand out from the crowd, understand who you and your best clients are, and attract the new clients you’re after. The first step? Start now and take a good hard look at your business, your clients, and the kind of people you want to work with. For more clarity, grab the target audience worksheet here.