If winning work means pitching successfully, why do so many freelancers and independent contractors never stop to learn the fundamentals of the process of pitching? Below I’ve outlined a few principles that should get you thinking. I can’t promise that your pitch will ALWAYS be perfect but I can promise that these principles are the building blocks of more consistently turning prospects into paid projects.
There are 3 simple principles for freelancers and independent contractors in the beginning of their career as FreeAgents (that least favorite of phases that we call “Survive Mode”) that you have to remember.
- Listen Up
- Frame Up
- Value Up
Sounds simple right? Actually, there is a lot of nuance depending on the scenario. Are you cold-calling? Did you get invited in through a referral or based on a past relationship? Is this a “beauty pageant” (aka lots of competitors)? Do you have a portfolio of well known work? Are you pitching by yourself or together with another contractor? So much to consider. But no matter what the scenario, there are a few basics that will help guide you to a better pitch.
1. Listen Up
Here’s the scenario you want to avoid: Someone reaches out through a friend or you find yourself in a conversation at a networking event having the conversation of your new FreeAgent life. They love your ideas and say something like “you should come in and meet our head of strategy”. You get excited, convinced you’ve got a new gig in the bag. You show up launch into all the ideas you that your new friend had talked about at the party. The Head of Strategy nods a lot but after the meeting you hear the equivalent of “let’s stay friends for now.”
You have to remember that most prospects not only have a problem that needs solving, but a particular way they believe it needs to be solved. There are internal politics, processes, and people you couldn’t possibly know about…so ASK. Start with questions and ask a lot them. In doing so you’ll gain powerful insight about how THEY think about their own problems and better able to frame the awesome solutions you’re bringing according to their needs. Ideally you’ll adopt some of their language in your proposal.
Some questions and leads:
“I’ve heard a bit about your challenges and would love to hear more about them in your words.”
“What is the most important outcome here?”
“Who else on the team is involved?”
2. Frame Up
“Framing” is a very consultant-y term that just means identify the important parts of a problem or discussion. For example, before debating which candidate I like I might say “My framework for considering candidates comes down to 1. How they eat pizza, 2. What kind of beer they like and 3. Whether they are dog or cat people”. I haven’t given you my opinion on candidates yet or asked you for yours, but you know how I think.
Framing Up a problem falls naturally out of Listening Up because now that you know more about how THEY think about their problems, you can incorporate some of their language and considerations into how YOU describe they way YOU think about their problem. Instead of telling the Head of Strategy all of your best ideas about a specific thing, you can instead be discussing the ways that the problem could be explored. This has the added benefit of giving you a head start in your proposal writing; because you’ll know what parts of the organization are involved in the project, who’s driving the decision AND what’s the most important outcome for the client.
As James B, FreeAgent mentor says “Frame for free. Solve for fee.”
Some questions and leads:
“So how have you guys tackled this in the past?”
“Am I right to think about the problem this way…”
“Here’s what I heard from you…”
3. Value Up
This is the most important part for all of us FreeAgents, right? Dollah dollah bill y’all! Except most of us rush to quote hourly rates before we’ve spent enough time with prospects evaluating what they actually need. Remember that particularly early on, the value of a client is more than the dollars: it’s also a “Logo” and a “Case Study”. Don’t lock yourself into negotiating before you understand what it means to their business.
Value Up is first of a call-to-action for you to consider the full value of a prospect. Second, all the info you’ve gotten from Listening Up and Framing up allows you to understand what this is actually worth to the prospect!
Hint: it’s more than your hourly rate. So think about all of the TIME it’ll take you to get this done and get their buy-in on the time and value being created for them. If they agree on those things, then it’s time to talk numbers.
For more on how to lock in the client check out Closing the Deal.
Early on educating people on the idea of what your work is worth. It’s not what you charge by the hour, it’s the benefit of the project, what value the output brings to the client. Get them exited about the value of the work, based on the special way that you do before you put a price tag.
Now get out there and UP your pitch game!