Pitching and interacting with clients is one of the most dreaded parts of the client acquisition process. It is often regarded as the make-or-break point in the client-freelancer relationship. This conversation is what defines the tens or thousands of hours you are about to spend in service to one company or client.
Sadly, I am about to burst your bubble. If you have put yourself in a position to pitch in the first place, you have already devalued yourself. The pitch is always the start of an uphill battle.
Why pitching devalues your services as a freelancer
By default, pitching involves a jury, a decision maker, who gives their stamp of approval when they have been sufficiently convinced of your capabilities. Pitching is a form of persuasion. It implies that your counterpart needs convincing, that your previous work, experience, and recommendations are not enough. It also implies that your client has all the decision power in said business transaction and you have none, as the freelancer.
Most freelancers never question this dynamic. You put on your best outfit, give free advice, write up proposals, even do part of the work, before any guarantee from your prospective client.
“But my client has so many options!” you say.
If your competition is so dense, that your clients solely differentiate based on your price, it is a sign that you have positioned yourself as a commodity. Which leads me to the first way in which you, the freelancer, set yourself up for failure before pitching.
The biggest freelancing mistake: You do not have a niche
Many of us are afraid to let go of any crumb of expertise we may have amassed over the years. The beginner freelancer is in fact a skill hoarder. You’ve set up Google ads for your cousin’s girlfriend’s boss once? Why not add that to the menu list?
However, the world has no need for another generalist marketeer. If your services read like a menu card, chock-full of generic marketing terms, you will be doomed to pitch for the rest of eternity. It is the availability of substitutes that allows the client to ask for, and compels us to give, our thinking away for free.
If you do not develop deep expertise, you will be considered as one in the sea of many, a commodity service. It is this initial failure that will reduce your power in the eyes of a client. He will get to pick the price, the terms of the exchange and how many ideas you need to part with for free before he arrives at a final decision.
Positioning, the antidote to commodity services
Positioning is the antidote to commoditization. It allows you to critically assess your offering, relative to the many options available on the market. Your goal is to narrow down, to remove extraneous, unnecessary services, in such a way that there are no equivalent alternatives to hiring you or your firm. It is the lack of alternatives that shifts the power balance from your client to you.
The skill hoarder’s guide to positioning
Step 1: You must choose a focus
Too often we decide not to decide. The world is our oyster and all the possibilities are possible. There is no skirting around this step, however. You have to kill your darlings and make the Difficult Business Decision to narrow down your offering. Avoiding or postponing this step remains the root cause of most business development problems.
Sorry lads, no special advice here other than: JUST DO IT!! … Go look at a Nike ad or something!
Step 2: Articulate your focus
If you’ve accomplished the previous step, this one is easy. You have to broadcast your niche. You must make it easy for prospective clients to understand what you do and how it may serve them. You also need to make a claim of expertise.
Curate your portfolio, your social media feed, your website to support your niche. Paint a clear picture of the type of client you would like to work with and showcase success stories. Build a brand and develop an ideal client persona.
Even though you may not possess all the capabilities to fully back up your claim of expertise, you need to start somewhere to become aware of the gaps you have to fill in.
Step 3: Work to add the missing skills, capabilities, and processes necessary to support your new claim.
Selecting a niche is not just a marketing trick. Once you’ve made the Difficult Business Decision to narrow down your work, you must commit to substantiating your claims.
However, you will find that once you’ve made this initial decision, other business decisions become easier, clearer, and more straight-forward. You just need to put in the work.
Benefits of positioning
1: A sales advantage
As you specialize, you will find yourself competing less. Few or no competitors will have the same service offering as you. This means that when you do choose to target a particular client, you will have an advantage from the beginning.
I am not talking about the money, although I will come to that in a second, but rather the power to dictate the terms of the relationship, the privilege to have a conversation, rather than pitch. You will get to pick work that is meaningful to you and converse with clients from the position of a business partner, rather than a service provider.
2: A price premium
Here’s a fundamental economic truth: price elasticity of a product or service is tied to the availability of substitutes. In other words, the more alternatives to your services there are, the more you will compete on price.
You will be forced to compete outside your area of expertise. You will cast a wide net, try to grasp every opportunity, and play a number’s game. You will end up with deals you are dissatisfied with and blame the client for being stingy or undervaluing your work.
Alternatively, if you are the sole expert in your particular field, there is no one to compete with. You, yourself decide how much your work is worth. The client either has the option to pay a premium or comb through hundreds of undifferentiated options on the market and hope for the best.
By positioning yourself correctly, you can guarantee piece of mind for your clients. You have the luxury now to guarantee results, rather than speculate. Therefore, peace of mind is what you will charge a premium for.
Last but not least, you get to throw away the mantra “the customer is always right”. This last benefit is your own piece of mind. For you to be able to do your best work, you need to leverage your outside perspective. This implies having some form of authority over the decisions you make in a partnership.
The client cannot always decide the result, as this is not always in his best interest. However, to get him to give up the control, we need to start from the position of the expert, the adviser, the consultant. This is only possible once you’ve niched down and gained deep expertise.
If you have made it this far through the blog…
Chances are that you are seriously looking to start your freelance journey or improve your freelance business. That’s great we are here for it!
At Phanum, we aim to support you at the beginning of your freelance journey by taking care of the more daunting tasks of freelancing: finding work, project management, and learning new skills. Get in touch to learn more!