You might be offering graphic design services or a wealth of other freelancing support, but none of that matters unless you can sell yourself and be someone people enjoy working with.
Business is about people, after all. To succeed, you have to be likeable, professional and appealing.
In the context of attending that initial meeting or pitch – when a new client is on the verge of signing you up but wants that reassuring face-to-face discussion – you have to understand the importance of selling yourself more than anything. The following tips will help you win them over.
Easier said than done if you’re the shy, retiring type – but if you want to win people over and secure their business, then you have to be confident. Confidence equals professionalism. It’s reassuring to the client that you know what you’re doing and can help.
Are you struggling with confidence? Well, it doesn’t happen overnight. It comes from repeatedly putting yourself out of your comfort zone and forcing yourself into situations that you’d rather avoid.
In the meantime, take inspiration from someone who is. Learn how to adopt the kind of body language and tone of voice that exudes confidence. But remember, there’s a massive difference between likeable self-assurance and overblown egocentricity. Don’t, for example, walk into a pitch and think you’re David Brent. Be humble, but prepared to accept that you don’t always have all the answers.
And if you're not sure of something? David Greasley of Side by Side, a design studio based in Sheffield, said: “On a few occasions I’ve found myself Googling business-related acronyms after a meeting has ended. I’m a designer after all, so I don’t worry too much about knowing every word in the dictionary. If there’s something you’re unsure of, smile, nod and research it later – fake it until you make it."
Remember, you’re worth it
If you’re still a little unsure of your abilities, keep telling yourself that you have skills and experience that people are prepared to pay for. You’ve been invited to a meeting for a reason. You’ve won their approval thus far; you now need to bring home the business by impressing them face-to-face.
Silkhe Fuenmayor, a Creative Strategist and copywriter based in Barcelona, said: "You have to believe in your idea and express your emotions and thoughts about it through your body language, your tone of voice, and the words you use. Make them feel infected by your presentation by showing how much you believe in it."
If the meeting still feels overwhelming, consider this – it doesn’t matter if you don’t win the client. Now repeat this in your head during the session: every pitch or meeting you attend is teaching you something. You’ll learn so much from each experience that you’ll get better and better at handling people and selling yourself. So if the pressure is starting to get to you, stop! Every meeting you attend is valuable practice for getting it right next time, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t win the pitch on this occasion.
Don't be afraid to be yourself
It's one thing to be confident; it's another to have confidence in yourself and who you are. Because if you're going to win people over, then you have to be you and no one else. Me? I'm quirky, a bit daft and can't resist cracking the odd joke. I've embraced who I am and (most) people seem to like that. I'm honest too and speak up if I don't think I'm able to help.
If I tried to be anyone else, I'd just come across as fake and forced – and people are put off by others they can't resonate with. As Bruce Lee said: "Always be yourself and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and try to duplicate it."
Get on everyone’s side
In a new business meeting, you will always find a specific range of characters around the board meeting table. There will inevitably be the marketing director who’s brought you in; several key team players who you’re likely to be supporting and the big wig who holds the purse strings.
Treat everyone in the room as though they are as important as the next – make eye contact with everyone during your pitch. You don’t just have to impress the boss; you have to make everyone like you. Because when you’ve left the room and everyone’s considering whether to hire you, you want the entire team agreeing that they think you’re the right fit.
Understand the politics
Become aware of any nuances that might pop up, hinting at some politics at play. Become sensitive to people’s wants and needs. For example, during a recent meeting, I noticed that one character around the table was over-selling his worth. I realised that he was worried about his job and how my consultancy might be a threat. So I spoke up and said how much I felt his role was so important, and how it’s crucial to have someone internally focusing on that specific area – he lit up like a Christmas tree and was instantly my new best friend. Suffice to say; I won the client.
When it’s their time to talk, listen!
It might be tempting to butt in if you’re bursting with ideas, but if someone is talking about their business – listen! Give them the chance to tell you about their company and what they’re trying to achieve. It’s their baby, and it’s important to them. If you interrupt, it’ll come across as rude and as though you’re not ‘getting’ what they want. You’ll get your chance to talk; be patient.
Adapt your pitch to suit what you learn
If you thought you’d been invited to pitch about one specific thing, but you hear different requirements during the meeting – then don’t be afraid to change your whole approach. Part of your role as a successful freelancer is to consult. There’s no point in recommending certain things if new information dictates that they won’t work.
I recently attended a meeting where I thought they wanted social media support – but after delving further into their business goals and target customers, I realised they required more traditional PR. The business owner was relieved because he agreed with me, and I won them over by showing them I was keen to do what was right for their business rather than dictate something that wasn’t relevant.
Don’t be afraid to consult. Don’t just be a ‘yes’ freelancer. Understand the business, get to know where they’re heading and adapt your pitch accordingly.
Perfect your pitch
At some point during the meeting, the client will realise they don’t know much about you and will ask about your business. It's your chance to shine, so practice your pitch and make sure it’s positive, humble and has several case studies thrown in for good measure.
For example, if you’ve just won a few new clients, briefly tell them about what you’re doing for them. Don’t be afraid to shout about your achievements. Some of my recent client wins include Manchester City FC – I feel daft telling potential new clients about this, because I’m not one to show off, but it has to be done to demonstrate what I’m capable of.
Whatever you do, don’t drone on. Be upbeat, be confident and don’t be afraid to highlight your skills and achievements.
Creative writer Andy Kelham offers this additional advice: "Be brave and include your choices and motivations when talking about your work, skills, achievements and client list. The road that led you to the pitch matters, sharing some of the journey (without oversharing or being overbearing) can connect with, and inspire, those listening."
You won't be the only person to see the potential client, so if you want to stand out amongst your competitors, find a way to be different. Michael Place at Build explains: "Clients want to be excited by a pitch, see something different…remember you may be the sixth person they have seen that day. Show that you understand the project and their business, do your research. Also, remember most people aren’t there to catch you out, they want to be excited by what you are pitching to them.
"On one pitch we did for a large property development company, we wrote a poem which Nicky, Build's Business Director recited…it certainly threw the client! But we won the pitch – to them, it encapsulated the project beautifully in a very different way. Another thing to remember is that you aren’t expected to solve the brief fully, show you understand it – a different approach can pay off!"
Act like you don’t need their business
A final tip that has always worked for me (and is somewhat true), act as though you don’t need any further business. I’m not suggesting you become arrogant and aloof. Just don’t feel as though you need any additional work – that way, you won’t come across as desperate.
Because going to a new business meeting is a bit like a first date. If they get one whiff that you’re desperate for work (or love), it will put them off. Act as though you’re comfortable with where you’re at – even if the opposite is true.
If you don't win the client, don't give up
It would be nothing personal if you didn't succeed. Just learn from the experience so that you can do better next time. Remember to thank the client in a follow-up email and wish them all the success in their new venture. Because you never know, they may come back to you in future.