7 Secrets to Winning Better Projects — Faster

What do you do when a potential client calls you about a project opportunity? Do you know what questions to ask…and in what order? Do you know what “next steps” you’ll suggest based on the information you gather?

OK…so developing a sales process is not the most exciting activity in the world. But somewhere during my 11 years in sales, I came to the realization that even a mediocre process beats no process at all.

In fact, following a well-defined process can not only help you improve your sales effectiveness as a freelance professional, but it can also help you stay relaxed, boost your confidence and save you a great deal of time and effort.


Some Guidelines to Follow

The specific sales process you use should obviously depend on your specific profession, the type of work you do and the kind of clients you go after. But at a minimum, it should follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Take Control. As the service provider, you need to take charge of the initial conversation with the prospect. You’re the expert. You know what questions you must have answered. If you let the prospect take complete control, you probably won’t be able to gather all the needed information. Or you might find yourself sharing ideas, references and too many work samples prematurely.
  2. Determine the Problem to Be Solved. Find out what problem they’re trying to solve, especially if the scope of work is unclear. A simple “What do you need help with?” is often a good conversation starter. Walk away from that first conversation with something tangible.
  3. Learn More About the Prospective Client. Ask a few questions to help you determine what type of prospect you’re dealing with. One of the first questions I always ask is “How did you find out about me?” That’s because someone who came via client referral is very different from someone who found me through a Google search.
  4. Learn More About the Work. Next, you need to learn more about the project or work to be done. You don’t need to know every single detail…at least not yet. Just enough to help you put a proposal together. The more detailed questions should be saved for a future conversation—once you land the work.
  5. Check for Budget. I’m a big proponent of bringing up the issue of fees early on. Why? Because the time to find out that this is NOT a good prospect (from a budget perspective) is now—and not after you’ve spent one or two (or more!) hours putting a proposal together. I’m not suggesting you should quote an exact fee at this point; providing the prospect with an approximate range will often do the trick.
  6. Avoid Jumping Through Hoops. At the same time, you should try to limit the amount of work and information you provide until you know you have a qualified prospect, a good potential fit and strong commitment that you’re their top choice (or at least on the short list, if there is one). In other words, referrals, detailed samples, concepts and the like should all wait until you’re closer to striking a deal. They should rarely be part of that first conversation.
  7. Ask for the Work. Never be afraid to ask for the work. I call prospects just a few hours after emailing my proposal. I flat out ask if we can get started. And if you’re in a situation where a committee will be making the decision, always ask when that decision will be made. When that day comes, call to ask for the work.

Whatever you do, don’t “wing it.” Develop a good process and put it down on paper. Continue to refine it as you learn what works well and what doesn’t.

Your Turn

Have you had trouble getting better projects in the past? What techniques have you used to improve the projects that you accept?

Share your experiences in the comments.

Image by Johan Larkander

Comments

  1. says

    An amazing article with excellent points!!

    I differ in opinion slightly on #4, only in that you shouldn’t wait until you land the work to hammer out details. That leads to “scope creep”. Instead, I’d suggest to get a higher-level view of the various tasks during your sales process, and make them bullet points for developing a scope and proposal. You can then provide the client with alternatives, like “you need a photo gallery. Our in-house approach costs $XX, has these benefits, and here are some examples. Or if you need something more sophisticated, let’s hammer out the exact details…have you come across a site whose photo gallery you like?”

  2. says

    Thanks for the list, Ed! You mentioned some really good steps to the sales process. Sometimes I’d like to forget the fact that I am my own sales team, so articles like this are very helpful. One thing I like to do is assume I have the job. I’m not cocky or pushy, but along your step 7, I say “I’m really looking forward to hearing from you and getting started on the project.”

  3. says

    Thanks for the post, Ed.

    The thing about being a freelancer is that you need to take control of every aspect of your business — including those that might not be your area of expertise (sales!) If you have a weak sales process, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage very early on — no matter how great you actual work is.

    On the other hand, if you have a confident & refined sales process to stick to, you’re immediately out to a head start over other freelancers who are just “winging it.”

    Appreciate the tips from someone who has this process down. An essential, yet often overlooked aspect of getting the jobs you want.

  4. says

    Hi, I think that’s great advice. Having just begun a forray into Freelance work (as a web designer), I’m finding out these things along the way. I think you’re right that relying on being able to “wing it” is not something that’s very wise.

    I haven’t developed a sales process yet, but I have a big meeting on Saturday so I will need to sit down and work something out.

  5. says

    I wish everyone could give me a budget when I went to talk to them. I can always tell the ones who have no idea what they’re asking for — and how much it will cost. However, I’ve also found that if people want quality, they’re usually willing to pay for it. And if you give them enough details and present your case as to why you’re worth it, they’ll understand the costs.

  6. says

    Great feedback, everyone — thanks! I’ve also found that if you do a great job with your marketing, the “selling” phase just kind of takes care of itself. Not saying you don’t have to sell, but you don’t really have to push as hard. That’s why I’m such a big proponent of being VERY strategic about your message, the prospects you go after and what strategies you use to attract business.

  7. says

    Good strong advice. I admit I have been a little passive about closing the deal. I especially need to do better with asking what a client’s budget is. That is a good screening process. You’re right. You don’t want to waste your time sending them a $2000 quote/proposal when they only had it set in their mind to spend $200 on a web development project.

  8. says

    Hi,
    thanks for the great post.
    i never really thought of point number 7. i may be able to use it constructively to make the client appoint me as the freelancer for their project this way at the last minute just becoz i was in touch and concerned…

    point 3 is also what i overlook but will follow it henceforth..

    :)

  9. Terence says

    It’s all about attitude. One of the best lessons I ever learned in sales is that it’s as important to disqualify prospects, and early, as it is to qualify them.

    Also, a nice approach, which disarms the prospect and increases your cred is a statement like this, early in the conversation: “Mr. prospect, why don’t you give me a quick rundown of what you think you need. I should be able to determine within a few minutes whether I’m the guy for you or not. If I’m not, I’ll tell you right away, to save us both some time. And, maybe I can refer you on to someone I know. But if your job does fall in my sweet spot, I’ll tell you how I work and see if it works for you.”

    No pressure, decision always up to the prospect; takes away the pressure on both sides.

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