When we first start out as freelancers, we tend to be tentative about approaching new clients. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles to growing a freelancing business is that most freelancers are terrified to pitch themselves. They’ll go after job postings on major boards or on craigslist.org, but they won’t go out and find the clients who need their services unless they see an ad somewhere.
Most of us get over that hurdle and start pitching ourselves to businesses that we think need our help. Bigger companies are struggling right now, and they don’t have as much in-house talent as they used to.
There’s a lot of room for freelancers to pick up the slack–if you know how to position yourself. Some of the biggest freelancers you know today got their start because they made the right pitch to the right company at the right time. Forever after, they had that name in their portfolio.
So can you.
Act Like One of the Big Guys
Have you ever heard the expression, “fake it til you make it”? You don’t need to fake it as much as you think you do.
Many freelancers make the mistake of giving a caveat when they contact big companies. It usually sounds like this:
“I may be a freelancer, but I have the experience and skills . . .”
“I haven’t handled a client as large as yours before, but I’m confident I can meet your needs . . .”
You get the idea. These freelancers are trying to pre-empt the company’s objection to their small stature. What they’re forgetting is that there’s no need to apologize. Some of the very best talent in the world comes from freelancers, and these companies know it.
The fact that you’re a freelancer doesn’t count against you. The fact that you think you’re small will count against you, though.
So don’t give companies any reason to think you’re small. Pitch them just as you would any other client, with the same confidence and certainty you present to someone at your level. Don’t ever second-guess yourself because the company is big.
You may be quaking in your boots, but show that firm virtual handshake and decisive pitch.
Find the Right Person to Talk To
In a small company, the decision maker is usually the person who owns the company. He’s the one who decides that you’re worth working with and he’s the one who decides to hire you.
Not so with larger companies. If you’re hired by Apple to do some copywriting for an internal project, Steve Jobs isn’t going to have the faintest idea who you are. That’s because you’re not going to pitch Steve Jobs. You’re going to pitch the head of the marketing department, or the head of the IT department, or communications, or whoever it is that manages the project you’d like to work on.
It can be hard to identify which person is best to pitch. This is where secretaries and assistants can be extremely handy. Their number is probably the only number available on the company’s website anyways.
So call the main number on the site and explain that you’d like to send some of your work to the person in charge of design or copywriting or coding. Ask them who that person might be.
Don’t apologize or act like you’re not sure you should be given this information. You’re just trying to direct your work to the correct person. This is a perfectly normal thing to do, and the secretary isn’t going to find it odd that you asked unless you act like you’re not sure about it.
Be straightforward. “Hi, this is James Chartrand, and I’d like to send my portfolio over to the person in charge of making copywriting decisions. Can you direct me to the right department?”
Once you get to the right department, you’ll probably speak with another assistant who can usually furnish you with the name of the person you’re looking for. Use the same technique as above, but instead of asking for the department, ask the name of the person to whom you should direct your materials.
If this assistant asks if that person is expecting to hear from you, be honest. Tell her no, but that you’d like to pitch him some ideas. The assistant may tell you to direct your work to her instead of her boss, but she’ll still review your portfolio and see if it’s worth passing on.
If it is, you’ll get the eye of the boss on it.
Send Your Best Work
This should go without saying, but make extra certain you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s. Any typo in your cover letter is unacceptable. You’re playing with the big guys here, so make sure you get it right.
Do your research and know what the company is looking for in your field of expertise. If they’ve always had an eye for quality graphics, make sure they know that you noticed that, and tell them that you think yours are up to their standard.
Do more research. If they’re about to launch a new campaign, make sure to mention that you’re aware of that and would like to be a part of the team that helps make the launch possible.
If you’re sending your work as a physical copy, then make sure it’s clean and printed on high-quality paper. If you’re using email, then make sure the layout and graphics are of good quality as well. You don’t want anything about your materials to suggest that you deliver sub-standard work.
That means if you’re a graphics guy, your copy should still be impeccable, and vice versa.
At the end of the day, big or small, companies are all the same. They have the same needs, they appreciate quality work and they want results. Consider all the truly lousy work that’s put out by big companies every day, and know that you’re just as good as anyone on their in-house team.
Maybe even better. Which is why they need you.
Now go make your case.
What Do You Think?
How do you approach big clients?
Share your tips and experiences in the comments.