How to Approach Big Clients

call-big-clientWhen 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.

Relax

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.

Comments

  1. says

    Wonderful article, this is something that every freelancer needs to hear…well read. There is no need for smoke and mirrors and a 30 second elevator speech really comes in handy.

  2. jan says

    By my experience the reputation is in the most cases the way on how to approach big clients. The more reputation you have the more chances you may get.

  3. says

    I agree – it’s hard being a freelancer and finding that confidence you need to be able to go out and land these big clients. I think we buy into the perspective that everyone around us has about our jobs. “Oh he works from home; he has it easy…” and we begin to think our jobs are easier than others’ or that we work less than others.

    So we think getting a gig with a big firm is out of the question and just start begging for it from the beginning by being apologetic, etc.

    This is why it’s important to have a local group of designers that you are in touch with that can help give you the confidence you need. Either a local group, or internet group, or friends/family, a non-profit you do work for, etc. Basically you need someone whose opinion you value to re-affirm that you do good work every once in a while and that will give you the confidence to pitch to anyone, whether they’re a small or large business.

    And we need to get past the stigma that people don’t want to hear about what we do for a living because it’s not interesting. If you love what you do, it will come out interesting. It’s all in how you tell it…

  4. says

    James:

    Excellent post. I don’t know why freelancers so often get tied up in knots about approaching bigger companies. What we have to offer have the same value to the big guys, and the decisions are made the same way. People buy from people. Make sure you’re talking to the decision maker, and make the pitch. And unlike smaller companies, there will be one person whose only job is to market the company. Find a way to make that person’s life easier, and you’ll keep getting the work.

    Mark

  5. says

    Great article. I think that behind every big client there are a lot of people, and one key decision-maker. So with a solid reputation, and talking to the right person, you shouldn’t have a problem landing those big clients, if the stars align :)

  6. says

    I definitely think acting like one of the big guys is a good play here. So many freelancers project an image of a single individual and nothing more. While this might work if you’re marketing to smaller businesses, I think portreying an image of a fully established design firm is the way to go if you’re targetting larger clients/corporates.

    Such organisations want a company they can rely on to have a specific project completed by a specified date. If they think you have some weight behind you, then they’re more likely to contact you.

    Some nice points here, James!

    JB

  7. says

    Solid advice. Big companies are usually heavy, heavy users of what we sell. The money is in repeat business, continuing assignments. No need to make a sale each time.

    Two things I’ve learned. (The hard way.)

    Don’t go in cheap. Bigger clients get suspicious of low rates. (“Is this guy working at a second-hand desk in his basement, or what?” “Maybe she doesn’t quite understand the scope of this project” . . . “This guy can’t be very good.”) More often than not, your client can’t afford to look bad in front of the boss, or be responsible for screwing up a project. Oddly enough, higher prices make them much more comfortable.

    And, don’t pretend you’re big, or anything but a freelancer. You look goofy doing that. Besides, big companies use freelancers all the time. No need to pretend you’re something else.

    Oh, and if you get someone on the phone, the ridiculously simple approach is to say. . . “By any chance, are you trying to find a really good copywriter?” (Or whatever.) Nine times out of ten, you’ll get an honest answer. And can work from there.

  8. says

    This article came in handy. I was just approached by a “big” client yesterday and did not know what to say. I am afraid to over impress them and at the same time make them feel I am not competent enough.

    So I went straight to the point, told what I can and can’t do… Having my fingers crossed for their response.

    What I learned is to be confident with my skills and to set my best foot forward… always.

    Thanks for the post!

  9. says

    I definitely relate with this post when it comes to ‘thinking like one the big guys.’ Big clients want someone confident enough to handle their project. I believe that being a freelancer is a big plus itself, since you have that ‘edge’ in handling the worst scenarios ever. Being a freelancer is tough enough and to be one is something of an achievement. Nice Insights!

  10. says

    This were useful tips for me to do freelance on big company. From my experience with big company, I usually know the person I pitch (not really friends, but I know them from friends). So what I’m going to do they just agree with me. They said, I’m the designer, they will accept all my ideas. No hassle. :)

  11. says

    Thanks Walt, honestly if it was the old me, I’d end up not responding to the client. Coward.

    But I have learned that as a Virtual Assistant, especially now with the competition, I do not always have what the client needs. I must be aware of what I can or can’t do. Not to limit my services, but to be able to confidently offer my services to clients.

    FYI, I like the “don’t pretend you’re big” part.

    Again, thanks for the post Laura, as always. =)

  12. says

    Thanks!

    I also prefer to target the best and the most profitable clients. I’d like to add some points to your advices.

    It is important to focus on clients who have 1. money, 2. need for our services; 3. and the authority to make decisions. You are fully right there.

    Here is my advice. If you’re an inexperienced designer or developer try to find a job at well-known respectable company. It will help you to attract “big fish” when you start working on your own. In any case the authority of the company will positively affect big client’s attitude to your candidacy.

  13. says

    I agree with Walt K – I don’t think pretending or implying that you’re part of a bigger organisation when you’re not is really not the way to go as some have suggested.

    I’ve done quite a lot of work for Universal (yes, the BIG Universal!) and they know I’m a single individual. I just work hard to meet budgets & deadlines. I wouldn’t expect them to offer me the job of running all their movie websites, but I do get the smaller crumbs from the table (e.g. I’ve worked on online promotional material for The Da Vinci Code & Bourne Ultimatum movies).

  14. kevin says

    How can we charge as freelancers? i have a incorporated company—is just a name i use for making invoices, get checks. The other day i contacted these company that uses freelances to send clients—like a recruiting agency for freelancers. They wanted me to fill in a w2 and w4, and like i was an employee of them. annoying. Please advice how to go about it for big companies. To small companies i invoice for services.

  15. says

    It is really funny and interesting to observe: We are mostly afraid of being rejected, hence building up this huge expectation when approaching the “big fish” as if this person decides over our destiny. The truth: They are not :) They simply represent one out of many opportunities.

    When I come across a “Big” one, I simply regard them as normal people I offer my service to – am professional but at the same time relaxed within myself as this is – I guess – what differentiates you from other people: simply being yourself. Most of the time it works and because there is less pressure on yourself that way you don’t put too much value on the outcome, if they say no – it doesn’t effect you that much and you pick up the phone 2min later. The more often you do it, the better you get at it.

    If you have nothing to loose, you have everything to win.

  16. says

    This blog seems to get a good ammount of visitors. How do you advertise it? It offers a nice unique spin on things. I guess having something useful or substantial to talk about is the most important factor.

  17. says

    Great article!
    Thank you, I am a new administrative virtual assistant, and I am currently living in Dominican Republic. My small business has been doing great with my US clients, but for some reason I have been afraid to launch my business here in the island. I am in a third world country, that’s a given, but I do see the huge business potential I have in my surrounding. Your article set my mind, I am just going to plunge in and go out and get my Dominican business men/women involved in my virtual administrative virtual business world.

  18. Morgan & Me Creative says

    Thanks to Laura Spencer for hooking me up with this article. I like this piece, for some reason I interpret it as ‘impressions’. Whether or not, you act like one of the big guys to sending out your best work…we cannot deny that first impressions usually dictate their key decisions. Be yourself, be honest, keep your qualities high…you will get to places!

  19. says

    Wow, amazing weblog format! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for? you made blogging glance easy. The full look of your web site is wonderful, let alone the content!

  20. says

    Can I just say what relief to find this site and somebody who actually knows precisely what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know the best way to bring an issue to light and allow it to become important. More people need to read this and understand this side in the story. I cant believe youre no more popular because you definitely hold the gift.

  21. says

    Hi there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading your posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics? Appreciate it!

  22. says

    My company is moving towards approaching bigger companies so we can expand our website portfolio. I will be using this technique from tomorrow onwards. My sales guy currently does ask to speak to the person in charge but as there are so many Google fakers phoning round promising the earth the people on the other end of the phone already have a bit of a predetermined script in place. Sending our brochure will definitely help us.

    Thanks for the advice!

  23. Wasim Amin says

    Best Written article i have seen basically i am also a freelancer a part time after offic time i deal with my clients and going good yet some times it happens that clients wants more time than i can give
    but still i am confused that should i leave all of the job and start the 100% freelancing dont know why im not leaving the job though :)

  24. says

    It’s very tough to understand the facts related to marketing tactics, I can say this by my personal experience as I have been working as a business developer for around 5 years and I haven’t learn every scenario yet. I was a part of plenty meetings but what I expect in the meeting is totally different from client perspective, some time it’s easy to understand client’s approach and some time’s it becomes difficult.

    The most difficult part for any business developer is to track the client activity and here I use ZOHO CRM.ZOHO is among the best tool for business perspective, I strongly suggest this tool to every business person who finds it leggy to track his or her client.

  25. says

    My first experience with big client is several years ago, I work on a website that sell online ticket. In the beginning of our met, i doesnt talk my website design too much but lucky me, he want to build his web with me, seriously. For the second met I can explain much, more than he though, after the second met, his more interested to see my other products such SEO services, web maintenance etc. :D…

    The conclusion is, don’t be too quiet when you meet big clients, let them know what you do your experience, your products, but remember don’t too much also, you must have several think which is might make them surprise as your skills.. :D

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