Finding new business isn’t easy—it takes time, patience and a strategic approach. While nobody sets out to turn off a new business prospect, below are some common pitfalls when it comes to prospecting and scoping a job. Those inadvertent missteps are followed by tips for making a good first impression and winning the business.
Make prospecting profitable
When it comes to new business prospecting, below are three common tactics that don’t typically yield strong results.
Sending unsolicited emails. Save your time and skip sending the unsolicited email outlining how the company’s current marketing and communications activities are falling short. Many of these emails aim to explain why the sender is a better option, but there are five drawbacks to that approach:
- The prospect wasn’t asking for your perspective.
- It’s impossible to make a quality assessment without first talking to the company.
- You don’t know if the person receiving the email conceived the strategy and ideas that are being criticized.
- Nobody looks good trying to make someone else look bad.
- The email can risk looking like spam.
Instead of sending an unsolicited email, work your LinkedIn network and develop targeted, personalized messages to individuals sharing how can you specifically help their business.
Writing a press release, email blast or social media post announcing that you have opened your freelance business and are accepting new clients. The problem with this approach is that the messages aren’t personalized, and they tend to have a whiff of desperation. If you’ll take any kind of client, you’ll get any kind of client.
Instead, identify your strengths and differentiators and tap into your network for introductions to decision makers at organizations that most closely align with your skills and expertise.
Offering a free assessment. There’s a fundamental flaw in the “free assessment” marketing tactic. If you’re looking to win a new client, assessing the situation and making recommendations is simply part of doing business. The fine line here is providing strategic insight and sharing ideas to demonstrate your value as part of the new business development process without giving away the store.
Scoping the job to win
Once you get past the initial prospecting phase, you’re in a great position to scope and win the new business. Here are some pitfalls to avoid when scoping a job.
Not getting the budget upfront. The client and freelancer can save each other a lot of time by stating the budget as early as possible. This allows both to know immediately what the program will look like and if it’s worth moving to the next phase. A common dialog that freelancers and clients have goes something like this:
- Freelancer: What is your budget?
- Client: I’m not sure, why don’t you tell me what this program will cost?
To avoid this potentially circular conversation, ask the client what they hope to achieve with their communications program. If they’re not sure, have a deeper conversation about their current issues, offer to do a baseline assessment, and then provide some recommendations.
Before you spend too much time writing a plan, let the potential client know that you need at least a ballpark budget number to properly scope it. If they’re still unsure, figure out what the program will cost based on your initial discussion and experience. Go back to the prospect and give them a ballpark budget based on what they’ve told you as it compares with the current market rates.
Trying to rewrite the playbook. This is similar to sending the cold email pointing out the perceived communications program flaws. Once you’re at the stage where the prospect asks you to develop a proposal or share ideas on how you can improve their program, focus on how your expertise builds on what they’re already doing right. Always lead with positive recommendations as opposed to offering your opinion of what’s wrong. If the prospect pushes for your list of what’s not working, offer three compliments for every one piece of constructive criticism.
Presenting an unrealistic plan. When a prospect tells you what they need and how much they have to spend; your plan should reflect those business needs. Simple, right? Except there are times when a potential client receives a plan that has three vastly different budgets attached to it.
For example, a client may tell you they have between $5-$10K per month to spend. In the plan, Option A is a program for $5K a month, Option B is $10K and Option C is $15K. If the client says the budget is between $5-$10K a month, the plan should have options at $5K, $7500 and $10K. Metaphorically, if the client is looking to buy a scooter and you offer them a Mercedes, they’re going to think you’re not listening.
Attracting and winning great clients comes down to identifying and marketing your differentiators, focusing on your network to get introductions to the companies that most closely align with those skills, and listening to the client’s needs.