Monday, November 15, 2010

Prospecting for Clients: What Every Freelancer Should Know

I get literally dozens of emails per week from potential clients (prospects) inquiring about my consulting services.

Some are serious, valid business owners or entrepreneurs who understand that they are at a point where they need expert guidance to help them take their company to the next level. They understand that hiring a consultant is a calculated decision that requires a financial resources and they are prepared to make such a commitment. It is strategic decision that they know will pay off if they follow the direction of the consultant.

Other prospects are simply ‘phishing’. They’re not phishing for personal or financial information, like many Internet con artists out there. They’re phishing for marketing information … as much as they can get for free. They’re not really serious about hiring a consultant, they just play the game of asking for a proposal and seeing how much information they could get gratis.

In tough economic times like we’re currently experiencing, a freelancer or consultant needs to be on their guard. They need to balance their professional proposal writing and prospect relationship management without giving away the farm.

You want to be friendly, professional, courteous, and knowledgeable, but not give specific recommendations until the prospect is a client.

Quick story…

A business owner emailed me and told me he’s heard about me in the industry. That he was aware of my stellar reputation and believes I could help save his company, which was drowning.

He told me he had resources put aside for consulting services but wanted to discuss the details further with me. So I did what I always do with inquiries: follow up by email promptly and schedule an initial conference call to discuss business objectives, resources, past marketing performance, and more.

After our more than 1-hour conference call where we discussed his needs and some ‘high level’ services I thought would be ideal, he asked me to send a proposal outlining our discussion. I prepared a detailed proposal including:
-Bio (more information about me to familiarize the prospect about my qualifications and experience)
-Testimonials (illustrating feedback that highlights my work ethic and performance)
-Objectives (reiterating the prospective goals)
-Overview (my personal synopsis of the client’s website with ‘high level’ recommendations for improvement)
-Potential barriers for entry (identifying the prospect’s deficiencies)-Deliverables (my recommended services to correct said deficiencies)
-Disclaimer (clearly illustrating important verbiage about what is and isn’t covered as well as setting prospect expectations)
-FAQ’s (for information purposes, being proactive to questions prospect may have)
-Costs (rates for a variety business solutions, if prospect doesn’t identify a specific marketing budget)
-Legal information (including contract terms, payment terms, and other important clauses)
-Closing statement (expressing my gratitude for his inquiry and providing contact information).

This is my standard proposal template that is then customized for each prospect. It’s very comprehensive and satisfies virtually all prospects.

Several days later I followed up with an email to see if the prospect had any questions or needed a follow up call to discuss anything that was in the proposal.

I received an email from the prospect saying he needed more information, a ‘marketing blue print’ of what I would do -- this would help him better consider me with the other consultants bidding for the job.

I replied that my proposal was as detailed as it could be. That I identified areas needing improvement as well as deliverables to correct deficiencies. I then mentioned that I was providing a ‘proposal’, not a marketing plan with specific tactics, which is something I would certainly provide once he was a client. I also mentioned if he had concerns about my work performance, to please see my testimonial page, which features many well-known companies that were ecstatic with my services and demonstrated my competency and performance history.

He responded that what he needed was specifics, not high level information. That he did need tactical approaches, now.

My response, after much thought, was that I wouldn’t be a smart business woman if I virtually gave marketing plans out for no cost, they involve time and research. I reiterated that my proposal did answer all his questions but that tactical details would come when he was a client after more thorough market research and the creation of a strategic marketing plan.

He thanked me for my proposal and told me he was evaluating several proposals and would be in contact if he decided to move forward.

Now at first thought, you may be saying to yourself: in such a competitive environment did you make the right decision, you may have gotten the job if you gave specifics?

But after awhile in the professional service industry, you learn how to read people. You can weed out the good from bad prospects. You see, once the prospect mentioned he wanted a ‘marketing blue print’, that was a red flag. Legitimate prospects that ask for my time, know that my time is valuable and are happy to compensate me accordingly for my services. I knew this particular prospects wasn’t serious about hiring me, rather he was desperate and phishing for free information.

I still, however, gave him the benefit out doubt and offered as many conference calls as he needed as well as an in-person meeting (he was local) to give him a level of comfort. But I just couldn’t provide a marketing plan for free. I certainly don’t think he gives free product to consumers, so why would he expect that of me?

The reason: Desperate times calls for desperate measures. And some people feel that they can take advantage of freelancers because the odds are in their favor.

My viewpoint: Stay true to yourself. Listen to your gut. Look at every prospective opportunity with hope, but keep it real.

Your experience and reputation will speak for itself and the RIGHT customers WILL find you. They always do.
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