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A lot of the freelancers I’ve spoken to think that sales processes or “funnels” are for marketing guys or large companies with sales departments. Wrong! I’ll get straight into why, with a personal example.
About 5 or 6 years ago, one of my existing clients recommended me to one of his business associates. The company was a reasonably sized e-commerce platform, and I was looking forward to speaking with them. We set up an initial call, which spanned 2 hours! The guy wanted to see multiple examples of e-commerce admin panels I’d built for previous clients, go into detail on his existing system and strategies to migrate it over, and share stories of past development problems.
No problem I thought, this is going to be a long term job.
We scheduled a second call for a couple of days later, and pretty much the same thing happened again – 2 hours of free consultancy on technical strategy, followed by emails back and forth, research and more free consultancy.
After that call, things went quiet. I followed up a couple of times and got no response. Eventually he got back to me, said that other things had come up, and assured me that he’d be back in touch very soon. I followed up a few more times in the month after – no response.
About 9 months(!) later, I got an email out of the blue from him – “Sorry for the long delay – can we pick up where we left off? Are you available for a call tomorrow?” Absolutely – let’s get on a call. Guess what happened on the call? Another 90 minutes of strategy, random technical questions and free consultancy.
He emailed me and asked me for another follow up. I responded politely but firmly to the effect that I’d already spent about 8 hours on free consulting calls – I’d be more than happy to get on another technical consulting call, but it would have to be at my regular billing rates. Guess what? Never heard back again.
Annoyed as I was at him, it was entirely my own fault. If you invite someone take advantage of you, don’t get angry when they do! So what happened?
- I gave a potential client 8 hours of free consulting time, on his terms and at his convenience, on the vague notion that it might lead to a large project. How could I ever expect to be valued as an expert consultant and charge my top rates? Once you’ve given something away for free, it’s very difficult to then get someone to pay for it, let alone pay well.
- I had no defined sales process. i.e. a “sales funnel” to take a lead on an intro call to a paying client. I would just jump through hoops until the client hopefully decided to offer me some work and start paying.
- I didn’t have the confidence in my service. Despite an impressive portfolio and list of client testimonials, I didn’t feel they were enough. I thought that giving him free consulting time would “prove” my value.
- I didn’t have the confidence in myself – I wasn’t able to be assertive.
In hindsight, it would have been pretty easy to handle. As we drifted in to free consulting, I should have been clear that I’m available for hire to go down that route.
Lessons learned! So lets break it down:
The Purpose of Sales Calls
An intro or sales call should really be confined to discussing the client, his needs/problems, an overview of how you can solve it, and then an extra bit of value to seal the deal. This can then be backed up by past testimonials and a portfolio.
An intro call is not:
- A chance for free consultancy or troubleshooting.
- An opportunity to discuss detailed technical steps or pros and cons of different approaches that we might take to solve one or more problems.
- A chance to intricately walk through the client’s current systems, offering advice.
The Sales Funnel
The sales funnel doesn’t have to be a rigid process, but should be reasonably defined in your mind. Mine looks something like this now:
- A couple of intro emails followed by a first call. Discuss client needs, provide value, reassure client that I can solve his needs (and then that bit extra).
- Follow up with any action points from our intro call, usually including testimonials and portfolio if relevant. Book a time for our next call
- Short call to discuss getting started, working together and billing arrangements.
If a potential client wants another call to get some questions answered – sure, no problem. If a couple of emails need to go back and forth to clarify some questions – sure, no problem.
The freelancing sales cycle should be defined and as short as possible. If you find yourself spending hours at a time talking to a potential client as I was, then I guarantee you’ve strayed into free consulting.
Sales Effort Should be Proportional to Project Value
If a potential client is looking to hire me or someone in my team for say, 10 to 20 hours per week for at least a couple of months, it makes sense that I’d allow a reasonable amount of time to get him comfortable with working together and demonstrating the value I can provide.
If a client is looking for a one off job spanning a couple of days, I’m not going to be on multiple sales calls and sending emails back and forth to try and win it.
And here’s the strange paradox… The clients with larger budgets and requirements are far easier to close a deal with than the clients with tiny budgets and small jobs.
Have Some Confidence!
Freelancers have a habit of doubting themselves and charging less than they’re worth. When you focus on the value you’re providing to the client and the problems your solving, billing rates becomes an afterthought. If you’re providing the value, charge appropriately. If you’re not – take another look at your relationship with the client.