Table of Contents
Lesson 1: Why there's no such thing as market rate
Lesson 2: The real reasons freelancers are underpaid
Lesson 3: How to avoid being seen as a commodity
Lesson 4: What are your clients really looking for?
Lesson 5: How to use socratic questioning to figure out what your clients need
Lesson 6: How to determine the value of a project
Lesson 7: Double your closing rates by using a technique called anchoring
Lesson 8: How to tie it all together with a killer proposal
Lesson 9: How to double your rate without scaring off your client
The Myth Of Market Rates
I want you to think about the first time you ever had to attach a price to yourself as a freelance marketer.
It was probably when you got your first job in the industry. You were sitting in front of a hiring manager, and after talking about you, your resumé, and the position, the conversation shifted to money. “How much do you want to make?”
Now, you probably had enough sense to go into this discussion knowing what somebody in the position you were interviewing for typically makes. If you asked for too high of a salary, you might not get the job; if it’s too low, you’re stuck making less than what you could have made.
And when you went out on your own and started freelancing, you probably did something similar. You researched what the value of a freelancer like you was. Or you just reverse engineered your salary to come up with an hourly rate.
This is what most of us end up doing. After all, whether we realize it or not, we want to be able to justify the price we’re asking.
The most successful freelance marketers don’t give a damn about market rates or what others charge. They know that ultimately this doesn’t matter. They realize there’s no such thing as the right price for the services they offer.
If You Want To Charge More, You Need To Deliver The Right Deliverables
My goal with this course is to help you escape the black hole of market rates.…And it’s totally doable.
When I first started freelancing, I charged $50 an hour because my former salary was a cool $105k a year. And all the best resources out there for freelancers were suggesting this-or-that calculator or telling me to just divide my salary by 2000 (the number of average working hours in a year)… so I settled on $50 an hour.
And boy, things have changed for me since then. Just a few weeks ago, I won a project at $20,000 a week — or about $600 an hour.
Truthfully, the skills I’m using (mostly: coding JS, copywriting, and playing around with email marketing automation software) aren’t all that much different than the skills I was using when I first started freelancing. Instead, how I’m presenting and leveraging those skills have changed.
Over the next few days, I’m going to give you tactical and conceptual advice that will help you escape market rates.
Because here’s the thing... market rates are for losers.Market rates imply that you’re offering a commodity service that just about anyone can offer — even those charging $4 an hour on Upwork.
Market rates are out of your control. The market dictates and determines what you’re worth. The market says that you’re defined by the technicals of what you do and not the results you deliver to your clients.
This first lesson is intentionally light on strategy and tactics, but it's meant to make you think about what you've been doing through now. Until you change the way you look at yourself and the value you bring to the table, you're not going to be able to apply the concepts of this course. The first change you need to make to your business is internal.
Did you know that the worst thing you could say when meeting with a prospective client is that you're a freelancer?
And that the second worst thing you could say would be to qualify freelancer with what it is you do (e.g., "I'm a freelance marketer")?
Why is this?
It's important to look at what those words mean from the perspective of a client. It's fine to describe yourself to peers as a freelancer, and you probably want to tell others you're a WordPress developer if you happen to be at a WordPress conference.
But giving yourself the job title of freelancer can cause prospective clients to immediately have the wrong expectations of you.
What's wrong with the word "freelancer"?
"...a person who works as a writer, designer, performer, or the like, selling work or services by the hour, day, job, etc., rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer."
That's the dictionary definition for "freelancer."
A freelancer is somebody who does work for somebody on a temporary basis and without the long term attachments that come with employment. It's this arrangement that drew most of us to freelancing to begin with — we wanted to keep doing what we're good at, but without needing to work for The Man.
But when freelancing, there's still an underlying association with employment. While legally the freelancer has no long-term loyalty to their clients, the working relationships are usually sort of similar: there's the "greater" party (the client) and the "lesser" party (the freelancer).
By using the label "freelancer," you're stating that you're similar to an employee. You expect to be brought a project with some requirements and you'll do the work. The client is the boss.
My goal with this course is to help you become a high-value freelancer. And while we're not quite yet ready to talk about how to do just that (it's going to take a few more lessons), you need to realize that it's critical to discard the identity of "freelancer"... at least when talking with a potential client.
Because once you shed that identity and can become seen by your client as a partner and ally, instead of just "the freelancer we hired", you'll be able to charge a premium rate AND you and your clients will be happier. They'll get better work from you; you'll get more creative flexibility....But you gotta ditch the word "freelancer" first.
And what's wrong with describing yourself this way?
I've hosted a lot of events and conferences, and the attendees were all freelancers or agency owners.
Whenever I'd survey the room and ask people what it is they did, I'd get back responses like:
- Web design
And this is fine because this is exactly what I was asking for — again, this was a peer (me, a fellow freelancer) asking the audience what they did.
However, most freelancers allow what it is they do to define their work. When talking with a potential client, they might say "I'm a freelancer". For years, I pitched my agency as a "web agency".
Next, we'll be covering commoditization and how to free yourself from being seen as a commodity provider, but let me try to explain why defining yourself by what you do is a bad idea.
Imagine I meet you at a networking mixer, and you tell me that you're a "freelance designer."
Let's then pretend that we get to the point where we're talking about a project, and you quote me a higher-than-normal rate for the work you're planning on doing.
I might respond with, "Hold on a second... I saw people on Upwork who can code for $8 an hour. Why should I hire you?"
The underlying issue is that from the beginning, you defined yourself as a provider of design services — and the implication, even though it's probably far from the truth, is that design is design is design. It's a commodity. A product. And you're trying to sell that product for significantly more than some of your competitors.
It would be like driving down the highway, having your gas light turn on, and getting off at the nearest exit. You see two gas stations. One is selling gas at $3 a gallon, and the other is selling gas at $30 a gallon.
Which would you choose?
Unless you're mad, you'll buy the $3 a gallon gas. After all, it's just gas. And while we might vehemently defend that not all freelance marketers are equal, by defining ourselves as just a "freelance marketer", we're implying that they are.
So chew on these ideas for the rest of the day. Think about how it is you present yourself to your clients. Are you pitching yourself as an employee-without-benefits who provides commodity development services? And if you are, how are you going to ever be able to break free of how the market prices your commodity service?
This is why most freelancers are underpaid. They're caught in a race-to-the-bottom and they're selling and pitching the same stuff as everyone else.
In the last lesson, we discussed why the label "freelance marketer" is not ideal — especially if you're looking to find higher value, more lucrative clients. (That's why you're getting this email course, right?)
So as a natural followup, let's start to talk about how you can distance yourself from coming off as a commodity, and instead present yourself as a premium consultant to your clients.
What makes a consultant different?
A lot of us, especially those involved in more creative fields, tend to avoid the word consultant. It conjures up images of suits and ties and sitting in "strategy meetings" with Fortune 500 companies. My distaste for the word came from an idea that consultants were all talk and no action — they advised their clients on what to do and often had little to no real world experience at practicing what they preach.
But I think before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, it's vital to understand what consultants do well, and why their clients typically pay them so well.In the world of business-to-business (B2B) relationships, there are two universal truths:
- If you can make your client more money they'll hire you.
- If you can help your client cut costs they'll hire you.
It's critical to realize that this is ultimately why people hire you — your clients have reasoned that paying you for a new website can, for example, get them more customers and help them make more money. It's not about the website, it's about what they think that website will do for them. Or they want a free iPhone app built because they think there's a chance it'll be acquired for loads of money.
Consultants capitalize on these two universal truths and sell solutions to their clients that are meant to directly affect the business of their clients.
The issue is that most freelancers focus solely on what it is we do, instead of why it is we do.
And this naturally sets us up as a commodity, because the what without context is just an expense; a cost that the business incurs. And when businesses buy stuff, whether it be reams of paper, computer equipment, or a new website, they want to minimize their costs.
But what happens when we start focusing on the why?
When we stop selling coding and start instead selling why it is your clients need a website and what it will do for their business, we can then position ourselves as an investment instead of an expense. An expense is a website; an investment is paying for new customers, whose total value outweighs what it cost to get those customers.
You may be familiar with the concept of "cost centers" and "profit centers", terms popularized by Peter Drucker more than 50 years ago.
In most businesses, the sales and marketing team is a profit center — their sole purpose is to make the business more money. But customer support and IT are often seen as cost centers — they keep the business running, but don't typically affect sales. (Really smart businesses blur the line, and train departments who are typically seen as an expense, like a call center support team, on how to increase the lifetime value of their customers.)
The closer you get to the actual businesses behind the projects you work on, the better it is for you and your business.
For many, this is uncomfortable at first. We're not all amazing at business. You probably never had to manage a department or run a business other than your own. Getting involved in your clients' businesses can be intimidating — after all, it's easier to sell what we're confident at.
The rest of this course is dedicated to helping you overcome whatever roadblocks — either internal or due to a lack of experience — are keeping you from becoming more vested in the businesses of your clients.
Simply changing what you call yourself or just doubling your rates on your next proposal isn't going to set you up to be a high-value consultant who's in perpetual high demand. It's going to require you to radically rework the way that you work.
So over the next few days, I'll be covering a strategy that you can use to change the way you sell yourself to your clients.
And you've already started that change.
When I had you consider the implications of the word freelancer and describing yourself by what you do for others, you set into motion a shift in your outlook.
Today, we'll look at how to put your clients first and lower the risk that you bring to the table.
Over the last few lessons, we've established:
- That you don't want to title yourself as a freelancer (at least publicly.)
- That your technical abilities should be downplayed.
- That it's better to present yourself as an investment, instead of an expense.
In the next lesson, we're going to dive into how I use a technique called Socratic questioning to sort of reverse engineer the projects I'm brought to figure out how I can sell myself as an investment and really make hiring me a no brainer for my clients.
But before we get there, let's first look at the world from the perspective of your clients.
I've hired plenty of creatives over the years. When running my agency I had to recruit people who would work on my behalf, and nowadays I work with a pool of freelancers who help me do what I do. This has put me in the position of both working both with clients and as the client/boss — often times simultaneously.
I know what it's like to put my money on the line and go through the hoops necessary to hire freelancers.
Here are a few things to keep in mind whenever dealing with clients, especially if they haven't hired you just yet.
Your clients want to be put first
Your clients' chief concern is their own interests. This is critical to understand, but I've seen a lot of freelancers who don't realize this.
You've probably seen (or are guilty of) proposals that are centered upon the freelancer and their accolades, their website that quips "I enjoy hiking, opera, ..." with nothing anywhere that says here's what YOU will get by working with me, or have obsessed over test-driven development, this or that technology, etc.
This is often how we try to sell ourselves because we're proud of our skills and probably spent years acquiring them. But to the client, you and your skills are simply a means to an end — the end being the squashing of some particular business problem they face.
So whenever you're talking with a potential or actual client, always question whether the focus is on you or them.
- When networking, before rambling on about yourself and what you do, ask who you're speaking with to open up to you. What's their business like? When did they start? What do they do day-to-day at work? What's the chief problem they're struggling with right now?
- When qualifying a new lead, realize that somebody who might feel intimidated by working with you is cautiously optimistic that you could help them. Sympathize with the fact that they're on the hook — to their customers, to their boss, or to their stakeholders — to solve a particular problem, and that this is a big deal to them.
- When describing a particular technology or skillset, don't describe it technically but describe it in a way that aligns with the interests of your clients. Instead of selling test driven development, let them know that the total cost of ownership of maintaining their codebase will be significantly reduced.
Your (prospective) clients want any excuse to say "no"
I like to say that we all have a particular risk profile associated with us in the minds of our clients.
Like a bank who considers your credit score when lending you money, your clients also consider your risk. If it's a sure bet and they know they're going to make a massive payoff, they'll eagerly pay your high rates... but if they're worried about your capacity, either technically (like, can you actually do the work) or professionally (are you reliable and know how to work within budgets and timelines?), then they won't be as willing to deepen their pockets for you.
The key thing we focus on in this course is helping you to lower the risk you present to your clients. That's why we've started talking about how to figure out the why behind a project, and we'll soon be looking at how to quantify it's worth, identify the right solution, and so on — because all of these factors contribute to lowering your risk.
Beginning from your very first contact with a prospective client and all the way through sending a project proposal, your #1 job is to eliminate the risk you present.
When you finally ask for the sale, they're going to be racking their brain and trying to come up with any objections ("the price is too high," "she's not experienced enough," "I doubt whether my problem is solvable, and he's not convincing me he can solve it") that they can use to say no.
Because people have a fear of buying, especially things that aren't impulse buys and are untested (like you applying a chunk of your time to chipping away at their problems).
And this is what selling is all about.
You need to overcome the objections, either real or imaginary, that your clients have about working with you, and show that you are capable of solving their problem. That's it. It's not about experience, case studies, testimonials, a beautiful website for your freelancing business, referrals, or whatever else. Those are all just factors that, done right, can increase your credit score with a client.
So with this, our fourth lesson, out of the way, you should now have a clear understanding of the mindset shifts that need to accompany the tactics that the rest of this course is dedicated to.
Today, you'll look at the exact process I use to understand the pain behind my clients' problems.
If a new lead reached out to you today with a project request, what would your process be for moving that prospective client through your pipeline?
If you're like most freelancers, you probably don't really have one. You'll probably arrange a phone or in-person meeting, and you'll likely do a bit of research beforehand.
The most important thing you can do early on when talking with new leads is to develop a process around how you learn about who they are and what they want. Don't leave your conversations open-ended; come armed with an agenda.
Becoming a high-value freelance consultant starts with understanding the why behind each project you work on. Today we're going to look at the exact process I use to reveal the pains behind each project I work on.
Before I got into computers professionally, I went to college to study the classics. During my time as a freshman, I read most of Plato's dialogues. The dialogues were the transcripts of conversations that occurred between Socrates and other Athenians. What really stuck out was that Socrates always had an agenda; there was some truth or ideal that he wanted the person who he was talking with to admit. His method of questioning is still used by trial lawyers, psychologists, and academia — and there's no reason we, as freelancers, can't do the same.
When new leads come my way, I lead them through a series of questions that helps me both understand the why behind a particular project, and shows my clients that there's something a bit different about working with me:
Step 1: Listen
Here the client tells me about what they think they need. They might come to me with a thought out list of requirements, or they might just have a rough idea of what they're looking for.
“So tell me a bit about this project. What is it, and when are you looking to have it done by?”
This is the step that all of us do — we hear the client out. But most freelancers at this point will move toward discussing the technicals about the project. If it's a website, the discussion might shift toward how many pages it will be, what theme or template it might use, what the navigation elements should be like, etc.
But I'm not interested in any of that yet...
Step 2: Identify The Trigger
“That sounds fantastic. Tell me a bit about how you came up with this project — what changed, or what happened, that made you realize, ‘I need to do $X’?”Here we want to know what event occurred to spark this project. Often times, this can be a series of built up events that is ultimately set off by something specific.
Step 3: Highlight The Problem
“OK, so $TRIGGER happened and you decided to seek someone like me out. You wanted something fixed… Could you tell me more about what that something is? What is this project solving?”
Remember: No project exists without a backing problem. Your competitors likely won’t care enough to investigate what that problem is. If we know the problem, we can better tailor the project and what we end up doing toward that end.
Step 4: How Painful Is The Problem?
“That makes total sense. Before we go much further, I want to tell you a bit about how I work that might be a little different than most. I only want work on projects where I can deliver an ROI. We’ll be able to figure out my costs once I know more about exactly what needs to happen to make this project a success and solve this problem, but do you mind sharing about what impact — financial, reputation, or whatever — $PROBLEM is having on your business?”
Most people won't be willing to open up to you and share the inner workings of their company. At this point, I'll often present my Master Services Agreement (the one I include in Double Your Freelancing Rate), which includes a non-disclosure agreement. I want to show them that I respect their business, and I realize that what they're about to tell me shouldn't be public knowledge.
Step 5: What's The Cost
“Let’s try to figure out what it means for your business to have this problem persist. What’s the opportunity cost or the risk overhead of $PROBLEM?”
You want to understand what it means long-term for this problem to still be a problem. When we eventually go in for the sale, we’re going to anchor the need for this project against the cost of this problem not going away. We want the prospective client to admit the cost to us.
Note that not everyone will have these numbers available — but that's OK. You're mostly looking for ballparks or ranges.
Step 6: How Should Tomorrow Look?
“We don’t want that happening. So let’s move on to a happier note — when we solve $PROBLEM, describe what tomorrow looks like. What does it mean for your business to have this fixed? What sort of impact will it have?”
The question above was pretty painful… we’re talking about how sucky this problem is. Now we want to switch gears and move to happier pastures. Let’s let the client dream about tomorrow. What does it mean if this project succeeds? Try to quantify in hard numbers what sort of impact your project might have on the client’s business.
Step 7: Tie It All Together
“This was really valuable because this is going to help me better understand the why behind this project, which will help us together make sure that what I end up doing aligns perfectly with that end goal. Once we can figure out the total complexity of this project, I’ll be able to provide you a quote, and as long as the net effect of this project on your business heavily outweighs the cost it’ll make sense to talk about moving forward.”
A few key things are happening here. Most importantly, we’re really stressing our focus on their business and their financial well-being. We want them to be successful. We don’t want our portfolio to be a graveyard of failed companies.
The next part of the conversation will be to look at what that tomorrow might mean (financially, reputationally, etc.) for our clients, which will also help us determine how we can make that tomorrow come into being.
What's really important to understand is that you're not just looking to collect data. You want your clients to externally vocalize the necessity of this project. You want them to see that something's different about working with you. You're not just reacting to a project request — you're guiding them through understanding what this project means for them and their business.
And this is going to help you tremendously when it comes time send off a proposal. My closing rate is near 100%, and I'm almost always the most expensive quote my clients get.
Today, we'll look at how you can quantify the value of a client project.
The other day I covered how Socratic Questioning can be used to both figure out the pain behind a project and to get a glimpse of what tomorrow should look like for your client (e.g. after the problem goes away).
The next step is to quantify just how valuable the successful completion of a project is.
Figure out what you can influence
The first thing you want to do is to figure out how you can influence the financials of your clients' businesses.
(Note that not every client is looking for you to help them make money. Non-profits, startups, and other types of organizations might have other aims. Read this post I wrote to learn how to understand the needs of non-traditional organizations.)
I have a student who makes a living selling WordPress websites. He wanted the avoid the commoditized deathtrap that is web design, and was aiming for a minimum $15k+ budget for most of the "brochure sites" he was putting together. So when a rehabilitation clinic came his way looking for a website, he used Socratic Questioning to determine that what they were looking for was more patients.
He knew that he needed to sell them on something of value that he could control. How could a website help them get more patients?
How to quantify the financial upside of a project
Him: "What's the average value of a patient in a bed?"
He knew he needed to start with this question, as it was the closest he could get "to the money" of this prospective client's business.
Clinic: "About $30,000."
He knew he couldn't influence this number, so he had to dig deeper.
Him: "And how many people do you typically talk to before you get a patient?"
Clinic: "About 10 people."
So now he knew that for every ten people who contact the clinic, they get one patient. In sales terms, they have a 10% conversion rate from lead to customer.
But he knew that he couldn't influence how effective the clinic is at "selling" new patients, though some basic back-of-the-napkin math now showed that a lead is valued at around $3,000.
Him: "So if I could build you a website, and the only purpose of this website is to get you a minimum of one new lead a month, you'd be looking at more than $36,000 in added revenue in the first year — right?"
Clinic: "That sounds right."
Ah, but he CAN influence how many leads this clinic gets.
He's just leveraging what his prospective client has already told him to draw some assumptions about what would happen if their business generated just one new lead a month.
And this also helped him better understand what they really wanted: more leads.
He wouldn't be proposing a website. Rather, he'd be proposing more leads for their business — which will help them get the new patients they desperately need.
Through Socratic Questioning and then quantifying what tomorrow could look like, he was able to figure out that this business really didn't need a new website. They needed more leads. The client had already realized this (they either consciously or subconsciously realized that a new website might equal more patients), but now they're talking to someone who also understands this. They won't just be getting a website, they'll be getting something built solely for generating leads.
When he ultimately quoted them $15,000, how do you think they responded?
Who wouldn't pay $15,000 to make more than $36,000+?
The clinic wasn't able to then compare his costs to what other website designers were charging — the product he was selling was totally different. It might be fulfilled through the creation of a website, but that's not what he was proposing to do.
Needless to say, he ended up winning their business.
And tomorrow I'm going to show you how to anchor your costs against the Financial Upsides of your projects :-)
Today, we'll discover how anchoring your costs can lead to higher proposal conversions.
Over the last two lessons, we talked about how you can both learn about what your clients need and quantify how the value of "tomorrow" for them.
Today we're going to talk a bit about pricing, and specifically how you can achieve a higher-than-usual closing rate through price anchoring.
But first, a quick refresher of yesterday's lesson:
After you use the Socratic questioning method we discussed in Lesson 5, you're next going to try to quantify what solving the problem at hand would mean for their business (to the best of your ability — it doesn't need to be rocket science). This is the Financial Upside, and it's a range or ballpark amount that you and your prospective client calculated together.
I don't do "value-based pricing"
My clients will often ask me why I'm asking them these questions, and why I'm so keen on understanding the value of their project.
What surprises them is that I'm not using the Financial Upside to help me figure out what I'm going to charge. Basing your costs on value is what's known as value-based pricing, and the idea is that if you can make your client, say, $100,000 — you can charge them anywhere between $1 and $99,999 and they'll still come out "on top".
To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of value-based pricing.
I charge a weekly rate for my time, and right now I bill upwards of $25,000 a week.
If you practice value-based pricing, you better be awesome at predicting the future.
I think there's just too much guessing that's happening when you're quantifying the value of a project, and so much of it is out of your control. Just because a new upstart pizzeria down the street has bought a state-of-the-art pizza oven doesn't mean they're going to be successful — the ingredients, location, neighborhood demand for pizza, marketing effectiveness, and more all contribute to the ultimate success of that venture. Likewise, the work you do for your clients is often a small part of their total business.
(There are times where I do advocate value-based pricing, but they're for more turnkey projects like productized consulting engagements.)
Instead, I anchor my costs against the upside of the project.
I'm not guaranteeing a particular outcome, but I show my clients that I'm aiming toward it. And for each and every requirement of the project, I ask myself: "Will this get us closer to the goal?"
I tell my clients that I only want to work on projects where I'm an investment. I don't want to ever be an expense.
If the math doesn't work out, and my estimated costs outweigh the projected value of a project, I'll either pass on the project or work with the client to find a way to balance out that equation. This is a fantastic way to help my clients see that I'm on their side. I don't want them to spend money recklessly; I want all of my clients to net a return-on-investment, or ROI, from working with me.
The psychological effect of anchoring
When a prospective client reads one of my proposals, the first number they stumble upon isn't my cost.
And most freelancers lose out when their price is the first (and often only) number found in their proposals.
A few months back, I quoted a client $40,000 for 10 days of work. My rate is significantly above what others charge for the kind of technical work that I do (a mixture of marketing, copywriting, and writing code). But before the client read anything in my proposal about what my costs would be, I referenced the six-figure upside we uncovered together during earlier discussions. So by the time they saw my five-figure price tag, they'd already had in their head that I'd be helping them add six-figures to their revenue. I anchored my cost against the upside that we'd previously mutually agreed upon.
Not only am I able to then win higher price contracts, but it's also easier for me to win them.
Instead of seeing my price floating in a vacuum, my client sees it contextualized against the value of the solution I'm proposing.
And rather than having them need to consider whether my costs are too high, too low, or just right, my clients see my price as the cost of admission to the land of tomorrow.
Lastly, because my clients know that I only want to work on projects where I can deliver an ROI, I'm able to overcome the objection of, "Is it even worth doing this project, especially at the cost I'm being quoted?"
Compare this to the traditional way most of us price proposals:
We meet with a client, talk about their requirements, and then disappear for a while to write a proposal. We write down what we'll do, what it will cost, and how long we think it will take, and send it off. And then we hope and pray that the price is what they're expecting.
Today, we're going to look at the most important part of your sales process — the proposal — and detail a few best-practices for writing them.
We're getting close to the end of the lessons.
Everything we've discussed so far has led up to this lesson. Your proposal is when you formally ask for your client's business — you "ask for the sale".
As I alluded to in earlier lessons, I'm not a huge fan of the conventional way of writing proposals.
Most of us list out what we'll do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and a few terms and conditions about working with us. Proposals are meant to be persuasive, and a bunch of line items with a price tag doesn't persuade anyone of anything.
People buy when they know a seller has something made specific for them — and your proposal should do exactly that. This is why I've told you to learn about the why behind each project you court. When proposing a project, you want people to know that you have a solution for them, and not just a deliverable.
You need to show your prospective client that you know exactly what they need and why they need it, and that you have a plan for moving forward.
Here's the basic structure of my proposals:
1. Remind them why we're here
Remember back in Lesson 5 when we talked about Socratic questioning? In that lesson, I showed you why selling is more than just responding to a project request — we looked at why it's critical to understand the root problem or problems behind each project.
You're going to want to kick off your proposals by both reminding your client about why they're here, and by letting them know (once again) that you understand their needs. You want to recite, ideally word for word, exactly what they told you in these meetings. What problems do they have? How is it affecting their business? Monetarily, how are they being impacted as a result?
It might sound counterintuitive to reiterate the problem, especially if you don't have a background in sales. But it works. Just like anchoring an upside against your costs helps justify your costs, anchoring the solutions you're proposing against the problems being solved is highly effective. Don't be afraid to remind your clients about just how important this project is for their business, even if you assume they're fully aware of that.
2. Show them tomorrow
The solution is the removal of the problem — it's NOT what you plan on doing (e.g. the actual project).
After describing the pain behind the project, you now want to forecast what "tomorrow" could look like for their business (Lesson 5) along with the Financial Upside that comes with it (Lesson 6). This is where you want to whet the reader's appetite and show them what they'll be getting after you successfully complete their project. And, remember, this isn't a fairy tale; you're not inventing anything here. You're simply including the takeaways from the conversations you had with the client about their business and what parts you're able to influence with the project, and quantifying what that would mean for them.
3. Present your offer
This is where you actually talk about what you'll be doing and how much it'll cost. And while you do want to include some technicals about the process, but you want to always bundle each feature with its related benefit. Here's where you simply bridge the pain with the solution — that's how you determine what needs to be done.
And there's not just one path, or offer, that connects every problem to its solution. Think about the problem of being cold and wet in a rainstorm. The solution is to stop being cold and wet. The offer can be any number of things: an umbrella, a poncho, a piece of cardboard, or a toasty lodge with a roaring fireplace. These are all ways to stop being cold and wet, each with its own degree of intensity and completion.And that is why you want to understand the pain behind each project.
If you don't know what that is, and you simply respond to whatever superficial need is brought to you, the offer you end up proposing is risky. You might do great work, but that's no guarantee you'll solve their problem. And mastering the art of understanding how to bridge problems with solutions will help you uncover multiple offers, each of which can be pitched to your clients at different price points. This makes it so you can compete against yourself — Offer A vs. Offer B — instead of competing against the world.
My proposals end up becoming long-form sales letters for one: the client whose business I want.
And my clients aren't just receiving a list of instructions with a price tag that can be later shopped around to the lowest bidder. They're getting a letter from someone who has a deep understanding of their business and their needs and has a plan for making things better.