Signing new projects from cold leads can be a difficult skill to master. Make no bones about it, whether you’re a fresh face to the industry or a seasoned veteran signing new projects and keeping the flow of work, well, flowing is a top priority for freelancers and consultants.
One way to increase your chances of closing more sales is to offer a free 30-minute consultation. Just about everyone does these days and with good reason. You’ve got a live one on the line and all you have to do is reel it in.
If it were only that easy…
Here’s the thing, when speaking with prospects most freelancers stumble before they even leave the starting gate. Nerves kick in, you talk too fast, ramble or forget to ask important questions. Long story short, you come off looking like an amateur. Let me be clear, a process for your 30-minute consultations is as important, if not more important, than anything else you do as a freelancer. It can be the difference between steady work and not making your rent payment.
Believe me, I’d know.
Before developing my process, I’d enter a consultation with a few boilerplate questions at the ready. But, there wasn’t much forethought and little consideration as to why I was asking the questions in the first place. Biggest mistake of all, I’d often start by talking about my company and the awesome services we provide. It rarely resulted in me closing a deal. I’d think to myself “they contacted me, don’t they want to know about how great we are? Won’t that convince them to purchase my services.” I had a lot to learn about business. Sure, I’d still close the odd project but it always seemed random and I wanted to fix that.
Luckily, I found a better way and have reaped the rewards of a simple, yet actionable consultation process. I’d like to walk you through my new approach to the 30-minute consultation.
Start by Defining Your Objectives
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Maybe, but I admit it was something that took me a long time to figure out.
I didn’t know what to ask because I didn’t have a goal for the meeting. Sure, I wanted the project, but I didn’t know how to bridge the gap between the consultation and inking a deal. Defining my objectives crystallized things and made the process much easier.
When I finally broke things down, I discovered that I had a few items I needed to account for – it wasn’t simply a vague goal to “sign the project”. This was likely why I felt so unprepared.
Here’s how I now approach it:
- Find the prospect’s pain point
- Acknowledge that I can sooth their pain point with one of my service offerings
- Explain what makes my team and I unique
- Collect the details that will form the foundation of the proposal
That’s it! I knew if I could satisfy this list I would be able to increase my closing rate. It has been a few months now since I made the transition and the results have been nothing short of outstanding. Not only have I increased my closing rates, but I’ve also increased my average profit per project. Not bad.
Let’s explore each point in more detail.
Finding The Pain Point
A wise person once told me people want pain killers, not vitamins.
If you can find the thing that really irks a person, you’ll be well on your way to signing a new client. A person’s pain point is simple – it’s the thing that keeps him or her up at night.
I run a small search marketing company and in my line of work a pain point can take several different forms.
- Our competitors outrank our website on Google
- We’re spending too much money on Google Adwords
- We’ve been working with an SEO agency for six months without results
- We’re losing customers because our website isn’t mobile-friendly
- We are having difficulty targeting people in a specific geographic area
Whatever the pain point, your job is to find it and provide the pain killer.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Great but how the heck do I find a person’s pain point?”
A great way to maneuver in the consultation is by asking open-ended questions that give the person an opportunity to say what’s on his or her mind. Here are a few I’ve found really effective:
- What challenges is your business facing?
- Tell me a little bit about why you contacted me.
- Who are your main competitors and what are they doing differently?
What comes next is usually a barrage of information.
Steer away from closed-ended questions such as:
- Are you running an SEO campaign?
- Have you run an SEO campaign in the past?
- Are leads important to your business?
These questions result in yes or no answers but provide little additional insight for you to go on.
Acknowledge That You Can Solve The Problem
By this point you should have a solid understanding of the person’s pain point – now’s the time to sooth the burn.
Your goal in this stage is to describe your service offering in terms of how they can resolve the person’s problem. Let’s look at an example:
Prospect (Bill): “We just spent a fortune building a new website with a hot shot designer, only to discover that no one is visiting our website. We wanted it to be a sales tool but it hasn’t attracted a single new customers. It’s just not working for us.”
Me: “I’m confident we can help you, Bill. We work with businesses just like yours to drive targeted traffic to their websites with SEO and Google Adwords. It results in a steady stream of hot new prospects and should really get your phone ringing.”
Simple, right? Nowhere did I discuss the Search Engine Optimization process, I simply addressed the prospect’s concern and provided a solution.
What if you can’t solve the problem or the client isn’t a fit?
This can happen for a number of reasons. You may be too busy at the moment to take on their project. What the prospect is asking for may fall outside of your skill set. Or, more likely, the prospect doesn’t have the budget to hire you at your current rate.
When you are faced with this challenge, my recommendation is to still attempt to provide value, even though you are unlikely to see any immediate financial gain. For example, if you are too busy for the project you might recommend the client to one of your friends or colleagues. If budget is the issue, you can point them to free resources or freelance platforms such as Upwork or Freelancer.com.
Going the extra mile for a person may sound like additional work, but reciprocation is a powerful force in the business community. The extra 10-15 minutes you spend pointing a person in the right direction could result in them recommending you to their money-bags friends, or following up with you in the future when they have a project that’s a better fit.
Explain What Makes You Unique
Okay, now it’s time to shift gears. You’ve established that you can solve the client’s pain point – now’s your opportunity to discuss what really makes you unique.
You may need to tailor your approach based on where the lead came from. For example, if someone contacts you after reading one of your articles, you’re likely already positioned as an expert. After all, only an expert could publish something so awesome!
However, if someone pulled your name off of an online job board, you may be a commodity they’re comparing to 10 other freelancers with a similar skill set.
Let’s assume for the moment that it’s a cold lead . . .
A person found your business online and they contacted you through a form on your website. The prospect is interviewing a few freelancers for the same project. What’s next?
- Establish Trust: Start by establishing trust. If people trust you, they’re more likely to hire you. Trust can come in many different forms such as discussing testimonials from similar businesses, case studies from past clients, relevant products, and certifications.
- Highlight 3 or 4 items that make you unique: According to Digital Galaxy people are only able to remember a maximum of 4 items at a time. In short, spewing a laundry list of “Here’s why we’re awesome” isn’t going to have the desired effect, because the prospect is unlikely to remember all your key points. Keep it simple, keep it short and make an impact.
- Focus on the “big four”: Price, Scarcity, Commitment, and Authority. These are key psychological triggers for any purchase.
- Price: Price is relative to the perceived value of the service you provide. If you can increase your perceived value, price is less of a concern.
- Scarcity: Scarcity is simply the accessibility of your services. A great example is web designer Paul Jarvis, on the home page of his website it reads “currently booked until September 2015”. It’s June . . . if he’s booked that far in advance, he must be awesome, right?
- Commitment: Commitment is best summarized as the length of your contracts. Long ago, I switched from a six-month minimum contract to a month-to-month contract for our recurring Adwords and SEO projects. It reduced the barrier to hiring me by creating a service offering that could be canceled at any time. What is interesting to note is that the average length of my engagements increased after I made the change. I’ll explain why in another article.
- Authority: We discussed authority briefly in the point on establishing trust, but I thought it worth a second mention. People follow experts. Attempt to position yourself as an authority through the projects you’ve completed, and the content you’ve published.
Collect The Necessary Details
Proposals come in many different shapes and sizes. I tend to keep mine short and sweet. I don’t think I’ve written one in the last three years that has been longer than seven pages.
At this point in the consultation you’re really just collecting the information you need to receive a “yes” from your prospect. A proposal shouldn’t do any selling; it should simply outline the items you’ve already agreed upon.
Collect administrative details
Boring, yes. Necessary, absolutely. If you want to look like a pro and have your proposals accepted, you need to collect some administrative details. I collect any basic contact details I haven’t already collected during the first point of contact. I have a list of items I know I need to have prior to submitting the proposal. They include: Person’s Name, Business Name, Telephone Number, Email, Website and Business Address.
The situational analysis is an overview of where things stand. If you’ve been paying attention and have diligently sifted through the facts to discover your prospect’s pain point, you should already have this info. I basically reiterate what the prospect has told me. I don’t bundle it in terminology or jargon. I serve it straight up; in black and white.
Find out when the prospect would like to have the project started and, ideally, completed. I take note of the timeline and include it as a line item in my proposals.
Uncovering a budget from a person can be tricky and requires its own strategy. Over the years, I’ve taken a liking to the “guns-a-blazing” approach. I ask outright if the prospect has a budget allocated for the project. If the answer is no, I take a minute to educate him or her on my pricing. If the answer is yes, I take note of this fact for reference.
Two things to keep in mind:
- Just because a person provides a budget doesn’t mean your fees need to hit that number. I use a prospect’s budget more to set expectations, as opposed to a financial limit written in stone.
- If a person’s budget is truly too low to afford your services, you’re usually well served to make a recommendation to a service, resource or another freelancer that can help with their project.
Measure of Results
What does the prospect see as success? In the example we’ve been using, it could be 10 new customers a week or an extra $5,000 per month in revenue. Capture the prospect’s measure of results and you’ll be in agreement as to what they’re hoping to accomplish by hiring you.
A Few Final Tips for Rocking Your 30-Minute Consults
Don’t underestimate the power of The “Liking” Principle
If people like you, they are more likely to buy from you. The act of liking, it turns out, is a dangerously powerful psychological trigger.
After consulting for a few years, I discovered something interesting. When pitching clients, I could completely bungle my presentation; however, if before starting I focused on making the prospect like me, I stood a really good chance of being hired. In fact, it became a cardinal rule for me in pitching. Focus on getting the prospect to like you and everything else will fall into place.
Remember the person’s name
I guarantee this simple rule has generated me thousands of dollars in additional sales. When you go into the consultation, the most important thing to remember is the person’s name. Use it frequently; use it whenever you address the person.
As Dale Carnegie wrote in his groundbreaking book How to Win Friends and Influence People,
‘Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.’
Developing a winning 30-minute consultation process can be the icing on the cake to any onboarding process. Focus on developing a process that works for your industry and jives with your proposals. In no time at all you’ll be a freelancing rock star.