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We are going to take the part of your business that is most frustrating to you, or feels “impossible” and by walking it through the following four steps you will find tangible ways to do something about it and possibly even turn it in to a unique advantage you have over competitors.
1.Identify your biggest client frustrations.
What are your biggest client grievances? Write a few of the worst ones down. I gave you some personal and popular complaints at the beginning of the article, but the more personal these issues are for you the more fruitful the exercise will be for your business. So, think of aspects of your work that you tolerate but find unacceptable. Parts of the process that feel out of your control and that you wish you could do something about. Dig deep and get mad. I’m giving you permission here to complain freely about your business and industry, let it fly!
- Test the belief.
Next, take the problem you most want to change. Make sure that it is phrased as a belief and then write out the opposite next to it. For example: ‘Clients don’t pay in full upfront” becomes or “Clients DO pay in full upfront” and “You can’t win business without free custom proposals” becomes “You CAN win business with paid proposals.” Even if the new phrasing doesn’t make you feel like you can achieve it, you can no longer deny that there are indeed businesses and entrepreneurs who are doing these things, even in your industry.
Acknowledging that your beliefs are not set in stone is a crucial step. Believing your business limitations are real and unmovable is blurring your vision and sucking up all the mental energy you need for the next, more difficult step of actually doing something about it.
- Once you have entertained that this grievance is not true, look for ways to change it.
A client of mine, Mara, owner of Hotcakes Brand—a company that brands restaurants and quick service businesses looking to grow or franchise—recently said to me, “I’m having a hard time explaining why someone should pay me to write a proposal when the other people they are speaking to are all willing to write them a proposal for free. How do I justify that they have to pay me for something my competitors are doing for free?”
Anyone who is a creative freelancer can relate to this problem, especially if they’ve considered trying to get “paid to pitch.” Nobody likes doing all the free work that goes into the seemingly necessary, but dreaded ‘Request For Proposal’ (RFP), but most freelancers see it as an unfortunate requirement of the pitching process.
In this case, the change is clear, but not easy: to stop believing that no one will pay you for the pitch process. They have. They will. I see it all the time. One of my favorite reads, “The Win Without Pitching Manifesto,” goes much deeper into the paid RFP pitch process if that is your struggle.
So, let’s call RFP’s what they really are: sales pitches we do for free to try and win business.
If you have the belief that no one will pay you for a proposal, like many creative freelancers do, the semantics are probably what’s tripping you up. It’s a safe bet to say that I, nor anyone else, would ever want to pay someone to convince us to hire them, or to “pitch their proposal”. Just like nobody “attends a seminar” just because they love seminars themselves or “signs up for a newsletter” because they like newsletters. People only pay for the value that thing gives them! And “pitches” and “proposals” do not provide clients with any value other than helping them make their decision of who to hire, which is definitely not worth paying for.
If you don’t think something you are doing for a client has real value then why would they? You’ll never be able to explain its value or why it’s worth money because you don’t think it’s worth money.
Now you have something you can work on.
What is it that you do for the client in your RFP process that actually IS worth paying for? Do you give them clarity on their business problems? Do you give any implementation suggestions or advice? Can they use your write up for anything at all or is it just a pitch? You may be purposefully withholding all your value until they hire you, but this is good to notice so you can stop thinking you ought to get paid to pitch which we can all agree is something none of us want to pay for.
In this case, I asked Mara, is there anyone you know of who gets paid to pitch? She said, “No, but there are people like you who are getting paid for discovery work that also acts as a proposal.”
At this point, we know (1) Mara had a belief that her discovery work was just a pitch, and (2) nobody would pay her for that discovery work. That belief has been tested and crushed. Yes, nobody is paying for pitches. But there are examples of people selling valuable discovery work without having to write a proposal first (myself and many of my clients included).
Once she could see that of course some people are getting “paid to pitch” by actually giving something of value, she realized she isn’t clear about the value she can provide. And she also doesn’t know how to explain why it’s worth money.
You should be asking yourself: is my first step worth money? And do I believe it’s worth money?
- Find your value.
To figure out the answers to the two questions above, list what value you provide in the first step of your process for prospective clients. This will help you identify concrete and proactive steps to overcome something you originally thought was impossible to achieve.
Mara found value in an unexpected way. She was having a conversation with her colleague John who was asking for advice on how to pitch a restaurant on copy services. Mara gave all kinds of insights specific to their shared industry, and suggested topics John should bring up to help further demonstrate his expertise in the field. By the end of the conversation, she fully realized how valuable her information really was if someone in her shared industry didn’t know all of this.
This is when Mara also realized that she isn’t actually charging for a “pitch,” but selling something valuable—a plan for implementation—which serves as a proposal for next steps.
As someone who works with experts, I see this a lot. They know so much about their industry that they don’t realize how little their potential clients know or how valuable their initial insights really are. They take their knowledge for granted.
Things that feel elementary to you—why you would use one platform over another, website needs based on the volume of sales, or branding needs based on business goals (and not just “whether they liked how it looks”)—are all very high-value insights most branders, designers and web developers take for granted.
But once you internalize these ideas, you can finally get out of your own way.
But Wait, There’s More!
Now that you’ve reframed your idea of what you are selling (and what is possible!) and have crafted and articulated a product offering you believe in, you have to double down on your own intentions.
No matter how valuable I know my Brandshrink is, some people still won’t buy it. Some will always want to go through the old and laborious process of asking for lots of free proposals from numerous agencies, evaluating all the pitches, focus grouping friends and family members for their opinions and negotiating on the price, etc… all to find the “right” company to hire.
The double down on your end is to realize that those people are not your ideal clients!
Not because there is something inherently wrong with them, but because they are looking to go through a process you already know is a waste of time and money.
Instead of spending your time writing up a custom proposal with relevant examples, now you’re able to focus on the next person who may be a perfect fit for your business and is ready to start investing and seeing results immediately. (And if you need help figuring out where you should focus your brand to differentiate from the competition, and in the meantime find those pesky assumptions holding you back, download and fill out our Mini-Brandshrink here.)
When you feel stuck and like you don’t know what to do next, you’re often believing something is impossible (in this case “getting paid to pitch”). It closes you off from finding the very value that will push your business forward. Moving past it requires identifying what the belief is, testing it in the real world, identifying a real goal, and then putting a plan of action in place to get it.
It’s not impossible, it’s just not easy. Now you don’t have any more excuses.