The Best Sales Pitch Tips From Veteran Freelancers

Life's a pitch, so the saying goes (well, nearly). When you're a freelancer, your lifeblood is winning work from clients. And that means preparing pitches and proposals.

We've scoured cyberspace for the best pitching advice we could get our hands on. In doing so, we've collected tips from freelance veterans across the board – including designers, writers, photographers, and consultants.

The tips vary. Some are focused on in-person pitching, others on written proposals. Our view is that pitching is pitching – whether it's via email, over Skype, or face-to-face. Knowing how other freelancers pitch clients – even in different mediums – can improve your own pitching process.

Not all of the advice is consistent. That's deliberate. Every freelancer is different. We want you to find what works for your freelance business.

Now that you know what to expect, let's dig into the tips.

Marcus Lillington: Pitch to the Brief

Marcus Lillington is a business consultant and co-founder of the UK-based web agency Headscape. His top pitching tip is to pitch to the brief:

[P]robably the most important aspect of any proposal is that you respond fully to the brief. In other words, don’t ignore the bits that either don’t make sense to you or you think irrelevant. If something is questionable, cover it and explain why you don’t think it is something that warrants inclusion in the project.

Lillington's business partner, Paul Boag, adds that building a relationship with a potential client is vital to preparing a successful pitch:

[We] almost always ring up a client before we get to even writing the proposal stage and that’s where the relationship starts to get built... I think the relationship is a crucial component because, let’s face it, to create a successful website there needs to be good working relationship between the client and the agency

Marcus Lillington, Charm Clients, Win Pitches and Paul Boag, Skills, maintenance and proposals.

Follow Marcus on Twitter here

Follow Paul on Twitter here

Carol Tice: Make Initial Contact on Twitter

Seattle-based freelance writer Carol Tice earns a six-figure income writing for publications including the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. She blogs at Make a Living Writing.

One of her top tips is to reach out to potential clients on Twitter to find out who to pitch. This is a great way of giving your initial query the best chance of getting a response, and it establishes a relationship before you submit your pitch.

When you find a publication, ask (on Twitter), “Are you the right person to pitch for this type of story?” This is a low obligation, low stress question that editors can answer. Usually, you’ll get a response saying, “No, it’s really this person you need.” or “Yes, it’s me.” I sent three ideas to an editor on Twitter, who assigned them all. It was the beginning of a contract for work.

Carol also recommends striking when the iron is hot. Once you've landed an assignment, complete it to the best of your ability, then pitch the client again. In Carol's own words:

You pitch, get the assignment, turn it in, pitch again. You’re starting online relationships. Kill that first assignment, and it’s the start of a beautiful friendship that can work for you for years.

Carol Tice, interviewed in 20 Questions Answered by Carol Tice.

Follow Carol on Twitter here

Chase Jarvis: Offer Something Unique

Chase Jarvis is a photographer and director who has won a "boatload" of awards. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and in the LA Times, as well as on The Discovery Channel and NBC.

Chase's top tip is to wow potential clients with a unique offering:

You have to take a picture that no one else can take, and that [your prospect] hasn't seen again and again and again. The mantra is: Don't be better, be different.

This positions you as a unique "prize." You're the only one who can offer what you have. Chase again:

See yourself as the prize. When you're creating work that's meaningful to you, you've looked inside and said "this is the kind of work that I want to create." You're going to go out there and you're going to shoot work that's meaningful to you. If you've put your blood, sweat and tears into it, then you believe that what you've created is of value. Once you realize that there is only one of these pieces of work in the world, then you see its value, and conveying that value is important.

Chase Jarvis, Chase Jarvis Live. Quotes from here and here.

Follow Chase on Twitter here

Brennan Dunn: Stand Firm on Your Rate

Brennan Dunn is a business consultant-turned-product developer. He's also the author of Double Your Freelancing Rate in 14 Days.

Brennan's advice is to avoid negotiating on your rate. Here's his insight:

Because I work — both directly and through osmosis — with literally thousands of freelancers, I can tell you it’s pretty rare to find a client who walks because they can’t score a last minute discount on a project.

Also, this is the surest way to degrade your professionalism. Professionals hold fast to their prices; amateurs don’t. If your goal is to build the best damn company in the world... then never, ever lower your standards.

And if the client still wants to negotiate? Then do this:

Never negotiate on rate. Negotiate on scope (i.e., what you’re going to do.) If the math doesn’t work out with what they want to do and the budget they have to do it, do less. Never let your client dictate the scope and the cost of an engagement.

Brennan Dunn, Never Negotiate Your Freelance Rate.

Follow Brennan on Twitter here

Lexi Rodrigo: Remember, You're Still Selling

Lexi Rodrigo is a freelance copywriter and blogs at The Savvy Freelancer. Her top tip? Remember that you're still trying to win the sale when you write a proposal.

[Y]ou should consider your proposal to be a marketing piece. You’re still selling your services to the prospect. Don’t think that “the cat is in the bag.”

If you’ve done a similar project for another client, briefly describe the results that client achieved with your help.

Lexi Rodrigo, Project Proposal Mistakes That Can Cost You Clients.

Follow Lexi on Twitter here

Brian McDaniel: Use a Template

Brian McDaniel is the founder of web and graphic design studio bkmacdaddy designs. Brian advises having a proposal template to save time when you're writing proposals. Using a template also ensures you don't forget anything that should be included with every proposal. Here's Brian:

The proposals I write follow a standard format, itemizing each element of the project and the amount of hours I estimate it will take, along with the corresponding price. I use a standard contract that I adjust as needed for the specific project.

Brian McDaniel, My Secrets To Successful Client Relationships As A Freelance Designer.

Follow Brian on Twitter here

Thursday Bram: Do Your Research

Thursday Bram is a freelance writer and entrepreneur. Her client list includes CNET, GigaOm, and Lifehack. Thursday's top tip for proposal writing is doing background research into potential clients, so you know exactly what they need.

Do some serious research into any client that you’re writing a proposal for. It’s not uncommon for a freelancer to have a meeting with a prospective client before creating a proposal, but you may want to go a step beyond that. Doing some research into the client’s competition, industry and other specific concerns can help you address them in your proposal.

Your clients are generally coming to you with specific problems that they need fixed. At the most basic level, a proposal is a suggestion on how to fix a problem. But that doesn’t mean that you should just stick to the problem the client tells you about. Doing that extra research will tell you if there’s another step that will really benefit a client and let you stand out from your competition.

Thursday Bram, The Freelancer's Guide to Writing Proposals.

Follow Thursday on Twitter here

Gregory Ciotti: Pitch Results

Gregory Ciotti is a freelance writer and author of the behavioral psychology blog Sparring Mind. For Gregory, it's important to focus on the outcome the client wants from your work (e.g. more sales, traffic, etc.) rather than the details of the service you offer.

Your proposal does need to outline ‘the goods’, but remember that it’s critically important to focus on the outcome rather than spending too much time on the process.

Sell results, and craft your proposal around ideas they ‘get’ and concepts they care about.

Gregory Ciotti, 5 Ways to Create Persuasive Freelance Proposals.

Follow Gregory on Twitter here

Mridu Khullar Relph: Offer Great Ideas

Mridu Khullar Relph is an India-based, award-winning journalist. Her work has been featured in Elle, Marie Claire, Vogue, and Glamour. For her, it's what you pitch that's key.

Coming up with unique ideas? That’s part of your job and it’s something editors love to see in writers. So go and get comfortable with the act of finding good stories and telling your editors why they need to be told. Because no matter whether you’re a new writer working on your first query letter or someone with decades of experience, that’s one thing you’re always going to have to do.

Mridu Khullar Relph, Do Experienced Writers Still Have to Write Queries?.

Follow Mridu on Twitter here

Jonathan Wold: Stop Writing Proposals

Jonathan Wold is programmer and WordPress geek and project leader at web development company Sabramedia. His take on proposals is to stop writing them altogether – and to offer paid project evaluations instead.

A few years back, we decided to try something new. A potential client approached us and rather than preparing another project proposal, we offered the client what we now call a “Project Evaluation.” We charged them a fixed price for which we promised to evaluate the project, in all of our areas of expertise, and give them our recommendations.

They agreed, paid the price, and we set out to deliver.

That project became a game changer for us, starting an on-going relationship that opened doors into a new market. It was the process of the evaluation itself that brought the new market potential to our attention, and gave us the opportunity to develop this business model. It was a definite win, and one that a project proposal couldn’t have delivered.

Jonathan Wold, Stop Writing Project Proposals.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter here

Did You Find These Tips Helpful?

If you found any of these tips helpful, why not say thank you? Drop the person who gave your favorite tip a note of gratitude on Twitter.

What is your top advice on pitching and proposals? Please share in the comments below.

Written by David Masters

David Masters helps businesses find their sweet spot of creativity, productivity and making money. He's been earning his bread as an online business writer since 2008.

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