Dani Egna rolls into every pitch meeting, including those with buyers for the biggest fashion retailers in the country, with a portable tattoo cart. The rig is almost like a mini tattoo parlor, as she describes it, only without the gun and permanent inks, because this 25-year-old artist/entrepreneur specializes in temporary tattoos. Yet though her product may be temporary, her designs and the way she pitches them leave a lasting impression on potential clients. Enough of one to get INKED By Dani everywhere from Bloomingdale’s to Nasty Gal to Urban Outfitters.
It’s a risky approach for sure, to bring an entire cartload of your work into a meeting along with you. To say, “Just showing two or three of my best works is not enough. I am going to show you a hundred, and then affix your favorite one onto your forearm.” But, you don’t need to go that far in the new business quest. You really only need to be a bit risky with pitches in order to gain attention and new business. Reason being, most people are unwilling to take any risks at all.
We all know the obvious things you don’t need to be afraid of:
- Don’t wait forever to pitch a longtime friend who just got a job somewhere that could be an ideal client for you.
- Don’t tuck your tail and sneak away after your first two outreach attempts to a big company have been ignored.
- Do not be too “old school” for social media outreach.
- And for heaven’s sake, if you bother going to mixers and other events, do not spend the whole time in one corner talking to your spouse.
But if you’ve mostly got those down, there are other risker tactics you can try and see if they attract new clients to you. Here are a few from successful freelancers who take a bold approach, look toward the future, reel in potential new clients without pitching them, and find businesses that actually have the money to pay their fees.
Successful freelancers share bolder tactics to win clients
1. Always look forward.
We’ve all heard some variation of “look to the future, don’t dwell on the past.” But it’s one of the hardest things to follow, especially if you’re pretty sure you burned a bridge in the process of leaving an uncomfortable situation (i.e., you didn’t get along with a staffer, or you refused to sign a new freelancer contract due to restrictive clauses). But many of us magnify a burned-bridge situation in hindsight, in our minds. You really can’t be sure whether a former client bears a grudge after a breakup, or if they didn’t think much of it, or even sympathized with your position — till you approach them under new circumstances.
UPOD Academy founder and uber-freelancer David Hochman recently lived out the best-case scenario of this optimistic ethos, somewhat to his surprise. A former client who had “kinda-sorta fired” him over a rate dispute ended up going to a higher-paying place — and he cheerfully approached, with internal trepidation, but without reminding the client of the past.
“It was uncomfortable for me going back to the well — whistle, whistle, whistle — like nothing had ever happened,” he says.
The new company wound up being his biggest client of the year.
2. Elevate them to your standards of conduct.
The new breed of business coaches has glutted social media with motivational quotes about “knowing your worth” and surrounding yourself with excellence. But former big agency employee and longtime successful consultant Dave Fluegge has a more classic approach that’s very simple.
Remember the “No A$$holes” rule that so many people claim to prioritize in business partners? Dave actually verbalizes it, along with putting a potential client on notice from the very beginning that if they show any a$$hole behaviors at any point, they’ll be fired. Doesn’t matter how much they’re paying, or how much they protest that they didn’t realize what they were doing.
“I have worked for too many agencies and I understand the game: They would constantly ask something while also promising that they were not trying to be a pain,” he remembers.
And then there are the more egregious clients, who yell, or play mind games, or outright abuse their partners. Dave has seen plenty — and has a zero-tolerance policy.
“I told them at the get-go that it was a privilege to work for me and that if they were looking for someone to kick around that I would fire them in the blink of an eye.”
Is this strategy going to lose you some clients? Probably yes. There are many people who have the attitude, “If I’m paying you, I create the rules of conduct. (And, I get to be an a$$hole.)” But there are also quite a high number of people who also dislike working with jerks, who value mutual respect and kindness in the workplace. Those clients will be happy to find a new colleague who has the same values.
3. Connect with top business incubators.
Many creatives love to work with startups, or at least in theory they do. The questing, risk-taking entrepreneurial spirit of founders is very similar to that of creative. The problem is, too many times you find out that the compensation package advertised on AngelList is nowhere near the real amount people want to pay. In fact, what they really want to pay is… just equity. Or they’ll pay for 3 months and then cut the creative budget by 90%.
Creatives who work with startups become jaded about this, and a lot burn out. But there may be a way to actually connect to a startup community wherein members have structure, funding, and a solid business plan. That way is to get into the trusted vendor network of a successful accelerator or incubator like TechStars.
With more than 40 chapters, each of which take 10 companies per cycle, TechStars is a national conduit to startups with support and real potential. And yes, each chapter does have its pool of trusted creative agencies and creative consultants that startups in the incubator are encouraged to call for branding, marketing, graphic design and more. So if you want to connect with the best startups, forge a relationship with incubators and investors who support them — and charge vendor rates.
4. Give a free intro class/workshop.
We’ve all seen the Facebook and LinkedIn ads from self-dubbed coaches and other experts selling free courses that wind up being MLM schemes (multi-level marketing schemes, aka pyramid schemes). I’m not suggesting this strategy.
Instead, think of it as a localized version of a public speaking engagement. Whatever your area of expertise, find a venue or group that draws people who may need your services to market their business. (e.g., chamber of commerce, local hotelier’s association, restaurant association, business improvement district).
Offer to do a free workshop teaching the members the fundamentals of your specialty — for example, “how to set up a blog in WordPress.” That information is valuable, but it’s only the first step. Once they’ve got a WordPress blog, how are they going to keep it updated with original, high-quality content? That’s where you offer them a multi-month service package — for your usual monthly retainer, of course.
5. Have a big opinion.
In the era of the hot take, there’s a type of writer who earns their living placing and penning whatever op-ed is the opposite of what went viral yesterday. But this approach is typically perceived to only work in certain arenas, like politics or social issues or dating/relationships. In other categories, especially advertiser-dependent lifestyle editorial or consumer marketing that needs to keep broad consumer appeal, most freelancers excel at not voicing a potentially controversial opinion. They learn to specialize in roundups that include a little bit of everything. They tell personal stories that end on an uplifting note. They even go so far as to make sure their personal social media accounts are pleasantly bland.
However, freelancer and podcaster Amanda Lauren absolutely favors coming in strong with a controversial opinion. It’s her tried-and-true tactic, for outreach or story topics or on-camera talking points. A recent intro letter to a new editor detailed why she thought a world-renowned designer was an overrated flash-in-the-pan. She got a column out of it. Pastel Christmas trees are the trend of the moment? Amanda’s on ‘GMA’ talking about the beauties of a black tree.
Granted, most people will not see any appeal in an inky-black Christmas tree, but Amanda’s objective is not to make everyone fall in love with a weird trend. It’s to stand out. And a black tree in a landscape of green trees definitely does.
“Pitch fearlessly,” she advises her fellow creatives. “People will judge you no matter what you think.”