The only way to sell design

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September 13, 2016
The only way to sell design.
Clients drag their feet. You know they need a designer. They know they need a designer. It’s something you both have discussed, so why are they hesitating? You’ve been negotiating with them for almost a month and still no deal. You’re exhausted. You’re tired of dealing with them and they’re not even a client yet! And then it gets worse. They tell you they’re talking to six other designers. Your prospective client is using the information you give them as leverage. “I just want to make sure I get the best deal”, they tell you, as they drive the knife deeper. They’re treating you like a commodity. You’re a professional and you’re amazing at what you do. That’s why they’re considering you. They’re not trying to cause trouble, but that’s exactly what you’re getting. You’re drained but they want to “negotiate” some more. Sound familiar?

Clients freeze when it’s time to sign

When they’re stalling, it feels like they’ll never buy. Or if they do, that they’ll demand a discount. But why? Why is it so hard for them to make a decision? Stalling is a natural part of the buying process. When it’s time to make a commitment, our fears and objections flair up. There’s questions to answer, risks to avoid, uniqueness to share, etc. You want them to say “Yes” quickly. Here’s the bad news. That won’t happen unless you have the right ingredients in your freelance business. These ingredients set the tone for your relationship with clients. It tells them who you are, what you’re about and what they should expect. When you have the right ingredients, clients will:
  • Approach with the right attitude. You’re viewed as a capable professional and you’re treated as an equal.
  • Commit quickly. They don’t want to miss out on the valuable things you provide.
  • Pay immediately. They quickly realize they’ll have to do their part to keep the relationship going.
  • Behave honorably. They realize they need you more than you need them.
These ingredients create intense desire in your client. Here’s the thing about the “right” ingredients, they’re determined by your client.

Getting clients to buy begins with whom?

So who are they? There’s a world of difference between the client who spends $2,500 dollars on their project versus the client who spends $25,000 or $250,000. Their mindsets are different. They have their own values. Oftentimes, they’re from different social classes. Which means you can’t approach them all the same way. The obvious question at this point is “whom?” Whom do you focus your attention on? What do you say to them?

Step 1: Choose your ideal client

Do you prefer to work with fewer clients who have larger projects? Or do you prefer variety, working with lots of clients on small, easy-to-complete projects? You’ll need to choose the kind of projects you’re looking for ahead of time so you can plan your approach. Next, you’ll need to identify the demographics and psychographics. Is your ideal client a small one-person business? A startup looking for something affordable? Or the small business with 25 to 50 employees and $3 million dollars in annual sales? Clarity and specificity are important here. Your answers to the who question directly affects the client you’ll receive later. Know who you want? Good, take some time to…

Step 2: Learn who you’re dealing with

What do your clients want? What’s their goal? Are they coming into the relationship with objections, hang ups or dysfunctions? What social class are they in? Upper class clients tend to focus on presentation and tradition. Middle class clients use quality as an important benchmark. Working class clients will focus on things like ownership and control. Learn everything you can about your ideal client. Figure out where they spend their time, whether they’re online or offline. Learn about the brands they follow, the games they play, the books they read, etc. You want to drill deep, getting an up close and intimate view of their culture.

Step 3: Feed their culture back to them

Let’s say you’re selling to business owners. Your research tells you you’re looking for a client who:
  • has a working class background.
  • has a decent sized vocabulary.
  • is a hardcore utilitarian.
  • wants his company to look bigger than it really is.
You know your ideal client has a chip on their shoulder. They’re focused almost entirely on results. They’re utilitarians so anything they do has to have a payoff. You also know a whole lot about their problems and the things they’re looking for in a designer. So you feed their desires, goals, fears, frustrations — all of it — back to them in your marketing. You know where they spend their time so you advertise there, which immediately grabs their attention. As soon as your ideal clients see your marketing materials they take action. They contact you and they reach out for more information. It’s great news but it’s really just the beginning. You’ve covered the basics, so you’re ready to…

Step 4: Add your secret ingredients

If your marketing has done its job, you’ve presented yourself well. You’ve answered each of your customer’s questions and objections. You’ve discovered the risk factors that would keep them from buying. If you’re still seeing negative emotions (e.g. fear, distrust, nervousness) or, clients continue to react negatively to your marketing, there’s a hole somewhere. Find the hole first. Using these secret ingredients before you’re ready has the opposite effect, pushing clients away before they’re ready to buy. You’re ready for the secret ingredients.
  • Authority. What makes you an expert on the topic? Why should business owners listen to you?
  • Urgency. Why should clients act now, today?
  • Scarcity. How do you show clients the demand for you exceeds supply?
  • Safety. Is it safe for me to work with you? Can I be vulnerable with you? Will you hurt me?
  • Ease of use. How easy is it to get started? What do I need to do?
Let’s take a look at each of these ingredients.

Ingredient 1: Authority

Authority increases your perceived value dramatically. As people, we want the best our money can buy. Authority is an easy way for people to establish hierarchy. Let’s look at how Matt and Jason, two knowledgeable and experienced web designers, convey authority. Jason:
  • tells clients he’s an expert;
  • posts his portfolio on Behance;
  • shares client reviews;
  • brags about his upwork profile rank.
Matt, on the other hand:
  • creates a free design rating tool. He promotes his tool and it becomes popular;
  • writes amazing content for Webdesigner Depot, A List Apart, SitePoint, etc;
  • develops a design planning checklist for entrepreneurs looking to redesign their site;
  • creates award winning, high performance designs for top shelf clients.
If you’re an inexperienced client, who would you choose? Exactly. When I first learned about authority I was depressed. How am I supposed to become an authority? The answer is simple. Find a problem, then solve it. You can do this with code or content. You can write blog posts, create helpful tools and resources, anything. Solve a problem. Then, tell every ideal customer you can find about it. Solve a problem, create a little leverage and presto! You’ve created authority.

Ingredient 2: Urgency

Urgency, when it’s applied properly, motivates a client to take action quickly. Could be a week, few days, or a few hours. The time-frame isn’t the tricky part. It’s the incentive. Clients need an incentive that motivates them to act fast. When it comes to urgency, there are two kinds of incentives: pain and pleasure. Infomercials do a great job with pleasure. “Order in the next 12 minutes and you’ll receive another rotochopper, ABSOLUTELY FREE!” If you’re in the market for a rotochopper, you’re beyond excited. You’re going to rush to your phone. And then there’s pain. “This offer’s going away. It’ll be gone in the next 12 minutes, so you’ll want to act fast. Don’t miss out on this amazing deal.” Create the right kind of urgency and your response rates go through the roof.

Ingredient 3: Scarcity

Most designers don’t know their value. They approach clients with a needy mindset, treating themselves as ordinary, like this: “I’d love to talk with you. I’d be happy to work with you on your next design project. Feel free to get in touch if you’re interested as well.” These kinds of approaches are unbelievably common. But they’re problematic; they tell clients you’re needy, that they have the upper hand (even if they don’t). Now compare that with a response like this: “Interested in working with me? I have 2 client slots left this month. I only take on 8 projects at a time. Here are the projects I accept.” Whoa. Completely different feeling isn’t it? Clients walk away with the feeling “this designer is in demand. They’re on top of things.” That’s the power of scarcity at work. But there’s a problem, the scarcity thing feels… sleazy. People abuse it, creating scarcity when there isn’t any. Have you run into that before? It’s pretty gross right? Your scarcity won’t be sleazy and it isn’t false. How do I know? Time. You have the same amount of time as the rest of us. And you have to decide how you’ll spend it. So you decide ahead of time, e.g. I want to make X amount per project and I only want Y projects per week. Then, you set that boundary or limit with clients, instantly creating scarcity.

Ingredient 4: Safety

We designers have a bad habit. We make clients feel stupid. Sometimes it’s an accident, other times not so much. Just sayin’. Most professionals (attorneys, accountants, engineers, etc.) make this mistake too. It’s an incredibly easy mistake to make when you’re good at something. But that simple mistake creates a lot of negative feelings: Shame, embarrassment, humiliation, etc. Those feelings make clients feel unsafe. But here’s the thing, you’re going to miss some of these mistakes. If clients feel ashamed they don’t want to talk. They want to hide. Kind of hard to sell to a client you can’t find though isn’t it? So what are you supposed to do? It’s not like you can get clients to tell you if you’ve screwed up. But you’ll lose them if they don’t. What to do? It’s simple. You set the tone of the relationship right at the beginning, like this: Hey Abby,
I just want you to know, any question is okay. If you’re unsure about anything it’s a good idea to ask. The last thing I want is for you to feel stupid or afraid to talk.
So I’ll make you a deal. Any question about our work together is fair game?
Deal? Create a safe zone for clients. That’s what matters. How you do it is up to you.

Ingredient 5: Ease of use

Forcing clients to go through a boring, convoluted process is the worst. Don’t make it hard for them to contact you. Don’t make it hard for them to give you money. Treat “ease of use” like the volume dial on your radio. Convenient enough to attract lots of the right clients, but difficult enough to discourage the wrong ones. Test things often, adjusting the dial until your marketing attracts the kind of ideal clients you’re looking for. These secret ingredients, when they’re used together, get clients to buy much faster. If you’ve dealt with the other problems I shared earlier, the response is even more dramatic. What if you do all this and they refuse to buy? It means there’s a missing piece in your marketing. Could be your presentation, your uniqueness, could be something else. At that point you need some help. So you ask for it. You need to find out why clients didn’t buy. So you send them an email with an anonymous one question survey. Your email could look like this: Hey Steve,
I noticed that our communication dropped off a bit. Seems like you went in a different direction, which is totally cool.
Would you help us out and tell us why?
Was it the price or the offer? Too high?
Just bad timing?
Or maybe something else? I’m not trying to sell you anything. I just want to be more helpful to others in the future. Would you share your thoughts on how I can be better?
Andrew McDermott

Clients always drag their feet

… if we’re missing the right ingredients. They stall, haggle and complain. They push for incentives and discounts. All of that goes away when you have the ingredients they need. You can give them the right ingredients. With a little bit of effort and the right amount of preparation, you can attract amazing clients. The kind of clients who jump at the chance to work with you. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it isn’t a long, drawn-out effort. But it does require commitment. Do what it takes, and you’ll have the financial stability and all-star clients you need. No hesitation necessary.

Andrew McDermott

Andrew McDermott is the co-founder of Want an unlimited supply of free leads for your freelance business? Download your copy of The Dragnet Method.

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