I'll start my introduction by telling you what I'm not.
I am not the Dread Pirate Roberts.
I’m also not a Guru. Pundit. Visionary. Pioneer. Luminary. Thought Leader.
I’m just like you.
And now I want you to introduce yourselves. I want you to turn to your neighbor, say hello, and tell them what you’re really good at. Not work stuff. We’re all talked out about work stuff. Talk about the fun stuff. Amateur photography? Are you in a band? Are you a gardener? Do you bake awesome cookies? Trust me, they’ll remember this about you. Go ahead, just take a minute.
As I’ve said I'm here to talk about closing the deal. And closing the deal is the culmination of the negotiation process. I’ve negotiated with companies of all sizes. From large multinational companies with huge headquarters compounds and 70,000 full-time employees around the globe
To little 20-something-person companies in small suite in an office park. And it doesn't really matter how big they are, you still need to negotiate and close the deal.
I’m here to help us all close the gap. Because we've all been in the situation where we're this close to the project, we've cleared our calendars and... crickets.
This is how it feels sometimes. Where the heck are we going? And why isn’t anyone calling back? Which is why people ask me questions about closing the deal.
And people are asking about this moment, the literal moment where they sign the contract and we’re good to go. But for me, that’s like asking about the book tour before you’ve even written the first chapter of your novel. There's a lot that leads up to that moment, and we're going to talk about that today.
Like Vizzini says, when a job goes wrong, we go back to the beginning. So we’re going to look at this process step by step, from the beginning. Because I’ve walked through it step by step, though I won’t disclose whether or not I found myself in the Thieves’ Forest after a hell of a bender.
So let’s set the stage.
This goes without saying, right? We know you have the skills. Nobody undertakes the freelance life without skills and experience. But how are you presenting yourself?
Do they see you like this?
Or like this? Because a lot of independents reinforce the stereotype of working in their pajamas at the kitchen table. TELL THE HANDWASHING ANECDOTE – LOUNGE PANTS! Stretched tee! Bun with pencil!
So please, leave the Crocs and lounge pants at home and put a little effort into your appearance.
But let’s face it: many of us never see our clients in person. That’s why we need to be very attuned to our virtual appearance. The most important thing to remember here is that you are your own PR department. You create the content, the story that surrounds you. How do you want to be viewed?
Never was this more obvious to me than the day my 9yo came home and said this. But truly, the same rules apply. Because I want to put my best foot forward for prospective clients, I also have a non-mortifying public persona for my kid.
And that means everything from making sure that I’m not tagged in photos from the pub crawl, as much as it means eliminating embarrassing errors. This was on a business card, but you can find similar instances online.
The classic is to search LinkedIn for the ever-popular “pubic relations.” 413 hits! And then there was the job seeker who didn’t have cards of her own. She was charming, personable, and we really clicked. I wanted to help her with her search. So she wrote her personal email on my card….
Come on, guys. We can do better.
Do you have a website? Do you have someplace that showcases your work and your professionalism?
And do you have a memorable hook about your work? If someone were to see your site, would they know what you do? And would they be able to communicate that message to others?
You can use the site to demonstrate samples of your work, case studies about your process, or whatever else sets the stage for your client. Because they want to know about you before they pick up the phone. They’re not going to call you blind.
It doesn’t even have to be all work-related. It just has to be interesting and demonstrate follow-through.
Deb Gordon is a member of AMWA – you’ve probably heard her speak at the annual conference. While her book, Wine on Tuesdays, isn’t directly related to her medical writing business, it tells me a few things about her: 1) she’s not stuffy, and doesn’t take herself too seriously, and 2) she can see projects through to completion.
And of course, your LinkedIn profile is tremendously important because, let’s face it: this is your online resume.
And the most important element of this is recommendations. Not the weird little “click to endorse” things, but actual recommendations that people have taken the time to write. 28 people have already vetted my work. That goes a long way towards reassuring a new client. Also, just for laughs: seriously, LinkedIn? Do I want to endorse myself??
Here are three examples of the length and detail in an actual LinkedIn reference. If you’re not familiar, you can go to my LinkedIn and read some of them in detail.
These are important for all job seekers, but especially for independents. It eliminates an objection. So be sure to work on all aspects of your appearance.
And by taking the time to work on it, you won’t end up looking like a clown.
So now we look good. We feel good. We’re the most brilliant and professional people out there. What now? How do we find clients?
There are people who still advocate this method. I’ve personally found it to be completely ineffective, but your mileage may vary.
For me, this is what it feels like: a thousand calls and no one wants to hear from you.
I’d at least try an educated cold call. Do your research on the target company. What’s the buzz? Is there good news or bad news? If you live in the bay area, you can’t sit in a coffee shop without overhearing someone talking about what their company needs, often in excruciating and pompous detail. By all means, use that as the basis for your hunt.
What does Glassdoor say about what kind of company they are to work for or with? And for goodness sake, please make sure that the prospect has money. Don’t pitch the startup that’s nearly burned its funding.
Sometimes we get an inbound inquiry. This is why we have a website and LinkedIn. Sometimes people stumble upon our information and think, “Yeah, that’s who/what I need.”
But they come unvetted, and sometimes you find that working with them may be less than ideal. They can be flaky.
I’ve often found that they’re googling out of their own sense of frustration without a fully formed idea of what they need beyond help. Just help. Please. Sometimes they don’t really know what they need. They vanish for days or weeks. They’re not clear on scope. They may not have budget approval. And their frustration can quickly become your frustration.
I’ll give you two examples of prospective clients who told me about their projects. This is Client A. Pretty straightforward, right? Contrast this with Client B.
Which one do you want to follow up with? I don’t even know what this means. Nor did they, I don’t think. Which is why they needed help in the first place.
But even if they seem promising and seem to know what they want, we still need to do our research. This is where we add on the personal searches to the company reports from before. Are they job hoppers who will leave you hanging?
Do they have personal issues that might distract them from the project at hand? And this photo isn’t an exaggeration. I once had an inbound where the contact person was in the middle of a very public legal battle involving a DUI and damaged property.
And even good changes in their life can have an effect on your project experience. By Googling someone who contacted me, I discovered that he was soon going to be going back to India for a month for his wedding. Great news for him, but I had to make sure that I had a solid contact in place beforehand so I wasn’t left hanging in his absence.
But the best case scenario is obviously the referral. This is where we want to be. We want our trusted network to preach the gospel of what we do. And how do they reiterate the gospel of what we do?
Because we made it really easy and reinforced it on our website and URL and business cards…
And referrals are, of course, the best. Because they’ve already been vetted by my colleague or connection. Some lovely person has played matchmaker. So call on me and I’ll send it along with love.
Admittedly, I’m much less concerned about vetting these clients, but I still do a cursory search to find what I need because I want to form a bond. This includes everything I discussed previously. And in this case, I still look for ways to make connections, such as families…
Or favorite vacation spots. Anything that helps me to make the connections. And you can find these by searching for their Facebook or Twitter accounts. The cover photo alone often tells volumes.
So now we’ve decided that this is someone we want to work with – the person and the company. Now we do the legwork and get into the nitty gritty about the project.
Project research is the research you do before you get started. It’s what gives you the details needed to create the proposal.
This is where my strategy changes. Up to this point I’ve been very active in my process. Now it’s my turn to listen.
Some people call this an initial consultation, and ask if I do this for free. YES! This is as much for me as for them, I always insist on a brief call where I do a LOT of listening. In fact, the less talking I do, the better.
Because nothing ruins credibility faster than trying to be the smartest person in the room.
THE DAN STORY. Don't be the smartest person.
I've learned that no good can come from talking. The less I say, the smarter I seem. And really, the smarter I AM because I’ve learned more about THEM rather than just blathering on about ME.
I’ve learned to read between the lines. What are the pain points? Is it the customer? Their personal MBOs? The really obnoxious guy in the next department? If you let them talk, they’ll fill the space.
And once they've done their talking, you'll have a solid idea of what's needed in your proposal. Or if you want to generate a proposal at all.
If we want to proceed, the final step in the consultation or intro call is to give the verbal fundamentals of what will come in the proposal. This is where we talk about their budget, my structure, their corporate payment terms. And also how much I’m willing to work, and when.
And of course, the proposal is where it starts to come together.
The proposal is where we make everything clear.
We want to make sure that we’re all on the same page, and that we’re negotiating in moments of calm. Because a set turnaround schedule seems reasonable beforehand, but shouldn’t be negotiated when the client has taken three weeks to review and now comes back with their hair on fire. If it’s already negotiated, they can’t turn on us.
It prevents what I’ve heard brilliantly termed “the Lebowski problem.”
And it prevents these moments.
Proposals affect their perception of you, as much as any clothing or website. I ensure that my proposal is ridiculously detailed because it’s all about perception: how I present myself, and what I think I'm worth. This, in turn, guides what THEY think I'm worth.
My proposals have many pages, lots of detail, and cover every eventuality that I’ve come across in nearly a decade of doing this.
The proposal is partly for appearance and partly to answer every question that may arise as this escalates through approvals. At large companies, the approver is often many departments away from the contact. I give them as much information as possible to keep the process from getting bogged down.
I won’t go into this in too much detail since many of you heard me give my full proposals talk last year.
So what’s included? An expiration date, for one. This proposal isn’t open-ended. Decisions must be made.
Limitations: you’ll only get out of it what you put into it.
The outline of the project, including timelines and start date, pending receipt of the signed proposal.
Scope and duration: I’ve reserved a period beginning on a specific date. If we start here, and you meet your deadlines set forth elsewhere in this document, we’ll be done by X date.
The budget, of course. And other details like payment terms, when I’ll bill, what scope changes cost, what my rush fees are.
Let’s get this straight: it’s not all about money.
It’s about time. It’s about payment terms: 30/60/90. Cash or credit card? How many rounds of revisions? Are you willing to work nights and weekends? Now is the time to set that up, all while proving that you get the scope of their project and their unique needs.
And no, this isn’t easy. It takes practice, even when you’ve done this a jillion times, as Kristina has.
Now, this is what we’re here for. We’ve set the stage for this. Everything we’ve talked about up to this point? We’ve subtly eliminated the objections that occur at the close.
Are we professional? Check.
Have we demonstrated skill through samples and explanations of process? Check.
Have other people vetted our work? Check.
Have we had an intelligent and open conversation about time, money and scope? Check, check, check.
And in the process of our talks, have we filled them with firework-style enthusiasm for working with us?
They have no objections left. And if they did, we would have known it by now.
But this is still an awkward time. How do you ask without coming across like a used car salesman?
Build a bridge with the client. Be approachable. Be personable. Be natural. Tell them that you’re looking forward to working with them, and ask if there’s anything else they need from you to get things started. In my experience, 9/10 times they say, “Ready to go, just need Bob to sign off.” I tell them to be sure to tell Bob to call if he has any questions. Yes, I say call even though I hate talking on the phone. They never call.
But maybe you don’t hear anything for a week or two. You need to follow up, but feel awkward doing it? Guess what? You put an expiration date in your proposal! You told the client that you had reserved time to start on X date. It’s a built-in follow-up. Send an email. Make a call. Whatever you’re most comfortable with.
Because that kind of follow-up seems thoughtful and responsible, not pushy. Trust me, they’ll still love you. And they’ll give you an open and honest answer about why the deal hasn’t closed yet, and when they expect it to be ready.
So if you follow these steps, hopefully it won’t feel like you’re climbing a mountain every time you have a new prospect.
Sometimes you have that Morrissey moment.
How do you know when it’s time to fire them?
Your instinct is to convince yourself it’s not so bad. And in many cases, it’s not. It’s a speed bump in the road. But sometimes, it’s more serious.
So here’s my true story. I’d gotten a big contract with a 500-pound gorilla of a company. Huge. Client. From. Hell. Never had another like it before or since. On paper it seemed great. Boatloads of money. Except nothing I ever did was good enough, even when it was EXACTLY what was asked for.
I was a miserable stressball. I was heading to a conference, and was up working until after 3:00 AM, and had to get up at 4:30 for my flight. I rolled into Chicago bleary-eyed and not knowing what to expect. And as speaker after speaker took the stage in the freelance track, I was consumed by one thought: “I wish I knew what they know.” BUT I DID I knew I could fire clients, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it because I hadn't done it before.
The first sign is when you’ve taken to the couch of despair. But I’ve found almost universally that the answer is always this: when you say the words out loud, “I think I have to fire this client.” This isn’t “Ugh, they’re making me crazy.” When you utter the words “I think I need to fire them” you’ve already made the decision. You’re just looking for validation.
Make sure that you have out clauses in the proposal. For both sides. And as Rowlf the Dog and Kermit would say, you hope that something better comes along.
But remember: you can’t fire all of the clients. Even Jayne knows better.
So… questions? What do you need to know?
Before you go, turn back to that neighbor and tell them what you really do for a living. Make a connection.
Closing the Deal: Getting That Project
Closing the Deal:
Getting That Project
October 2016 @clearwriter #AMWA2016 1
“If I have two candidates, I’ll call
the one with LinkedIn references
first. They’re pre-vetted. It
eliminates an entire step in the
- KG, Roche
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Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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1. Set the stage
2. Find prospects
3. Do the research
4. Proposal pitch
5. Close the deal
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“Hello from the other side.
I must have called a
October 2016 @clearwriter #AMWA2016 38
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“You start a conversation you
can't even finish it.
You're talking a lot, but you're not
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- Talking Heads
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Image via U.S. Navy
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“We need a white paper
to give a clear explanation
of our technical benefits.”
October 2016 @clearwriter #AMWA2016 45
“We're looking for a dynamic
activator to generate key
synergies within our strategic
October 2016 @clearwriter #AMWA2016 46
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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Closing the Deal
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“If there’s anything that you want
If there’s anything I can do
Just call on me and I’ll send it
With love, from me to you.”
October 2016 @clearwriter #AMWA2016 51
- The Beatles
”From Me to You”