How to win every freelance design pitch

Want more work, money and the respect of your peers? Then follow these expert tips from Ghostlab's Andi on how to seal the deal.

Many users of Ghostlab, our browser testing app, are freelancers who often need to pitch their work to new prospective clients. Being able to demonstrate solutions across multiple devices has never been more important than it is today, and that's where Ghostlab can be invaluable.

But what about the pitch itself? Since web-design and salesmanship don't always necessarily go hand in hand, here are some simple rules of thumb that we think apply to any great proposal ...

01. Pace the problem

First and foremost, it's vital never to rush in. Don't immediately give the client what they want, (or think they want), without a little analysis first. Say they request X, Y and Z for a particular project: what's the root objective of those demands? Try to look ahead two or three steps, assessing not just the brief but the core problem at the heart of it.

Of course nobody knows their own business better than your client, and it's important that you listen to their side. The key is to take a common sense approach – don't frighten them off with ideas about revolutionising their company, but don't be afraid to show initiative. If you can crack this, you'll not only be able to provide great solutions, you'll also be in a much better bargaining position down the line.

02. Echo the client's desires, beliefs and fears

Once you've identified the key objectives behind your client's brief, (sometimes easier said than done!), it's time to address them in the most effective way possible. Really what your client wants and what you want should be exactly the same – great work that puts their organisation in a stronger position.

It's vital that you align those primary concerns from the outset, and communicate a clear understanding of your client's desires and core beliefs – as well as their fears. That way, they'll see you're both working on the same page (no pun intended). This may all sound obvious, but it's amazing how often an initial miscommunication can lead to problems further on, or even to no sale at all.

03. Make them believe you

So far, so good. You've taken your time to recognise the key goals of your client, and you've brought your thoughts to the table with sensitivity to the client's perspective. But who are you – and why are you the best potential collaborator? The answers are all stacked up neatly in your head no doubt, but it's the client you need to convince.

Try to put your client's situation into a context that makes sense to them: have you worked on similar projects before? What were the positives and negatives of those experiences, and how are they relevant to this project? Don't be afraid to boast a little either: no one ever felt ashamed after landing a great client. Tell them about your reputation in this field, and how it relates to your proposal.

04. Make them value you

The more you contextualise, the better chance the client will have of seeing what makes you special. Remember that when it comes to selling yourself, nothing is too obvious. Clients are often busy, harassed and tired, not to mention the fact you might be the last in a long line of presentations that week. That's why even creatives with the grandest reputations make sure to explain where they're coming from, and the kind of work they make.

If the client already knows your portfolio inside out, that's great! You're simply reminding them. What's important is that you attach value to the work you're proposing – clients can be insecure at the best of times, and it does no harm to offer reassurance that you're more than capable. So be explicit about how your back story relates to this specific project, and the value which you can bring to it.

05. Provide the details

Don't overwhelm your clients, advises Andi

Time and again, weeks of hard work on fantastic presentations can be wasted, simply by a failure to properly outline a project's technical aspects. Aiming to keep things simple and exciting is great, but keeping too many details to yourself can sometimes leave a client feeling underwhelmed by the proposal's simplicity – in other words, as they see it, they won't be getting enough bang for their buck.

Of course, it's not a good idea to go overboard either. A happy medium should be found where you can explain the technicalities of the proposal, (making the client aware of the return they'll be getting for their fee), while not going too far down the tech route and losing their attention altogether. The main factor is that you want the client to trust your expertise – so illustrate where your knowledge will strengthen their project, clearly and with enthusiasm.

What does victory look like?

Prospective clients, like most of us, prefer examples to hypotheses. So when you make your presentation, be sure to visualise what the eventual outcome will be. Ask yourself this: when the project is done and the client is delighted with your services, what will that outcome look like? Then ask: is that clear from the material the client has in front of them today?

Some clients have a hard time visualising a finished product, or else they have some vague idea which is different to yours. This can give you a deaf audience. Creating the best possible visual examples is by far the most effective way to put those issues to bed. Clients love to see what's being proposed and discussed, and if they're excited, the better chance you have of hitting the bull's eye with your pitch.

What's the upside?

Showing a client you've got their organisation's aims at heart is what a good presentation is all about. In the end, all clients are numbers people. What's the gain they stand to make from your work? It's essential you back up everything above with a clear upside for the client, expressed in terms that make sense in their world.

If you can prove systematically how your services will benefit the client, it'll be music to their ears. Say for example, by following the steps X, Y and Z they'll be gaining an average of $1000 in saved productivity. Build a rock-solid foundation with relevant examples, presenting case studies of your or others' work, and relating it back to the client's own needs and budget. This will make the client feel there's less risk involved, and their money will be well spent. And so we arrive at ...

What's the investment?

Crunch time. Pricing strategy for freelancers can be tricky, but it's worth following a couple of simple rules. While some prefer to price by the hour, this can lead to a lack of trust between creative and client. They want you to bill less, you want to bill more, so eventually someone's got to give. In order to keep the relationship healthy from the outset, it makes more sense to bill by service – not by the hour.

That's not to say you can't be creative with pricing. Perhaps a client hopes to make X amount of profit within the next six months. If you're confident that what you provide will help them achieve those targets, try proposing an add-on performance bonus. Many clients will jump at this, because it shows you're just as serious about the project's success as they are. And most importantly, always charge what you believe you're worth.

Make it easy to say yes

Time to state the obvious ... clients don't often know what's best for their project. That said, when you think there's a more refined way to tackle the problem at hand, it's crucial you don't lose sight of what they asked for in the first place. Similarly, if researching the project has given you a sting of other fantastic ideas, be sure not to confuse the basics of what you're actually proposing.

Closing the deal is your number one priority. Sure they may be interested, but if you make it difficult for the client to say yes, the chance of a sale is reduced. The client will feel most comfortable if you keep things essential, then give the option of added services. Try presenting a scale of service packages, say A, B and C. When the options are presented clearly, the client will often go for A or B – but you should always remember to offer the basic package too.

Assume the sale

This part really comes down to confidence – admittedly, that's not always easy when there's a great potential client on the line. Sometimes it just happens naturally, healthy dialogue sparks up between you and the client, and you've hit the ground running. Other times might take a bit more work, and that's when it's up to you. Be bold, and assume you've got the project sealed.

Why? Because the old adage is true: confidence breeds confidence. Creating the atmosphere of a working relationship at first contact, before anything has been agreed, is part of the psychology of gaining trust. If the client feels you're beginning the project already, they'll be far more inclined to request a second meeting, and set you on your way.

Don't lose heart

Finally, everything above can be summed up in one word: experience. If you're just starting out at the bottom of the freelance ladder, remember not to lose heart! Follow these steps at your next pitch and if things still don't go your way, perhaps it was never meant to be. More often than not though, you'll find yourself winning new clients and growing in confidence each time. Good luck, and as ever we'd love to hear your stories on the subject and how Ghostlab might have helped you.

Words: Andi Dysart

Andi Dysart is a web developing and designing Kiwi based out of Zurich, Switzerland where he works with Vanamco. You can find him in the trenches developing physical and digital products. When he’s not being a Nerd, he embarks on long expeditions and remote adventures, beer degustation and cooking meat pies. Check them out at andi.io.