Applying Sales Techniques To Your Freelance Business

by Doug Ferber

Well, I'm back to taunt you a second time. That's right, the head "Ferberite" returns this month not in the "devil's advocate" role, but this time in a capacity that hopefully will be seen as a way to make you more money. Now that I've gotten your attention, let's get into some of the ways that sales techniques (there it is, that awful "s" word) can steer more "fun tickets" your way.

You may not be aware of it, but if you are free-lancing in any way (voice work, writing music, engineering a session, etc.) you have had to sell your way into that situation. Many of the people on the talent side of our business actually believe that advertising agencies, production companies, and jingle houses will flock to them begging to have them voice their client's spots, write a jingle, or help produce a music library. WRONGGGG! It's as if there is a vision in the production person's mind of an instance where they walk into the prospective client's office and hear "Hey Jimmy, buddy-ole-pal, where have you been? We haven't been able to get our production completed because we knew that you were the only person who could do it the way we wanted!" The truth of the matter is that there are a lot of talented production people out there that can and will step in for you... if you let them.

The first step is to identify the type of clients you would like to have. Most successful businesses are very selective in terms of the type of customers that they will work with. For instance, do you want to work with car dealers or night clubs? Agency business, jingle companies, or in-house marketing type clients? My advice here would be to take a personal inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. In other words, determine what types of clients you can service best. Is it the type of client that needs your copy-writing skills? Maybe it's the type that requires a lot of editing and needs your engineering skills more than anything else. In effect, you set yourself up as a special-ist, making it easier to secure clients as well as justify a higher rate for your time and effort.

OK, so now you know what you've got, what you can handle, and who you should target as potential clients. The next thing to do is to contact the person making the decisions regarding your prospect's creative. Do not waste time with people who cannot say YES. It's not always easy to get in front of the decision maker, so try not to be discouraged if you don't get the "desired result" on the first couple of

tries. This, incidentally, is the main reason why people shy away from sales occupations. Rejection can be a little rough on your ego, but if you can deal with it you'll get what you want...more clients, more work, more money!

Develop good "people skills." You know, work on ways that can help you to "make friends and influence people." You'll find that most clients do business with people that they like and not necessarily those that can do the best job for them. This is the single most frustrating element that I come up against in sales. What it comes down to is that the decision-making process is based on the emotions of the client and not the excellent logic that you may be able to show as to why you're the best one for the job. Ask your favorite salesperson (perhaps there is a Ferberite at your radio station, too) to give you some of the sales training materials that they get in their weekly meeting. You would be surprised sometimes to find out what is available at most radio stations (videotapes, books, etc.) that can help you to learn how to sell yourself more efficiently. In addition to making more money on a free-lance basis, you'll be better at handling the clients that you deal with at your regular job, making you more valuable to your employer.

Let's assume now that you have become an expert marketer of your production skills, built up a nice list of steady customers, and downright tickled about the cash you're raking in from free-lance efforts. The next thing you should think about is the week in Barbados you'd like to spend with a significant other, right? WRONGGG! The selling process doesn't stop after you've secured a couple of clients. Let's take a few minutes to take a look at a few of the basic tenets of selling that can help you to avoid the pitfalls of free-lancing. So pay attention, the following words may enable you to avoid the mistakes that most of us have to "learn" from.

1) Your biggest clients are the easiest to lose. If it's a big client to you, it's a big prospect for the Production Director across the street. Needless to say at this point that it is in your best interest not to get complacent about the business you're getting from a particular client. Remember that there may be a day that you wake up to the clock radio some morning only to hear somebody else's voice doing your biggest customer's spot. As a salesman I know it ruins my day to know that a spot is running on a competing station and not my own. The lesson here (that comes free with your subscription to RAP) is DON'T TAKE YOUR CUSTOMERS FOR GRANTED. Keep communication flowing between you and the client. Use those finely tuned people skills to develop a rapport with your client. Find out what he or she likes, does on their spare time, hobbies, etc. You never know, maybe your client has the same interests that you do. Wouldn't it be great to do the things you like to do best, make money, and be able to write it off all at the same time? Caution...please consult your accountant first. The "skinny": do all the little things that don't seem to matter. In the long run, all those little things will help you to keep the competition from even getting close to your client.

(2) You will automatically lose a significant percentage of your free-lance business every year. In radio advertising sales we plan to lose approximately 40% of our business every year. Free lesson #2: never stop prospecting for new business unless you plan to be out of the free-lance production business. You must be looking for new customers constantly unless you just absolutely cannot handle another project. Even if you are this busy, use this opportunity to refer these people to your friends in the industry. Keep in mind that our business is very small and the only thing that people remember longer than your favors and referrals are the "dirty deals" that happen every now and then. This leads me to the third golden rule...

(3) Position yourself among the other Production people in your market. Be the guy with the good reputation who does excellent work. You should also make sure not to forget the "what-goes-around-comes-around" theory. The last thing you want to be known as is the bad-mouthing production guy/gal who does mediocre work. The truth may be that you do excellent work, but the market only remembers the first part. The result: no referral business.

(4) Never make promises or commitments unless you are certain that you can make good on them. Sales people get caught in this trap all the time, usually in an effort to close deals faster. Under-delivery in the promise category leads to unhappy clients, having to re-sell your services, loss of the business entirely, and possibly a law suit if your commitment is in writing. And again, let us not forget what this can do for your reputation.

(5) Find ways to save the client some money. If you want to keep clients longer you'll show them how to save a few bucks. You're the production expert and, as such, know the ways to get the same results for less money. When you start doing this, the client begins to look at you as one of his creative consultants instead of just a free-lance production guy. Along the same lines, do not over-charge a client simply because he doesn't know any better. It won't be long before he compares your rates with somebody else's. Then how do you explain the huge difference in costs when he gets your next invoice?

As a business man or woman, and professional production free-lancer it's up to you to take charge of your clients. Believe it or not, you are the one that wins and loses accounts to or from the other guy. You prevent losses by making sure you give the client what he expects from you, delivering what you have promised, and finding out what makes the client say YES. You will lose clients simply by getting too comfortable and being downright lazy. The minute you find yourself in a comfort zone (I call them traps of mediocrity) do something to get out of it. Make a call to the best client you have to make suggestions regarding the creative for his next promotion. Make new contacts. Make efforts to stay on top of new businesses entering the market. New businesses in the market mean there's an opportunity for you to get additional clients.

By no means is this article the exact script that should be used to ensure the ongoing existence of your free-lance business. It also is not an exhaustive list of the things that will help you to make more money. Many of you out there have already heard much of this stuff and some of you do a helluva job on your own. I hope at least that I was able to provide a few pointers that will help avoid some costly pitfalls that one encounters on the way to successful self-employment in the production business.

As a salesman, at this point there is only one thing left for me to do, and that is to ask for your business. If there is anybody out there who needs help setting up their enterprise, please contact me through RAP.

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