Advice — How to pitch for new work during a pandemic: 7 steps for freelancers
At a time when many companies are reviewing and tightening their budgets, being able to pitch yourself and your skills as a freelancer has never been more important. So how do you it successfully? Well, according to founder of freelance platform UnderPinned, Albert Azis-Clauson, the single most important thing to do when pitching your work, is to understand how your unique offering could benefit a client. Here, he shares seven steps to landing new freelance business during a times of uncertainty.
Businesses could spend money on lots of things, but in reality, they actually spend money relatively few. And under these difficult circumstances, companies have not only become stricter about what they spend money on, but also the reasons they spend it.
Building a professional network is one of the hardest parts of being a freelancer, but every connection can turn into a potential hire. When we try and sell our services, we so often focus on what we think we are good at, and very rarely focus on what we think a hirer needs and wants. With this in mind, the most beneficial thing you can do to help your freelance career right now is to nail a proposition that makes sense to your clients, and not just to you. Once you achieve this, pitching becomes easy.
Here’s a seven-step exercise I’ve developed to help freelancers achieve this. I recommend having a paper and pen at the ready to jot down your answers to each of these questions, to begin to set out your offering. Don’t be afraid to play with it to see what works for you – because when you get it right, the results can be amazing.
1. What is your vision or goal?
This might not seem important in pitching yourself, but having a bigger objective helps you know what you need to achieve. You can approach this in two ways;
Set a big objective
For example: “I want to work for my dream company as a lead on a significant project.” This kind of goal will help you target clients that can help you build your career.
Set smaller, practical goals
This could be: “I need to earn £1500 a month from freelancing.” This approach will give you a route to building a more efficient business. I recommend this route for people just getting started, but you should have the bigger objective in the back of your mind.
2. What do you do?
What category does your work fall into? Examples might be: videography, styling, consulting, marketing and so on. Make sure you understand and make a note of the skills you can offer.
A question I get asked a lot is, “What if I do lots of things?” Don’t worry, you can put multiple in one if they’re part of a combined offer, but only pair them if they make sense. There is no point putting photographer next to business strategy consultant or app development, because no one who’s hiring a photographer will care that you are also an app developer. However, putting UX designer and app developer together would make sense.
3. What problem do you solve?
Creative roles are often the first to disappear when companies are tightening budgets – not because they aren’t important, but because the people making the decisions rarely understand their importance. This is especially true when your work is creative and the outputs aren’t so easily quantifiable.
If you are a salesperson who says you’ll make 10 sales a week for the first month, that is an easily quantifiable role, but if you’re a copywriter or logo designer, it is much harder to quantify how your work will help the business.
Think of the outcome of your skills
Understanding the problem you solve, rather than just the skill you offer, is the perfect opportunity to show off the worth of your role. The best way to do this is to think of the full outcome of your craft; what is the company actually trying to achieve by using your skills? And therefore, what gap do you fill?
• If you’re a logo designer, instead of simply crafting a logo for them, you offer an identifiable icon that communicates the brand identity at a glance.
• If you’re a copywriter, instead of just delivering great copy, you are helping a company explain a new offering in a clear and engaging way for their target audience.
4. Who has that problem?
This is your chance to start building a potential client list. If you understand what problem you solve, you can compile a list of companies, or types of companies, that have that problem. The more specific a problem is, the more targeted this list can be.
• If your problem is that all companies need a logo, then your target client is companies that don’t have a logo (or who have an ineffective logo).
• However, if your problem is that pharmaceutical companies find it difficult to articulate their offering to young people with no understanding of the science, then your list would be much more specific.
5. What is your solution?
This is where you can show a potential client how you would solve their problem. For example:
If you’re a journalist specialising in the freelance economy, the problem might be that a magazine wants to cover an important change in tax policy, to attract more freelance readers.
Your solution might be to write an article with the relevant expertise, plus you have a following of freelancers who will likely read this article when you share it.
Problem + craft = solution
6. Why are you the right person for the job?
While the above is a great way of understanding and clarifying your proposition, it can still be hard to differentiate yourself from others. I see a lot of freelancer outreach messages from my community, and the people who are most successful are the ones who find a way to really connect with their potential employer.
You can do this effectively in two ways:
Show relevant experience
Ask yourself, how does my experience relate to a potential client? Sharing this helps a client see that you understand their business. It’s also a clever way to use experience you might not think is immediately relevant to the job at hand.
For example: If you are starting a career in graphic design but studied psychology, talk about how your time researching human behaviour inspired creating more engaging designs. Everybody has a wealth of experience, you just have to connect the dots.
Show genuine interest
This is the most powerful tool in your arsenal. Reach out to businesses that you are genuinely interested in, because it will show. If someone reaches out to me and they know UnderPinned and understand it, I am way more likely to respond. Think of your hobbies and genuine interests and make them relevant to your work. This makes the world of difference when pitching for work.
For example: If you love skateboarding, reach out to skate brands, if you love marine animals, reach out to ocean charities.
7. What is your offer?
Now you have the answers to the above questions, this part should be easy.
The best piece of advice I give to new freelancers is: A client isn’t going to look for a reason to hire you – you have to convince them, and pack as hard a punch as possible.
Reduce a portfolio to what’s relevant
Never send a 10-page portfolio as an introduction. Focus on reducing your portfolio as much as possible, until you have one page of highly relevant content with links to more.
Make sure your offer makes sense
If you can summarise your offer in one sentence and it makes sense to you, it is likely to make sense to someone else. If you can’t, it won’t.
Be sensitive about your approach
If you’re applying to a pitch request, then you don't need to worry about being to-the-point about your services, but given that lots of companies are under added financial stress, it can be difficult to know how to reach out – and who to reach out to – without being insensitive. I recommend going down one of two routes:
The first is to always start by focusing on the genuine interest angle. So rather than going straight in with a pitch, make your first outreach about why you’re interested in the company (however, you can still include your portfolio/work). This might take you a bit longer to find out if they want your services, but it’s an effective way of building a relationship, so they think of you when something does come up.
The second route is to do your research. Speak to someone at the company or look at what they’re doing on socials or with campaigns; that way you know if they’re active in your area of expertise, then you can be confident about pitching your service. But if in doubt, start a conversation with genuine interest and build from there.
If you can work through these seven steps to build a solid understanding of what you offer and the potential clients that might be interested, then I believe your pitching will take care of itself.
For more advice like this, visit UnderPinned, an online freelance community and platform that helps with everything from finding work and finessing portfolios to invoicing and finances. At the moment they are offering free annual membership (usually £54) until September 2020.