Written by Mat Casner

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Freelance CEO Podcast
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Ep. 17. How I won a new client—with $1.2M budget—with no portfolio and no pitch


Freelance CEO Mat Casner
The Freelance CEO Podcast with Mat Casner
Ep. 17. How I won a new client—with $1.2M budget—with no portfolio and no pitch

Let me tell you about this story that I had recently. A friend of mine asked me if I had some time to do some work for a friend of his, and he was basically looking for someone to, to help him do some design work, and ha was referring me as a potential solution for him.

So I messaged my friend back and said, sure, I’d love to talk to your friend and, and see what opportunities were there. So he reached out to his friend and his friend contacted me, and we set up a meeting time and I went to his office and I learned something hugely important. This what I assumed was going to be a small job, perhaps maybe a small project. Come to find out that this client was very disenfranchised with their ad agency and was looking to move the work away. I also found out that the budget that this client had was about a hundred thousand dollars a month, you know, roughly equaling 1.2 million per year that they would spend in advertising for their business. And immediately I stepped back in my mind.

And while I love new opportunities that are, that are profitable, I also realize when I’m swimming in a, an ocean that’s way too big for my capacity. And while I love being a freelancer, becoming an agency is not my desire. And so I was starting to feel some, some, maybe some disconnect at the very onset of this meeting. But stay with me because I wanna tell you how this meeting went.

And I’m gonna tell you how I was able to win this client over, even though I am a one man freelancer and have limited time to offer them in terms of replacing their full-time marketing and advertising agency that was doing work for them. So I go in and I sit down and I’m meeting with the client and I’m starting to listen to them, and they’re telling me about the problems that they’re having in the relationship that they have with the advertising agency.

Now, I could have started to tell him about, you know, my qualifications and what I can do, but I didn’t. I sat there and I listened to him and I let him talk to me. And here’s what I heard him say. He was getting frustrated with the fact that this advertising agency was doing very little in terms of creative for them, and it seemed like the creative that they were getting wasn’t great. It wasn’t horrible, but it really wasn’t moving the needle in terms of their marketing. So I’m listening to him and, and I’m hearing him talk about how this frustration is and that they’re not getting good ideas from their marketing agency. So as we’re moving through the meeting a little bit, I’m starting to make some observations that looks like the marketing agency or the advertising agency doesn’t have a very good handle on terms of who the ideal customer is for this client.

And their marketing definitely isn’t speaking to them in a language that resonates. And so when we are kind of about 20 minutes into the, the meeting, I, I still haven’t showed him a resume, I still haven’t showed him a portfolio, and he really doesn’t have anything to go on me based other than a referral from a mutual friend. And he looks at me and he says, what would you do? So this was a, a pivotal moment in the meeting for me because I could take an opportunity to tell him how good of a designer I am and let him know that I could, you know, make his wildest dreams come true. But there was a little voice inside of him that says, you know what, just be honest.

So I listened and I said, you know, here’s what I would do. Number one, it sounds like you’ve got a lot of moving pieces here with this marketing agency, but the one big disconnect that I see is that you have a lot of creative and a lot of advertising going out to an audience that really doesn’t have a lot of definition. And so I ask him a couple of probing questions.

I said, who is a target market that spends a lot of money with you? And he gave me a, a slice of the demographic that he thought was their target market. And I said, well, first off, I said, I think you really need to consider how your marketing is communicating with that group. And the, the art that they were getting, the creative that were getting wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t compelling either. It wasn’t hitting on any of the pain points or, or pushing into buttons that I feel like would’ve been, would’ve been beneficial with that target market. So I offered a couple of suggestions. I said, you know, if you had some art that was targeted toward this group and you were able to put it in, you know, a graphic format that would be pleasing to them and familiar to them. And I said, that would probably be my first step after that. I said, you know, looking at your social, you’ve got a couple of locations here and you’ve got different Facebook pages for each one of them. I said, it just kind of makes sense to me to think that you would consolidate your focus into one channel in Facebook and then promote your different offices as different locations.

And I said, those are a, a couple of things that I would do. And guys, this was me kind of trying to think off the cuff, but from the standpoint of what is his real pain point and what would be some practical ways of addressing those pain points? So I offered him those suggestions and he looked at me and he says, we’ve been paying this advertising agency now for months, and they have given us no ideas. They’ve given us no solutions, and you’re the first person that has given us a path or a roadmap going forward. So I’m just looking at them. And I told him, I said, well, I said, I appreciate that. I said, just so you know,

I’m an independent freelancer and I don’t really have any intention of growing a staff and becoming an agency to the effect that like the one that you have serving you. Now, guys, this was again, another big moment because at that point in time, my honesty was ringing with him and he looked at me and he said, okay, what could you do to help us then?

And I’m like, wow, this is a cool moment. So I said, well, I tell you what, let’s do this. I said, you’ve showed me a couple of example pieces that you’ve had some struggles with. I said, let me take a shot at it. Help me, let me do a couple of these for you and then we’ll see how it goes and then we’ll go from there.

He said, that sounds like a terrific idea. And so we spent the rest of the time talking about marketing and talking about the things that he does in his business to, to help analyze the data that he has. And just he gave me a wealth of information that I could go back and I could build some very targeted creative with and present to him.

Now, what I wanna do is I just wanna share three takeaways from this meeting that helped me get inside in this company with a business owner who is spending 1.2 million a year in advertising revenue.


Shut Up and Listen

So here’s the first takeaway. When you walk in, shut up and listen. The reason why they have you there is what you’re there to determine. Find out why you’re there.

Find out what their needs are. Find out what the pain points are that they are dealing with that are causing them to reach out and have this conversation with. I would say resist the urge to come right out and to show your portfolio and let them know how good you are. The fact that a friend of ours referred me, give this client a certain level of trust, so that didn’t really feel like they had to, to go through the complete vetting process before he started sharing with me some of the real struggles that he was having. So be quiet and listen to the client, hear what they’re saying and make mental notes about that. So when I offered him some suggestions, those were suggestions that were coming back to him as a result and answers to his direct pain points that I was hearing him say in the conversation.

So number one, when you get into an opportunity, be quiet and listen to them and really hear what they’re saying.

Be Honest With Your Limitations

Lesson number two, be honest with your limitations. I think sometimes we get into the the mind game when we get with the client that we somehow have to sell ourselves as being this person who can do everything or we can do everything and we have friends that can help us do everything.

All right. I think that kind of makes people nervous when they feel like you’re giving them these promises because they’ve probably been there before and they’ve heard people make promises and they’ve probably watched people fold on those promises. So what I did was I took a totally different perspective. I gave him an answer and response just that was just basically very honest. And the fact that I’m a freelancer and that I work by myself most of the time,

I have a network of friends that I work with in terms of sharing work with from, from time to time. But in no terms am I an agency with a huge workforce that can go out and can conquer big, huge projects. That’s just not the work that I look for. And so I was just being very honest with him in terms of how I communicate my capabilities, but then where my limitations are as well. And I wanted him to be very, very cognizant of that because I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I have to really pull something out of thin air and and make something happen that really isn’t realistic. So the fact that I was honest with them made me feel comfortable continuing the conversation because I knew that I wasn’t over promising and I wasn’t putting myself in a situation where I was going to be regretting it later.

So that’s my second takeaway is just be honest with your limitations.

Work to Gain Your Client’s Trust

So the third and final point that I want to to stress is that when you’re negotiating with a new client, the one thing that you can do help them feel comfortable with you is to gain their trust. Trust is the underlying factor in any sales cycle. And think about it. When you make a purchase yourself, you are basically saying, I trust in this product so much that I’m willing to exchange some money to get this product. And with relationships, and especially in this, the sales meeting that I was having with this client, they were wanting to know that they could trust me and they were wanting to know that they that, that I understood what they were up against and would come alongside them and become a partner that would help them solve their problem.

There was a disconnect with the ad agency that they were working with because they didn’t feel like the ad agency was listening to them. They didn’t feel like the ad agency was giving them suggestions that would help solve the problem that they had in selling to their clients. And so me coming forward and offering some solutions, because I heard him say he was struggling with the connection with the agency,

I was able to build in some trust. Now, what I wanna do is not let you think that because I was sitting there, I was building all this trust with him. There was already trust in the room to begin with because I was coming to him referred from someone else. And I can tell you as a freelancer that my best jobs and my best clients have come from people that have referred me to them.

And that in itself is a huge transfer of trust from from myself to the client that I’m working with because someone else has stepped in and said, Hey, you can trust Mat. Mat would do a good job. And when you’re working with a client, when you’re negotiating with them, you want them to feel like they can trust you and that the work that they’re giving you will be handled and handled well.

Now, I will confess, I’m not the best designer in the world, but one of the things that I do stress, and one of the things that I do strive to do is I do strive to make sure that the people that I’m serving and they understand that I am serving, like I’m a part of their team, and I want that trust level to be there.

And I can tell you that I have clients that have worked with me consistently month over month, year over year. And for those clients, the trust level is very high. And I have a lot of other clients that are in similar situations. I’ve got these long-term clients, they work with me, they spend money with me, and I help them and they trust me.

So trust is such a big, huge part of winning clients, and especially when they’ve got budgets to spend, even small budgets, people’s budgets are important to them and it’s the money they have. And you want to make sure that you go in there and you win the work, making yourself someone that they can trust. All right, so what I wanna do is just recap number one, be quiet and listen when you get in the client meeting. Number two, be honest with your limitations. And number three, share the solution to the problem. So I hope that’s been helpful for you today. The next time you get into a client meeting, I hope that you’ll remember those tips and allow your listening skills and your problem solving schools help you build some trust and win the work with that client.

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