Do you tweet messages like ‘buy my jewellery, today special 20% off’ or ‘Look at my website now‘?
Have you sent one intro email to your most favourite retailer and got very disappointed when they didn’t reply?
Do you send Linked In messages that ‘I want to connect with you’ to people you barely know?
I often see creative sole traders and freelancers making a big mistake when they sell:
they are impatient, and want to sell … straight away!
You might have read it before on The Design Trust website
– it is one of my most favourite marketing mantras –
‘People only buy from people they know, like or trust.’
Take your time to digest that one.
Successful selling is all about creating successful relationships.
No more, no less.
And that takes time, energy, creativity, determination and a whole lot more (pretty much like any relationship!).
Especially as many creatives create very personal, and often tailor-made, and higher value products and or services for their clients building trust in the relationship is crucial.
When I see newbies selling I often see them jumping the gun far too early.
A bit like the equivalent of ‘somebody proposing marriage on their first date’ (trying to keep the relationship theme going here …)
But that means you have scared potential clients away (for ever)!*
So, how does the successful selling process work then?
In principle there are 4 stages in the selling process as described by C.J. Hayden in her book ‘Get Clients Now!’:
Stage 1: Filling the pipeline
Do you know enough people to contact who might be interested in buying from you or commissioning you?
Have you got a thriving database that you add to on a regular basis?
Stage 2: Following up
Are you systematically contacting the people you know?
Including your database, email database, mobile phone list, Linked In address book, twitter followers?
Or are there loads of business cards lurking in your drawer or hand bag (you ain’t the only one, and it is actually a good starting point!)
Stage 3: Are you getting meetings or to the presentation/pitching stage?
Or do you find it hard to get passed the PA of your potential buyer?
Or are you giving presentations to somebody but then realise they aren’t really commissioning or the person is too junior to make a decision?
Stage 4: Are you presenting your work but unable to close any sales or getting a contract?
Do you have lots of meetings but very few successful projects resulting from them?
This is how the selling process REALLY works.
Sometimes a client might go through this process with you in a couple of seconds when they see your work at a crafts fair or online, you make a great ‘first impression’, they fall in love with your work (at first sight – to continue the earlier metaphor!), and buy from you immediately (or after checking your credentials, profile and customer feedback quickly).
More often (especially when your client is another business and not a consumer) these stages can take weeks, months and even years!
Negotiations and decision making can take a very long (and frustrating) time indeed.
And it’s not uncommon that somebody might have seen your work a very long time ago, kept your business card, website address or magazine article, and approach you when they are ready to buy or commission.
Many creatives (and indeed much of the marketing advice!) focus on the first stage of selling: filling the pipeline with networking on and off line, presenting and launching work at fairs or online, by blogging or getting PR etc – all aimed at raising your profile with potentially new clients who then show an initial interest in your work.
Although this step is obviously important (it’s that crucial first contact!) it is how you then deal with this contact and how you stay in touch that will make all the difference!
This 2nd stage (of following up with people they already know) is often overlooked (as people are in pursuit of more business cards or email addresses) but this is where your work and consistent approach really will pay off.
Think about this as the stage ‘you got her phone number, now how do get that first date and beyond’ …
These 4 stages are like a sales funnel: you might need to have 200 people in your database, follow up regularly with 100, arrange 1 or 2 phone calls or meetings per week, to get 8 successful design projects per year.
This is indeed how the marketing worked when I was Studio Levien’s Studio Manager:
1. In August (when it was quiet) we did a half day brainstorm with everybody in the studio to identify more than 200 new potential clients we liked to work with.
2. Robin and I would identify 80 – 100 that had the most potential and best fit to the studios ethos. I would put them on a database, get up to date contact details of the right person who commissioned design, follow them thoroughly in the trade press to see who else they were working with or new ranges planned, identify where they were selling their products, at what price level, check out their websites, etc.
In the 2nd week of January we would write a short and very targeted email to about 20 selected companies, addressed to the correct person to invite them for a meeting (or coffee, or dinner) at Ambiente, the main international giftware and tableware trade show in the world.
3. We would have meetings with 10 – 15 companies, either showing and sharing our portfolio or new product launches at the fair.
4. This would result in a couple of new clients and commissions every year.
Indeed … Selling is all about building relationships!
From finding like-minded people who share your values and passions (which is why niche marketing is so useful!) to contacting them in a professional and personal manner.
Throw in your people, creative, technical, problem-solving, presentation, communication, listening and negotiation skills …
And you have turned that stranger into a long term-client!
Want to learn how to sell yourself and get more clients?
Then you might like to read our extensive book review of Get Clients Now! by C.J. Hayden here.
Or if you would like to seriously boost your marketing skills and confidence, and want to get my personal marketing advice and create your own marketing plan, then join The Design Trust Get Clients Now! Coaching programme for designers and makers to really learn how to sell yourself and your work in a way that works best for you and your clients!
*PS I only discovered this step-by-step sales process myself a couple of years ago, and before that I probably managed to scare many potential clients away myself!