9 Mistakes to Avoid for Successful Pitches!

So you’ve done the hard work. You’ve crafted a wicked resume, you networked incessantly and you finally get called in for an interview. You thought it went pretty well, so you waited. One day went by in a blink. Then a week; then two. And pretty soon you realized that they were never going to call you back. Everyone fails once in a while, so what?

But here’s the problem: you didn’t know what you did wrong. Everything went so smoothly, you thought you nailed it. You need a fresh pair of eyes to see what you did wrong. And as someone who has been on both sides of the table, I know that mistakes can be subtle.

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Here are 9 most common mistakes freelance designers make when pitching their services:

1. Relying On The Portfolio To Make The Sale

This is such a common practice that most designers never give it a second thought. But here’s the truth: the world’s top designers never rely on portfolios to make the sale. Here’s why: portfolios give the client very little information, other than the fact that you can design pretty things. Most clients don’t care about that. What they care about is whether your design can help them, with better customer engagement, improving key metrics, boosting conversions, etc.

So here’s an alternative you need to try: case studies. Unlike portfolios (which is just a file with lots of pictures in them), case studies involve words that explain:

  1. What was the situation before you joined the team?
  2. How did you determine the problem and what was your approach?
  3. What roadblocks did you face and how did you overcome them?
  4. What was the result? Did you get an unintended benefit or problem?

Case studies show not just your work, but also your character traits. It helps give your clients answers to the questions they would otherwise have to pull out of you.

2. Not Asking For The Sale

Have you ever made the perfect pitch but didn’t land the client? This next section can probably help reveal the problem. According to BJ Fogg of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology lab, three things must happen at the same time, for an action to happen: motivation, ability and trigger. Let’s say you want to lose weight. You have the desire to do it, and you certainly have the ability.

So why didn’t you do it? Chances are, there was no trigger. Imagine what would happen if you witness someone close to you suddenly die of a heart attack? Would that make you start hitting the gym? It probably would.

(Image source: behaviourmodel.org)

Similarly, if a potential client calls you in for an interview, she is definitely already interested in your service. She also has the ability to hire you (tip: make sure you always deal with decision-makers). The only missing piece is the trigger. In the marketing world, it’s called the "call to action". You can do this by ending the interview with, "So where do we go from here?" or "How do you want to proceed?" or if you are confident that the pitch went really well, "So when can I start?".

These questions keep the ball rolling. Most people go to an interview, do a pitch, answer a bunch of questions, and leave with a simple "thank you". With no trigger, it’s unlikely the interviewer will ever call you back, and now you know why.

3. Not Delivering Value First

Novices have this mindset that the client should give them money first before they would start working. Veterans, on the other hand, know that the opposite is true: deliver value first and you’ll boost your chance of getting hired. There are a few things you can do to start delivering value first. Create simple wireframes or sketches for them before you enter the pitch so you can show that you’ve done your homework.

Conduct preliminary research, for example, if you’re a web designer, get a small group of volunteers, do a simple eye-tracking study and give them a report where you point out the problems with their website and how you can solve those problems for them. If you can’t solve the problems for them, introduce someone who can – even if it doesn’t immediately benefit you. By being the person who "found" that talent, you’ll have immediately scored big points, and make them remember you.

4. Giving Generic or Canned Responses

Do a quick Google search and you’ll see a bunch of interview articles with pre-canned responses and questions-to-ask. What’s to stop dozens of other interviewees from using the same responses and questions. Instead, you should conduct your own research into the client.

How did their website evolve over the years and what do you think about their direction? Who are your client’s clients and what do you think they are trying to achieve?

(Image source: timparkinson)

Where possible, give your honest opinion when they ask you for it. The last thing you want in a job is being forced to do something you don’t want to. And don’t be afraid of using personal experiences. When a potential employer asks you about your weaknesses, for example, don’t just say, "I work too hard" (a common pre-canned response, by the way). Instead, try to recount an event that happened and how you come to realize that it’s a problem you have to address and how you addressed it.

5. Credit

If you’ve achieved something of significance, don’t be afraid to take credit for it. I had a web designer friend, for example, who redesigned a client’s website and almost doubled his conversion rate. Yet during a practice interview with me when I mentioned that achievement, he shrugged and said something to the effect of "it’s teamwork and that he can’t take credit for all of it." Is it true that its team work? Absolutely, but you need to tell the client exactly how you contributed to the team and how your actions are directly responsible for that result.

Never put yourself down during a pitch! On the other hand, there are also designers who take credit for everything, and in the process bad mouths the data analysts, the SEOs, the marketers, and everyone else in the team. We all know no one can do everything, so don’t even try to convince the client you’re that person – even if you do have experience in all these areas.

6. Lack of Empathy

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, in this case, the potential employer’s position. More than once, I’ve interviewed freelance designers who are passionate about what they do – a great thing in itself, but they fail to translate that passion into what I am passionate about.

Remember that everyone cares about only one person: themselves. In trying to pitch your services, consider the following and use them to drive your pitch home:

  1. What is the potential client’s goal in hiring you?
  2. How does what you do help them achieve their goals?
  3. How can you prove your claims?
  4. What are their concerns about NOT hiring you?

(Image source: amuslimhouse)

And perhaps the best way to develop empathy is to hang out at places where your client hangs out. I’m sure there are forums, social media groups, and/or blogs where people like your future employer hang out and talks about the issues in their business. Jot them down and talk about them in your pitch.

7. Being Yourself

"Be yourself" is an advice I’m sure you hear over and over again, yet it hurts your chances of landing the gig more than it helps. Why? Because your client is looking for people like THEM. What if you’re being yourself and you’re starkly different from them? In fact, psychologists now know that people are rarely "themselves" in most social settings, anyway. Think about it: you behave differently at home than you do at work or when you deal with strangers.

Everyone has personas, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t have one with clients.

It’s. Completely. Normal.

Now, of course, if you’re uncomfortable about being the person your employer is looking for, perhaps it’s best not to apply for that job in the first place.

8. Not Mirroring

Mirroring is what happens when a couple are really "into" one another. If you observe a couple who is dating, for example, you can see their body language mimicking each other, like a synchronized dance. Mirroring happens naturally when two people are "in the zone", but fortunately, the reverse is also true. When you mirror someone, you can create a sense of rapport between the two of you. Just make sure you don’t go too far.

9. Try and Err

And last but not least, remember that all rules are made to be broken – even those listed here. If you have a theory, don’t be afraid to test it. If it doesn’t work, change your approach. Einstein once said that the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result. Don’t be that person. The key here is to have a constant funnel of clients so you can keep testing and incrementally improve your approach, every single day.