When we first start out as a freelancer, there's a tendency to "aim low" on the theory that since we're just starting out, we should start at the bottom, servicing small businesses, and eventually work our way up to bigger businesses. Right?
Wrong. Small businesses very often don't have the kind of money a smart and talented consultant deserves to be paid. And very often, a small business doesn't have the knowledge and resources to implement the consultant's solution properly, often leading to disappointing results.
And it's the results you need...it's the stories about how you solved a problem, what kind of returns you brought, how you cut costs, or increased productivity...these are the things the mid-size and big companies want to hear before hiring you.
So the first rule in consulting...whether you're an IT pro, human resources expert, or copywriter like me...is to start prospecting somewhat higher than the very small business. And yes, you should also have the really big guys on your list, the global enterprises.
Even though your chances of landing the IBMs might be small now, you should have a certain number of enterprise-level names on your list (within your niche), because if they're not on your list now, they won't know you later when you're ready for them, and they're ready for you.
So the first rule in freelancing to the corporate decision-maker is to target high enough.
Now before we move on, let me point out that there is one very important exception to this rule...
...and that is that you CAN work successfully for small business IF you offer a "full solution."
For instance, you'll have a hard time surviving on small business accounts if you ONLY sell copywriting services.
However, if you handle ALL aspects of their marketing...the strategy, ad buys, project management, creative, production...in other words, if you handle the whole ball of wax as their "one-person marketing agency," you can make working for small business a VERY profitable niche.
We'll go into the realities of working for small business an upcoming article, but for now, let's finish our focus on what it takes to land the big accounts.
So if the first rule of landing big accounts is to aim high enough with regards to size, then the second rule is to have a solid "value proposition." This is a statement that does more than differentiate you...it also shows, in specific terms, what your value is to the client.
Here's an example of a value proposition taken from Jill Konrath's outstanding book, "Selling to Big Companies," slightly modified...
"After working with [me], one well-known retailer saw a 54 percent increase in sales conversions and a 25 percent increase in order size from their online sales. My clients typically see 40 percent to 150 percent improvements in key operating metrics such as profit margins, rates, and cost savings."
A strong value proposition like this one, with numbers and benefit statements, has a lot to do with getting you in with the high-quality, high-paying clients.
It's the metrics that make the difference, and it's been my experience as a copywriter that gaining strong metrics is easier when you work with companies with sophisticated marketing departments.
And what if you don't have any metrics you can use in your value proposition?
Simply use your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for now, being sure to state not only what sets you apart from your competition, but what it means to the client. (Your benefit statement, what you mean to the client, is the most important
part of your USP.)
So whatever work you do, and whoever you do it for, one of your primary concerns is getting your hands on the results of your work. I put it right into my fee agreement so the client can't blow me off later when I come asking for results data and work samples.
Here's what's worked well for me for years, and I encourage you to add it to your own contract/fee agreement:
"In order to promote my business it is essential that I receive samples of my work as well as any information on the performance of the work. Your sharing of samples, response rates, and any other measurement data is very important, and you understand that I may use these samples in the promotion of my business. Thank you for your cooperation!"
Ok...so back to the question: "Who lands the big accounts?"
The consultants who work for the high-quality, high-value clients have a niche market and specialized experience and/or talent in that market.
They may be individuals like my coaching students and me; they may be groups of individuals, such as small consultancies. And they may be mid-size companies or big corporations themselves (think Madison Avenue ad agency).
And they all have their various value propositions. You can get into the big time too IF you know a common problem that your niche market struggles with (low marketing response rates for instance), AND you have the answer to the problem right there in your value proposition: