The first quarter of 2010 is almost over and work has been quite steady. A lot of ongoing projects, some new ones for a few upscale clients, freelance agency work (working as an art director), and I’ve had several meetings with potential clients and agencies for (hopefully) more work to come.
Many freelancers despise face-to-face meetings, consider it a waste of time, and I fully understand why. I have traveled across the city and spent hours with a potential client only to have them give me unrealistic budget expectations or end the meeting with the words “we are shopping around”. This can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Especially when you know your rates are far from the cheapest out there.
I however, have always welcomed meetings for they allow me the opportunity to sell my services face-to-face, educate the client, and hopefully close the deal right there on the spot. If you are good at your presentation skills, and can effectively show a potential client why they should use your services, you will hopefully win many more contracts than you lose.
Meetings also allow you the opportunity to see the client’s place of business first-hand, and you can quickly size them up to determine if yours will be a positive working relationship. It’s really no different than a first date. Many of my best clients were those where we clicked immediately upon our first handshake.
I would love to tell you that all of the meetings you will have as a freelancer will end with positive results. But unfortunately, this is far from reality.
This rest of this story is about one that I had last week, which I was really hoping would have turned out far differently than it did.
I met with one medium-sized company that would have been a great client. The type of ongoing work every freelancer typically dreams about. They found me online and invited me to pitch for their business.
I was excited. This company was exactly my target, one that wants agency-style creative but needs the art director and copywriter removed from the building to save all the overhead costs and middle-man fees. This has always been my niche and makes up my typical client base.
I quoted them on the first project – several magazine ads that were going to run nationally in a few prominent magazines.
They wanted concepts (“out of the box” thinking as they put it), mechanicals, copywriting, and they wanted different versions, An ad campaign for their various products under one (company/brand) umbrella.
I know from working with agencies what these ads should cost them.
I consulted several of my pricing guides and many of my past invoices, and presented them with fees lower than my usual rates hoping to get my foot in the door. I figured a client with a lot of ongoing work is worth some sacrifice.
After receiving my quote, they told me my price was higher than all of the other “agencies” I was competing against (none of which I had ever heard of) but they still wanted me to come in and make a live presentation. I took this as a good sign. The sign of a client willing to educate themselves and pay a little more when they are led to understand that quality (and this type of conceptual thinking) comes with a price. Either that, or they were lying about the other competitor’s quotes hoping to get me to slash my fees. Either way, with a ton of boardroom presentation experience under my belt, I was looking forward to the meeting and the chance to close the deal.
A week later, as predicted, I was in a boardroom full of executives explaining my rationale as to why they should hire me. I pointed out my vast experience of working on global brands, I pointed out my lack of unnecessary costs through overhead, and I showed examples of work I had created in the past that reflected their business and marketing needs. I even brought in two pricing guides and showed them what (according to industry standards) their ads should run them compared to my quote, which was on the bottom end of the scale.
A week later, I had heard nothing so I sent a follow up email asking for an update.
I received a reply in which I found out the sad news that I had lost the pitch.
Now, whenever you find out you have lost (be it a client pitch or a job interview) you ALWAYS want to receive an explanation as to why? This allows you the opportunity to plug any holes you may have had in your presentation.
I sent over the email asking what clinched it for the other company?
Here’s the response I received…
“One of the companies we met with brought three different ads they had created and designed for us, and they were actually really good, their price was very reasonable, and seeing their work upfront helped to reassure us that they were very capable of producing a quality product.
So, their work was good. Okay I get that. There are many other very talented people and agencies out there.
Their price was reasonable. Even though they are GIVING their services away for far-below-industry-standard prices, I understand that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and if somebody is willing to work in this industry for next to nothing, it’s their prerogative. It screws up the rates for the rest of us but once again, there’s really no stopping somebody that wants to work cheap.
But, here’s where it always gets frustrating…
They didn’t yet have the job, they didn’t have a brief, they didn’t make a single penny, yet they produced all the work.
No matter how well I presented, I simply could not compete with that.
For any of you designers or agencies belonging to a professional design organization, you couldn’t either.
You are not allowed to.
Now, I don’t belong to any organization but this got me thinking. By joining a professional design organization are you shooting yourself in the foot in today’s overly competitive world? Will you continuously lose projects to others that don’t follow the rules and moral codes of conduct?
I was feeling pretty down when I received that explanation/reply. It took me some time to shake off the loss. I finally sent another reply to the client whose business I just lost explaining how I could not compete with a company that was willing to create all the work on spec.
I wouldn’t want to. I’d like to fully research the company to the best of my ability, understand their business and their USP, and know that whatever I finally created was exactly on target. That it was the best work I could produce to make a full impact on the consumer and gain my client a successful ROI that (hopefully) exceeds all of their expectations.
And as I told my lost client in the last sentence of my email…
“I’d rather be honourable”.
The question I want you all to ask yourself is this…
Until next time, keep dreaming.