• Advice

How to pitch freelance services to a small business

Small business week is here and with it a selection of think pieces on the state of America’s homegrown Mom & Pops. Content sites are serving up everything from Obama’s economic legacy through the lens of small business to an overview on the state of small businesses from Business Wire. The latter reveals that while small businesses are making more money and doing more marketing, only about 50% plan to take on full-time employees in 2016.

Do you hear that, freelancers? That’s opportunity. And it’s knocking.

Freelancers and small businesses have long swum in the same eco-system. Because small businesses often need agile consultants and project-based work, freelancers are a natural fit for those sometimes awkward stages of growth. Furthermore, many small business owners began as freelancers!

That fact in-and-of-itself should tell you that getting a gig with a small business can yield returns by way of referrals. Like freelancers, small businesses also thrive on their network – so when you impress the right small business, there’s a good chance you’ll have an opportunity to hock your services to other businesses in the industry.

But pitching to a small business is slightly different than pitching to a big brand. Warm up that throwing arm with these 6 tips for playing in the small (business) leagues:

1. Understand a small business's priorities

Small businesses tend to be more focused on the nuts and bolts of basic marketing strategy than big picture issues like “brand identity.” These are concepts to which you can introduce your client down the road, but it’s likely they’ll be more persuaded on immediate improvements you can make. Start with basics like the look and feel of their site, their Alexa ranking, and social media activity.

2. Bring on the competition

It sounds counterintuitive, but there’s probably no better way to fast-track your services to top-of-mind than bringing in the competition. Show your small business owner an example of a competitor who’s doing something better and tell them, “I can help you do that.” It's a great way to speak to your potential client in their own language.

3. Back off the hard sell’s a good way to get mistaken for a scam artist. Small businesses are no strangers to outlandish offers from sneaky internet crawlers. When you email cold, make sure you sound like a human… even if your freelance powers are superhuman.

4. Be prepared to take a more high-maintenance approach

Unlike big companies, small businesses may not have prior experience hiring freelancers. You may have to take your new clients through the process of putting together a contract, getting invoiced, and paying on time.

Furthermore, for most small business owners, the business is their baby. It’s going to take a little while for your client to entrust you with tasks they may have been trying to do on their own. The best way to alleviate this anxiety is to remain confident. Make recommendations rather than asking for what you can do for them and explain why your idea is a good one. Be the subject matter expert that you are!

5. Explain your value

Many small businesses may not understand why they shouldn’t be paying bargain basement rates for your services. Anyone can write copy or make a website, right?

Your job is to demonstrate how your skills can translate into profits. It helps to describe your services as an investment, and always deliver a final report to showcase just how well their investment performed.

6. Take initiative

Don’t stop after you hit it out of the park with your pitch. Your time-starved small business client doesn’t have a second to think of all the brilliant ideas you’ve got in your back pocket. Continue to point out areas of improvement and offer to help.

If you do your research, treat your small business client like a big business client, and show initiative, that initial small business gig will likely turn on a spigot of referrals. Challenge yourself to discover the local businesses around you – and if you see one that could use your services, make that pitch!

A new soul and media geek, Laura writes about community, poetry and pop culture. Find her @Pennyscientist or on Freelancers Union.

Laura Murphy A new soul and media geek, Laura writes about community, poetry and pop culture.

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