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The case for quality

A former Wilmington University student of mine approached me with a problem. He didn’t feel as though he was getting the proper rates for his freelance work. He has found himself taking jobs that pay very little and reward him even less professionally. He wrote me asking for my advice.

This has been an issue with every freelancer in his/her career, and it also resonates with my small business clients. How do I get what I feel I am worth?

The simple answer is that you have to ask for it, be prepared to negotiate a little, and then move on if you don’t. But of course, there are some mitigating factors at hand:

The economy is still terrible for nearly everyone. Many businesses don’t feel as though they have the money to spend on design and strategy. My counter is that this isn’t a spend per se, but an investment. An investment in new customers and adding to their bottom line. Most small business owners don’t realize that when the market is sour, this is the very time to invest in marketing. While others are pulling back, your brand can be front and center and will reap the benefits of that exposure when things get better again.

There are so many free website plans out there. That’s a tough one. How can anyone compete with free or nearly free? Quality. Unless this particular client is a designer him/herself, chances are they will build a site that looks like it was built with a wizard. They don’t understand usability. They don’t get information architecture. They probably don’t know what their marketing strategy is or how to implement a multi-channel campaign. That’s where the service professional has an edge. Offer (and deliver) on quality, backed by expertise and experience.

People don’t value what I do. That can be true, but give them an example that they can relate to. Ask them about their favorite commercial or website. Let them know that it is quite likely a team of people worked on that site to make it that great. Let them know that it takes a lot of know-how (know-how that they don’t have) to make advertising effective and worth the cost.

So here are some things that you can do to get the dollars you want:

Emphasize your talents/skills. Make sure that your skills are on display on your website or on your business card. Your site should be a showcase of your abilities. If your site is impressive, then it will be easier to get to “yes” from your prospective.

Sell your services as an investment, not an expense. Focus on the results of the design plan. Remind them that you’re there to help them make money/get new customers/build their brand. Make everything you do about THEM, not you.

Have a contract. Contracts let people know that you are a professional and not to be taken lightly. Here is a sample contract to get you started.

Have an elevator pitch. Something short, sweet and to the point. Make a declarative statement and then provide two – three reasons that make that statement true:

XYZ Design is a full-service, multi-channel design and strategy firm. We handle digital projects, mass media design and marketing strategy for business just like yours.We’ve won a couple of awards for our work, and while we’re proud of that, we focus on the results we get for our clients. Our strength is in integration. We make sure that your brand/message is consistent regardless of the medium.

It will make you sound more polished and ready to get down to business.

Be prepared to give. A little. No one wants to be stonewalled when negotiating price. Build in a little cushion in your price and then be prepared to hand that over as a carrot in the negotiation, if there is one.

Walk the walk. This not a license to be arrogant, but through your body language and the words that you choose, that you are helping them, not the other way around. You have the expertise, not them. You have the skills, not them. Remind yourself of that before you walk into the meeting.

Get more work under your belt. I gave away sites for a long time, and still will barter services if there is a new technology/technique that I’d like to try. The more you do, the better you become at it. You’ll be able to go through your mental library and bring up a project that is similar to the one that you’re proposing. Just like surgery, you want the guy who’s done this many times before.

Get testimonials. Sure, you can say all the right things, but clients like to hear from other clients about your services. Have testimonials on your site. They do go a long way.

Get referrals. My business runs on referrals. Once you have a client that is happy with your work, create incentives for them to refer you to others. Offer them a free layout of a new flyer or business card if they bring you a customer that signs a contract. You can actually charge the new person a little more because you already have the leverage of enhanced reputation and a recommendation from a person that they trust.

While I am addressing this mainly to creatives, small business clients that are looking for their services would be well-advised to look for these characteristics when selecting a provider.