It sounds counter-intuitive, but the best way to win high quality clients and get more consulting work is to try to convince them not to work with you. This thought flips the general psychology of business owners on its head.
Usually when you talk to a prospect you spend your time telling them how awesome you are. You tell them about the amazing projects you’ve done and the problems you’ve solved for past clients.
You do this all in the attempt to make them believe that you are indeed the best person to complete their project. Once they’ve heard how amazing you are, clearly you’ll be the choice for their project.
Approaching your clients this way is entirely wrong. You’d be much better off to convince them that they don’t want to work with you. By using the three tactics below, you will win more consulting work with less effort.
Someone is cheaper
The first thing you need to tell your prospects is that someone else is likely cheaper. Why don’t they hire someone overseas, or hire an intern, or get someone they already employ to do the work? I mean, you’re not cheap and they should know that out of the gate.
As with the rest of the tactics, you will certainly have some people agree with you and use a cheaper alternative. This is exactly what you want. If they wanted a cheaper alternative they would have spent time trying to drill you down on pricing. Clients that start by telling you how much cheaper you can do the work don’t truly value you as the expert that you are. It’s going to take way more work to make the project go smoothly than with a client that values your expertise.
Let them go happily.
Many of your prospects will hear that you’re expensive and when you suggest going overseas, or with an intern, or having someone they already employ do the work the magic starts to happen. They’re going to tell you why none of those options work for them. They’re going to tell you why going with a higher priced option is the best choice for them.
While they tell you that paying for your higher priced services is best for them, they’re also reinforcing this belief in themselves and doing your selling for you.
Write down the reasons that a higher priced option is the best option for that client and when you send a proposal later, make sure to use their language.
The project doesn’t have enough value
The second tactic you need to use is to tell them that the project doesn’t have enough value for them to make it worth their while. Due to your high prices, they’re not going to see a minimum 3X return on their investment.
Now the prospect is going to tell you exactly why it’s still valuable despite your high prices. They’ll tell you how they think that the project will net them at least 3X what you charge for doing the work.
Maybe this project by itself won’t actually yield your minimum 3X return, but they will tell you about a future plan for the business and how this project is just the first step. So while it may not pay off in three months or six months, they can’t take the next step in their growth without your work.
Not only have you uncovered a lead for a possible future project, you will also know why they feel the project is valuable in spite of your high rates. Write this information down — when you write up your proposal you can use the exactly language they did when you tell them why the project is valuable to them.
Sometimes you will find a project that really isn’t valuable. When you run the numbers the client is going to not only miss the minimum 3X return on investment, it’s going to cost them money. Again this is a good thing.
When you do a project that doesn’t bring value to your client they’re left holding the bag in 3 months. They’ve spent money and only now realize that it was money poorly spent. Even if you delivered an amazing project, they’re not going to give you a great referral because they know it wasn’t a good investment.
It was time wasted in building your business.
When I encounter projects that end up having no value and convince clients of this, they’re usually surprised. They’ve often already gotten two or three quotes on the project — quotes they were willing to pay. You were the only one that showed them it was a bad business decision.
Next time they have work, you will be the first one and often the only one that they’re going to come to with the work. They’ll want you to look at it to make sure that it’s truly valuable to them and their business. When you work together to make sure it’s valuable, they’re happy to pay for the critical perspective you provided.
Something else is more valuable
So far you’ve figured out that despite your high rates, you’re still the best option for your prospect. You’ve tried to convince them that their project isn’t worth it for their business. On both counts, they’ve told you why you are wrong — your rates are perfect for them, and the project is valuable in spite of your high rates.
Now you get to dig a bit deeper with your prospect and find out what the other projects are on their plate. What else could they be doing with the money to push their business forward? Tell them that it’s likely something else is even more valuable and they should do that instead.
As with the previous tactic, this is where you will hear about other projects that the prospect has in play — other things you could do for them or recommend someone that could help them. You gain deeper insights into their business, which will help you serve them better.
At this point your prospect will tell you why the project you’ve been discussing is the highest value thing they can do with their funds currently. While their other projects are important, they’re not as valuable as the work you can do.
Just as I mentioned earlier, some prospects are going to realize that something else in their business is a higher priority. They may already have a few quotes from people willing to take their money, but you were the only one that showed them where the real value in their business was.
The first person they’re going to come to, and likely the only person they’re going to come to, is you when they have new work in your area of expertise. You’ve already provided significantly more value than any other consultant they’ve talked to.
How I’ve gotten more consulting work using this strategy
In March 2016 I got an email from a prospect that wanted to talk to me about moving their membership website to a new platform. I went through these three tactics with her and she kept telling me why I was the best option for her work, why the project was valuable, and why it was the most valuable thing she could be doing with her money.
She even had quotes from people charging less than 50% of my rates. She had people ready to start that day who said they could do the work. Despite this fact, she waited weeks to get a proposal from me for a discovery project — and she did this after waiting two weeks to get on the phone to talk about the project. This discovery project cost almost as much as other people’s quotes for the whole project.
Then she happily waited three months for me to do the project — even with my high rates.
When I had my exit call with her, following the completion of the project, she told me multiple times that the conversation we had was totally different from any other she had had with her other prospects. I clearly only wanted to work on projects that were highly valuable to my clients. This made her feel 100% comfortable with any pricing I sent her because we had already decided together that it was well worth her hard earned money.
In short — show them you’re different
When you speak to your next prospect, make sure you change the conversation you’re having. Convince them that there is someone else cheaper, that the project just isn’t worth it, or that some other they’re considering doing is a better option.
By doing these three things you will dig deeper into the value your prospects want for their business. You’ll send fewer estimates and, for higher value jobs, you’ll stop juggling 20 low-priced clients and work with three-to-five higher-value clients in a year.
You’ll start running a better business, just like you wanted when you starting in your freelance career.