The Inadvertent Freelancer (part 2): How to Sell

So, you're now a freelancer - While that wasn't your career plan, initially, you're a freelancer now. How do freelancers sell when they're really great at delivery? Read part 2 of this three part series on the world of Inadvertent Freelancers
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor on

Selling when selling isn't your forte

In an earlier post (link), I wrote how thousands, maybe millions of workers have been shoved into the ranks of freelancing but their skill sets are better suited for being employees not freelancers. I wrote how not everyone is great at selling, marketing and delivery. Many of us are great at delivering services but struggle with sales and marketing.

Judging by the emails, tweets and calls I got on that post, I thought I’d do a couple of companion pieces. This one focuses on the how an inadvertent freelancer can do a better job of selling work. And, in this economy, that’s got to be #1 on the inadvertent freelancer set of worries.

First, let’s debunk something right away. You don’t have to be a sales professional to sell. Have you ever noticed the absence of sales degrees and courses in colleges? Selling has a lot to do with two things:

1) your willingness to push forward and do something you don’t like or understand and 2) your ability to prepare for a sales situation

I learned a long, long time ago that most people hate to sell. They’d rather do public speaking, skydive from a plane and other terrifying acts before selling. A wise person once told me that I should make a to-do list everyday and add a few sales items to each day’s list. Then, I needed to move the most dreaded item to the top of the list and act on it the first thing everyday. This forces you to confront this task, every day. This is your demon and conquering it is your issue. Maybe you didn’t ask to get laid off and become an inadvertent freelancer. But, these events have occurred. You can’t live in the past – you’ve got to forge ahead.

I did that to-do list trick. Initially, I hated it but deep down I knew it was the right thing to do.

Then, I realized that selling proficiency comes when you really understand what you’re selling. People buy from those who know what they’re talking about. If its services you’re selling, you need to convince people you are the tops in whatever it is you do. That’s when I devised a number of ways to directly and indirectly sell myself. Steal all of these ideas if you like.

I created a newsletter with a decided point of view. I sent it to several hundred tech CEOs I knew. But, I created a newsletter that was absolutely absent of self-promotion, self-congratulatory hyperbole. Trust me, no one wants to hear about what LinkedIn group you just joined or your kid’s soccer prowess. Instead, I wrote about a key issue in the market. I provided a number of insights into the matter and then I detailed what these CEOs were going to have to do to remedy this matter in their firm. That newsletter was designed to get a lot viral pass around action and it did. People who got it knew I was onto these issues and called me. I got work this way.

I contacted others in my situation. I first took the time to understand their business and its offerings. I then expressed my interest in not only helping them complete work but also in helping them shape deals, sell follow-on work, etc. for the deals that they’d help bring me into. If you want to differentiate yourself as a freelancer, you need to bring something extra to the table when you meet with potential channel partners for you. This is a key point many freelancers overlook. Few firms want just arms and legs. They need people who bring something with them whether it’s a team of others, unique intellectual property, etc. This is your entrée into these organizations.

You then need to identify what makes you different/special. If you’re just an undifferentiated commodity, you’re going to face a tough slog. Your skills are a commodity to be bartered down to the lowest price possible. You need clients and partners to ask directly for you not someone, anyone, who can write C++ code for $40/hour. If you’re not special now, get special asap.

How do you get special? You need to think of yourself as a brand now and not as an employee. In the past, your employer kept all of the good ideas, intellectual property, etc. you created. They probably didn’t let you write articles let alone a blog. They didn’t let you speak in public venues. They made sure your personal brand was subsumed into the larger corporate brand. Your firm may have even had one of those toxic cultures that shot anyone who stood out, who was special, who was different.

Those days are gone – gone – gone. You are now the company. You are the brand.

A brand should be one of those instant blurbs a person instantly recalls upon the mention of your name. While I’m terrified to think what the readers of this blog might say upon the mention on my name, I try really hard to deliver some really deep insights into the tech space for my clients and I still operate with the professionalism I learned years ago at Andersen. What’s your brand all about? What do you want it to be? Does anyone know what your brand is about?

If you take my newsletter idea from above, make sure the image you’re creating with it is consistent with the brand you’re trying to create. And, while you’re at it, check the rest of your online persona to see if it’s consistent with the freelancing brand you need. Is your Facebook profile helping or hurting your professional brand? How about your website? How about those comments you posted on some naughty website? As a freelancer, you are, to a great degree, what your web presence dictates.

Now, we get to the sales call. Let’s face it. You’re probably more of subject matter expert than a schmoozer. If you’re like me, your golf game sucks, too. When you get on the phone or get a face to face meeting with someone, MAKE IT COUNT. How do you do that?


(to see part one - click here) (to see part three - click here)

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