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It’s rare that a client will decide right off the bat to hand you a big project: most people want to test the waters with a new freelancer, spend some time considering the project and generally get a better sense of how things are going to work out. Sometimes, a client is even willing to wind up with a time crunch to get that opportunity.
But what if you could start your clients out on some smaller purchases — projects that aren’t as likely to stress them out with big budgets and even bigger decisions.
The secret is to create a sales funnel: by leading your clients through multiple sales, you can build up a long-term relationship that creates the trust your clients need.
The Sales Funnel
A sales funnel, at the most basic level, is a path you’ve created for your clients to follow. Generally, it points them towards one specific product you’re selling, although it works just as well for services — provided you can specifically define what you’re selling to your clients.
You need to be as detailed as possible when thinking about the steps your clients normally take before handing a project over to you, as well as exactly what type of projects you want your clients to bring you.
Unfortunately, just blocking out sections of your sales funnel as ‘small project’, ‘medium project’ and ‘large project’ won’t get you the full benefit of planning out a sales funnel. You need to be as detailed as possible when thinking about the steps your clients normally take before handing a project over to you, as well as exactly what type of projects you want your clients to bring you.
Think about your sales funnel in terms of each individual transaction you have with a client. Money doesn’t have to change hands, especially in the early stages of your sales funnel. A prospective client might give you her email address in exchange for a white paper you’ve published, for instance — that’s just as much a transaction as when the client gives you a deposit towards a project.
That white paper, in turn, may be geared towards selling a client on a very specific project — say a year’s worth of designs for an email newsletter. Between the white paper and the actual project, you may have several intermediary steps: a free consultation, a template design for the year (paid) and anything else that seems relevant. This also means that you can easily wind up with several sales funnels established, for the different types of projects you are willing to do for different types of clients.
The End of the Funnel
It may make sense to start with the end of your sales funnel, rather than your first interactions with your clients. You likely want to sell specific services. There are particular types of projects that you prefer to handle because you can do them quickly, they have a big margin or some other factor.
No matter what other projects you’re willing to take on, you should narrow down what you’re promoting within a sales funnel to a single type of project. You need to create a product out of your service so that you can create a set selling pattern that is easy to follow. Using this approach, you can wind up with a regular influx of work.
Going back to that example of designing email newsletters for clients: as a freelancer, you can probably handle a wide variety of work within your creative specialty. A web designer might sometimes take on the task of designing an overall email template for a company to send out their email newsletter each month, or design a different monthly adaptation of the overall design to make it more festive for the holiday season or to notify recipients of special sales. Doing a different design for each month is definitely going to be a more expensive project from the client’s point of view, but it’s something that can be worked up to. It’s probably the biggest project that a client might bring to you in that particular vein of work, as well.
With a project like that, you can set some clear guidelines ahead of time and give a base rate for the work. You know that you’ll have a certain number of designs to do (there twelve months in the year, after all) and you can set some guidelines, like only offering to do two revisions as a part of the package. You can always offer to go beyond the parameters of your existing package for a client, provided that client pays you your standard hourly rate. You can also narrow down who will be interested in this sort of package and what it will take to win them over.
For instance, you may notice that the clients who are interested in this sort of service usually have you do a trial project first, or routinely have questions about what type of email newsletter software to use. These steps translate directly into a sales funnel.
The Start of the Funnel
Just about every sales funnel starts with some transaction where your prospective clients get something for free. It is possible to start with a payment, but it’s rare because those potential clients may have no way to find out about you. You may offer great work, but no one will hire you if you don’t do any marketing. Your sales funnel — in the form of any free information or interactions you offer — includes those marketing activities.
Think about which clients will be most interested in the package you’re funneling them towards.
An introduction is rarely enough. But you may already have the initial layers of your sales funnel in place and not even know it. A blog or a newsletter are pieces of free information that you publish for marketing purposes. If you have elements like those in place in your marketing plan, you just need to think in terms of how you’re getting clients from your blog to actually handing you money.
Think about which clients will be most interested in the package you’re funneling them towards. Where do they get preliminary information about the types of projects they send out to freelancers? If you can provide that information, you’ll have a great start to your sales funnel.
That’s why you see plenty of big companies offering white papers, reports and other documents for free — as long as you get a prospective client’s contact information, you can keep her moving forward through the different steps of your sales funnel.
Why Multiple Layers of Products Make Sense
Tempting as it may be to just offer a freebie and hope that’s enough to convert a prospect into a paying client, it’s more practical to plan on having multiple layers in your sales funnel. It’s well-established that most business owners will interact with a given freelancer numerous times (estimates vary anywhere from six to twelve times) before they’ll actually wind up working with that freelancer.
If you build a path that reinforces your value, as well as establishes your trustworthiness, you can make yourself more memorable to potential clients. Email newsletters reflect the same principle: if you can get a prospect to subscribe before he’s ready to make a decision, you have many opportunities to show value before any money hits the table. You can make the different layers of your sales funnel do the same thing.
Ideally, a few of those layers include some personal contact. An automated process is great — and to be effective, you’ll need to get out of the way of your sales funnel — but it’s reassuring to clients if they actually get to see that there’s a human behind all those emails.
Depending on the services you offer, a short meeting may be enough, even if you hold it over the phone or online. But you do want to make sure that you prove your humanity early in the sales process.
Tweaking Your Sales Funnel
No two sales funnels will be entirely identical. Different types of work, different industries and other factors require you to carefully consider what prospects will consider valuable. Just like the rest of your marketing efforts, your sales funnel also needs to evolve over time: what works today may not work two years from now.
It’s crucial to track data from your sales funnel. Most analytics packages (Google Analytics included) allow you to track how visitors to your website progress through different pages. Provided each element of your sales funnel includes a different page on your website, the mechanics of tracking that data can be relatively simple. The hard part is looking at that information and then acting on it. You need to test multiple options at every layer to see what really works to lead clients to you.
Keep tweaking your sales funnel and looking for opportunities to improve on it. Ideally, your sales funnel should be bringing you a steady stream of new clients, ready to write you a check.