How to get commissioned as a freelancer
Pitching successfully for work: Identifying the decision maker, refining your timing and practising the perfect elevator pitch
Picking up regular freelance commissions is the essence of making a successful freelance career. You need to be pitching ideas and then getting work from your pitches continuously. Some freelancers will supplement this by having ongoing commitments such as shifts where they are working in a client’s office. Contacts are the most important thing to ensure a healthy flow of work. You need to make contact with people senior enough to look at your ideas and skills, but also to give you the green light to do the work. For this reason, nurturing the right contacts is important. You may find that you get on great with a reporter that you’ve met on a press trip, but that they may have little sway when it comes to commissioning.
Who has the clout?
Getting to know the people who matter and what they are looking for from freelancers is crucial. This can be time consuming and involves a lot of work for you in assessing the kind of work that a commissioner is after, and getting front of mind with them. Ultimately, you want them to be picking up the phone to you and offering you work. This is a lot easier than coming up with lots of creative ideas and pitching them individually to the commissioner. Researching and pitching ideas takes time, and if none of them are used, it’s dead time financially. However, to get to get to this point, you need to prove your worth, which is where all your pitching skills come into play. Remember that getting commissioned is an important part of the freelance life, so always be alert to opportunities to get commissioned. Don’t leave the search for work until you have none. Take the opportunities presented every day to fire off a few speculative story ideas to potential clients. Or simply use the time to forge a better relationship with the contacts that you have.
Timing is everything in commissioning. A commissioner wants their life to be made as easy as possible. Sometimes a friendly email or phone call will be enough to nudge the latest commission in your direction; if your interjection reminds them that you are around, still freelancing (people disappear from the freelance pool all the time, either back to full-time jobs, new areas completely, or they retire) and full of enthusiasm, then work will come your way. Work on your elevator pitch technique. Try to hone your pitch down to a couple of quick and easy-to-understand sentences that will give the commissioner a good idea of what you are proposing. Detail is unimportant at this stage. If it fires their imagination you can fill in the blanks at a later date. If it leaves them cold, then you haven’t wasted much of their, or your, time.
Creating and using an elevator pitch
Being a freelancer is a bit like being a Boy Scout, in that you should always ‘Be Prepared’. In this instance, you need to be prepared to unleash your sales pitch on individuals who could become clients. Often freelancers will simply say “I’m a freelance web designer” when asked what they do, or talk about individual projects. The problem with this approach is that it can close off the possibility of selling yourself and your skills. Your elevator pitch should almost be like your boiler plate statement. It’s a brief advertisement about what you do. The idea is that if you were in an elevator with someone who asked what you did, you could convey the most important details of your business before the ride had finished. Of course, not many of us have those sorts of conversations in lifts. More often they are a place for embarrassed silences and gazing at feet. But we do meet people all the time in other circumstances where there are business opportunities, such as networking events, conferences, product launches and press events, so it’s important to create an elevator pitch that intrigues the listener, creates awareness of what you do, and leaves them wanting to know more and stay in touch. A successful pitch needs to cover the three questions all businesses initially have to answer. 1. Who you are. 2. What you do. 3. Why customers should care. It’s a good idea to write your pitch down. The description needs to spell out what you do specifically, but in a succinct manner. Treat it as if you were making a list of the three or four most important things you do for someone who has no idea about your job.
Practise until pitch perfect.
On a separate list, write the three main reasons why a client should hire you rather than someone else. This can include your specialties, your experience, your training, or any other plus points. The two lists can be combined to make your elevator pitch. Although you don’t need to memorise the words like a robot, it’s a good idea to practise so that it becomes second nature to you. Time yourself to see if you can get it under the magic 30 seconds (and have a longer version for slower elevators). Try it out on some friends to see what they think. You could even tape yourself to hear what it sounds like. Play about with it until it is something that you are happy with and that sounds like it really represents you. The next step is to actually use your pitch. Rather than opt for small talk at business events, try and work your pitch into conversations. Always be ready to expand on what you do, and have business cards ready to distribute to anybody who looks like a good business opportunity.