4 Steps to Presenting Your Services The Right Way

In Freelance, Training by Chris Foley

Why it matters: Because so many freelancers get this wrong


Why it matters: Because so many freelancers get this wrong.

data_flow_chart-300x1991Building a website is actually one of the least important components in our web development business. (There's no need to re-read that sentence, it's accurate as it is.) Sure, we build sites, lots of them, actually. What I'm trying to say though, is that the website is essentially just a means to an end. It's the "end" that's important.

Customers come to us with their business in their arms, and say "okay, I have this business, how do I present it to the world?"
That can be a really difficult question for some people. And the answers are different for every business. So sure, we build websites, but that comes at the end of a larger process.

As more of our friends and colleagues find themselves out of work, or in some cases, if not unemployed, then at least under-employed, we've been taking quite a few individuals through this process lately.

Are you a freelance professional? Are you starting your own thing on the side to earn some additional income? If so, the most important part of getting started so that you can start earning some money is to get real clear real fast on what is important to your target customer.

Let's dive right in:

Your customers need to know 4 things when they visit your site, speak to you on the phone or communicate with you via email:

  1. Do you provide the services I need?
  2. How much will those services cost me?
  3. How qualified are you to provide those services?
  4. How easy are you to work with?

Too many websites tell huge, impressive stories, but miss out on the very basics! If you build a cutting-edge website that flashes and beeps and slides and blinks, but doesn't answer these 4 concerns, you've lost, and you've lost in a big way. The most intelligent thing your customer can say before moving on to the next vendor is "wow, this person spent a lot of money on this site... NEXT!"

Fortunately for all of us, it's pretty simple to present a clean picture. Follow these steps and you'll be golden.

Make a menu

You've got to present a clear offering of services. As a freelance professional, your services are your products. Imagine landing on a website whose shopping cart is difficult to navigate. You're not sure what they sell. The search field is wonky. You get the point.

Know what you're selling, and present it so that your visitors know what you're selling too.

chinese_takeout_150-150x150Chinese Lunch menu.

You walk into a Chinese restaurant for lunch, and within 30 seconds of looking at the menu, you're prepared to order. That's genius. Confused diners go elsewhere.

In order to do this well, you've got to know what you're selling.

Take Inventory

  • What exactly do you do? Do you even know?
  • What are your 2 or 3 or 6 core services? Make a list if you're not sure. Get it out of your head. We'll call this List #1.
  • Consolidate: Are 2 of these services similar enough that they can be presented together? For example: Cat-sitting services and dog-sitting services don't need to be presented separately. It's enough to have a "Pet-Sitting" banner.
  • What don't you do? We'll call this List #2.

Being clear on what services you do not provide is every bit as important as knowing what services you do provide. At the very least, it's important for you to know this for yourself, because people are going to ask for off-menu items. You've got to have an answer ready. You've got to know what you aren't interested in doing, but keep in mind that your customer might want a "one-stop shopping" experience. If you only provide half the picture, you may lose the customer, but that's okay, there are ways to handle this...

Don't think you have to do it all.

If there are services in your realm that you aren't interested in or qualified to provide, it pays to have a colleague ready to step in and provide that service on your behalf. Having such a relationship in place ahead of time can win you an account that you'd otherwise lose.

Also, you don't have to white-label this colleague's services. White-labeling is most often not worth the effort or the liability. I never white-label the services of others. Not anymore anyway. Been there, done that.

In most cases, it's perfectly okay to tell a customer "no, I don't provide Google AdWords support, but my colleague Tyler does. Here are his three service packages, and we can easily work one of them into my proposal." If you handle this situation in this way, your customer will be thrilled that you've already covered these bases, and will be impressed with your preparation and attention to details.

People are inventory too.

Who do you know that can take on some of the tasks in List #1, and who do you know can provide some of the services in List #2?

Build your network NOW

Once you've got your inventory worked out, it's time to find some people who can provide the a la carte items for you.

Know your rates

This one is very important. There are a lot of people doing what you do. You do what you do better than some. Some do it better than you. My point is that the customer has options. To grab them, your presentation needs to be clear, and that includes pricing. Many new freelancers have issues with this one, and you've got to work it out before you hang your "open for business" sign.

Nothing alienates me worse than hidden rates on websites or in brochures. Businesses who choose to go this route do so because they understand that to present their rates in a clear manner satisfies a prospect's curiosity. They may be relying on that curiosity to get you to come into their office or facility so that their sales staff can close you. This is why car salesman push so hard to get you to take a test drive. Putting you behind the wheel of a car causes you to imagine yourself owning the car, and by the time you return to the lot, you're often sold. Now, make no mistake, if car dealerships could avoid putting the price sticker in the window of the car, they would. Sticker shock is a huge obstacle for them to have to overcome every day...

I recently had a real experience while looking for a new Gym. There are 4 different fitness centers in my city. In looking at their websites, I was able to get a clear idea of which facilities had the amenities I require, and I had narrowed it down to two companies. One of the two featured their membership rates right on the website. The second one did not. I had not yet visited either one, but I did want to price them against each other.

After filling out an info request form on the website, and then trading 2 emails with a sales rep, I finally had to write back asking him point-blank to please stop dodging my rates question, and just tell me how much a damned membership would cost me. This approach finally cut through the "come on in for a free consultation" pitches and the "we're committed to helping you achieve your fitness goals" robot language and got me what I was looking for.

Do not treat your customers like this, because most of them wouldn't be as persistent as I was in this situation.

I don't care for this way of thinking. For any company to play that game is to be manipulative, and to manipulate is to be dishonest with your customers. To hell with that approach! Post your rates. Post them clearly, and don't apologize for them, just make them fair and everything will work out just fine.

Important: If you're going to leverage the skill set of others to win a bigger contract, be sure to get your colleague's rates ahead of time, and also make sure there's an agreement in place that they'll honor those rates, and will inform you if they do decide to change rates.

If you quote your colleague's services at $75 per hour, and your colleague bills the project at $95 per hour, you're going to have an upset client, a loss of face, apologies, lower profit, etc. There's also the rift this creates with your relationship with this colleague, and the potential damage to your own reputation. Be careful here. (This sort of situation is why I no longer white-label the services of others. Do not put your reputation into the hands of others. More on this in a later post.)

Another note on setting rates: Knowing what to charge when you're first starting out can be a little bit tricky. As a freelancer, your rates will likely be directly connected to labor time, and it takes experience and repetition to get a handle on how long a certain task takes to complete. Don't worry too much about this. My advice is to pay attention to other professionals in your market, and set your pricing beneath theirs, but not so low that you attract the bargain basement shoppers. As you gain experience and confidence, you can increase your rates to match the increase in value you can provide to your customers.

Show off


When working with individuals and small businesses, it's rare that any of them are going to care one bit about your academic achievements or your work history. They want to see your portfolio. They don't care how smart you are; they care how good you are. They want to see that you've helped other businesses like theirs get to where they want to take their own business. It's pretty simple.

So... Are you any good?

under_construction-300x300Herein lies one of the most vicious catch 22s in the creative professional industries: How does one land jobs without a great portfolio, and how does one build up a great portfolio without having landed any jobs.

Yeah, that's a real stinker. There are a couple of ways to handle this one.

  • First, it helps a lot to finally finish fleshing out that LinkedIn account, if for no other reason, to request recommendations from people with whom you have worked. See, no one wants to read your resume, and no one wants to hear you talk about how awesome you are. What they want is to hear what others have to say about you. LinkedIn is a great way to get some fast testimonials for whatever work you have done in the past.
  • If all you've done so far is build 2 websites and help the lady at the farmer's market set up a blog, then get those 3 examples up onto your site as case studies. Do post images of the websites you've built, but don't stop there. Include an article describing the process of building that site. If you did something experimental with the site, point it out. Include a testimonial from the customer. Soon enough your lame portfolio of 2 websites in a blog will turn into 30 websites, and you'll be able to curate your portfolio, and curate your client list.

And lastly, you've got to work on selling YOU.

You are your business.

Be visible

I can't tell you how many times I've come into contact with a tech company whose website doesn't have a single face on it. No staff section, no names. No team page. Apparently there are no humans working there. Do not make this mistake, because it will cost you the good jobs. Customers do not want to buy services from faceless, nameless firms. Now is the wrong time to be a faceless, nameless business entity. Your customers are through with all of that.

You see, Technology and Creative Professionals can be a real pain in the ass to work with. You have to overcome that stigma early on. Your face, your voice, and your opinion needs to be a tangible part of your web presentation. People want to work with a personality. Especially on a long-term project.

No one wants to work with yet another expensive jerk.

You have a chance to win them over in every blog post you write, in every photo you post of yourself on your site. You have an opportunity to demonstrate that you're fun, clever, thoughtful, and caring every time you interact on Twitter or Facebook. These things matter, and they pay off big.

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I write two newsletters each month.
One for brands and and one for freelancers and small business persons.

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