Talent [R]evolution

Leave the hard sell at the door and perfect your freelance pitch

Reading Time: 7 minutes

As a former software executive turned consultant and coach, I’ve spent over a decade helping freelancers and consultants expand their businesses, boost their income, and make a real impact – all while maintaining the flexibility and freedom we all got into the freelancing game to enjoy. Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting a members-only webinar with the Outvise community. We explored a crucial aspect of every freelancer’s success: perfecting the all-important freelance pitch.

Now, I know the word “pitch” can trigger a wave of anxiety for many of us. The idea of “pitching” ourselves can feel awkward, forced and inauthentic. And networking as a freelancer? For many, the thought of “networking” conjures up images of uncomfortable small talk and awkward attempts to sell our services. But what if I told you there’s a different way to approach pitching and networking that feels natural, genuine, and enjoyable?

In this article, I’ll share the key takeaways from the presentation and give you practical advice on how to reframe your mindset, build authentic relationships, and ultimately land those high-quality engagements you strive for. Let’s get into it.

What is a pitch, anyway?

It might seem like an obvious question, but nailing down the exact nature and purpose of the freelance pitch is the first step to refining the art – and understanding why so many fall flat. When I talk about “pitching,” I’m referring to the way we present ourselves to others with the aim of persuading or convincing them to engage with us professionally. 

We often think of the freelance pitch as very overt – emailing contacts to announce our new business, talking to people with the sole purpose of selling them our services, sending direct messages on LinkedIn, or even applying for jobs. But pitching can also be much more subtle. It might look like entering a conversation with a specific outcome in mind or trying to steer the discussion in a certain direction to achieve our goals.

The problem with traditional pitching, in my experience, is that it often yields less-than-ideal results. When we approach conversations with an agenda focused on convincing others of our worth, it can create a pressure-filled, awkward dynamic. We might come across as desperate, needy, or overly salesy, which ultimately pushes people away. This approach leads to fewer opportunities, lower close rates, and a lot of unnecessary resistance to growing our businesses. It’s no wonder so many of us feel like we’re “bad at selling ourselves.”

However, I believe there’s a better approach to the freelance pitch that fosters authentic connections and leads to mutually beneficial relationships. The first step is to recognise that “selling yourself” isn’t about you at all – it’s about the client.

How to write a pitch as a freelancer

An effective freelance pitch is all about shifting away from that traditional, pushy “pitching” mindset. Instead of focusing on ourselves and our services, we need to make the conversation about our potential clients and their needs. This is the essence of a consultative approach: a method that positions you as collaborative, client-centric and solutions-oriented.

That’s where my MAP process comes in. It’s a simple framework that I’ve found to be incredibly effective for networking and landing freelance gigs. It comprises a three-part cyclical process (or four if you include the Learn & Adjust between-pitch refinement phase I included in this slide).

  • Meet people. This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people neglect this crucial step. Start by reaching out to past colleagues, clients and other professionals in your network. Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons and connect with people outside of your industry as well. You never know who could introduce you to your next big client.
  • Add value. This is where the magic happens. Instead of launching into a sales pitch, focus on asking insightful questions, listening actively to their answers, and offering genuine support. Share helpful resources, make relevant introductions, or simply offer a different perspective on their challenges. The goal is to demonstrate your expertise and build trust without explicitly selling yourself.
  • Propose next steps. Once you’ve established a connection and provided value, it’s time to gently move the conversation forward. This could involve suggesting a follow-up meeting to discuss their needs in more detail, offering a free consultation, or even proposing a specific solution that showcases your skills and experience. By this point, you’ve laid the groundwork for a collaborative relationship, and your proposal will feel like a natural next step.

To really take the pressure off yourself and build rapport with potential clients, I recommend following a simple guideline: the 80/20 rule. In your conversations, aim to listen 80% of the time and talk only 20%. And even within that 20% of talking, dedicate 80% of it to asking thoughtful questions that show you’re genuinely interested in their needs and only 20% to talking about yourself or your services.

This approach not only helps you gather valuable information about the client’s pain points and goals, but it also creates a sense of trust and collaboration. By prioritising their needs and actively listening to their concerns, you position yourself as a valuable partner rather than just another freelancer vying for their attention.

The MAP process may initially seem counterintuitive, but trust me, it works. By focusing on building genuine connections and providing value upfront, you’ll naturally attract the right clients who appreciate your expertise and are eager to work with you. For more on designing and implementing the MAP Process in your freelance business, download my book – Grow Your Consulting Business: The 14-Step Roadmap to Make Your Independent Consulting Goals a Reality.

But what if I’m explicitly asked to pitch?

Now, I know what you’re thinking. What if pitching is the name of the game? What about applying for freelance gigs or responding to recruiters? Trust me, I get it. There are situations where pitching might seem unavoidable. But even then, we can still adopt a more consultative approach that feels authentic and less like the oh-so-off-putting hard sell.

First and foremost, focus on providing value. Instead of simply stating your experience or qualifications, offer to conduct a diagnostic or assessment to uncover their specific challenges. This demonstrates your expertise and gives them a taste of what it’s like to work with you. It’s also a great way to craft a compelling response to a ubiquitous question in the LinkedIn age: What is a good professional headline for a freelancer? instead of simply saying “Freelance Data Scientist,” your headline could read “Data Scientist Specialising in Predictive Analytics for Customer Retention.”

Ask thoughtful questions. Instead of talking to them, engage in a conversation to understand their goals, pain points, and priorities. This not only helps you tailor your solutions, but it also shows that you genuinely care about their success. This approach enables you to position yourself as a consultant, not a job seeker. Remember, you’re a business owner engaging with a potential client, not a candidate being interviewed. Approach the conversation with confidence, curiosity, and a focus on how you can solve their problems.

I remember working with a consultant who always felt awkward and pressured in pitching situations. He worried about being judged and struggled to connect with potential clients. But once he started imagining them as existing clients, everything changed. He approached conversations with genuine curiosity and a focus on providing solutions. This simple shift in mindset allowed him to build rapport and win over clients with ease.

Of course, even with the best approach, you won’t win every opportunity. You’ll encounter rejections and non-responses along the way. But don’t let that discourage you. Remember, people are busy and have competing priorities. It’s not always about you. To reduce the impact of any single rejection, focus on increasing the volume of conversations you’re having. The more people you connect with, the less any one outcome will matter. And who knows, that next conversation might just lead to your dream project.

networking as a freelancer
Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons and connect with people outside of your industry as well.

Nurture long-term relationships (and never pitch again!)

Crafting a flawless freelance pitch is about more than just closing the deal. It’s about fostering genuine connections, providing value, and establishing yourself as a trusted partner. By shifting your mindset and embracing a more consultative approach, you’ll attract the right clients, build a thriving business, and feel confident in your ability to navigate any pitching situation that comes your way.

To streamline your networking efforts and ensure you’re nurturing those valuable relationships, don’t hesitate to leverage tools like task management systems or CRMs. These platforms can help you keep track of your contacts, schedule follow-up meetings, and even automate certain communication tasks. By implementing these strategies and focusing on building relationships, you’ll create a sustainable freelance business that thrives on trust, collaboration, and mutual success.

To reiterate, even in situations where pitching seems unavoidable, always prioritise adding value and focusing on the client’s needs. Treat potential clients as existing clients to reduce pressure and foster more authentic conversations. Don’t let rejection discourage you; maintain a high volume of conversations and focus on the client’s perspective. Nurture relationships with clients through ongoing communication and value-added initiatives.

Remember, it’s not about quick wins or short-term gains; it’s about cultivating a network of clients who value your expertise and are eager to work with you again and again. 

Take your freelance pitch strategy to the next level

If you’re ready to ditch the traditional pitching model and embrace a more authentic, relationship-focused approach to the freelance pitch, Iet’s connect. I offer a variety of resources, workshops and coaching programs designed specifically for freelancers who want to build thriving businesses that help them develop professionally and personally.

For those of you who are looking to diversify their income streams, I’d like to draw your attention to Outvise’s “Bring a Project” programme. This initiative is 

designed to help freelancers generate passive income by leveraging their existing networks. If the client chooses Outvise for the project, you’ll earn a 10% commission on the total project cost—just for making the introduction! It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

But Outvise offers even more than that. As a member of the Outvise community, you’ll gain access to exclusive benefits and resources, including partnerships with handy tools like:

  • Indy: The all-in-one platform for independent workers who want to manage their entire freelance business in one place.
  • Kanzen Design: A service that creates visually compelling presentations to help you captivate your audience and win more clients.
  • TRech International: A soft skills training provider that empowers you to enhance your communication, leadership, and interpersonal skills.
  • Exali: A comprehensive professional indemnity insurance for European freelancers and self-employed individuals.
  • Oxinity: An EdTech SaaS where you can learn or improve a language online with a real-time teacher.

These partnerships are designed to support your freelance journey and provide you with the tools and resources you need to thrive. 

So, are you ready to step up your freelance pitch? Schedule an exploratory call and explore how to work together to achieve your goals – and get some help from the Outvise network, too!

Melisa is a former software executive who helped build a software company from start-up to exit and mid-market. For the past 11 years, Melisa has been an independent consultant and business coach for consultants. As a business coach, Melisa helps independent consultants grow their businesses, so they can increase their income and impact without compromising their flexibility. Melisa is the host of the Grow Your Independent Consulting Business podcast.

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