Pitching for work face-to-face

By tutor and life coach Muriel McClymont

As skills for life go, learning to sell yourself effectively, has got to be right up there as a survival skill for freelances.

It’s no good being the best at what you do if, when you get the golden opportunity to meet someone who commissions your kind of work, you get tongue tied and mumble something noncommittal about not letting them down!  Would you employ you if this were the case? Don’t say yes!

A rose by any other name…

Selling (yes there it is, a nasty word for some creatives) but nevertheless an important skill - which can be learned just like any other. What you need to work out is how you can acquire this skill in a way that works and is comfortable for you.

If you really are struggling with the word selling, try looking at it from the buyer’s perspective. For example, when you buy a new computer, do you want to have someone explain as clearly as possible about everything it does and what all its advantages are? Or do you want someone to shrug and say it’s probably exactly what you want, but not back that up with the evidence – leaving you in the dark as to why it’s going to meet your needs?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has left a shop thinking: "What’s wrong with those people? They didn't seem to know what they were talking about and I was ready buy?"

So look at selling as providing a key service that supports clients and helps them make the right buying decision that will be most beneficial to them. There you go, it’s virtually an act of charity!

Now for the science bit

Terminology sorted, let’s look at the actual skill. What do you need to do to present yourself effectively and so secure work? There are three key aspects: your preparation, what you say and how you say it – simples!

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

I can’t over emphasise the importance of preparation including:

  • Research on whom you are trying to get work from and what’s important to them.
  • Pulling out your specific skills, talents and attributes that the prospective client is looking for (each is likely to be different) and finding examples from your experience that most closely fit the bill.
  • Deciding on your key messages and prioritising them in order of importance to ensure that you do get these across.
  • Practising what you’re going to say out loud (to yourself, to others or into a recorder). This is invaluable and I’m often surprised to discover that what sounds clear in my head comes out as waffle when I say it for the first time but soon shapes up when I’ve verbalised it once or twice. Saying it out loud also gives you confidence for the real thing – just like preparing for a part if you’re an actor.
  • Working out the possible gaps in your experience and how other experience could be used to plug these. Or, finding examples of where your ability to learn fast will compensate.

What you say

Your research and preparation will help you to:

  • Find out as much as you can about what is required by the ‘buyer’.
  • Identify areas from your experience, whether work-related or not, when you have used or demonstrated the skills and talents closest to what is required.
  • Figure out how you can show how the skills involved in your achievements in that situation are a good fit for the opportunity in hand.
  • Say what you can do, not what you can’t.

How you say it

You need to aware of how you come across to others. It’s about managing nerves so you can deliver what you want to say effectively, listen, observe the client’s response and make adjustments to what you’re saying if you’re losing the client’s interest.

Using appropriate and dynamic vocabulary that builds a clear and enticing picture in the buyer’s head, being animated when you speak, using positive body language and varying the volume, tone and tempo of your voice to make it more interesting are all important factors in getting the result you want.

To achieve this it is helpful to be interested in what you are talking about and curious to see whether your audience are enjoying hearing about it. As you'll have observed, when people talk about experiences they enjoyed or are proud of, they light up - and this kind of enthusiasm and passion is often irresistible. Also when someone shows a genuine interest in you, it's hard not to warm to them.

Non-verbal communication has a powerful influence too so:

  • Match your dress with that of the client so that they recognise you (consciously or unconsciously) as someone who could fit in with their working environment. If you don’t know what to wear, it’s better to be too smart that too casual/scruffy.
  • Use positive body language including good eye contact, smiling and a firm handshake and avoid distracting movements like chair swivelling, inadvertent hand waving and pen tapping.
  • Be professional and polite, e.g., turn off your mobile phone and get to meetings on time.

It can be difficult to assess how we come across so ask friends to give you their honest opinion or, for a real eye-opener, get yourself filmed practising your pitch with a friend and you’ll certainly see where you can improve your performance.

It does take time and effort but getting to grips and observing the above will help you sell your work with panache, or if you still prefer, help a buyer make the right decision that includes hiring you!

Want to learn more?

FEU Training is running a series of workshops throughout the UK this year including one on pitching your work face-to-face (You’re Hired).

Look out for updates and let us know if you would like us to stage a workshop near you by emailing us at info@feutraining.org including what workshop you are interested in and where you are based.


Business skills training
for creative freelances