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Soft skills have a big impact on your success as a freelancer and businessman. The most important one is your ability to sell. It is this skill, selling, that determines the success of your freelance career and business. No matter how great your service or product is, you have to know how to sell it. Otherwise, you will have a hard time getting new clients and customers. Also, knowing how to sell is the only way to avoid becoming example of “starving artist”. Without further ado, let’s begin.
All parts of the 7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have series:
7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have Pt4-Selling
Soft Skill No.4: Selling
Unlike the previous parts of this 7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have series, today, I will keep the intro short. The reason is simple. There is, I think, no need to convince you about the importance of knowing how to sell. Paradoxically, knowing how to sell is one of the soft skills most people consider important for success in business. Even if you are someone who decided to become a freelancer just a minute ago, you probably somehow understand that, without selling, your business will be short-lived. If not, you should realize this as soon as possible.
By the way, for those of you thinking about becoming a freelancer, you have to read Hard things you don’t know about freelancing article. Here, you will find the most important things you have to know to prepare yourself for freelancing. If you are a veteran … Read it anyway because you never know what you don’t know until you find out what you don’t know.
Anyway, if this is the first article from this series focused on soft skills, you are pretty lucky. Knowing how to sell is something you can use in every area of your work and life. The last I want you to remember before going any further is that selling is helping. Thank you. And now, let’s enter the soft skills Academy and start learning about today’s subject, selling.
Soft Skills Academy for Improving Selling
On the lines below, you will find various tips and suggestions to improve your ability to selling your services and your soft skills in general. In the beginning we will focus more on your mind-set and the theory. Later on, we will switch to practical approach. So, feel free to scroll as you want according to the kind of information you are looking for.
Be Obsessed With Becoming The Best
The first advice I will share with you about selling-related soft skills is to become obsessed with becoming the best. The first thing you should do if you want to get better at selling is to promise to yourself that you will be the best. By being the best, I don’t mean being the best in selling. Well, you should master that too. However, your overall goal should be to be the best in your industry. Whatever you do, you should make a promise to always do your best get to the top ten percent.
Then, after you make your promise, you should start working on fulfilling that promise. This means that you should dedicate the majority of your time not spend at work to study and practice. If you really want to become one of the best, you have to spend the majority of your time working on your skills. Well, there is one thing you have to do before that. This thing is assessing the current state of your skill. One tool that’s often used by big companies and also individuals is called SWOT analysis.
SWOT analysis is a matrix composed of four quadrants. These four quadrants are called strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. For now, focus on the first two – your strengths and weaknesses. These are the cornerstones of your business. By the way, freelancing is not a hobby or just a side gig. It is also business. Now, it is time to subject your business to thorough and ruthless analysis. Write down all the skills you need to have in order to do your business. This includes both, your hard and soft skills. In case of doubts what skill belongs where, go back to part 1.
Here, in the first part, is a brief description of both of these groups with couple examples. Next, take the skills list and put every skill either to “strengths” or “weaknesses” quadrant. Again, be ruthless. If you are not sure to what quadrant should you put certain skill, it may be sign it should be in weakness quadrant. If you find this self-assessment too difficult, you can ask someone else to do it for you. Maybe you should do that anyway, at least to double-check yourself. Otherwise, you are putting yourself at risk of overestimation of your skills.
When you have the first half of the matrix complete, the next step is to assign every skill with a number. This number tells you how important is the skill for your business. The range of numbers will depend on the amount of skills. Meaning, every number will be present in only one instance. To make sure the skills are rated appropriately, you can reach out to someone in the same industry (business) and ask him to check the list. If both of you are in the same type of business, you should have the same rating for every skill. Otherwise, one of you is wrong. So, ask at least four people.
The final steps? Pick the skill(s) that are the most important for your business and also in the “weaknesses” quadrant and start working on them. Why? These skills are currently what is holding you from becoming the best. These skills are also what’s holding your business back. Fix them first. Remember, whatever you do, commit to do it on one hundred percent. If there is something that must be done, it has to be done in the best way possible.
Master The Basics First
What if all your skills are on a decent level? Primo, I will bet that you did the analysis on your own. Secundo, ask someone to review the results of your analysis. Tertio, go back to the basics. Don’t worry. I know what you said. This is not an attempt to show you that your assessment is wrong. In a fact, it is my attempt to push you into mastery mind-set. When your skills are on a decent level, it means two things. Primo, your business should be on the right track with only little competition. Basically, you should not feel shortage of clients. Otherwise, there must be a problem somewhere.
Secundo, it is quite possible that by continuing working on your well-developed skills you could experience something called a law of diminishing returns. Simply said, when you reach certain level, your rate of progress starts to decline. In other words, more work on your skills does not bring bigger gains. The opposite is true. It will bring smaller and smaller gains until you reach plateau. Then, your progress will stop. Sure, there are ways to overcome this law. However, more important question is whether it is worth your time.
I suggest that it is not. I suggest that you should turn your focus on selling and other soft skills and master the basics. If there is one skill that will have the biggest effect on your business if you master it, I think it is selling. It doesn’t really matter how great you are in your craft unless you can sell it. This may be uncomfortable, but it is the truth. Just think about Vincent Van Gogh. Today, we are going to galleries for the chance to see these artworks. On auctions, his painting are sold for millions of dollars. However, did you know that he sold only one painting, one year before he died.
Isn’t this sad? This can almost become a perfect example of the “starving artist” metaphor. Unless you want to follow the same path, start focusing on mastering soft skills that are the most important for your business and also life. The first one is selling. The rest will vary according to your industry. Do your best to become a master seller and master of your trade. And, remember to never use cheap shortcuts and cheats. They work only momentarily.
Accept Responsibility for Your Results
This one will be a bit tougher, but it is necessary for you to hear it if you want to get better in selling. Well, it was at least important for me. You are the one and only person fully responsible for your results. If you are not getting the results you want, there is only one person you can blame for it, and that’s you. Honestly, I’m not sure whether I’m talking to you right now or to myself. Maybe both. Anyway, if you should remember just one thing from this article, or even the whole series, it is this thing: “You are the one and only person fully responsible for your results.”
Until you accept this, you will not be able to accomplish your goals and get what you want from your life. It is only through accepting full responsibility for your results and work you can start making progress. And, this is applicable to any area of your life, not just soft skills or selling. However, this is only the first step. It is only preparation of the ground. The second step is to stop looking for excuses and start working on your skills and doing activities earning you money.
Please, don’t condemn this advice as a nonsense. Give it a shot and at least think about. You must understand that without taking full responsibility for your life, nothing is going to change. Again, this not a new agey crap. It is necessary step to become the driver of your life, to switch from being a victim. However, as I said, this is still not enough. When you remove excuses from your dictionary, you also have to start doing something to gain momentum. Johann Wolfgang Goethe said it beautifully: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
Be and Act Like An Expert
Let’s now switch to the more practical side of soft skills training and making you better in selling. The first thing is to start seeing yourself as an expert and acting like it. From now on, you will no longer be just a freelancer available to hire. That’s a matter of the past. From now, you have to see yourself as consultant and expert, as a precious source of information for your clients and customers. Let’s say you are a freelance web designer or developer. Until today, you probably promoted yourself that way, someone who can design and code websites.
Say goodbye to this way of doing business. From this day, think about yourself as an expert on everything related to web design or development. Instead of offering and doing only the hard work, like coding and designing, start offering consultations to your current and prospective clients. There is one thing we often either don’t see. When we are capable of creating great designs and coding amazing websites, we are also inherently capable to advise our clients in the same thing. In short, if you can create quality design or web, you can also recognize quality.
Some of you may already know this, consciously or unconsciously. However, many technically oriented people are often not sure about their soft skills. For this reason, it is much easier and safer to avoid situations requiring or even depending on soft skills. And, if there is one profession that directly depends on soft skills, it is consulting. This makes it almost the direct opposite of what would many freelance web designers and developers sought. That’s unfortunate for couple reasons. Primo, consulting can be a great way to increase your income and your business.
When you think about how many people already have website and are looking just for advice or assessment, you are leaving money on the table. One thing … Many web designers and developers are complaining about website builders and similar services. Looking at the same topic from the view of consultant, these services can be a gold mine for you. Think about it. These services were created for people without any design and coding skills. This, in turn, means that these people are often not skilled enough to evaluate the quality of their websites.
This is where you and your consulting services come into game. Simply offer these people a helping hand. You can easily test this assumption by reaching out to group of people using some website builder, say fifteen or twenty. Then, just ask them if they would be willing to pay for such a service and how much. With just a bit of luck and couple emails, you can help more people in one day than you thought is possible. Also, depending on your expertise, you will make a decent amount of money. Do you want to get better in selling? Here is one way.
Before we move on the next topic, there is one last thing related to being and acting like an expert. By the way, by acting like an expert I mean appearing and behaving like an expert. It is not about faking it. Anyway, that last thing I want to suggest that you do is to start educating your clients and customers. Your clients and customers should always leave you smarter than they were before they met you. This is, I think, the key to take your selling, soft skills and business on the next level.
Prepare for Success
Another thing that can boost your ability to sell and also keep your clients for the future work opportunities is detailed preparation. Now, what is not a detailed preparation? Detailed preparation is not a quick scan of clients current website or business card. If you are doing this, don’t be surprised your business sucks. On the other hand, when you take the time to go gather as much information and materials about your client as you can and go study them, that’s detailed preparation. If you spend fifteen minutes carefully inspecting their current website and writing down every bug or weaker part you can fix, that’s detailed preparation.
In other words, when you arrive on the meeting, you should have more information about your client than he does. You should also be able to give him couple quick tips right on the spot. Although it may look like a tiny detail or doing too much, it is details like this one that either make-or-break the sell. This is that one thing that distinguishes the top from the rest, this willingness to go the extra mile. If you want to become part of this group, you have to start doing what they do. Doing extensive research even before the deal is closed is one of those things.
This is the bad and also the good news. Bad because the times when your preparation on meeting with client was all about choosing the jeans and t-short, and this was the longest step, are gone. From now, you will spend maybe even hour or more researching your client’s background before even thinking about what to wear. Good because there is only a handful of people willing to follow this approach. Only few people are willing to go the extra mile. This means that the number of people you compete with will decrease significantly.
Unfortunately, it will also get tougher because you will enter higher league. People playing there are much tougher competitors. They are working on their hard and soft skills every day. For them, going the extra mile is just a part of their job. Still, the reward, whether monetary or in the form of branding, is still much bigger than in the “average” league. Are you ready to step up your game?
Build Strong Long-lasting Relationships
Business is about relationships. The better and stronger these relationships are the better your business. Also, it is much easier to sell your services and products to people you know and they know you. The simplest example is probably your family and friends. In that case, unless what you are selling is total crap, unusable for them or incredibly expensive, they will probably buy it. This is basically the power of relationships. When you focus on building relationships instead just business, you will soon realize that you are building both.
So, what steps can you make to build strong long-lasting relationships? Primo, you have to carefully listen to your clients and customers. Any time you will be on the meeting or talking with your client or customer, focus on him. In that moment, there is nothing more important. Also, learn to listen actively. In a short, this means that when your client is talking, you are doing one thing – listening to his words. You are not thinking about what will you say next or what is on your to-do list. You are also not trying to solve his problem if he is describing one.
Active listening is one of the soft skills you should acquire as soon as possible. It will do wonder for your selling skill, and your business in the long-term.
Secundo, give your clients and people you meet with more than they ask for. This approach is also known as over-delivering. It is again about going the extra mile and providing exceptional service. So, whatever service you provide, you always add some cherry on top. The goal here is not just get the job done and make your client satisfied. The goal is providing such a service your clients will want to talk about it and refer their friends to you. It is one thing to ask for referrals and recommendations. It is something completely different getting referrals and recommendations without you asking for them.
Tertio, approach every client as if he or she was the last person on this planet. Or, as if you had to spend the rest of your life with him or her. Meaning, no lying or withholding information. You must be completely transparent and honest. When something doesn’t look like the best choice, say it. Let your client know about the work-related doubts you have. Remember, your client is probably not a mind reader. So, if you don’t tell him about it, he will not know it.
Quarto, look for ways to show your client that his investment in your services will benefit him in the future. Show him that he is not wasting his money by hiring you. To take this even further, search for ways to also save your client money. The sweet thing on this advice is that it doesn’t have to be directly related to your area of expertise. What matters is that it will help your client save some money. In other words, instead of keeping only your own wallet or bank account on your mind, do the same thing for your client. Care about his business as if it were your own.
The last advice to build long-lasing relationships is to see and treat everyone as your client. Meaning, listen to them, help them solve their problems and go the extra mile for them. In the end, who knows … That one guy you briefly saw in subway station might become your next client.
I know, I know. We already tackled this topic in the Be And Act Like An Expert section. However, it is so important that we have to take couple more minutes and invest it into it. Don’t worry, it will be brief. Primo (I’m beginning to really like Latin), find every possible way your services can be beneficial to your client. Whether it is saving some money, time, bandwidth or anything else, find it. Then, tell your client about it and how you can implement it. Secundo, always do your best in explaining all information to your clients.
When you explain or describe something to your client, he should be able to summarize it in his own words. This is the only bulletproof way to test if he understands the concept. If your client can’t summarize the subject or concept using his own words, you’ve failed in explaining it. Tertio, always share your knowledge with your clients and other people. Doing so, you will provide them with more value and also demonstrate your expertise. Don’t be afraid of losing your job. Most people will not do the work by themselves, no matter how much information will you give them.
Build Your Business on Extreme Credibility and Reputation
Here comes another short-form advice to use your soft skills to build rock-solid business. In everything you do, you have to radiate extreme trustworthiness. Regardless of your industry, your appearance, behavior and the way you are communicating must eliminate any potential doubts about your trustworthiness upfront. In other words, focus on building your credibility first. Only then, when your credibility is solid and stable, use it as a cornerstone for your business, not the other way around. Remember, your reputation always precedes you. Make extreme credibility one of your personal values and success is almost guaranteed.
Love Objections and Prepare for Them
Prospective client’s objections are not your enemies. In a fact, every objection is an opportunity for you to sell your service or product. How come? Well, your services are solutions for problems and pains your prospective clients have. So, with every objection you are getting another opportunity how your service can be beneficial to that person. Do you understand it now? The more objections you will hear, the more chances you have to present your service as the best solution.
The best way to boost your ability to turn objections into opportunities is by preparing for them upfront. In other words, don’t wait until someone throws one into your face. You have to go and actively look for them. This means that you have to deliberately ask people what they dislike on your services. What are some weaknesses of your proposal you should work on and why would they decide to not to hire you. Write down all these objections, prepare solid answer for each of them and keep it always at hand. Then, when opportunity appears, you will be ready.
Approach Your Pricing Like Professional
One of the biggest mistakes I see freelancer and businessmen (and women) do is not being professional when it comes to pricing their services or products. Although this topic is not directly related to soft skills development, it is still connected to selling. Also, it has a big impact on your business and the way your prospective and current clients perceive you. For this reason, I have three suggestions for you. Primo (Latin again), be proud on what you sell. Seriously.
If you want to get better in selling, you have to be proud on what you sell. Otherwise, you will not be able to sell with your whole heart. Remember, if you don’t trust or like what you sell, be it service or product, why should potential clients or customer do? The first step is that simple. You have to start believing your service or product and be openly proud of it. Secundo, never ever offer discounts. You are offering the best service or product money can buy.
Meaning, people should ask you for the chance to buy it. Remember, high-quality and discounts are mutually exclusive. Be proud on what you offer. If someone can’t afford to buy it, it is a sign of one thing. He is not the client or customer for you. As Seth Godin says: “It’s not for him.” Tertio, when someone will try to negotiate, don’t change the price. Instead, give him more reasons to show that your price is justified, or even low. In other words, demonstrate how your service or product will be beneficial for him. The best way to win negotiation is to never begin with it.
Batch Your Activities
Let’s divert from soft skills and selling a bit and discuss how to improve your selling skills through productivity. We’ve already tackled chunking in Pomodoro Technique – Your Dirty Secret for Top Productivity article. Back then, it was about optimizing your workflow. Now, it is time to briefly mention it again in a bit different direction. Sure, you still should batch similar activities and use chunks of time (series of sprints with breaks, viz. Pomodoro technique article) to get them done. From now on, I suggest that you batch your meetings with clients. If you have more than one face-to-face meeting to do in one day, you should organize them.
By organization your meetings I mean both, time and place. First, schedule these meetings so they will go consecutively (with a small margin). Second, arrange these meetings on the same places. Or, at least places that are close to each other. This way, you will minimize the amount of time you would otherwise spend moving from meeting one to meeting two. One of the, somewhat funny, examples is scheduling five meetings in the same coffee shop. Next, you are just switching the tables. Or, you can wait until your client sits down to your table. It looks like a speed dating.
Although it may seem like taken way too far, this trick has a potential to save you a lot of time. Here is the thing. We often don’t recognize how much time do we spend on foot, moving from one destination to another. Imagine how different your business could be if you could invest all this time into activities that earns you money. Well, you can. These activities include meetings with prospective clients and also your current clients, not traveling (unless you are a travel agent).
Again, traveling across the city or state is not earning you money, meetings with clients does. Keep this in mind the next time you will plan your day, week or month. You are right, this is not directly related to soft skills development. Think about it a way to optimize your selling-related soft skills.
Bring Your Future to The Present
There is one more advice I want to share with you to improve your soft skills and make you better at selling. First, I have to warn you. Many of you may want to trash this advice as a piece of crap. The first time I heard about it, I did the same thing. It took me about two seconds to condemn this idea and throw it into intellectual trash can. Then, I moved on and started to study how the best athletes, and other high performers, in the world approach their training and work. Surprisingly, that one thing I considered a piece of crap was constantly appearing again and again.
This one thing I talk about, that all high performers are using, is … Visualization. Yes. Whether it was Michael Phelps, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, basically all of them were using visualization in some sense. What’s more, if we narrow our focus purely on top performers in sales, the occurrence of this mental tool is even more frequent. In other words, the vast majority of the best sellers are using visualization at least once a day(!). Due to this amount of evidence, I decided to reconsider my opinion on visualization.
Anyway, what is this visualization thing all about and how it can improve your soft skills? Let’s start with the first question. Short definition of visualization (creative visualization), borrowed from wiki, is a process of creating visual mental imagery. You are creating mental image of some sort in your mind. This content of this imagery can be anything. One example of visualization is to imagine yourself performing some activity – Michael Phelps is using visualization with swimming in perfect form, sellers are visualizing themselves closing a deal.
Many musicians are visualizing themselves going through their upcoming performance. Entrepreneurs often use visualization to “see” the goal they set for themselves come into fruition. From this point of view, visualization look similar to daydreaming. There is one key thing I forgot to mention. During the visualization, you are visualizing yourself performing the activity in the best way possible. Or, you are visualizing yourself achieving your goal. However, this has nothing to do with that “secret” or “law of attraction” piece of crap.
What I mean is that no matter how hard will you try, visualization will not magically create a Ferrari in your garage, bigger house successful company or fill your bank account with money. I think that there are basically three use cases for visualization. First one is using it for therapeutic reasons – coping with pain, anxiety, low self-esteem, addictions, etc. Second one is to support and improve your learning process. This is how many athletes are using this tool – they are mentally training all the moves they have to otherwise do physically.
According to the scientific studies and research, your brain is not able to distinguish between imagination and reality. In other words, athletes can work on, and improve, their skills without going through physical training. Their brains are rewiring and strengthening connections purely on the basis of these mental images. The third and last use case of visualization is to motivate yourself. This and the previous are the main reasons behind my growing interest in this topic.
Although goal setting is amazing tool, there is one issue many people have with it. This issue is in motivation. Meaning, yes, you are regularly setting goals for yourself. However, the longer it will take to achieve these goals, the more you need to work on your motivation. Otherwise, it is quite possible that you will not reach your goals due to depleted motivation. This is where visualization can become handy. By visualizing yourself achieving the goal, you can sustain high motivation.
The way I like to think about it is like maintaining the fire. When you set a goal for yourself, it’s like creating the first spark that ignites the fire. Then, you need to feed this fire with wood. Otherwise, it extinguishes. Motivation is the same. You have to constantly work on it. It was Zig Ziglar, compared motivation to bathing – he recommends it daily. For this reason, it looks like a good idea to use visualization as a way to give yourself a fresh dose of motivation.
Full disclosure: I’m just starting with visualization, so I have close to zero experience with it. So, if you have any prior experience, let me know. It will be great to share it with other readers. Anyway, if you want to use this tool to improve your soft skills, namely selling, the procedure is quite easy. As I mentioned in the beginning, imagine yourself going through the activity in the best form. See it like it’s happening, through your eyes (first-person). Imagine yourself achieving the goal you’ve set for yourself. Again, see the situation through your eyes. Next, repeat it during the day.
In the beginning, I mentioned that visualization is mainly used to imagine or “simulate” the best-case scenario. However, I think there might be some usefulness in visualizing the worst scenario – the situation when you actually fail. Since your brain is not distinguishing between mental imagery and reality, you can basically simulate all the bad situations to make yourself more resistant. For example, you can imagine being rejected by a prospect again and again. Doing so may slowly help you cope with fear of rejection. However, this is untested idea. Use it only at your own risk.
Closing Thoughts on Soft Skills
Let’s end it up here. Although there is a ton of things we could discuss, I already took a lot of your time. And, I also don’t want to overwhelm you with information. Instead, everything we didn’t cover today will be discussed in one of future articles. Now, take what you’ve learned today and find a way to test and apply it. See what works in your specific situation and use it.
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