The 9 steps of selling a creative project

There is one question that I get over and over again from creatives.

How do you handle the sales process of a creative project?

For many creatives, they have never had to deal with sales. 

Many have never worked for themselves before and thus the sales process can feel like foreign territory.

The truth is, sales is scary when it is foreign to you. Yet a strong understanding of how a sale flows from beginning to end will make it much easier to handle. 

My goal with this post is to walk you through the entire sales process from beginning to end.


Step 1) The prospect inquiry - Vetting the client 

A relationship with a prospect can start in many different ways. Maybe you reached out to them, maybe a friend referred you, maybe they found you online. Regardless of how they find you, you need to build a system for how to handle these inquiries for work.

When you first get a new lead, you must first evaluate if this lead is a viable prospect even worth talking with. 

Generally, I vet prospects by asking some mixture of the following questions.

  • What is the purpose of this project?
  • What is your timeline for this project?
  • Have you ever managed this type of project before?
  • Are you the final decision maker for this project or are there others involved? 
  • Do you have a budget set aside for this project and is it over $X? 

Generally, hearing the answers to these questions will help give you a firm understanding of if this client is worth pursuing or not. 


Step 2) Discovery

Discovery is all about understing the clients needs and desires. Image used under creative commons courtesy of Eddi

Discovery is all about understing the clients needs and desires. Image used under creative commons courtesy of Eddi

The discovery process with the client is where you really dive deep, generally this can be in the form of a phone call or meeting with the client. Here you want to gather a thorough understanding of the clients needs and desires.

What are they trying to accomplish? 
What is the purpose of this project to them?
What does a successful end result of this project look like?

Ask a lot of questions on this first call and do everything you can to deeply and truly understand the client.

For more on this process read How to make sales not feel sleazy

The goal of discovery is to come to an agreement with the client on what the scope and objectives of the project are.


Step 3) Proposal 

During the discovery phase, you should have uncovered the objectives, purpose and desires behind this project.

You should have also come to an agreement on what it is the client is wanting to accomplish.

This is where you now package all of that information up into a proposal outlining the project scope, objectives and budget for the client.

I want to make one thing specifically clear about proposals. 

Proposals are not a place to pitch new ideas. 

Proposals are a place to outline the scope and parameters that you discussed with the client and set budget numbers and parameters on the project.

Don't make the mistake of pitching new ideas in your proposals. 

I learned this proposal method from Alan Weiss's book Million Dollar Consulting and it has drastically revamped my freelancing business. 

For more details see How to write proposals and actually win them


Step 4) Follow up

Part of the sales process is simply staying on top of clients. Call them, e-mail them and just stay top of mind until you hear a yes or a no.

Part of the sales process is simply staying on top of clients. Call them, e-mail them and just stay top of mind until you hear a yes or a no.

If you followed the steps outlined in How to write proposals and actually win them, then you should be following up by phone the day after you send over the proposal.

If they don't answer and you don't hear back then follow up via e-mail. Generally I follow up twice within the first 7 working days after sending the proposal. I want to stay on top of them and the initial excitement that they have for the project.

Sometimes, clients take a while to answer. They may be busy with other things or this project just may not be a priority on their plate.

Keep following up with them once a week for 3-4 weeks max.

If you haven't heard by then, let it go. 


Step 5) Closing the sale

If the client likes your proposal, then chances are they will ask a handful of questions to clarify. Be attentive, answer their questions and slowly nudge the job forward.

At this point, if you have done everything right up to this point, the closing is easy. 

It is really just a matter of following up with the client to hear a yes or no.

Don't let clients slip through the cracks.

Staying on top of them is a sign of professionalism. I have won several projects just because I was persistent in following up.


Step 6) Sending over the invoice

You should have outlined billing in your proposal for at least 50% up front on the project.

As soon as you have a yes from the client, make them aware that you are sending an invoice via e-mail or phone and then send one over right away.

Don't ever start working on the project until you have money in the bank. A yes from the client means nothing, but a check in the bank signifies the start of a project.

Don't ever feel weird about doing this, it is completely normal for creatives to be paid half up front for their work. 

If clients protest a downpayment, then they aren't a client that you want to be working with.


Step 7) Do the work and complete the project

Do an amazing job so that the client walks away ecstatic and happy.


Step 8) Ask to send over the final invoice

Once I feel that the project has been completed, then I generally send over an e-mail to the client asking if they have any other questions or changes in regards to the work done. 

I also ask if it is ok for me to go ahead and send over the invoice for the completion of the project. 

Making this ask gives the client the ability to get any last questions or changes out of the way before sending that payment and will make sending over the final invoice feel less awkward.


Step 9) Get paid & ask for a testimonial

Generally as soon as I have been paid for the full project, I will tap into that clients existing excitement about the projects completion and ask for a brief 2-3 sentence testimonial about their experience working with me. 

These testimonials are great for creating case studies and marketing pieces to secure future clients. For more read How to create case studies that turn prospects into paying customers.


Master the process

There you go, that is the process of closing a creative sale from beginning to end. Use this guide as a framework for your next sale and I guarantee that things will go much smoother and easier. 

It takes time to get this right, but keep practicing, keep improving with each sale you make and soon it will become second nature.

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