to Market Your Services to a Group
As a free agent, independent professional, and/or freelancer, we are not always dealing with a single client. Often we are asked to present a summary of what we offer to a board of trustees, several officers of a company, leaders of an organization, or members of an association. Usually when we deal one-on-one with a prospect, we can get a feel for the situation quickly and gauge our direction and chances for reaching a successful outcome - an assignment, a request for a proposal, or a mutual agreement. Dealing with more than one person, however, can create a plethora of other considerations and approaches before reaching a successful outcome. In this article, I am going to share some of my experiences with group presentations - what's worked for me and what to watch out for.
Find out as much as you can before meeting with a group. I do a good bit of work for non-profits. These corporations all have vocal boards of trustees to whom they must answer when the spending of a considerable amount of money is involved. The more information I have about the corporation and its leaders, the better. If possible, I try to connect before the "big meeting" with the executive director and find out exactly what they are seeking and how much they are planning to spend - most non-profits, for example, vote on a yearly budget at the end of their fiscal year, so know exactly how much they have ear-marked for a project. Others are putting out feelers to find out how much - or how little - they should set aside for the project. Oftentimes, there is background information you can discover. A lot of proposed projects have been in the works for awhile and have quite a history. Ask lots of questions and do all of the research possible. For example, I just finished an extensive website for a group that I discovered had initially talked with and had been turned down by many of the big design firms in town. I believe that I got the job because I was willing to take the time to meet with their board, listen to their suggestions and do the custom work they desired.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. No matter what kind of presentation you are making - whether to two people, twenty people or two hundred people - proper preparation is the key. First of all, know what your goal for the meeting is and have a plan and strategy ready. Write down the information you want the group to know about you and your services by the end of the presentation. What makes you unique and why should they hire you? Then, realize that just telling them this is not going to work. You must create the right questions to ask them so that they will ask you the right questions. This is the way you will discover what it is they are looking for and whether or not you can help them get it. The operative word is "help." When others feel that you care about them and their problems, that you are on their side and ready to help, they will be much more willing to open up and form a bond with you. And you will learn what you need to do to please them.
Use the presentation skills of top-notch speakers. Professional speakers have a passion for their topics. Let the group you are presenting to know how passionate you are about what you do. If you aren't passionate about it, you will find it impossible to sell to others. Take time to look everyone in the eye (for at least three seconds is the recommended amount of time). Most people equate this with credibility, integrity and self confidence. Take your time when you ask and answer questions, avoiding those fill-ins like "ah," "um," and "you know." A well-placed pause shows that you are thoughtful and calm. We tend to talk fast when we are nervous and nervousness will worry a prospective client. Speak clearly and articulately. If you feel that you could use some work on your speaking, join a Toastmasters group. This is an international organization with clubs everywhere that generally meet weekly to help members improve their presentation skills. Note: I have never met a more positive and helpful group of people than at Toastmasters.
Beware the person who thinks he or she knows more than you do. When making a presentation to a group, we must discern who the people are who are pushing for our services and those who are skeptical. It is often the skeptical know-it-all who needs most of your attention. Give him or her credit for what they do know, saying, "That's a good point, but I have found " or "What a great question! This is how I see it." Think to yourself, "If I can win this person's approval, he or she will become my greatest ally." If they ask a question or broach a problem where you are not sure of the answer, don't be afraid to say, "I am not positive about that. Give me your number or e-mail address, and I will have the answer for you before " (And, of course, be true to your word.) Along that same line, remember that honesty is the best policy. If you are asked to do a task that you don't know how to do, or to finish a project in too little time, or lower your fees too drastically, be up front and honest. You might even suggest the name of someone else who could help them, or an alternative approach that will take less time and cost less money.
Consider the advantages of making a helpful presentation to a group. Chambers of Commerce, many companies and all kinds of associations are always searching for interesting speakers. Once you feel comfortable with your presentation skills, offer to give a luncheon, dinner or brown-bag lunch speech about some aspect of what you do and know to their group. You will probably perform this service for free or a meal (some speakers call this the "rubber chicken" circuit), but it can pay off big time with contacts and prospective clients.
Just remember, leave intimidation at home. Once you have presented to several groups and in different situations, you will find that the group interaction is exciting and exhilarating and can also provide you with hours and dollars worth of work.
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