“What do I do if a client wants to see websites I’ve made for other clients or solid proof I’ve worked with clients when I have none?”
This was an actual thread of a Facebook Group I belong to. The answers were varied. Everything from “You Can’t” to “Team up with someone in this group and use their work” to “Don’t pretend to be someone if you are not.”
The “person” who posted the question based on their photo and profile was an obvious fake account (an attractive, young female with one photo and 29 friends). However, it spurred quite the conversation.
We’ve all been there, a change in career or focus and you have limited experience in the new “thing” so what do you do? Fall for the famous “fake it ’till you make it” line? Lie to prospects? The list is nearly endless.
My take is simple. If you are in the business of doing client work, you should approach it the same way you would dating. You don’t want to just date anybody; you have a set of criteria, right? And “breathing” is a sign of the desperate. I get it; you are just starting out, you’ll take anyone. Trust me when I say that would be one of your biggest mistakes.
If there is one thing that is true with clients, it is that when you take on a job purely for the money, you have a 95% chance of it turning out badly. Here are a few things to help you with a transition, while keeping your integrity intact.
First of all, when a prospect asks to see your past work, they don’t necessarily want to see what companies you have worked with, they just want to make sure you aren’t full of shit. This is mostly true with workers overseas. I have a different opinion than most when it comes to a “portfolio.” I don’t believe in them. There are some crazy prospects that will actually call your past/current clients.
Clients have nearly the same mind-set, they want to believe them, and them alone are your only client. This is how they want to be treated, even though it is not based on reality. To project this reality, you don’t use them in your portfolio.
So what can you do then? Do I really need to explain it to you? Stop being lazy and dazzle your prospect. If you are truly hungry and want the business, go out and get it. Instead of showing them a “portfolio” of other companies that you have done, create 3-4 mock-up designs of THEIR SITE to show that you are serious about landing them as a client.
When I first started in web design back in ’96, I had my first meeting with a prospect. Invited her to meet over breakfast before she opened her store. I knew the owner, but at the meeting, her husband came, and he was a real hard ass. The coffee hadn’t even arrived at the table, and he looked me dead in the eye and said sharply, “I don’t want you to waste my wife’s time so show me some sites that you have done so we can see if you are any good.”
I smiled and said, “Well, instead of showing you my past work, I thought it would be better if I showed you some mockups instead.” And I had printed them out on high-gloss paper and mounted them, so they were like story boards. I could not pry them out of their hands.
With their faces beaming, they asked if they could mark them up. “Of course,” was my reply, and I handed them markers.
They spent over 30 minutes marking up the examples I had brought along, and I didn’t even have to ask for the money, the husband just asked, “What’s your fee.” I told him, and he started writing the check. All before we ordered.
The best part about this was now I had an exact roadmap of what they wanted, without going through the irritating “back and forth” with the client that most designers complain about. They did all the work while I enjoyed my coffee.
Universal Truth: Getting clients is less about your talent as a designer but more about your skill in sales. Now, keeping clients is also less about your talent and more about your ability to communicate and solve your client’s problems. This is a realization that you must fully embrace as too many people lean on their talents and can’t understand why they can’t get business or keep business. It is because they suck at sales, communication and meeting deliverable dates.
We’ve all been there, we have fired someone talented because they just couldn’t function in key areas of being a human.
But…But…But…But what if you really want a portfolio? Okay, fine. Do a search in Google for “copyright 1999 charity, “ and this will list all charities out there who have an old web copyright date. This means their website hasn’t been updated in forever. Reach out to them and offer to redo their site for free to include in your portfolio. Unless you suck at sales, you will close this.
Parting Shot: Improve your sales ability. Know how to talk to customers and prospects. Know what type of customers you want and just say “yes” to them and say “no” to everyone else. Your life will be less complicated, and you will have a group of clients that you love working with instead of a group you detest.
Isn’t this why you quit your day job to do in the first place?