How to win more creative work without pitching

When I was running my design agency, being asked to pitch was one of my worst nightmares. I mean, obviously, you can just say ‘no’, but it doesn’t usually feel as simple as that. I was often torn between knowing instinctively that it wasn’t the right approach for us and wondering whether this might represent our big break. As you raise your game and start to enter new markets, it can feel as though pitching is an inevitable part of working at the level you want to be. I guess it’s a kind of business FOMO. What are you missing out on if you don’t pitch?

For many of us, sharing our best ideas for free in the hope that we’ll win the project rarely makes commercial sense. In my experience, companies who ask you to pitch seldom have a clear or refined brief, let alone the intention of seeing through the work. It takes an inordinate amount of effort to win a pitch - producing great creative work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The best work I’ve ever done has always come about as the result of a collaboration with the client. It’s about relationships: about tapping into the vision and ambition of the entrepreneur, about feeling supported and safe to push the boundaries and do your best work.

The question is, if you’re not going to pitch, then how do you win the projects at the next level?

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How to win creative work without pitching

Create exceptional work

It won’t come as a surprise to hear that the most important thing you can do is invest in your work. Take the trouble to go the extra mile with the clients you feel inspired by. Invest in yourself and your business, cherish and feed your inspiration. Winning awards can be great, but actually it's more than enough for you to consistently create work that you feel proud enough to shout from the rooftops.

edit to amplify

A strong (but not predictable) creative style reassures prospective clients that you can do a great job. If the projects in your portfolio differ wildly in style from one project to the next it may show your versatility but it’s unnerving for your customers. It creates doubt. What if you create something they don’t like? The pitch process reassures them that they don’t need to pay unless you do something they love, but it doesn’t make good business sense for you. Instead, focus on editing your portfolio down to showcase your best work. Create something that showcases your distinctive style with plenty of scope for creative flair - if everything looks too formulaic this can be damaging too…

Build your tribe

An engaged tribe is at the very heart of building a sustainable business. This doesn’t mean you need to become an Instagram influencer or even chase thousands of followers. Engagement is far more important: this is about creating a presence and a platform that wins you work, so quality is more important than quantity. Showcase the work you want more of. Be generous with your knowledge. Demonstrate what it's like to be a client of yours. Show the journey, get your readers involved. Make working with you an experience to be savoured. Most of all, talk to your clients not your peers.

work that list!

Your list is the most effective way to win the right level of work. Building an engaged list means that you can build relationships over time. Showcase your latest work, bring people along on your journey and have a ready and waiting tribe of potential customers ready to choose you the next time they are ready to invest. Social media is great, but it’s only half the story. Your list is yours and will be one of your most valuable assets. Focus on adding value and inspiring your subscribers with your creative genius - it’s amazing how powerful something like giving an insight into a project can be for generating referrals and enquiries coming out of the woodwork. Of course, you can do all of this in tandem with your blog and your social accounts but for true sustainability you need a list.

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showcase your value

Personally I can’t bear the long-form enquiry forms that essentially take a brief at the ‘shopping around’ stage - so ineffective. Instead, use a media kit or services brochure to showcase your value and filter out those who aren’t a good fit. When you can articulate exactly what makes your work magical, when you can show your clients how you transformed a brand or an event, when you can describe with confidence how you work and exactly why your clients should pick you, everything becomes so much easier. (Sidenote, we cover this and tons more in Creative Flair).

build relationships

Utterly essential in any creative project: if you can, meet with your prospective client face to face. If that’s not possible, connect via an online tool (Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts etc) for an initial consultation. Relationships are at the heart of every successful creative partnership. If your client is ‘too busy’ to meet with you, run a mile. It’s a great indicator that they won’t be committed to supporting you in creating your best work.

sell effectively

Create a structured process for your sales meetings that allows you to take a brilliant brief and reassure your clients that you are by far and away the best person for the job. If you’re fully focused on what your niche is, if you’re communicating effectively and you’ve created an arsenal of powerful marketing tools, you won’t be wasting time on sales meetings with clients who aren’t a good fit. Create an agenda they puts you firmly in charge but allows you to build a strong relationship with your prospective client. Get to know the business and understand the problems, evaluate what they have right now without getting personal. Show relevant portfolio pieces and how elements night work for this project. Explain what you'd like to see: the impression you want to create and the vibe you'd go for without actually sketching out anything. Reassure without undermining your creative process.

build conviction into your sales process

Being able to show your clients how you’ve applied your tried and tested creative process to other projects will provide your prospects with the reassurance they think they need from the pitch process. Demonstrate how your process has worked successfully with other clients at the sales meeting, showing how you listened, added value to the brief and captured the essence of the business. Creating a vision or mood board for every project, along with hand sketched concepts for sign off, also ensures that your client has plenty of opportunities along the journey to be involved and ensure that the project doesn’t run away without them.

So there you have it. My birds-eye view of how to win yourself the opportunity to create remarkable work without pitching. I’m utterly passionate about giving yourself enough time and buy-in from your client to do a brilliant job and often, that’s the foundation of getting this right. I’d love to hear what works for you!