6 Techniques for Selling Without Begging

This article was originally featured in HOW’s Creative Business issue. Find the full issue in MyDesignShop.


ILLUSTRATION BY MELISSA McFEETERS www.melissamcfeeters.com

The problem is clear: You need more business. Not because you aren’t busy, but because then you could be choosier about which clients you work with. But if there’s one thing firm owners and entrepreneurs hate, it has to be selling themselves to prospects. Selling feels uncomfortable, needy, and it also seems like something we probably shouldn’t have to do, right? If our work is great, shouldn’t it sell itself?

I want to help you by explaining some ways to attract more business without begging for it. First, I’m going to assume that you’re really talented. That’s an important assumption. Unless you’re an expert in something where there aren’t a lot of other experts, clients will find you interchangeable, and when they have a lot of choices, they’ll dive down to the cheapest option. Second, you need work, but you don’t want to harm your carefully earned position as an expert. That means you need thoughtfully chosen and very effective methods of finding new clients. Here are six selling techniques to reach prospects while keeping your expert status.

Forget cold-calling—reel in the clients you really want with these 6 selling techniques:


In the past, any letter you sent blended into all the other letters that a prospective client received, and so you had to resort to flashy and expensive brochures instead. But now, nobody gets letters, so they stand out. They’re also quick and cheap, which makes them an even better choice.

Sit down and write a really good one, highlighting what helps you stand out from the crowd. Make it punchy (i.e., confident), but keep it short. About two- thirds of a page is ideal.

Next, find about 50 prospects to send it to. You might start with clients who work at a competitor to a client you just lost because those are the ones most likely to be intrigued by the chance to hire you. Then, concentrate on the companies where you know someone or have something that you could mention in the letter. Or maybe think of a place with a mission or work that ignites so much passion in you that the prospect will be drawn to that enthusiasm.

Now here’s the trick: Send it by FedEx Express Saver or USPS Priority Mail to 50 contacts. First, no one throws a letter away that’s delivered by an express service. Second, it’s easier to get past a gatekeeper if you can say that you’re calling to follow up on an express shipment. “May I ask what this is about, please?” now has a good answer: “I’m calling to follow up on a FedEx that I sent to her last week.” Expect at least one nice project from this technique.


LinkedIn has become the digital water cooler among the next generation of decision-makers, and it’s surprisingly easy to post messages on the bulletin board hanging above that water cooler. This often underutilized tool is a breeding ground for professionals looking to connect with practitioners who possess the skills they need for a particular project.

Once your profile is established, you need to promote your services and skills. Under your profile picture, use the pull-down menu to manage your “Advertising.” Then select “Create New Campaign.” From there, you can choose to create an ad or sponsor your content. If you’ve written a blog post that you think might get some traction with just a little help, choose that route. The content you’ve written that’s most likely to help you get work is the kind that has a clear point of view. So don’t aim to softly inform your readers, but rather aim to take a stand on something so that your prospect is almost required to agree or disagree with you. (Not everyone agrees with experts.)

Either way, target your promotion using these rules of thumb. Set aside about $25/week, and agree to pay $1–$2/click. LinkedIn will push you to pay more, but resist—you’ll get plenty of clicks without dishing out more cash.

Think about how succinctly you can word your ad, because you get only 75 characters. Use an image (like your logo or a piece of compelling work you’ve done) to create a visual hook. Be sure to “collect leads”—it doesn’t cost any more—so that prospects can request more information right then and there, delivering the request to your inbox.

Target the ad to your specific industry, and narrow your audience further by selecting an age range, seniority ranking (such as a job title) and geography. And here’s the kicker: You can make the ad appear only to those who work for the specific companies you’re targeting. Think about correlating this campaign with the Express Mail strategy, so prospects will receive your letter and then see your ad on LinkedIn and request more information. You’ll get 10–20 leads per week with this method, and you can expect to have a conversation with at least one of them.


Online education webinars are very effective tools because they don’t require travel, they can be watched on demand and there’s none of the financial risk that comes from holding a seminar. Mostly, there’s no risk of failure. Let’s dive into this last point a bit more, as it’s the secret sauce to this tool.

Contrast a webinar with a speaking engagement. For the latter, you’ll spend months landing one and preparing for it. That big day will come—but what if you end up with three people in attendance? First of all, those numbers don’t work. Most important, it looks like you’ve failed. The few people there look around and then wonder how much of an expert you really are. But now think of a webinar, where you can choose to hide the list of attendees from your prospects. Unless you tell them otherwise, they’ll assume that there are dozens of others who are listening and learning.

I’d recommend you use GoToWebinar for this and keep it short: about 40 minutes long, using the rest of the hour for a question-and-answer session, in which attendees will type their questions into a box within the program. Have someone help you as a “guest presenter,” pitching the questions to you: “John, we have a question from Lucy, who wants to know what elements are most interesting to teenage buyers these days.” Write a few questions out for yourself in case the audience is slow to ask them. That will help you avoid awkward pauses.

GoToWebinar also allows you to record your presentation, syncing the slides with your voice. When you finish the webinar, it’ll convert the recording into a file you can post. That will be even more content for your website, and it will give prospects away to learn more about how you think. You can even transcribe your presentation at sites like www.rev.com and then post it as a downloadable PDF.

Practice, practice, practice, though, because talking to a “nonexistent audience”—which is what it feels like—can be very disorienting at first. One key is to over-deliver enthusiasm while you work hard to picture one very engaged attendee. Slow down, too, there’s something about doing a webinar that will tempt you to speak rapidly. Who do you invite? Round people up through your letter, your ad or a list—which is what we’ll cover next.


If you already have a subscriber list with at least 8,000 names of people who have opted-in to receive your emails, that should do it. Any quantity below that should grow on a net basis from emailing to emailing, but reaching a critical mass of that size organically will take too long if you need some quick hits, and that’s when you buy a list. Keep in mind that the more data fields that come with each record, the better, but what matters most is getting a current email address.

There are three places to look for good email addresses for your own marketing purposes, and you want to do a search in this order.

  • First, check with any associations that might gather your prospects. The Encyclopedia of Associations is a good place to double check your knowledge and see if you’ve overlooked any. That source will also indicate how many members each association has and whether or not they make their list available for purchase.
  • The second place to check is www.thelistinc.com, a professional research service in Atlanta that does the hard work for you, verifying each name on the lists they sell every four months. Call them up and see if they can help.
  • And the third place is www.data.com, a more generalized list broker where you can buy from scratch, or just have them fill in any missing data for partial records you already have.

Once you get a list, set up your own marketing automation platform, ideally using software or a service such as Pardot, Hubspot or Act-On. But you can keep it simpler and cheaper with an email marketing provider. My favorite is Campaign Monitor or MailChimp, but there are many viable platforms. There are no issues with the legality of this approach, either. The CAN-SPAM Act merely requires that there be a reasonable expectation that the recipient would be interested in what you send them and that there is a simple means to unsubscribe. From a best practices standpoint, avoid selling and give the recipient value instead. That means avoiding anything that might be construed as a newsletter. Prospects don’t care about case studies or seeing work you’re doing. Talk about what interests them and leave yourself out of the conversation.

When it comes to getting along with your email marketing provider, remember to avoid doing things that will make them hate you.

For example, when you do things that blacklist their email servers, it affects their entire client base. And they won’t hesitate to dump you on the street, regardless of whether your action violates any law.

Once your list has significant mass, and if you’re doing this right, expect an unsubscribe rate of less than 0.5% per mailing, no more than one spam complaint per 4,000 records addressed, a soft bounce rate of less than 4% and an open rate of at least 30%.


Scour the free Help a Reporter Out website and make yourself available for expert interviews. The signal-to-noise ratio is a little distracting, though, and you might be better off spending a little money and subscribing to the ProfNet service. It’s Help a Reporter Out on steroids. It’s curated, simpler, and collects more serious journalists.

If you have a good profile and your answers are well-written, you can expect one interview per month, based on about four times that many responses. Each day you’ll receive 150–300 interview requests through several emails. Quickly eliminate the ones that don’t apply to your focus and isolate one or two that might be worth contacting. Don’t spend any more than 30 minutes in total every week. Prospects will learn about you in a respected, peer-reviewed manner, and some of them will reach out for help to this expert they’ve just learned about.


Apple has a product called QuickReads, and Amazon has matched it with their Kindle Single. The two products are nearly identical: 5,000–30,000 words, with a mandated low price. It’s a wonderful tool in selling your services because it gives you a reason to contact a prospect by including a gift certificate to the book. Regardless of whether or not they read it, they’ll be left with a suitable impression.

The topic should be something you’d expect from an expert, and not poorly disguised self-promotion. (However, the cover can be an opportunity to showcase your design skills.)

Give away great thinking that isn’t personalized for the prospect, and then charge big fees when you do apply your experience to a specific client.

If you’re starting from scratch, you should be able to write 5,000 words in one week. Chances are, though, you already have that much content in the can and it just needs some skillful editing.

There you have it. You need new clients, you need them quick, and you don’t want to beg. So, pick two or three of these six suggestions and get busy. I bet you’re pretty good at landing work once you get a chance to talk to a prospect, right? You just need more opportunity, and this list is designed to give you just that.

marketingplan97x150Discover additional selling methods with the informative book, The Ultimate Marketing Plan, 4th Edition: Target Your Audience! Get Out Your Message! Build Your BrandIndustry expert Dan S. Kennedy integrates such tools as social media, networking, and strategic memberships into a complete plan that will strengthen customer bases without breaking the budget.