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Should freelancers sell the ability to solve client problems?

When you reach out to possible clients, the idea of diagnosing and then offering to solve their problems is quite alluring. Surely if they have problems, they want solutions. And if we can provide solutions, for them to give us the assignment should be a no-brainer, we may think.

Of course, most people avoid the word “problem,” preferring “challenge” or “opportunity” or something else equally sunny.

However, in practice, there are some problems that are unique to the prospect’s company and to which management may be quite sensitive (in a negative way) when the situation is pointed out.

In general, if you want to position services as solving client problems, point out problems that are universal rather than portraying the prospect in a negative light.

These problems may include getting more work done without hiring more people, specialized IT procedures that no one on staff would be expected to have mastered, training on the latest regulations, legislation or other developments in the industry, etc.

Offering to solve problems unique to the prospect is not a winning idea. It’s a turnoff. An insult.

Note that this article is directed at writers and other freelance service providers. Higher-level consulting assignments are frequently about analyzing and making recommendations to resolve complex managerial problems. There’s nothing to solve if there’s no pinpointed problem to dissect.

If the problem is readily apparent, there’s a reason why. Maybe it reflects the outlook of the very person you are talking to (and whom you disagree with). Maybe it reflects the outlook of someone else with more clout. Maybe it reflects incompetence. Maybe there’s a reason you don’t know but is totally valid.

One of the challenges of true consulting is when your view conflicts with the dominant corporate view. That’s something to be worked out along the way, determining how to deliver your findings with tact yet with honesty as well. It also requires research and analysis to generate the best advice possible.

So don’t be hasty in delivering criticism in the process of diagnosing a problem to solve. Instead, search out upbeat ways to offer assistance to the prospect that will be more likely to be welcome.


Originally posted 10-25-11

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