“I know I can deliver great websites, but my sales process needs work.
When it comes to sales, I feel like I’m just throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.”
Successful freelancing is the culmination of getting good at wearing approximately 7,326 different hats.
Sales is one of those hats.
…And most freelancers “don’t like sales.”
However, I’d wager that the real thing that most freelancers don’t like is “salesy sales.”
AKA sales done poorly.
When sales is done well, it doesn’t feel like you’re “selling someone.” Instead, it feels like you’re helping them.
Sales done well transforms you from a taker into helper — a problem-solver who’s providing valuable solutions.
Having a well-defined sales process will allow you to strategically approach your discovery calls (aka sales calls) in a way that feels relaxed and natural, and effortlessly sell your services without feeling like you need some “special gift for sales” in order to be good at it.
🎯 What you’ll leave this post with…
– An outline of *my* sales process
– Everything you need to formalize, implement, and hone *your own* sales process.
What I mean when I say “process”
Whether you’re strategic & intentional about it or not, you already have a sales process you follow, even if only subconsciously.
The goal today is get your sales process OUT of just being in your head, and formalize it on paper/Notion/whatever you use.
Note that we’re talking about a process, not a script.
I’m not personally a big fan of “sales scripts.” Instead, I go for a simple bulleted list.
Just something I can glance at while on the call to make sure I’m leading it in the right direction.
Scripts feel stodgy and salesy. Chances are you’ve heard a telemarketer reading off a script before, and you can tell when it’s happening. (And you probably didn’t enjoy it!)
Having a process you can glance at allows you to be your natural self, while also ensuring the call flows the way you want, while ensuring you remember to cover all the important stuff.
With a good sales process, your sales calls will go from feeling like a “stressful guessing game” into a relaxed and repeatable process. You’ll…
- Enjoy your sales calls more
- Convert more prospects into clients
- Consistently leave your calls having all the info you need
- (No more “oh shit” moments after you hang up where you realize you forgot to ask something important on the call)
All of the sales phases at a glance
Before you start working on a new project, there are a few phases that need to happen; each of which has different goals.
This is the stage that starts when someone first reaches out to you.
It encompasses all of the interaction that happens before your first sales call with them.
Goals for this stage:
- Get what you need to go into the discovery call prepared
- Filter out people who definitely can’t work with you (too low of budget, too tight of timeline for your schedule, etc.)
- Front-load some of the simple “no back and forth required” questions to get the most out of your live time on the call
This stage is pretty straight-forward; it’s everything that happens from the moment you have the discovery call with the prospect until the moment they formally sign on as a client and pay their deposit, sign the contract, etc.
Goals for this stage:
- Paint a picture of all the wonderful things you’ll do for them
- Get what you need to create an estimate / proposal
- Set expectations of what it’s like to work together
- Deliver your proposal
- Close the deal
This stage happens after the deal is closed and they’ve signed as a client, but before you can properly begin work.
Goal for this stage:
- Get everything you need to begin work on the project
Deep dive into my sales process
As you’re reading through these sub-processes, be thinking about which things apply to *your* business, because once you’re finished reading, I’m going to have you create your own process.
I encourage you to steal my processes if they vibe with you, but be sure to delete the things you don’t need, and most importantly, add the stuff that’s specific and relevant to your niche and types of websites you build.
(i.e. if you build a lot of e-commerce stores, you’ll probably have some questions for your prospects that I don’t need to ask my “brochure site” prospects.)
My pre-sales process, broken down
Given that everything in the pre-sales process typically happens via email, it can be helpful to create a customizable email template you can use to save yourself time.
Note: I’ve noticed that often when prospects fill out my contact form, their initial message to me answers one or more of the questions from my template. In these cases, make sure to remove them from your templated reply so that you’re not asking people things they’ve already told you.
My pre-sales process KPIs that I use to craft my template:
1. Get a loose budget
When asking for their budget, aim position it as a preference, not a hard-limit. This gives you negotiating flexibility later.
I’ll often word it like…
“Do you have a loose budget you’re targeting staying around?”
This means that if you guys chat and it turns out your services will cost more than that initial budget, you’re not submitting your bid in open defiance of a hard limit, and you’re instead just looking for them to budge a little on a preference. (It’s a subtle psychological difference.)
2. Get a loose timeline
If you’re not very busy, this might not be important for you. But for me, I usually have an active project and one or two in the queue; so if someone wants their new site live within a month, I would almost never be able to accommodate that.
Similar to above, I’ll usually either word this like…
“Do you have a rough timeline you’re targeting for going live?”
Or, if I really want to drive the “I’m busy” point home, I might say…
“Do you have a rough timeline you’re targeting for going live? I’m currently booked up with client work, so I wouldn’t be able to properly start work on your project for about a month. (But I could get you started collecting text, photos, etc. in the mean time so that we can fly out of the gate when we properly get started.)”
The nice thing about this second approach is again a subtle psychological benefit. We’re all hard-wired to want things that other people want — if you’re so in-demand that you can’t even start their project for a little while, it’s the ultimate social proof that you do good work.
By being up-front about your busy schedule, you build anticipation and demand for your work, while also dispelling any expectation that you’re going to just be able to drop everything you’re doing and turn their website around in a week solely because they “want it done yesterday.”
3. Get a loose scope overview
By the time someone reaches out to you, they likely know at least vaguely what they want, even if they’re not a “techy” person.
Having them type it out in advance saves you time on the discovery call, because instead of them having to list a bunch of stuff off while you sit quietly and listen, you can instead dig deeper into the stuff they already told you, which is a much better use of your collaborative time.
Here’s how I’ll usually word it…
“Could you please send me a bulleted list of the pages, features, etc. that you’re looking for on the site so that I can get a rough idea of the scope? Anything noteworthy about the functionality, what you’re looking for the site to do, etc. will be helpful for me.”
4. Find out what they want the site to do for them
The previous point was all about features. This one’s all about benefits.
No one buys a site because they “want a contact form.” The contact form is a feature.
What they really want is what the contact form does for them.
A contact form allows customers to get in touch with them, and they want more customers.
- So in this case, the super-deep core motivation benefit is “get more customers.”
- The sort of “half-feature-half-benefit” is “Make it easy for potential customers to get in touch with me.”
- And the “feature” is “contact form.”
This is important to consider, because clients often come to us with really weird ideas of how to achieve their desired end result, simply because they don’t know all the options out there.
Knowing what they’re fundamentally trying to do is going to allow you to strategically advise them on the best way to get there.
So with that being said, here’s how I’d usually ask this one…
“What’s the core motivation for why you’re wanting a new website? What are you aiming for it to do for your business? How are you hoping the new site will tie in with your larger business goals?”
This one can really be a gold mine, because it opens doors for a lot of potential opportunities to help them beyond what they initially came to you asking for.
5. Get some reference sites
Most people form opinions about what they want based on what they’ve seen others doing.
Going into the discovery call with an idea of what the prospect is looking for will help you be prepared in advance and help you “paint the picture of all the wonderful things you’ll do for them” when you’re on the actual discovery call.
How I’ll usually word this:
“Are there some sites you’ve seen that you like that you’re wanting to emulate? If so, what are the sites, and what are the specific things you like and dislike about them? (The specific likes and dislikes are very important!)“
When asking for reference sites later in the onboarding stage (after they’ve signed on as a client), I’ll usually specify a minimum number of sites (I like to get 5-10 ideally) and indicate that I specifically need sites that they like the design of. But for this pre-sales stage, we don’t necessarily care as much about the design; we just want to know who they look up to and want to emulate.
6. Get them booked
If you want to do it the “old fashioned way,” that’s cool too. For minimizing back-and-forth on scheduling, you can either have them send you three dates/times that work for them and you pick one, or vice-versa.
Note: I recommend doing your discovery calls on Zoom, Skype, etc. so that you can have access to video and screenshare, vs. doing it as a literal phone call.
My sales call process, broken down
This is the process I follow on the sales/discovery call itself. Given that I’m going into the call with the background info they sent me, the process is about digging deeper into what they’re looking for and working together to “paint a mental picture” for them of what they’re going to get.
1. Say hi and whatnot
A few minutes of shooting the shit and building a little bit of a relationship before going into “business mode.”
2. Learn about their biz
I like to have them tell me about what they do, and what makes them special / different from their competitors.
Potential question to ask: why should a someone hire them vs. a competitor?
3. Learn about their goals
I also like to ask where they want to go with their business.
Given that we asked in our preliminary email about what they want the site to do for them, this part of the call can build on that.
Knowing what their goals are will open potential doors for you to help them reach their goals with additional services you can provide — if you only stuck to talking about the exact scope they listed out, you might not have ever realized extra opportunities to help.
It’s good to ask not just what their goals are, but also how they plan to reach them. This “how they plan to reach them” question is where potential opportunities for you to further help them are likely to come up.
4. Talk about their current website situation (if applicable)
If they already have a website, it’s great to find out what their current challenges are with it & what they dislike about it.
It’s also good to ask what they do like about it. Even if they generally hate it, there’s likely still at least something they enjoy about it, even if it’s only the fundamental fact that it is a website and it exists.
5. Determine what the big goals are for the new site
Here we want to find out what they want the site to fundamentally do for them.
This will be an expansion on the answer they gave us in the preliminary email. This part of the call can be a good time to have them explain their emailed answer in more detail.
We want to dig beyond just the list of features they want, and find out what they want the website to do for them, so that we can reverse-engineer their core desires into packages & services we can offer them.
Their goals for the website will likely tie back to their core goals with the business (they should, anyway). If they don’t, you might want to help them make that connection.
Once you get the fundamental goals of the site, extrapolate those into the specific behavioral goals of the website’s users.
Let’s say you speak to someone and learn that their big-ass business goal is to hire a new staff member.
But in order to keep that person busy, they need to generate another 10 leads per month.
You learn that the way they plan to do that is by sending FB ads to their site.
In this case, you know that the #1 goal of the site is going to be to convert that cold traffic into leads.
And so in later steps when planning out scope, you know to orient your services around this core goal of converting traffic into leads, and you know that you might need to build custom landing pages for cold traffic, help them build a funnel, etc.
6. Find out where they stand on the “bang for the buck” vs. “as epic as possible” spectrum
In the pre-sales process, we already asked them for a loose budget. For this part of my process, I’ll often reference back to that loose budget they sent and ask this question with that in mind.
I might word it like…
“Where do you prefer to be on the spectrum of ‘bang for your buck’ vs. ‘as epic as possible?’ Do you prefer me to pull out all the stops and spend more for the best possible site, or do you prefer me to aim for efficiently creating a great site? You mentioned in your email that you’re aiming to spend between $5k – 7k, so knowing your answer here will help me determine what we should do if it looks like we might go beyond that price for everything we talk about.“
This question’s helpful because it arms you with something to point back to when proposing packages if it looks like you’re out of budget. It helps to address the age-old question of “do we cut scope or does the client simply need to pay more?”
Another one that can be helpful to get an answer to is where they stand on the “spend more of their own time to save money” vs. “spend more money to save time” spectrum. (I’ve noticed that for certain types of projects, I can charge less by offloading some of the “grunt work” to the client or their assistant, and it can be good to know in advance if that option’s on the table.)
7. Start talking about features
Only now, after establishing a loootttt of fundamental info, do I start talking about features.
My goal is to have a total forest-through-the-trees understanding of their business & goals before talking about specific features, so that those features can be seen through the lens of being solutions to their problems (or not).
The way I like to flesh out features with a prospect is by creating a hierarchical bulleted list of all the pages they want, and all the features on those pages.
I have a friend who likes to create a Google slide deck with the client collaboratively; I think this is a great idea because it gives a nice deliverable you can send at the end. Probably the way I’d format the Google slides would be with each page as a slide, and then bullet points / notes on the slide with deets about that page.
Instead of starting from scratch when building this list, we can usually seed the initial bullet points for it from what they already sent me in their initial email. So I’ll typically start by getting their initial email items down, and ask them any clarifying questions I have about what they sent me.
Once we’ve got all the “obvious stuff” down, it’s time to make recommendations based on what I’ve learned about their core goals. In the example of them saying they’re planning to run FB ads, I’d probably explain the importance of building good landing pages and a strong funnel, and offer to help them with parts of that process.
And finally, if needed, I will perhaps challenge things they’ve said that don’t make sense in the context of their goals.
Something I’ve learned over the years is that clients will often request specific features or specific ways of doing things without having any real reason for it other than that it’s the first one they found when doing unqualified googling.
Maybe they request some specific WP plugin or some specific code language or library to be used. Or maybe they express an intention of employing a specific marketing strategy that I think could be improved upon.
In these cases, I chat with them to dig deeper into the why behind the weird-sounding request in case it turns out that they don’t really care about the how that they’ve requested — if they don’t, I make recommendations for other approaches that I think will serve them better.
8. Explain my process & how I work
At this point, we’re starting to move into the closing phase. We’ve collaboratively “painted a mental picture” of this future website we can build for them, and all the wonderful things it’ll do for them. It’s time to make that concrete and formalize the agreement.
A nice segue into that is explaining my process and how I work.
For the process, I give them a loose overview of all the different stages, from design through to content entry, building, and testing. I also like to advise on when they’ll be doing things like content creation, photo gathering etc., and explain how my billing structure works. (Explaining the deposit, milestone payments, balance payment, etc.)
And given that I have a somewhat unique working preference – which is that I like to schedule “live overlap blocks” with the client where possible – I take some time to explain that process to them and ask if this is something their schedule can accommodate.
I also like to use this phase to determine who the key decision-makers are. For my live-overlap block preference, especially for things like design revisions, it’s good to know if the person I’m speaking to on this call is the same person as who I’d be working with when building the site, and if they have the power to make executive decisions about things, or if every decision will need to be run through some sort of board of directors.
At this point – assuming the call’s gone well – they’re going to be wondering how much the site will cost and when it will be done.
So we need to give them a loose price estimate.
I know pricing can be tricky, especially if you haven’t done a project quite like this one before. If you don’t feel comfortable giving a firm price without taking time to think it over and make an accurate estimate, don’t feel like you have to give them a 100% firm number on the phone.
Instead, give them a range that you can feel totally confident about. (Even if that means the range has to be somewhat huge until you firm it up later.)
You can deliver the line like this…
“I’d have to run the numbers to get you a firm estimate, but I’m thinking that for everything we discussed today, it’ll probably cost somewhere between $7,000 – $9,000.
[Optional & where relevant:] I know in your initial email you said you were targeting a bit less than that — is this range something your budget can accommodate, or do we need to cut some scope?”
The reason I think it’s important to talk about price live vs. over email is because it’s my experience that price is the #1 reason why warm leads don’t pan out.
If you don’t get live confirmation that your loose estimate will work for them (or find out that it won’t, and workshop it live), you’re relegating that whole conversation to email, which is the worst place for negotiations to happen.
If you deliver the line above and they say something like, “that price range would work, as long as we stay on the lower end,” I’d recommend you create a list with them of the lowest-priority features that you talked about, so that you know what to cut if it turns out to be necessary to cut stuff.
If you have any ongoing services that you offer, this would be the time to tell the client about them and see if they’re on board to pay for them.
At this point, I like to talk about their targeted deadline and try to find out how firm it is (and if a super hard-stop deadline exists).
During this stage, we can talk about sub-deadlines that will need to happen in order to support the main deadline.
(Sub-deadlines would be deadlines for things like them getting new photos, writing the text for the website, etc.)
I also like to use this part of the call to talk about common pitfalls that cause projects to fall behind schedule, and how we can avoid them.
(Things like long, protracted design phases with a million revisions that each take a day or two of back-and-forth time via email, etc.)
“Hey, so, do you wanna, like, be my girlfriend?”
I believe that the closing process is where most freelancers who aren’t super-comfy with sales struggle.
It can feel awkward and like you’re stumbling over your words trying to ask someone out in 6th grade.
But it doesn’t need to!
With a well-crafted sales process and pre-sales process like the one I’ve presented here, the close can come more naturally, and it shouldn’t feel like you need to convince them to work with you.
Remember, you’re not here “selling” this person. You’re providing solutions that are going to help them grow their business, reach their goals, and make more money off your work than what they spend on it.
(As a side note, if you don’t believe all of those things, it will serve you well to tweak either your service offering or your mindset until you go beyond believing them and simply see them as facts.)
So given that you’re here helping this person, and that you’ve co-created a vision together for how you’ll help them, the close can essentially be broken into two simple parts…
“Alright, I think I’ve got everything I need. Do you have any questions or anything you need clarification on?”Closing part 1
And then obv if they have any questions, answer ’em.
After answering any final questions, my “final close” looks something like this…
“So, as for next steps, it’d be great for us to get started soon to hit your deadline. If you’re thinking you want to work with me, I can shoot you a link to pay your deposit and a contract to sign so that you can secure your spot on my schedule. At this point, are you thinking you’d like to work together?”Closing part 2
Obviously, customize this to make it your own and make it as natural-sounding as possible. But note that the core of that last part – the “are you thinking you’d like to work together” part – should probably stay mostly as-is.
It’ll probably feel a bit uncomfortable to say at first, but I’d encourage you to get comfy asking it without qualifying it or surrounding it with other questions. Just ask it and leave it there. Don’t say something like…
“Are you thinking you’d like to work together, or do you maybe want to shop around first or talk to someone else or wait until Mercury’s not in retrograde anymore or otherwise just wait cuz you know it’s cool if you wanna wait…”— Un-savvy person who sounds like a teenager awkwardly asking someone out
The reason why we want to ask directly is twofold.
- Their answer will give you a pulse on what their interest level is like
- If they say “yes,” they are subconsciously cueing themselves to work with you.
It’s again a subtle psychological thing, but I believe that someone saying something out loud reinforces their belief in that thing. (There’s also some science to back this.)
Final notes on the closing phase
A final note here, if you’re feeling nervous about asking for the sale…
This closing lingo doesn’t actually matter that much.
Your specific wording isn’t going to gain or lose you a sale.
By the time you get to the closing stage of the call, you’ve already laid all the groundwork that’s molded their opinion of whether or not they’ll work with you.
At this point, the main thing that needs to happen is for them to know that they need to pay their deposit (or sign the contract, or whatever) if they’re serious about working with you.
Words are cheap, and I’ve had mannnnnyyy prospects over the years who were like “OMG yes I’m so going to work with you. 100%. No doubt at all.” but then never paid the deposit or signed the contract.
So if you really hate the idea of directly asking for the sale, then perhaps just chop that last bit off and end the call by letting ’em know you’ll be sending them an email with a link to pay the deposit and that the next step if they want to work with you is to pay it.
12. Post sales call next steps
Once the call’s over, I send them a recap email with next steps.
All of my leads currently come via word of mouth, so the sales and closing process is pretty dang easy for me, since prospects already know, like, and trust me before we ever even talk.
As such, I don’t currently send any fancy proposals or do any “sales techniques” after we talk. I basically just send them an email with a recap of all the amazing things we talked about the site doing for them, the cost, deadlines, and link to pay their deposit to get on my calendar.
Given that I currently charge by the hour, I don’t usually so much “firm up my quote” as much as I re-iterate / refine the hourly range estimate. (But if you charge by the project, this email would ideally contain a firm project quote vs. range estimates.)
“Hey ProspectName, thanks for chatting today.
I’m looking forward to helping you reach your goal of signing on 10 new leads a month with this new site.
Here’s a recap of all the stuff we talked about the new site doing:
[[[paste the bulleted list or link to the Google slide deck]]]
After crunching the numbers, my formal estimate is that it will take between 40-60 hours for everything we talked about. Based on my rates that you can find here, that comes out to $6,600 – $9,900.
To keep it on the lower end of that range, we’ll want to prioritize being efficient with things like design revisions and layout changes and deferring some of the less-important scope that we talked about until the end to create a ‘budget buffer.’
If you’re ready to move forward, you can reserve your spot on my schedule by paying your deposit here and signing the attached contract.
Please note that I don’t formally hold your spot in the schedule until you pay the deposit, so if you want to hit your November 20th deadline, it’s important that you reserve this next opening in my calendar while it’s still available and that we get started soon.
Thanks, let me know if you have any questions,
— Zach”My loose closing email template
Structural notes for you to keep in mind if you borrow from my template:
- I start by reiterating positive things and benefits
- I then remind them of the specific picture we painted together (features)
- I make sure to note the formalized price & deadline, and what their role is in affecting both
- I tell them what they need to do in order to move forward (deposit and contract)
- I introduce some scarcity by implying that someone else might book their spot and compromise their deadline if they don’t take action
- Be careful to not be too “on the nose” / “salesy” with this one
“What if they don’t respond?”
I feel like one of the first sales tips I learned is that “you gotta follow up.”
But with the kind of work I do (bespoke sites), I’m a pretty firm believer in NOT following up, as a rule.
The reason why is because the bespoke website-building process requires so much client input that I really don’t want to work with someone who I’m going to have to constantly chase.
And I’ve learned that if I have to chase someone just to get them to sign with me, it’s almost always the case that I’m gonna have to chase them to get the content from them, get the balance paid, etc.
As a bespoke service provider, I don’t believe the goal of the sales process is to “get as many clients as possible.”
Instead, I think of the goal as making it super clear who’s a good fit for me and who’s not, and doing what I can to convert those “good fit” people into clients.
And it just so happens that one of the things a “good fit” client for my business does is decisively takes action vs. lolly-gagging, trying to negotiate on my rates, etc.
If you run a more productized business where it doesn’t really take a whole lot of client input for you to do a site for someone, it may be that you want to “try harder” to close the deal, but for me, this is that approach I like best.
👟 Action steps…
Alrighty, time to put all this into action for your own business!
1. Build your own processes
I like to build mine as a simple bulleted list of the things I want to remember to cover.
To get you started, I created a template in Notion that you can duplicate and customize. (If you don’t use Notion, you can just copy and paste into whatever you use to manage your business processes.)
For your initial customization of the template, start by writing out a standalone list for yourself of alllllllll the things you’d like to know before the end of the sales call.
(The most important things to know by the end of the sales call are things that will affect your pricing, scope of work, and deadlines.)
Once you have your list, merge those items into the sales process in the parts of the call that you think make the most sense.
Note: Before adding something to a phase process, ask yourself if this is really the right phase for it
There’s a copywriting mantra that I remind myself of whenever I set out to write a blog post or email…
The purpose of the headline is to get someone to read the first sentence.
The purpose of the first sentence is to get someone to read the first paragraph.
The purpose of the first paragraph is to get someone to read the rest of the article.
Similarly, each phase in this sales process has a specific and self-contained set of goals; be mindful of them when structuring your process, and ask yourself before adding a step to any of these phases if this phase is really the right fit for it, or if it actually belongs somewhere else.
This is especially relevant for considering what belongs in sales vs. onboarding, and sales vs. pre-sales.
You can reference the list of goals for each phase at the top of this post if you need a refresher.
2. Test it out
Next time you have a prospect reach out, use your new pre-sales process. Next time you go on a sales call, use your new sales process.
Keep an eye out for things that cause you to go “off script” or things that you wish you knew after the call that you didn’t ask. These are clues that you need to refine your process.
3. Record your sales calls
Instead of using Zoom’s recording feature that says the obtrusive “this call is being recorded” thing, you can simply use Loom to record your sales calls. Just be sure it’s set to record desktop audio so you can hear both sides of the conversation.
4. Watch the recordings and refine your process where needed
As you watch the call recordings, look out for places where…
- You stumbled or felt under-confident
- The prospect looked confused about something
- The prospect led the call because you were meandering
These are all signs of things you can improve about your sales skills or your process moving forward.
The goal is to keep honing your process so that it eventually sits quietly in the background and supports you.
Remember, we’re not aiming to craft “the perfect script.” Instead, we want a checklist of things to talk about that guides us and shapes the “narrative of the sales call” into one that is strategic, effective, and efficient.
Alrighty, time for you to get after it!
Go make your process, test it out, and let me know how it goes.
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