How do you find your clients as a freelancer or small business? Referrals? Networking? Social media? Chances are you’ll pick up a few through these routes, but the big money usually comes from pitching for work.

Pitching can be an intimidating task, especially if you don’t come from a sales or negotiation background. But a little gentle persuasion and a convincing pitch document can help land you that perfect project that will keep both you and your bank manager happy. Here are five steps that can help boost your confidence, pitch to your dream client and land the project.

Work out what your USP is

Whether you’re pitching face-to-face or sending over a pitch document, it’s essential that you know what your unique selling point (USP) is. Do you have years of experience with big brands? Specialise in a specific industry? Have a network of contacts that will be crucial for a successful campaign? Clearly highlighting your USP could clinch the deal for you and make you stand out from your competitors.

Marie Forleo, an author, coach and personal development expert, is a great example of a woman who knows her USP – sassy, no nonsense, and useful business advice. She also knows her ideal client: women who want their own successful businesses. She’s built her company around her core skills and interests, which set her apart in a crowded, commoditised market. The lesson: less is often more. Work out how to sell yourself and your company in a sentence or less.

Find your ideal client

It may be tempting to adopt a scattergun approach to pitching. This could either mean spending a great deal of time creating a bespoke pitch for each potential client or sending the same pitch to everyone.

The first strategy may create some successful leads but the results may not justify the investment of time and effort. The cookie-cutter strategy of sending a generic, indiscriminate pitch is unlikely to yield many high-quality results.

We’ve all received messages from companies – perhaps an email suggesting you work together – where they have clearly cc’d in several others and not addressed it personally. It’s not exactly a winning approach.

A much more effective approach to pitching is to clearly understand who your ideal client is, identify their particular needs and issues, and approach them personally.

Get as many details as you can

Your pitch will need to be customised to each individual client, so one of the first things you’ll need to do is to research their situation. Don’t rely on their website or current social media – this will only tell you the good stuff, and you need to know about their pain points.

You also need to make sure you know the market or industry well, and know your own business inside out.  When Sharon Wright went on Dragons’ Den in 2009, she managed to win the Dragons over with her USP, her deep knowledge of her product and its place in the international market.

Create a killer pitch document – and customise it

Your choice of pitch format depends on whether you’re going to be presenting your pitch in person or sending it across. Your pitch document doesn’t just have to be a standard text document. PowerPoint presentations can work well – allowing you to get straight to the point and use graphics to illustrate your work.  Be warned though: the phrase ‘death by PowerPoint’ has been around since 2001. Try Prezi for a more interactive, sleek and modern presentation.

You have plenty of free resources at your disposal to make your pitch stand out – you could even include a mini animation using tools like PowToon or GoAnimate as an introduction to what your business is about. Try to make it as easy to edit as possible though, for future pitches.

Finally, think about who you’re pitching to. A traditional hard sell pitch might leave your recipient bewildered. A softer selling approach – which is particularly popular in female networking groups and over social networking sites – revolves around a more relaxed conversation and gentle questions that can tease out opportunities.

Nail the basics

So, what do you include? The basic framework is:

  • Introduce yourself, including what you specialise in. You don’t need to give them your entire bio (more of this info can go at the end)
  • A basic overview of what their current situation is
  • What you can do (keep it general – you don’t want them using your ideas with someone else)
  • Your fees

You can create a basic template for this, then tweak it for each individual pitch. It doesn’t need to be an entire booklet. Why waste your time and theirs creating something they’re unlikely to spend more than a few minutes reading?

To summarise – keep it short and simple, customised and clear what you’re about.