As a creative, the word “sales” makes my skin crawl. The first time I was in a sales role was when I was a retail assistant at a fashion store. I felt deeply uncomfortable with the idea of pressuring people to spend money, so I never hit my KPIs.
But if you’re striving to become a professional creative that succeeds in business, you need to become an expert in selling yourself and your craft. When you first start out, you can’t sit around waiting for clients to fall in your lap. You have to actively search for them and sell them on why you are the best person to solve their problems.
I experienced my first real sales process halfway through my first year as a copywriter. I desperately wanted to increase my income and my portfolio, but because I was still new to the game, I couldn’t count on potential clients coming my way, I had to go out there and “sell” myself.
Since I was also in my last year of law school, I knew my strengths were my copywriting skills and my in-depth knowledge of the legal system. Every business, irrespective of the industry, needs a solid content marketing strategy and a way to hook their audience in, so I decided to pitch law firms my content creation skills.
One of the firms on my radar was a firm I previously had an “in” with. I’d personally met the CEO before, so I knew it would be slightly easier to approach him. Instead of sending him a cold message, my mentor told me to “make an impression” and reintroduce myself to him as a copywriter at a networking event.
In preparation, I created an A4 poster on Canva detailing why his company needed a stellar content creator like myself. It was bright blue and littered with emojis. I paid extra at Officeworks to print it in full colour on glossy paper.
Having attended multiple legal networking events before, I knew I’d only have 10 minutes (tops) to get the CEO’s attention and convince him to set up a meeting. But I wasn’t the only one who was after a slice of the pie.
After his speech, he was immediately bombarded by people who were after something from him: a recommendation, a potential job at his law office, a coffee to pick his brain. Instead of fighting through the crowd, I spent most of the night standing next to the cheese board, anxiously waiting for a spare moment when I could slip in and get just five minutes of his time.
Alas, I got so distracted by the free wine and prosciutto that I only just managed to flag him down as he was walking out the door. Luckily, he recognised me and stayed to chat, but only for two minutes. Desperate to make my pitch, I chucked my well-rehearsed speech out the window and instead, thrust the poster into his hand.
His eyes widened when he saw the bright blue paper dotted with emojis. “Oh.” At that moment, I wanted to melt into the floor and disappear. Why, oh why, did I think it was a good idea to give him, the CEO, a bright blue poster? Why did I put emojis on it?
Once he left, I went home deflated and 100% certain he was going to throw my poster into the bin and use this story as water-cooler gossip with his staff. The next morning, I woke up to a phone call from an unidentified number. “Ashley? Hi, it’s the COO. I came into the office this morning and [CEO] handed me your lovely letter. Let’s grab a coffee and chat about how we can work together.”
Spoiler Alert: I Didn’t Land the Job
This is not one of those “inspirational” stories where I went from knowing nothing to suddenly landing a six-figure contract. Although I hit it off during the coffee meeting with the COO and the marketing manager, I later learned there was an internal restructure within the company, one that placed content creator at the bottom of the priority list.
Despite this, I learned so much about myself and the sales process that I’ve been able to use to land future clients. Here’s what that sales process taught me:
1. It Pays to Make an Impression
If you say you’re creative, then you have to show people you’re creative. If you say you’re innovative, then you have to present out-of-the-box solutions. If you say you’re a go-getter, then you need to be bold and go get it.
Sure, I could have easily slid into the CEO’s DMs on LinkedIn with a well-crafted cold pitch and avoided the humiliation of handing him the bight blue poster in public. But I also knew that my bold stunt was probably a huge reason why I landed the coffee meet.
I heard someone on a podcast say, “If there are 1,000 other applicants vying for the same job as you, why wouldn’t you try and do something to stand out?” In a world where everyone is asking for a handout, how are you going to go the extra mile to show someone you’re worth the investment? How are you showing initiative?
I understand that sometimes we have to follow the application process companies have set to a tee. But there are still ways you can add your own creativity and flair to the process. Don’t fit in, stand out.
2. Your Feelings Aren’t Everything
After handing the CEO the poster and receiving a lackluster response, I went home that night feeling humiliated and like a laughing-stock. All the adrenalin had left my body and I felt like I’d killed my chances at closing the sale. But although my feelings told me one thing, the reality said another. I had no idea of the events that were unfolding behind the scenes after I made my pitch.
During our coffee meeting, the COO enlightened me to the fact that on the morning of the networking event, they had discussed how they needed a copywriter with legal knowledge. Then, I just so happened to waltz in with a blue poster showcasing my copywriting skills.
All that to say, it’s normal to feel overwhelming dread and anxiety when you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s normal to be hard on yourself and think you’ve bombed and failed. But, chances are, you probably didn’t. Don’t take your feelings too seriously and don’t let them stop you from putting yourself out there.
3. It Pays to Follow Up
After multiple meetings with the firm and completing a “practice run,” I didn’t hear back from them for two weeks. Again, I wanted to curl up in a ball because I was certain they must have hated my writing.
At this point, my mentor told me to buck up and send a polite follow-up message to remind them I was still interested. “Do you know how many emails these executives get on a daily basis?” she told me.“Do you know how many emergencies and fires they have to put out? Getting back to you is probably at the very bottom of his to-do list. Send him another email to put yourself back on top.”
So I did. I emailed him a kind and polite request to ask how he was doing and if he’d had the chance to read through the samples I’d written for him. He responded immediately to apologise for the delay. He wanted to work with me sometime in the future, but internal movements within the company meant it wasn’t a priority.
It wasn’t the answer I was hoping for, but it gave me the peace and closure I needed to move on and pitch my services elsewhere. If I hadn’t followed up, I’d always be mulling over why I wasn’t good enough for the position.
4. Rejection Really Has Nothing to Do With You
As a creative, I’m still learning to separate my worth from my work. In the early days, any feedback or perceived rejection of my words was like a rejection of me.
But like I said before, there were internal movements behind the scenes that meant they no longer had the capacity to bring me on. It had nothing to do with my skills as a copywriter or who I was as a person, the timing was just wrong.
This was once again affirmed when it was my turn to do the hiring. When I became the head of content at a content agency, I was tasked to search for an intern to support my role. The first candidate we interviewed was an absolute star; any company would have been lucky to have her. But we also felt she was too experienced to be our intern and was likely to start up her own business sometime soon. We needed someone who could grow alongside the company. It wasn’t about her skills or who she was, she just didn’t fit what we needed at the time.
All that to say, don’t take rejection to heart. You literally have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes or what’s influencing the firm’s decisions. Chances are, there are other factors that have nothing to do with you at all.
Although a part of me still cringes when I think back to this experience, I’m glad I did it. It taught me that business is all about being bold, and sales is all about having the confidence to back yourself.