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However, don’t think designing is all you’ll be doing. There’s a good chance you may be recruited to attend a new business pitch at some point. That’s especially true if a small shop employs you. Even if there’s an account executive or two, many new business presentations include some creative folks. Prospective clients like to meet the person or persons who will be creating their materials.

I’ve written this often, but it bears mention again – People buy from people and usually from people they like. All things being equal and even if they’re not, a prospect will usually choose the person they like best. That’s because the design business, particularly during the beginning of the relationship, is largely intangible.

Sure, you can show your previous work, but the prospect doesn’t really know if you can do wondrous things for them. Establishing trust is paramount and that begins at the new business presentation. Graphic design is as much about building relationships as it is about line, form, color and typography.

Preparing for the New Business Presentation

Before you can do a pitch, you’ll need someone to pitch. Sure, that sounds like a given and it is … to a degree. But, many independent designers and small shops make the mistake of pitching anybody who walks in the door or jingles their phone or inbox. Wooing prospects and doing presentations can be expensive when you consider the costs of preparing materials, lunches, dinners and other methods of entertaining prospects. Add to the mix the cost of capabilities brochures, websites, research time and such and the bill starts to add up faster than rabbits in spring.

Be selective and qualify prospects. I know I have beaten this point to death, but that’s because it’s so important. Only pitch those prospects you know are a good fit for your practice or your employer’s. Ask yourself a few questions:

• Have I worked in this industry before, or will there be a steep learning curve?

• Will I be working with the primary decision-maker or underlings?

• Does the prospect have the earmarks of being a PITA client? (Pain in the … well, you get the idea)

• Will the project be challenging?

• Will it play to my strengths?

• Does the prospect value what I have to offer?

• Does the prospect appear organized and clearly know their goals for the project?

Let’s say you’ve found a prospect who appears to be a good match. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and do some background research. You’ll want to fire up your browser and do some Internet searches to gain insight into the prospect’s company, their industry, competition and such. You may also want to check in with others who may have worked with the prospect. Those might include photographers, writers, illustrators and printers. They can give you some understanding about the prospect’s working relationships, ability to pay, etc. A Dun & Bradstreet credit report can’t hurt, either.

For Those Who Pass the Test

After you’ve qualified the prospect, it’s time to move into relationship building. Most prospects won’t need your services on the first day you contact them. They likely have a designer, in-house staff or person, etc. Something needs to change. They either have a falling out with their current designer, firm or agency, their current resource can’t meet a certain project deadline for whatever reason, they find keeping an in-house staff is getting too expensive or other change. Working on building a solid relationship with the prospect helps to ensure you are top of mind when that change happens.

Building the relationship means keeping in touch by phone or email. Perhaps stopping by for a visit every once in a while. It might also mean taking them out for lunch, sending useful information such as articles, links and the like. The point is to demonstrate your value and establish trust.

Presentation Day

Then it happens. You get a phone call or email asking you to make a presentation. All your hard work has paid off … almost. You still need to nail the presentation to turn your smiling prospect into a paying client.

If you handled the qualifying process correctly, you already have a lot of background about the company, its competition, market environment and their services or products.

The next step is to edit your visuals to match the prospect’s need. That can mean creating or editing a Powerpoint slide show, pulling together case studies or gathering hard copies of design materials that are similar to the proposed project or the prospect’s industry.

Presentations tend to attract this guy named “Murphy” with all his laws in tow. To help avoid a Murphy meltdown, follow these tips:

1. You must be convinced of both your value and that of the design work.
2. Outline every step of your thinking process and be able to defend why you did thus and so.
3. Rehearse and then rehearse some more.
4. When possible and appropriate, add some humor – but be careful. Not everybody’s sense of humor is the same.
5. Don’t dodge questions when you don’t know the answer. Say so but also tell them you’ll find out.
6. Test all of your equipment.
7. Bring backup equipment.
8. Be personable.
9. Practice the cardinal rule of public speaking. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Then, tell them what you told them.

Remember what you’re really selling. Here’s a hint. It isn’t graphic design. It’s a solution to the prospect’s problem-at-hand. For example, a drill bit salesperson doesn’t sell drill bits. They sell holes. Likewise, insurance reps don’t sell insurance. They sell peace of mind. A design solution isn’t about a nifty image, perfectly kerned typography or captivating use of color. It’s about making your client shine, enter a new market, secure some donations, outpacing the competition or simply selling more product.

The Anatomy of a New Business Presentation

The new business presentation is much less about you than it is about the prospect. At the end of the presentation, you want the prospect thinking, “Yup, they really understand us. They get it.”

But, a new business pitch isn’t the time to solve a prospect’s presently particular problem. It’s the time to differentiate your business, demonstrate your abilities, experience and value. It’s the time to show that you’ll be a valued partner in the process rather than simply a rented pair of hands on a keyboard.

During the presentation, it can be easy to lose your focus. The big scary CEO throws you a knuckle ball question. Your laptop decides it’s a great time to go belly up. Sometimes it’s tough to keep your composure when your presentation isn’t going smooth.

Have a backup plan in place if things start to sour. Will you be able to keep the presentation going without visuals? Can you spin a tough question to your favor? As mentioned, test your equipment inside out and backwards. If you’re using a laptop, consider bringing a backup computer. If you’re using boards, be sure the mounted work is square and board edges aren’t crumbled or bent. If you’re using a portfolio case with sleeves, be sure the acetate is clean and clear. Do everything you can to present your work in the best light possible.

The first few minutes can make or break a presentation. So, start off with your key points. Elaborate on them during the body of the presentation and wrap up with the key points again. Prospects will take away perhaps no more than three major points about your organization, so you want to choose aspects of your business that reinforce your value, rather than trying to hit on everything.

Giving a presentation can get the adrenaline flowing and you may find yourself talking fast. When you begin, take a deep breath and slow down. Be aware of your volume and pace. If others on your team, such as a writer or programmer, will be present, have them drop a visual clue, a hand signal or such, to let you know your pace is too fast or too slow, your volume is too loud or at mouse level.

As you close out your presentation, after restating your key points, ask the audience if they have any questions or if anything is unclear. Be sure to follow up afterwards with a note thanking them for their time and the opportunity to present your practice. Also be sure to follow up promptly with any requested information, additional project samples, references, client testimonials, etc.

If you’ve done your homework, prepared well and followed the tips in this article, you’ll likely be in good pitching form. Someone once said, “Everything is difficult until it becomes easy.” Presentations and pitches are no different. They may never become a walk in the park, but the more you do, the easier and better they become.