Should You Work For Free to Win Clients?

Last month my friend Dan Shure published an article about the pain in writing SEO Proposals. It was an honest look at the proposal process that we go through as freelancers, consultants and agencies.

While you will find the whole article revealing, I was most interested in a particular section where he talks about giving 5 hours of consulting before even writing a proposal. Gratis.

That seems crazy, right?

Why do any work without a contract in place? That goes against all of the advice that you read in business books or research online.

But then I started thinking about how my agency was able to close 75% of the proposals we put in front of customers (which is a remarkable rate), and it all came from using a similar approach.

Leads flowing into sales

Most leads that you generate for your business are unqualified. But why?

First, the prospective client is too small or without budget. Or the prospect has unreasonable expectations around results. Or they have their guard up after getting ripped off in the past.

No matter the reason, you want to weed out the bad leads as quickly as possible so that you can focus on the quality leads in your pipeline. It’s like pruning bushes in the spring to bring on new growth.

When you only focus on the good leads, you can spend more time to understand the prospective customer and offer up your services as a solution.

Don’t propose on the first date

Now it would be easy to put a proposal in front of someone as soon as they become a quality lead. But you still don’t really know anything about them. The proposal will be generic at best (notice this was the feedback that Dan received in his post), and under-bid at worst.

Your proposal will be much better when it is specific. When you’ve rolled up your sleeves and peeked behind the curtain to see how your prospective customer works.

Instead of proposing services without aim, it’s better to further vet your prospect. To see exactly where you can add value to their existing efforts. One way is to ask for ‘read only’ access to their Google Analytics account or other systems. Offer to sign an NDA. Build a pitch and proposal based on the actual work you should be doing; based on the results you can deliver.

Peek behind the curtain and determine whether you can make your prospective client successful. Get them to invest in working with you. To trust you. Before you even have a contract in place.

Proposals that hit the mark

Prospective clients love free advice. There’s really nothing to lose, and an NDA ensures your lips stay sealed.

Agencies should also love giving free advice. You can learn a lot after spending just an hour or two digging into a prospects marketing data. And you can develop a list of services that will help them improve their results.

You can use this data to quantify the value that you will provide, and align this with their actual marketing spend. With this information, you can position your services as an investment rather than an expense.

Mutual investment leads to stronger relationships

With a personalized approach, you will be able to deliver a proposal that hits the mark. You’ve already created a relationship, and the client knows what to expect moving forward.

With a rapport in place, closing the deal seems like an obvious choice for both you and your client. You’ve already invested so much in each other. Why stop now?

A little free work up front never hurt anybody.

Originally published at on May 12, 2017.