In another in my series “patronising advice for students” I explain what I know about selling. For some the art of selling is natural and easy, and for others the concept is a complete mystery. Here is what I know and how I came to learn it.
Avoid wannabe childrens’ book authors
A few years ago I met someone who was an aspiring childrens’ book author. Would I be interested in illustrating his book with a view to sending it to a publisher to try and get a deal.
I read the book, it seemed alright, so I went for it. After quite a few weeks of work he sent the book off, with my illustrations. Then I got on with other work, knowing well how hard the children’s book market is to get into.
Around a year later I met the aspiring author again. He told me what happened. He got a reply from the publishing house rejecting the book.
I was furious. As I told him, JK Rowling was turned down at least half a dozen times for Harry Potter. I asked him if he was sure anyone from the publishers had even read his manuscript. Was there anything specific in the reply that showed it was read. This was a concept beyond this person’s realm of thought.
Selling myself door to door – the cold sell
I was working in bars and hotels in London. Living-in gave a nice disposable income, and it was fun for a bit. Until I just couldn’t fill the ice bucket up any more or empty the glass machine. I had been doing the artwork on the blackboards for the various places I’d worked, and was aware a few others did it for a living. So to save me from ever having to pour another pint, I started up as a full time blackboard artist.
This would involve me going into pubs, asking if they were interested in having their blackboards painted… I had an A4 portfolio with examples of boards I’d done, and a business card to leave behind. As a shy person that was a living hell. The first day I did this, I was almost physically sick. It was a horrific experience. I probably did it two days in a row, and didn’t get any work. Two weeks went by then my ‘mobile phone like a house brick’ rang. First customer. Ten minutes later I got my second customer. I was off and running.
I did this job for about two years. What I came to learn was for every twenty pubs I went into, I always got a minimum of one new customer. On being ‘rejected’ by a pub I then saw this as positive. I was one closer to twenty, which would always get me a customer, and therefor I was positively motivated to keep trying more pubs or restaurants.
The big lesson – don’t sell
What I also learned was I wasn’t selling, or persuading people to use my skills. They needed their blackboards painting or they didn’t, end of. As the business became more successful, the pubs, restaurants and hotels came to me.
When I first arrived at a pub, the manager would ask where I wanted to work in the pub. This shy awkward young man wanted to be as far away as possible from the public. Even working in a refrigerated cellar on occasion, rather than be in the public gaze. One day I had to work on a large outside board that was fixed to a wall. Had to do it there on the street. While working I picked up about three new customers. From then on I worked in public, always! It became like a street art performance, and I would amuse myself counting the number of times people said ‘you spelt that wrong mate…’.
Don’t meet your heroes – or work for children or animals
I am from Aberdeen. I support Aberdeen Football Club. When I lived in the city I was a season ticket holder. I’d contributed cartoons to the AFC fanzine The Northern Light and the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper. But what I really wanted to do was work for the club.
So I got together some illustrations of the stadium, and the players. This is pre-digital. I worked for months on it. Sent it away. And waited.
I don’t think they even replied. Between other work, a couple of years later I tried again. Nothing. I think I tried one more time, and gave up.
A good few years later, my work now digital, a friend asked for one of the illustrations of a player to be turned into a birthday card for his 11 year old nephew. A career high! Reluctantly I did it. I also decided to print off another copy of the illustration, and send it to Aberdeen F.C.
I sent it in such a relaxed, disinterested way, when the club’s marketing manager phoned me up a couple of days later, and requested more like that, I genuinely couldn’t remember what I’d sent him… I went on to work for them for some time.
Learning from experience
Why had they rejected me previously? Why did they then decide to use my work? They accepted my work because my work landed on the correct person’s desk on the correct day. The times I was rejected, it didn’t.
So how do you get your work to land on the correct person’s desk, on the correct day? You send out a lot of work, regularly to increase the chances of this happening, and ignore any rejections. Exactly what the author in the first story did not do.
Selling as a freelance designer
When I go to a client’s for an initial meeting, I am not selling, I never sell. They will have got in touch with me as they are interested in my services. All I need to do is listen to their needs, explain the concept, explain how it could work, give any advice on any specifics they are interested in, irrespective of whether they have agreed to work with me or not. And most importantly of all, be honest. If I don’t know the answer to something, I tell them I don’t know, and also say if I can find out for them I will.
Generally all my client meetings have a positive result.