How to Master the Freelancer’s Uber-Sell

How to Master the Freelancer's Uber-Sell

Freelancers tend to struggle with selling, to some extent.  Some of us are better at it than others, and we know you folk by the fact that you’re making a healthy living and thumbing your nose at us as you drive by in your shiny new BMW… but I digress.

If you’re anything like me, you’d love to just open your email and find a steady stream of “Can you do this for me? I’ll pay you cash,” requests that you just need to click to approve and move on to doing the work.

In the real world, it doesn’t quite work that way.

So, we need to deal with the necessary evil of sales.  If only there was a way to earn money without having to deal with finding, wooing and convincing all these new clients…

Wait a minute – there IS a way!

We have a terrible habit of forgetting one of the most common-sense business rules: It’s far easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to find a new one.

And to help you get started, here are a few time-tested, guaranteed-effective methods that work:

The Up-sell

The up-sell is one of the oldest money-making tactics. If you’ve ever gone to McDonald’s, you’ve had the up-sell tried on you, because every cashier worth his name tag has asked, “Do you want fries with that?”

And probably 70% of the time or more, you’ll get the fries. You’ll think it’s because they’re devilishly yummy and you’d nearly forgotten, but the truth is that the power of suggestion is incredibly powerful!

The up-sell is as simple as suggesting another purchase based on the success of the last one your customer made. For example:

  • Offer a complimentary ebook or e-course on your ‘Thank You’ page that appears immediately following the purchase of a different product.
  • Enhance a basic service by offering options available at a “pro” level.
  • Encourage the purchase of a related book after hosting a webinar or a course.

The up-sell, if done well, should feel completely natural to both you and your customer.  It should be as simple as, “I know you’ll benefit from what you just purchased, and you can take it even further with this, so I’m pretty sure you’ll appreciate that I’m offering it to you.”

The obvious danger is trying to blindly up-sell everyone on everything.

It might be tempting to fire off emails to every customer you’ve ever serviced to see if they’d like to buy your new ebook. But if a given customer worked with you once and you get in touch to offer something random, the chances of them seeing a natural connection and taking you up on the offer are probably pretty slim.

Offer them something directly related at the right moment, though, and you’ve got a good chance of getting somewhere.

The Cross-sell

Cross-selling is a little different from up-selling, and it takes a little more forethought to pull off properly.

Cross-selling means introducing a customer who has shown interest in one of your products or services to other products or services that aren’t directly related. It’s easy to screw this up, so take your time and think it through.

Let’s say you’ve worked with a sales consultant to create content for his blog, and he’s really thrilled with the results.  And in the course of conversation, the consultant shares he’s having a tough time gaining traction with his local sales conferences presentations.

That person may not even realize you’re capable of – or interested in – writing speeches, press releases, handouts, or a hundred other possible items that could really help him get where he wants to go.

Now’s your chance to carefully yet confidently let him know!

If you’re not capable or interested in providing those services, you can still be the hero by recommending a great fellow freelancer who specializes in whatever your client needs.  It may not mean more money in your pocket (unless a referral fee is in order) but at the very least, your karma’s in great shape.

Reciprocity’s a beautiful thing! Which brings us to the next sales opportunity…

The Referral

Referrals work in various ways, all of which end up mutually beneficial if well handled.  Here are some examples:

  • You’ve just finished an incredibly successful web design project for a small retailer at a local mall.  This one is easy: Simply ask, “Do you know of anyone else whose website could use an updated design?” Success ensues.
  • You’ve just put the finishing touches on a series of articles for the company VP, and she’s thrilled with the results.  You’ve heard through the grapevine that her boss, the CEO, has been considering writing a book about his unique management philosophy.  Ask the VP, “Any chance you can introduce me to the CEO?  I think I can bring some real value as a ghostwriter for that book he’s thinking of writing.”  Slam, bam, thank you ma’am.
  • Your latest client just mentioned her need for a virtual assistant, and you just happen to have coached a bright young woman on her brand new VA business just two months ago.  What do you do?  You guessed it: introduce them. (And they live happily ever after.)

Referrals are awesome for at least two reasons:

Any referral comes with an implied endorsement of your work, which is money in the bank for you.  It’s a head start on the road to a contract, especially if arranged soon after your current customer’s smile of approval on the job you did.

If the referral doesn’t pan out into a paying job immediately, you’re now connected with someone new, someone who may never have been on your radar before.  And in their mind, you’ve already got a star next to your name, thanks to the implied endorsement.

When they need someone like you… well, there you are!

The Uber-sell

All three methods discussed above can and should be used in any combination based on given circumstances.

If your relationship with a client makes it seem natural to offer something more and their needs are such that you can do more to help them out, by all means up-sell, cross-sell and work out some referrals!

Don’t feel you’re overdoing it or bothering your client.  You’re not. Ask!  After all, what’s the very worst your client can say? “No.” That’s not such a big deal! And the alternative is that your client’s eyes go wide, her mouth gets all smiley, and she says, “Wow!  I never even thought of that.  Let’s do it!”

As much as you’d probably just love to have fun in your creative work and leave the nitty-gritty of sales to some invisible person somewhere, you probably don’t have that luxury.  So embrace the sale and make the most of it!

I’d love to hear your suggestions on how you could expand a relationship with an existing client or how you used any of these methods in your own business. Let me know in the comments!

Post by Justin P. Lambert

Justin P. Lambert is a freelance copywriter and content marketing specialist who constantly thinks about uber-selling his clients and blogs about what he should have done at Words That Begin With You.

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  1. Hi Justin

    It constantly amazes me the way that some self employed people totally lack the basics of selling extra products and services. It does take some time to set up on your website, but once done it will keep bringing in the money. It’s as simple as adding in an extra line of html code or message onto your autoresponder – you are getting your customers email address so you can follow-up with them!

    The best example here at MwP is the little black book image in the sidebar, I bought a copywriting book due to that link. All these little extra’s add up, and could soon be worth more than the main clients if you do it properly. The best things to sell are products you’ve bought yourself, don’t put links out to the highest paying products.


    • Andrew,
      Absolutely. Developing and selling products that compliment your main product or service can do wonders for your bottom line, and its residual, as you described.

      Thanks for the comment!


  2. Perfect timing…I’ve just finished James Chartrand’s Damn Fine Words class and ready to develop some products and do some selling.

    I appreciate this balanced approach, Justin. It feels genuine and effective in that it extends the “Know, Trust, Like” philosophy into the selling arena.

    Thank you.

    • My pleasure, Elizabeth. Thanks for reading and commenting. Despite my (occasionally) cynical language, I actually enjoy selling the way it’s evolving these days, specifically via content and engagement. With some creativity and initiative, I think a lot of freelancers can boost their sales without making it feel icky.

      Thanks again,

  3. Hi Justin,
    Interesting post and yeah this sort of practice definitely helps freelancers of every kind run a better business. And as for your advice on “bothering your client” I think I have to say that a lot of people are too busy or just don’t give a damn. My rule of thumb is to not work at all with people who think its too much of a hassle to put in a good word for somebody. I avoid uncool people like that in principle.

  4. I say sell LESS.

    Not that you should try to sell to less people, or do shoddy work so that less people buy, but to sell less STUFF to each person at a time.

    When a person is filled with over-choice, as many people are when they land on a blog, their wee-lit-uhl minds get overwhelmed, the wallet gets snapped shut like a fox in a…fox trap? And the customer walks away without making a purchase.

    If you target your copywriting powers towards a single goal, then you help funnel the prospect towards a yes/no buying decision about that one thing.

    -Joshua Black

    • Joshua,
      That’s a great point. I probably should have added that clarification in my post: while every freelancer should be focusing on the Uber-sell whenever it’s natural and practical, each individual sale (or offer, for that matter) needs to be as simple and easy as possible. Thanks for pointing that out.


  5. Excellent article, Justin. I worked for a major food company for a little bit. Different products were assigned to different teams to manage. We use to get together every week to figure out how to best combine campaigns so there’d be marketing synergy, aka, sell more. It’s the same concept as you are talking about here. It works for corporate as well as freelancers.

    As for my 2 cents, I always try to go above and beyond the call of duty when working with clients. The extra minutes you spend and extra details you cover make your clients appreciate you. Better relationship, better business, more referrals… it’s a positive flow forward.

    • You’re totally right, RebelX: better quality/customer service equals happier customers, happier customers equal more referrals. A simple equation too many business people miss somehow. Cutting corners may seem like a profit-enhancer in the short term, but it’s always going to bring the bottom line down in the long run.


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