Design Dilemma: Using a Humorous Client Sales Pitch

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“How do I find clients?” is the question I get the most from beginners, as well as experienced professionals (finding work is tough these days and getting harder for freelancers).

There are certainly steps one can take but, having received this message addressed to me via the Design Dilemma email account, I had to read it to see if there was a question attached. There wasn’t, but “Bob’s” plea presented an interesting conundrum — by being “humorous” did “Bob” show his human side in hopes that someone would want to work with him or should he have made a serious sales pitch, spotlighting his past work and abilities? Let’s take a closer look.

The Dilemma

It’s a mistake many freelancers make (even I have done that — many times!). It didn’t work, and actually lost me a prospective client that could have skyrocketed my work and reputation. I blew it. So, learn from my mistake.. or “Bob’s” mistake, maybe? Join us as we delve into another shocking Design Dilemma, helping to answer your questions, queries and concerns about the murky world of design.

What would you think if you received this email? Does it instill confidence and interest?

Freelance Designer / Waffle Enthusiast

Hello, my name is “Bob” and I’m a graphic + web designer in Los Angeles, originally from Portland, Oregon (yes, it is as strange and amazing as you’ve probably heard). I would love it if you checked out my work at (website URL) and considered me for one of your upcoming projects (design related, no house cleaning or car washing requests, although I’m certainly not above it in an off month).

“By all means, tell me if you don’t want to hear from me again, but please consider being polite by not insulting my lovely mother when doing so.”

It is my strong desire to be your design guy, almost as much as I desire a fluffy Belgian waffle smothered in butter and maple syrup on a frequent but sensible enough basis which won’t cause me to lose teeth and be forced to play the banjo in order to fully express my emotions. So, please get in touch at your earliest convenience to discuss your design needs, so that we may avoid such a senseless and regrettable outcome. I don’t want to bore you with any superfluous correspondence, so that is all. Thanks very much, please let me know if you have any questions whatsoever, and I look forward to hearing from you.

P.S. My apologies if this reached you in error, I’m sincerely just a freelancer trying to earn a living. By all means, tell me if you don’t want to hear from me again, but please consider being polite by not insulting my lovely mother when doing so.

I made an attempt to be the least obnoxious I could be in writing this message and moronic hostility really bums me out, while reducing my hope for the world ultimately refraining from mindless self-implosion.

I’m not some marketing guy trying to sell you inflatable swimming pool insurance or webcam model requesting you to look at my body in a nauseating combination of capital letters, lowercase, and symbols. It’s rather hairy and you wouldn’t like that, trust me. Have a wonderful day.

P.P.S. I’m also available for ad copy and birthday parties, but refuse to jump out of any more cakes.

Coming Back From Embarrassment

Before sending out a promotional message, pass it by a couple of other designers to see how they feel about the tone, content and spelling. It takes an average (so the experts say) of five to seven good solid contacts before getting work from a targeted prospective client. Make each contact count!

Some say it’s who you know and not what you know. Well, that has a lot of truth but you also need talent to keep the client. If you are confident that at least the majority of the recipients of a humorous message will react positively, then why not give it a try?

“Sadly, I myself am an expert at this as I have no inner monologue and everything I’m thinking spills out for all to hear.”

My experience, including trying to get into National Lampoon (and the art director was a former teacher of mine who liked me… or lied about liking me) and MAD Magazine (which I finally got into via very serious corporate channels), was that a light banter in real-speak works well but outright humor will end up being misinterpreted by some people. Sometimes it’s the majority of people who see it.

Sadly, I myself am an expert at this. I have no inner monologue, and everything I’m thinking spills out for all to hear. When I lost a big chance (NYC’s largest newspaper) by “being funny,” I felt horrible. There was no way to ask for forgiveness, as this prospective client made that fact fully known. Sure, I think she was being a little too serious about my message, but I was screwed. I had to wait for two years before she left her position and her replacement hired me as a regular contributor. Sometimes time heals all wounds — too much time for some to survive!

“Bob” Has a Surprise!

When I sent “Bob” my reply, thinking he hadn’t had a good reply (I mean, why send an email to Design Shack, inquiring about available freelance design work?), he had very good news!

I’ve actually never had a more successful campaign in my life. Humor does, in fact, work. And it works exceedingly. The trick is whether or not it is actually funny. In my case, I have hundreds of responses from people affirming it is indeed just that. I could forward some of them to you, if you like.

“The trick is whether or not it is actually funny. In my case, I have hundreds of responses from people affirming it is indeed just that. The negative responses are minuscule by comparison. I needed work for my design business, but am also a writer. So, I used that strength to my advantage and voila… people responded and I have over two dozen new clients as a result.”

The negative responses are minuscule by comparison. I needed work for my design business, but am also a writer (the former allows me more time to invest into the latter). So, I used that strength to my advantage and voila… people responded and I have over two dozen new clients as a result.

Society is tired of the same old, tired, boring, lifeless, uncreative, overly serious approaches. We are barraged by them everyday by giant corporations we despise, so why should a HUMAN emulate it in simply looking for work? Either the work is good and of a decent value or its not and we all know this.

The world needs more humor, wherever we can get it, and as such it rarely goes unappreciated. I’m afraid you might actually come across a bit stiff on your blog, but to each their own. Either way, thanks very much for the feedback.

Naturally, I congratulated “Bob” and asked him to give some figures on response rates and was he planning on continuing using humor in future marketing outreach.

Well, the response is at least 95% positive, conservatively. The negative responses are few and far between. I’ve received several stating its the best email solicitation they’ve ever received. And once in a while someone tells me to kill myself, so it all balances out. :)

I used the approach, because I just wanted to be honest and simply write the way that I do best. I’m an aspiring comedy screenwriter (I still say aspiring, even though I’ve been paid to do it, because its not a real living yet) and happen to have a tiny bit of talent in some other areas, one of them being design. So, I’ve done that as a freelancer on and off for several years to have a little more autonomy over my schedule than a corporate position would ever allow.

It was more of a struggle until I started reaching out to people in a distinct voice, which is likewise the goal of screenwriting. Drawing someone into your story, even if that story is mostly structured to make you laugh. As far as other campaigns, no plans, although I have tried it for my photography services, as well, with less success for logistical/geographical reasons.

I do think if I were pitching a product rather than offering my services, it would be less personal and thus not received nearly as well, but I have no data to back that up, just a hunch.

I guess you have to know your audience well and hope the death threats aren’t from your top 5% client wish list. Personally such an extreme use of humor never worked for me. Have you ever tried a unique approach? What were your responses? What would you think if you received one of “Bob’s” emails? Tell us in the comments section.

Send Us Your Dilemma!

Do you have a design dilemma? Speider Schneider will personally answer your questions — just send your dilemma to dilemma@designshack.net

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