Steve Morgan hates sales. He hates everything about it, including his curiously 1980s stereotype of a sales shark.
He’s not alone. Freelance Heroes – a private Facebook group of which both Steve Morgan and I are members – ran a poll back in 2018. 55% of freelancers said that finding new leads was the area of business they struggled with most and enjoyed least.
Unfortunately though, self-employment means selling your business, selling your services, selling your work. As Morgan is keenly aware, focusing 100% on client work is not an option in self-employment, where the relationship between self-promotion and survival is stark.
So his book, Anti-Sell, is firmly targeted at the self-employed. It’s Morgan’s guide to selling your business without selling in the traditional sense:
“I argue that you can sell yourself in a way that isn’t really sales-y at all. It’s about being you: a good human being who helps out and imparts his or her knowledge to those in need. The best way to sell is not to sell. Let that sink in. The best way to sell is not to sell. It sounds completely and utterly counterintuitive, but it’s the truth.”
Anti-Sell aims to get freelancers to the position where people spontaneously recommend them, minimising the need to sell. But Morgan is an honest man. Hiding away from the world will get you nowhere. There’s no silver bullet that will instantly “activate floods of enquiries”. Instead, it’s about finding acceptable ways to put yourself out there.
My top 10 Anti-Sell tips
For all his aversion to sales, Morgan really sells chapter 4 from the start. Described as “the real meat n’ bones of the book”, it’s a long list of sales, marketing, networking and lead generation tips for freelancers.
Morgan is at pains to stress how personal all this is. Success depends so much on the character and experience of the freelancer themselves, so you need to choose what’s right for you.
Here are the 10 tips that I picked out:
- Find ways to demonstrate your expertise and help people out.
- Join a coworking space. They’re great for meeting other small businesses. Morgan also uses ‘pay for the day’ spaces to broaden his network.
- Focus on retainer clients. Retainers are so much easier to schedule and give you more certainty around income. A criticism: Morgan makes it sound easier than it is. Many freelancers I know dream of having just one long-term retainer.
- Always ask prospects this question: How did you find me?
- Attend business networking events. Lockdown highlighted the limitations of online events for meeting contacts. Loads of freelancers I know are back on the real-world networking circuit.
- Attend meetups. They’re great if you’re sensitive to social pressures as they’re learning-focused. Morgan offers a valuable tip – go to meetups that are only loosely related to what you do. That way you won’t have to rub shoulders with quite so many competitors.
- Avoid Twitter chats that are location focused. They tend to be over-loaded with self-promoters who offer no real value.
- When you’re quiet, reach out to people who can help. These may include old clients, people you’ve turned away in busy periods and other freelancers. And there’s no harm in posting on social media that you have capacity for new projects.
- Decide on your niche. Morgan recommends a ‘T-shaped’ approach. This involves being a specialist in one area with a broad layer of generalist knowledge in related areas.
- Don’t be intimidated if you find yourself competing with an agency. Without their overheads, you’re likely to offer a cost advantage. And you may well be more experienced than the agency staff who’ll be doing the actual work.
Balancing freelancing with other challenges
It’s worth giving an honourable mention to the exceptional circumstances that Morgan covers in the book. As we all know, there is no average person. Many of us are battling with difficult circumstances and health issues. Morgan offers specific guidance for freelancers who are:
- Working in full-time employment
- Raising a family
- Shy, introvert or extremely sensitive
- Suffering from a chronic illness and/or have a disability.
Guidance for experienced freelancers
As I said, Morgan really sells the tips in chapter 4. I wish I’d had access to them when I was starting out. But what he under-sells is the second half of the book, which comes into its own for more established freelancers.
The Assessment Chart involves listing all clients, past and present, and scoring them on criteria such as potential for referrals or growth. The overall scores will reveal your best-fit clients and help you adjust your business on that basis. It may uncover a valuable niche, for example. Morgan provides this template.
Morgan’s mentor recommended tracking prospects by keeping a spreadsheet of every enquiry. This must include how they found you and whether it converted to actual work (and if not why not). Over time, you get a clearer idea of what marketing
Outbound sales and inbound sales (or is it marketing?)
Morgan discusses the difference between outbound and inbound selling. Outbound selling he defines as:
“the process of getting in touch with someone who may or may not already know you, and – worse still – may or may not even want or need your services, whether at that moment in time (or ever)!”
In an inbound scenario, the prospect who needs your services will ask friends or family for recommendations. Most of us are more comfortable hiring someone we know something about, whether through recommendation, research or both. Morgan refers to this as inbound selling, but it’s usually known as inbound marketing.
This reminds me of my friend Catherine’s comment on the book – that the book is really about long-term marketing and won’t get you work immediately. He gives a lot of good advice, but you have to be realistic about results. So it doesn’t take away the need to do sales as well.
Morgan is correct to point to the shortcoming of inbound – namely that the timing is unpredictable. You could end up being pestered during busy periods and ghosted when you’re quiet. The answer is reciprocity, i.e. finding reputable peers to refer the work to. It makes it much more likely that they’ll refer back to you when you need work.
Anti-Sell – a story with a happy ending
Having taken us on a journey from under-confident agency employee to successful freelancer and author to boot, Morgan has achieved a happy ending. I’m delighted for him, and you should be too. Because what comes across is what a likeable guy he is. He empathises. He shares. And through Anti-Sell, he’s helping others avoid the pitfalls he encountered along the way.
What author Steve Morgan said in response to this review
“I absolutely love this review. Thank you, Sarah! Anti-Sell is well over 3 years old now – predating the pandemic/lockdown – so it’s amazing to see it still getting reviews (especially positive ones!) and that people genuinely find it useful.
The retainer criticism is more than fair. I’m lucky that my line of work (SEO) lends itself well to ongoing monthly/retainer arrangements. I appreciate that might not be the case in all walks of freelancing life. I could and should have made that a little clearer in the book. Perhaps that’s an idea for the Anti-Sell blog sometime in the future…
I love to read reviews and experiences where people ‘get’ what the book is about. It’s more than just a list of tips and a few ideas… Without sounding cheesy, it’s a way of thinking and a confidence builder. For people truly put off by going self-employed because of sales (like I used to be), it’s a way of letting them know that they can succeed – even if they hate (traditional) sales. I don’t feel that I get this point across well enough when I promote the book.
I also really like how this review goes over those tips from the book that work well for the reviewer (Sarah) and her business. I was saddened by a recent negative review of the book – thankfully they’re few in number – that went along the lines of: “the tips that work for Steve wouldn’t work for me”.
That misses the point. The point is that you (the reader) will figure out what works for you. There might be some stuff I do that wouldn’t work for you, and similarly, there might be some stuff you’d do that wouldn’t work for me. The idea is that you find out what works for you.
Hopefully, my book is the starting point for you to work that out.”