To be successful in business, you need a compelling story. The story of the value your product or service will bring to your client and why they should buy from you and no one else.
When carving out a freelance career in the bid world, it’s just the same. Your product or service is YOU and you need a story to tell people what makes you different and valuable. Should you be a generalist with broad appeal or a specialist in your chosen field? Or perhaps you should just be you because every one of us is special in our own way.
In my experience, it’s tough to be valuable and different when you put yourself out there as a generalist. As a jack of all trades, a master will invariably pop up and pip you at the post. Being a specialist is appealing, but it can lead to being ‘pigeonholed’ – only getting work that fits 100% with your specialism and missing out on other work you are more than capable of doing. So, I go for being ‘me’ with my special story.
At the start of my freelance career 11 years ago, I had the notion that simply being a bid consultant was special. Then I joined the APMP and found there were plenty of bid consultants around – and it was a growing industry. To add a dash of difference, I decided to draw on my long career in operational sales. I would be a sales and bid consultant championing the linkage between the two disciplines.
Better, but perhaps still not special enough.
Digging a bit deeper, I thought about my career in the technology industry selling products, software and services…and all the public sector experience I had from working in the central government, defence and security sectors…and my time working for small and medium enterprises. I was on a roll.
I added some personal criteria into the mix. I knew I wanted a portfolio of clients and a variety of work. I wanted to work remotely as much as possible with flexibility over my own time. And I was mindful of my style – I’m strong on process, hands-on, pragmatic, driven and blunt!
My story was taking shape. It gave a strong sense of who I was and what I wanted. This helped in three ways:
- It highlighted my difference – my special mix of attributes.
- It defined my value because I was aligning with companies and people I could really help.
- It gave me a way to qualify opportunities quickly and effectively.
That’s me, so what about you?
What’s your story?
Working out what you’re good at and not so good at, what you want and don’t want is a great exercise to help you get your story straight. A Venn diagram can help. Have a go at creating a series of bubbles:
When you do this exercise, be selective and true to yourself. No pretending! If you’re good at something but don’t like doing it, leave it out. Don’t worry too much about the intersecting portions – this is where your story can be tailored to suit different situations – but the more overlaps you can create, the better it will be for you and your client. And if you can hit the ‘sweet spot’ in the middle, then there’s a good chance you’ll both be in heaven.
Stories in action
A special story worked for me. In the early days, I went off-piste a few times but, on the whole, I stuck to it and I’ve had a continuous run of work that’s suited me and benefitted my clients.
And my story has evolved over time. I’ve sharpened my storytelling skills. My public sector focus has developed and I often help SMEs breaking into the public sector to organise and professionalise their business development activities. I’ve also created a new speciality in Social Value, which is in high demand. I mix and match my attributes to be special in different ways and always genuinely suited to my work. If an opportunity doesn’t fit with my story, I say no.
And for you? If you’re thinking about moving into freelancing, develop your story to see how and where you would pitch yourself. It also works if you’re looking for a new employed role – by clarifying your differences and your value, you will create a better CV and qualify job opportunities better. After all, having a win strategy and doing some content planning to get your compelling story straight before writing is bid best practice!
This article was written by Sarah Hinchliffe.
Sarah labels herself a ‘Storyteller, Organiser, Timekeeper’ – three things that come naturally to her. After a 30-year sales career in the IT industry, where she learnt every popular sales methodology and sold millions of pounds of software and services, Sarah decided to share what she’d learnt about winning business using great stories, a systematic approach and consistently delivering on time. She continues learning and sharing through her freelance consulting work and volunteering as a writer, speaker and mentor.