Use Work Samples to Seal the Deal

  By Liz Steblay, PICA Chief Advocate

Let’s face it, consulting often gets a bad rap. It’s perceived as nebulous, too theoretical, too touchy-feely. Plus, it’s expensive. To combat this bias, use work samples and deliverables to show prospective clients how you do what you do. Demystify your process. This goes a long way toward removing uncertainty and skepticism. 

For 10 years as an independent change-strategy consultant, I used this tactic to win several projects. Many clients don’t understand the difference between change management work and more complex change strategy work. Most know that communications and training are involved but don’t understand how to achieve the buy-in of cross-functional stakeholders in a way tailored to their situation.

When I interviewed with a client, I brought about five samples and then selected one or two to show. By presenting a sample change readiness assessment, stakeholder analysis, change strategy document, or an engagement plan, I enabled the client to literally see what they were buying in hiring me. This gave the client confidence that (a) I knew what I was doing, and (b) the company would get its money’s worth. Seeing the samples helped the client imagine what I would be doing and see how it would help. I can’t think of a time when this tactic didn’t work.

Presenting Samples is Key

  • Samples can be anything that will help a potential client get an idea of how you work and what you will produce. For example, a PowerPoint deck, a sample work plan, a graphical timeline, an assessment summary, project communications, work instructions, project branding and logos, a coaching plan, etc. 
  • A sample should be generic, in other words stripped of the client’s name and logo. Potential clients will understand and respect you if your document says “XYZ Corp” where the real client name and logo used to be.
  • If you can get permission from your former client, use samples with the client name intact. The more well-known the company, the bigger the boost to your credibility. If the client sees that you’ve worked for GE, Amazon, Walmart, or any Fortune 500 company, they’ll think you’re good enough for them too.
  • Use samples from various clients. Even with client identification removed, it will be obvious it’s from a different client because of the formatting. Showing work from more than one client also increases your credibility. 
  • Bring color copies to in-person interviews and use them as visual aids. Avoid leaving them with the client because it’s your intellectual property. Potential clients aren’t likely to use the documents without you but don’t tempt them. If a sample isn’t generic, definitely don’t leave it behind. Instead, leave a list of your clients and references. (Clients often don’t bother to call references but seeing the list with job titles will further build your credibility.)
  • Have several samples ready that show different aspects of your work, then present those that best apply to the client’s project. Use them as a springboard for deeper conversation.
  • Use your samples as marketing materials on LinkedIn and your website if you have one. Add a front page to the sample to set the context, using a short project summary (your role, the problem you solved or what you were hired to do, how this work product or deliverable was used). Ideally include a testimonial from the client. Add these sample packets to your LinkedIn profile as rich media, or upload the samples to SlideShare and add them to your profile that way.
  • Always have them ready.

Be your best. Win the work!