How to Cultivate Your Agency’s Sales Pipeline

Once you’ve started an agency on Upwork, there are three ways to win new projects: You can submit a proposal to a job post, attract an invite from a potential client to apply for their next project, or get a direct offer from a client who already knows how amazing your agency is.

How can you angle your agency toward greater success? By getting a better understanding of your agency’s position in the marketplace, you boost the chances that your ideal clients will find you. Let’s take a look at some suggestions that can help make it easier for potential clients to see why your agency is the perfect fit.

Consider your ideal project

When you first considered making the move from freelancer to agency, you may have decided on a niche—the ideal type of project your agency would focus on.

For Artem Nikonenko and Denys Safonov of Etcetera—a web, mobile, and print design agency from Ukraine—the ideal project includes interesting work, realistic deadlines, and a proper budget.

Polish your communication to win more projects

High-quality work is critical for any business. But as an agency, clients also pay you for your streamlined processes (i.e. delivery, communication, organization), not just your team’s skills. Here are qualities that can help your agency communicate more effectively with potential clients:

  • Simplicity: Make it easy to see details and examples about who you are, what you do, and what makes your team unique. Don’t make them search for information or guess what you’re trying to show them.
  • Trust: Clients are looking for a trusted advisor. How can your agency establish that trust from the beginning?
  • Involvement: Maintain great communication with clients during the proposal process and throughout the project. You can streamline client communications by having a key account manager or business development manager to serve as the main contact person.
  • Results: Through relevant portfolio samples, testimonials from previous clients, and introductions to your team, showcase why your agency is ideally positioned to get the results they’re looking for.

Approach proposals with confidence

When pitching new business, demonstrate your agency’s value so you can negotiate from strength. When you show the client you understand their needs and they trust that you can solve their challenges for them, your perceived value increases. Keep in mind a few best practices and go-to responses:

  • Project confidence: “We know we can do this, we’ve done it before.”
  • Be sincere: “We appreciate the opportunity.”
  • Show empathy: “We understand, we’re on the same page with you.”
  • Be professional: “We build healthy client relationships and protect our clients and our business by following the key points of Upwork’s Terms of Service.”

Your proposal is your opportunity to highlight the benefits of working with your agency, such as specialized expertise, the ability to ensure a smooth handover if someone needs to be transitioned on or off of the project team, or how the agency can pivot if project requirements change.

Another aspect of your proposal is the estimate itself—an overview of the work to be done and how much it will cost. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind as you pull your quotes together:

  • Be clear on the conditions in which you work and don’t work.
  • Determine the scope and estimate only what’s included. The proposal process may include educating the prospect about things they may want to add to the scope of work—after all, you’re the subject matter experts.
  • Research the client—including reviews, the scope of previous projects, and their history on the platform—so you can tailor your proposal and inform your quote.
  • Estimate fairly. Even if you don’t win a particular project, you may find that clients return to you after unsuccessful trials with other vendors.
  • Include any relevant documentation and processes for the client to reference.

Note: The proposal itself must be submitted from an individual freelancer’s account, such as the business manager or one of the agency members.

Negotiate with curiosity

Negotiations typically touch on different aspects of a proposal, such as timelines, rates, scope of work, or other aspects. Here are a few tips from successful agency owners to help you approach these conversations:

  • Be open to suggestions and avoid being defensive. Remember, part of your role may be to explain which tasks or deliverables are necessary in order for a project to get the results the potential client is looking for.
  • If the prospect objects to something you’ve included in your proposal, ask questions to find out why—what are they really worried about and how can you address their concerns
  • Remember the questions and feedback you get from each negotiation. They might be helpful for future reference and may be something you can address in future proposals.

Tips from successful agency owners

What lessons have other agency owners learned about maintaining the sales pipeline and writing great proposals? Here’s a look at some of the top tips they’ve shared:

  • Track results from invites, proposals, and contracts to monitor your agency’s performance
  • Allow time and coverage to review incoming invites so you can keep your responsiveness score high
  • Allocate 10% of a project estimate for the team to find optimization solutions such as checklists, scripts, and new systems
  • Calculate a rate when you first launch your agency. As the agency grows and gains experience, consider raising your rates by x% as you finish great projects

Stay ahead of the curve

When your agency is able to focus on ideal projects, you don’t just leverage the talent your agency already has—you add projects to your portfolio that play to your agency’s strengths. That makes it even easier for you to sell your expertise to the next ideal client who comes your way.

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Author Spotlight

How to Cultivate Your Agency’s Sales Pipeline
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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