In the world of mega ad agencies, new business pitches are intense affairs; jobs hang in the balance (and more importantly, egos).

For a freelancer or consultant, losing a new business pitch isn’t the same kind of catastrophe.

You’re never happy, but then, you probably don’t have hundreds (or thousands) of hours at risk (like a big ad agency might).

Just yesterday, I got the news about a small website project RFP I’d contested.

I lost.

The Project

As losses go, this doesn’t rank anywhere near my Top Five Most Painful New Biz Failures.

It was a small job, and I didn’t invest a lot of hours in the proposal.

And yes – I approve of the vendor the prospect eventually did choose. Nothing hurts worse than losing to the marketing equivalent of a charlatan, and local vendors almost always enjoy an advantage (this prospect was located at the extreme far end of the country).

Still, it was a project I wanted – an interesting project for an interesting client.

How do I profit from the loss?

Learn From Your Failures

Honest feedback from the prospect can only be useful in future pitches – provided you’re getting useful feedback instead of a simple brushoff.

If you’re on good terms with prospect – and receive any opening whatsoever – then it’s OK to ask a few questions, like:

  • What aspects of the competition were the most critical?
  • What did the winners do that led to the win?
  • What aspects of your pitch were off the mark?

We learn more from our failures than our successes, and what you learn this time will lead to success the next time – provided you take the feedback to heart.

(Helpful hint: a common mistake when responding to an RFP involves misreading the RFP or project spec, and missing the mark as a result.)

Second, Position Yourself to Profit

Profit? You lost, right? How do you profit?


Projects rarely go as planned. Should the winner’s project hit a brick wall – a reality I’ve benefited from several times in my career – you may find yourself on the receiving end of a phone call.

For that matter, the project might be gone, but other projects beckon.

Aside from the local angle, one reason I lost this simple website project because I focused too much on the bigger picture stuff – the overall online presence.

I stressed content flow, integration of a stronger email program with social media, re-purposing content across multiple media channels and other concepts.

But I didn’t offer enough detail about the site project itself (I did offer several recent examples of similar projects, but that wasn’t enough).

The opportunity here?

The winner is a small design firm. They’ll do a good job on the CMS. But once it’s done, they are too.

I’m keeping in touch with the client (I asked for permission to do so during our conversation). After the site’s launched and things have settled in, it’s time to remind the prospect – preferably by demonstrating success with another client – that his membership-based nonprofit needs a stronger email program.

And while we’re at it, let’s get the social media ball rolling.

In other words, I lost the website battle, but I can still win the larger marketing war.

Keep marketing, Tom Chandler.