Weeding The Good Clients From the Bad

Even after you figure out how to get a a rave recommendation from a previous client or acquaintance and it sends a new client your way, you still have to land the gig. If you pitched yourself well to the person who recommended you, hopefully the potential new project will be a good match. But, as Lindsey pointed out in the comments of “Calling All Word Nerds,” that’s not always the case.

In order to avoid wasting time on a client whose needs you can’t meet or who can’t afford your services, there are a number of things you can do to set realistic expectations.

Make Sure Your Website Is Clear.

Even though a you were recommended to them, chances are your potential new client will still check out your website and the materials you make available on your services before actually contacting you. So your first chance to separate the weeds from the flowers (those prepared to pay for your services)  is on your website–in particular, on its Frequently Asked Questions page.

While generating leads is important for any business, it’s even more important to generate quality leads. By going into quite a bit of detail on your site, and in particular on your FAQ page, you can kill two birds with one stone–the more information you provide about your services the more comfortable a potential customer will become with the idea of hiring you while on your site and the more likely that person will have realistic expectations.

Detail different types of projects involve. If you don’t want the page to be uber long, write blog posts addressing individual questions and link from your FAQ page to the relevant post.

After the potential client has checked out your website, the next step is for them to contact you.

Ask Good Questions

Once a client has contacted you its a good idea to have a basic set of questions that you ask for each project (what are your goals for this project? What services do you think you’ll need? etc).

This is yet another opportunity to ascertain if the project is a good fit–but while up to this point the client has been the one trying to decide if you are a good fit for them, this time you get to decide if the project is a good fit for you. Don’t be afraid to say no or refer the client to another freelancer if you don’t think you’re a good fit. Better to turn down a project than to take it on and do a bad job (ruining your reputation) or have a client refuse to pay you. If your intuition is telling you to say no, listen up.

Educate Your Clients

There is a difference, however, between a client who is willing to pay what a project is worth but doesn’t understand what’s involved and one that is a cheapskate.

As Lindsey mentioned in her comment on Monday’s post, often clients and potential clients don’t truly understand what’s involved in taking their project from start to finish. That’s okay–after all, that’s why they’re hiring you to do it instead of doing it themselves. But it means you may need to play the role of educator. You need to explain the various steps involved in the project and how much work will need to be done to make their idea a reality.

In particular, web projects are tough, because unless your client is really familiar with the jargon, many of the terms seem interchangeable (even though they aren’t), and clients don’t understand what it is they actually need or the work involved. For example, I’ve found myself explaining time and again the difference between buying a URL and paying for hosting–and why you need to do both.

Educating your clients about what’s involved also extremely important because it’s the easiest way to justify your price. Kelly James-Enger has some great template samples (The Project Bid & The Project Bid, take 2) for putting in a bid on a project–you’ll notice she is careful to detail for the client exactly how much work the project will require from her.

Have a Detailed Contract

Once your bid is excepted, the final step is creating a detailed contract and having the client sign it. Here all your expectations are laid out in writing. Include deadlines, when payments are due (and how much), what you will offer for that money (including any rewrites), etc.

A contract is your final chance to make sure both you and the client are on the same page with a given project. Once everything is dated and signed, you’re on the hook to deliver and the client is required to pay.

It’s Worth It

This may all seem like a lot of work, but when you’re both clear about what the work you’re doing entails and the client has a good idea of the process, they are more likely to be pleased with your work–leading to future recommendations and more work down the line.

[Image courtesy of Flickr user Bjmccray]

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