Sniffing Out Potential Clients for Issues

satisfactionEvery small business owner or freelancer has been there: working on a project that is going downhill. If it hasn’t happened, you haven’t been doing it long enough. For me, it happened about 9 weeks into working for myself when we went over a week without any new clients and I’d already finished all of the work that had come in. I was weak, vulnerable. I let the client run the show, so here is how I’ve avoided making the same mistake again.

  • Whenever possible, I attempt to get as much information as possible about the project in writing before discussing over voice because calls can drag on.
  • I try to limit calls to 30 minutes. That’s an acceptable loss of time if it doesn’t work out and also reasonably rolled into my project pricing so I can recoup the time if the project goes on the low end of time spent.
  • I don’t barter for my services. There is no working for commission that may or may not come from a site or other delayed payment option. That will not pay my mortgage or put food on my table. That is a risk.
  • I don’t negotiate my prices. My prices are fair, my service is impeccable, and my character is untarnished.
  • Want to meet to discuss a potential project? Sure, but you’re paying a consulting fee if it doesn’t work out. I spent 3 hours at Panera (5 hours away from home) with someone who wanted to pay for the work with commission generated from the site. I’d like those 3 hours of my life back or the money due for that time.
  • I try to determine as quickly as possible whether or not the task will involve a lot of technical changes (hosting or site platform) that will entail additional correspondence or labor. Some clients need ALL of the work done for them and don’t know any of their login information – they have to start over from scratch.
  • I write the terms into every estimate and invoice I send to the client so it’s clear when payment is expected, what is included, when my tasks are done, etc.
  • If things start to go badly, take the initiative and make contact to let them know the situation and discuss modification of terms or refunding their money after ensuring the project ends on good terms.
  • I reserve the right to break my own rules in favor of the client, but I also reserve the right to stick to my guns.

Statistically speaking, I’d venture a guess that I have an 80% enrollment rating from any sort of contact, 95% invoicing of clients by referral, and only 1 “good terms” refund from 139 invoices when the scope changed too drastically.

I hope this helps you avoid your own client nightmares and leads to many happy encounters. Are there any additional tips or suggestions that you or your company use when feeling out potential clients?