If you find yourself spending an undue amount of time chasing prospects, only to find that they are not your target client and don’t sign up, then it’s possible you need to tweak (or develop) your new client intake process. This process can help you better qualify leads, so you are not going through the detailed process of creating time-intensive quotes for people who are in no way interested in (or able to afford) your services.
One mistake a lot of new freelancers (and sometimes experienced ones too!), make is thinking everyone is a potential client. This simply is not true. The more quickly you can focus on your target client, the more efficient your marketing efforts can be. When you do come across someone who inquires about your services, going through an established client intake process can help you better gauge the needs of the client and the project, which can help you in the quoting or proposal stage. This can help you earn more money and spend less time chasing dead-ends.
Gauge the Need
The first step in your client intake process is gauging the need. What exactly is the potential client coming to you for? Don’t assume that the client knows the answer to this! The client may not really know why he or she is coming to you. It’s your job to help clarify the need. For instance, a client may come to you for a brochure in an attempt to spread the word about her business, but what she may really need is a marketing plan. Your job at this stage is to ask enough questions to see what it is she thinks she wants, what she hopes to accomplish with this, and to see if you have services or products that match up with this need. In other words, see if you can help with her issue. If you find that she needs more than she has said or needs something different than what she thinks she wants, offer suggestions and see how open she is to them. If she is insistent on what she wants, when you know it isn’t appropriate or isn’t likely to address the actual need or issue she is trying to fix, you’ll have to decide if you can educate her about the gap between what she thinks she wants and what she actually needs. If you can’t educate her or she seems to be someone who isn’t open to your professional expertise or opinion, you may conclude this is not a client for you.
Another part of gauging the need is determining whether the client will use this project in a professional or hobbyist capacity. The reason this is important is that it can be an indication as to how much money the client is willing to invest. For instance, if you are a book ghostwriter, and a hobbyist is coming to you for a quote on ghostwriting services, you may find the hobbyist — someone who wants to write a book just to share with a few family members — may not be interested in or inclined to spend the money necessary to have a properly ghostwritten book. If your intake process determines this is not a likely client due to budgetary or other reasons, this can save you the time of creating a quote or bidding on the project.
Discuss How You Can Help
If you find the project fits into the services you offer and you can help, share this with the client. It’s not necessary to go into proprietary information that you would only share with an actual client who is paying you, but you do want to share enough information to let the client know that you understand the need and can address it. You also want to talk up your expertise, experience, etc., in a way that assures the client you are the answer.
Briefly go through any of the relevant questions you’ve heard asked time and time again from prospective clients. Anticipating and answering questions can help reduce confusion, as well as provide assurance that the client has contacted the right professional to meet the need. This is also the time to ask the client if he or she has any questions about your process, services, or any other information you’ve discussed.
Discuss rates in general, if possible. Often, it’s not possible or advisable to give off-the cuff rates, as you may need to sit down to think through the needs of the project to come up with a quote. But it may be helpful to give a broad range, to give the client an idea of the rates as well as to qualify the lead. Someone who instantly says he or she cannot afford your bottom rate can save you the time of preparing a quote or proposal.
This is also the time to show how the service you offer not only can help your potential client meet his or her goal, but it can also provide other benefits, whatever those are — more efficiency, time saving, superior expertise because of the length of time you’ve done this work, etc. Look for ways to show how the client will get value for the money.
If your intake process reveals this is a good prospect, wrap up the conversation with an offer to send a quote. Get the person’s contact information — email address, if you will be emailing the quote — and let him or her know when to expect it. (Later that day, the following day, etc.) Thank the person for his or her time and reiterate that you can definitely help and will email them with a proposal for helping accomplish their goal.
Send the Quote
Send the quote based on the project you discussed with your prospective client. I generally advise sending a tiered quote, because it offers flexibility, rather than a yes or no equation. A tiered quote allows your prospect to choose the level of service that best fits her needs and budget. I often present a two-tiered or three-tiered quote. While giving no choices, as in a one-size fits all quote option, isn’t always great, neither is presenting too many options. Too many options can confuse and even prevent your client from making a decision, as he or she may freeze in the face of too much choice. So stick to two or three options. One option can include a full-service choice, with you providing your top-level service with all the bells and whistles. This option may include the basic service your client asked for, but also other elements and upgrades that your client may not have asked for but you know will make it a better project for your client. A middle level may include you doing some of the work and the client doing some of the work. The bottom level may include you doing the basic project the client asked for.
Using an intake process that puts you in charge of the conversation by asking questions, customizing a solution to meet the need, and presenting a proposal that addresses your potential client’s goals helps you become more efficient. You can more quickly identify prospects who are not your target client so you don’t invest unnecessary time in attempting to woo them or creating quotes for them. It also allows you to identify prospects who are your target and get a better understanding of their needs. This enables you to present a solution that meets those needs and gives you a better chance of landing the project and earning more money.