When you're starting out, any job is a good job, right? Without that steady stream of income, you move into fight or flight mode and take whatever comes your way. And that's ok in the beginning.
But pretty soon you'll start to notice patterns. Some projects go really well and others don't. Some clients are great to work with and others make you want to break stuff.
Now there's probably an entire book that needs to be written about “why” certain clients and projects don't mesh with you. Maybe I'll get to that soon. For now, though - I'm going to assume you're smart enough to know the kind of people you want to work with (hint: they have the same beliefs, goals and integrity system that you do).
All that to say - there will quickly come a point where you'll need to start pre-filtering your clients. How do we do this? Here's a few ways:
Let's go ahead and get the worst one out of the way first. Phone calls are awesome for closing clients, but terrible for pre-filtering them. You're not a huge company with 20 sales people on staff. You can't spend your whole day being “high activity sales person.” You have stuff to design and code, right!?
So the key is to put some barriers in place to make sure you don't end up spending an hour on the phone with someone who is a bad fit or doesn't have any money.
You can't always prevent this. Sometimes people call me up out of the blue and I'm just too nice to cut them off quickly. But if you take the time to pre-filter in other ways you'll waste a lot less time.
If you're like us, your website is one of the most important tools for getting new business. While you're at it, make it a tool for pre-filtering, too.
Our site drops hints all over the place. We have goofy pictures on the homepage. We say things like “Don't Hire Us.” The copy throughout the whole site is fun and irreverent. We use the word “Kick-Awesome” like we mean it. All these little things attract or repel potential clients.
We often try to cover up the real us with our company or website. We suck all the uniqueness and personality out of the brand - maybe it's because we're afraid that no one will hire us if they know who we really are?
All I can tell you is that in the early years of 47m, we were bland, boring and “business-y.” This in turn led to clients of the same ilk. When we decided to be ourselves, the clients changed, too. Go figure!
Your Side Projects
We're big proponents of passion projects outside of consulting work. They provide a creative outlet and have a long term effect of growing your brand and your business.
Don't be shy about sharing these projects with clients, either. These can also act as a pre-filter. We did a silly web tv show a couple of years ago called “The Kick Awesome Show,” and quickly found that it was helping us close jobs.
If you've watched the show you know that it's a client repelling tour de force. I mean, I can't believe anyone would want to work with us after watching it! But they do - and for the right people it makes them want to work with us even more.
Saving the most important for last here. Because even if you've done all the work of being yourself, attracting like-minded clients, and finding people who want to work with you because you're you - it doesn't matter if they only have $500.
This is hard - I've been on the phone with some super cool people only to find out that their budget was non-existent. You eventually learn how to handle those awkward let down conversations, but it's still lame.
One way to combat this is to be up front with your pricing. We have a budget dropdown on our contact form that starts at a fairly high amount. This helps weed out the cheapskates.
Some people are smart, though. They email us directly or choose the lowest option that says, “$X,XXX and under” so we don't really know what their budget is. In this case, you need to do a little email sleuthing before jumping on the phone with them.
We usually combine the “how much cash you got?” question with a few others, but that's really the most important one. Many are reluctant to share this, but be persistent and at least get a range before giving them a call.
Wrapping it up
Pre-filtering clients is not just about potentially wasting your time with an unqualified lead. It's about saving them time as well. Don't be afraid to be clear and direct about how much you cost. If they're not in a place where they can afford you don't take it personally. They're just not the right fit.
You want to be an amazing return on your client's investment. Our return on investment makes sense for a certain size company, and we're ok saying no to those that we feel aren't ready for us yet.
It takes courage to push away the wrong clients and only take the right ones. But over time you'll end up more profitable, way less stressed and working with people you genuinely like.