Pre-Filtering Clients

by Jonathan Longnecker

Pre-Filter Clients

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:

Your Phone

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.

Your Site

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.

Crazy, right?

Your Pricing

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.

March 16, 2015

Business, Store


  1. Awesome article! I’ve been periodically checking in you guys over the years and I have to say, “I really applaud your mission.”  Its not easy to turn down low budget clients. You have to be honest with yourself. Many times you’ll find that those are the clients who need the most attention. In the end, you’ll find that it does not bode well for the bottom line. Then there are expectations on future projects with these clients;  more for less. That is not how to run a business IMO. True. Be upfront about pricing.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on companies like squarespace, wix or other entities who price most professionals in the web world really low. We are often left with people who think they can get sites built on the cheap. To me it be littles what we do. Thoughts?


  2. @Lance Sorry for the late reply - I found this in my spam box hmmm

    First of all, thanks for the kind words!

    Second of all, the short answer is that if you’re in the business of giving people a great return on investment then you only work with clients where it makes sense. Can a guy who makes 50,000 a year mowing lawns afford us? Of course not, and I’d tell him not to hire us because we wouldn’t be a good return on his investment.

    So the first rule is, don’t focus on the low end of the market. We never have so all this Sqaurespace stuff has never affected us.

    Now, will those tools start to displace higher end jobs? Probably soon, yes.The goal then is to make sure you do such excellent work, have such an excellent brand and reputation that this still shouldn’t hurt too much. If you are friendly, helpful and available - do great work and show up everyday you’ll be amazed how far it’ll get you. And it still goes back to the return on investment. If a company is making millions a year I’m still a better return on investment than hiring a web person full time. For a while. And when I’m not, I’m not. I help them get to that point because my job is to make that company do well. Then I move on to the next one.

    I should probably write a post and flesh that out a bit more, but those are my basic thoughts. Hope that helps!

  3. Thanks, these are great advices even outside of web design. Also, on the phone, clients tend to push for a rate without having given you enough time to digest the requirements of the projects.

  4. Thanks for your sharing.

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