Qualifying clients isn’t easy…
But luckily I just recently revamped my process for selecting clients. Revamp as in, actually having one instead of winging it or hoping that the phone doesn’t ring. My problem was, that when it came to dealing with established clients, I was fine.
But when someone emailed me or called me out of the blue, asking about my services, I had no idea what I was doing. I froze up. Finally I got around to changing that.
Thanks to the combined resources of Graphic Design Blender and Ilise Benun (author of The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing), I now have an established process in place that I’m comfortable with and seems to work. I also picked up a few things which I’d like to share, and hopefully helps you too.
Attitude is everything
The first and most important factor for all designers when qualifying clients is our mindset. Far too many designers fall into the servant mentality. We feel like we must take any crummy little cheap project that comes along, because we are desperate for work or hate saying no. That must change. We are not merely order takers; nor are we lowly pixel pushers.
Far too many designers fall into the servant mentality. Click To Tweet
We are professionals. We are the experts in our field. (You can thank The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns for that one.)
We need to have that confidence and communicate it in our actions and words to our clients. Otherwise the client will take control of the process, which will make us miserable and the project will fail because the client thinks they know what they want, but don’t know what they actually need. It is our job to help them figure that out.
The process behind design is a whole other can of worms, but the point here is that we need to be more confident in ourselves, our abilities, and what we have to offer as designers. That and we need to stop apologizing for our prices and our processes.
Designers need to stop apologizing for their prices and their processes. Click To Tweet
So call me maybe?
So, with a healthy mentality firmly in place, the next step of qualifying clients is to have some type of a phone script handy. If you’re anything like me, and forget how to add one plus one when a new client calls, this is a must. This helps take back control of the process.
This begins with having a set way of answering the phone when it’s a business call.
Answer your phone professionally, stating your business and name. Usually they will respond with their own name and business, which you should take down. If they don’t say what it is they’re looking for, ask, and write down as many details as you possibly can about their project.
What you’re trying to do now is to separate what you need to know right now as opposed to what you can find out later. Right now you’re finding out if this project is a good fit for you, if you should even take the time to put a proposal together, and whether or not the client has a realistic budget in place.
The money gets funny and the change gets strange
Which brings us to the third thing that needs to happen: the money talk. Most designers don’t do this or don’t want to do this, but talking about the “m” word right off the bat is crucial. It helps separate those clients who are really serious about hiring a professional designer and those who are just price shopping.
The best way to go about this is to just lay it out in the open. On the phone I will restate what it is that the client is looking for, and ask: “What sort of budget did you have in mind for this project?” or “Do you have a budget set aside for this?” If this is met with resistance, I’ll offer up a ballpark figure, just to gauge their reaction. And on my phone script I have a list for all my price ranges so I don’t hesitate or misspeak.
Giving a ballpark figure is NOT giving them a quote over the phone; rather, this is to make sure they’re able to afford me before I spend hours putting together a proposal. Doing this ensures that when I finally give them an estimate, it’s not met with sticker shock.
The key is to say your ballpark figure and then shut up—don’t apologize, justify, or explain your prices. Remember, you are the confident expert. Doing this allows you to see where they are and if their expectations are even reasonable; remember, we get to choose our clients just as much as they choose us. Whatever you do, don’t back down or haggle, and resist the urge to give an exact figure on the spot, before you have all the project variables or time to think. If they want a quote from you, they’ll have to wait for the project proposal. Again, this will help weed out bad clients.
So let’s say they are looking for a logo design, and they tell you their budget is $300 but your rate is twice that. Tell them, “Okay, usually a logo design for a business of your size is between $600 and $900. If we could find something in the middle, would that work for you?”
This is not lowering your prices, rather, you are strategically negotiating to find out what you can do to meet their budget, if they’re willing to be reasonable. It might mean offering 2 concepts instead of 3; or pushing the project out a few weeks. Whatever it is, they need to know that you’re not simply lowering my prices to appease them; they are giving up something in exchange.
Beware of the red flag, “Can’t you just…” or if they try to coerce spec work out of your, or promise more work in the future for a bargain today. Simply say, “As I cannot lower the quality of my work, I cannot lower my prices.” Another option: “I understand if professional freelance design rates aren’t in your budget right now, but please let me know if that changes.” Be professional, polite, but firm.
Of course, it might turn out that they are perfectly fine with your prices. Your ideal client won’t even bat an eyelash because they inherently understand the value of your services. This is when you should get more information about the project (deadline, scope, expectations, and who’s the decision maker).
This is also the time to ask if they’ve ever worked with a professional designer before, and whether or not they are considering other designers/firms. This helps to shed light on what you’ll be dealing with.
Closing the deal
My final step is to set up a time to go over the design brief, followed by writing a project proposal that outlines the project details. If they are in agreement with the proposal terms, they will sign it and pay me a deposit, which is typically between 25% and 50% of the estimate (if you are working with a new client who’s not referred, it should be closer to 50%).
Another trick I learned (from a lawyer no less) is to outline the specs of the project in the proposal, and then have a separate document with the terms of agreement (the contract) which is on your website. When the clients signs the proposal, they are also agreeing to the contract, because the two documents refer to one another. My little jingle goes something like this:
“By signing this Project Proposal, I agree that I have read, understood, and approve the terms and conditions as outlined herein. I also acknowledge that by signing, I am in compliance with the terms and conditions as outlined in the Service Terms Agreement, available at http://www.apexcreative.net/terms/” Perfectly legal and binding, and helps those who are a little contract-phobic, while still covering yourself.
While this revamped process is still new to me, I’ve been able to utilize it a few times already, and it has worked out very well and I hope it helps you too.
So tell me, what is your process?
How does the way you qualify clients differ from mine? What would you change or add to make it better? Any horror stories?