As a freelancer, you work hard to drum up new business: you have a great website, you’ve established yourself as an expert in your field, you run advertising campaigns targeting your desired market, and you put the effort in to find people who are interested in your services. Now what?
Filter Your Prospects
You don’t have much time for bad prospects – you’re too busy working on good projects! As such, the first thing you need to do is filter out the good leads from the bad. Basically, you want to eliminate conversations with prospects who want “Pinterest for dogs, but with a budget of $250.”
I’ve found that a good way to do this is to move discussion about budget and timeline to the forefront immediately upon receiving a request. Read through the prospect’s request, think about the project they’re proposing a little bit, and then immediately send over a rough price and schedule. Generally, I say something like this:
Based on your requirements and my experiences with projects like yours, you’re looking at a cost between $3,500 and $5,500 and a total timeline of 4-8 weeks. This is a rough estimate given the details you’ve shared with me at this point and will be revised as we move forward.
If you’re interested at this price point and that timeline works for your needs, I’d love to talk more with you about your project and possibly working together!
These three sentences are enough to weed out non-serious people while still endearing yourself to good prospects.
Ask a Ton of Questions
After you determine a project seems like it has a defined budget and schedule, its time to dig a little bit deeper. First, you want to determine the overall project goals. What would make the project a success and how can you help your prospect hit that milestone?
Next, ask if the prospect has thought about how he or she would like the system to work. Do they have a process they’re attempting to replace and they want to increase the usability? Is this something new for them and they want input on how to best accomplish their goals? Use your experience and expertise to make suggestions that you believe would make the system better and try to learn as much about your prospect’s business interests as you can.
Finally, try to capture the edge cases. This can be challenging, but time spent here will be totally worth it down the line. You want to catch the unknowns before committing to any work. Basically, try to document and ask every single “What If?” question that you can think of. Sometimes this helps the client understand that what they need is different then what they’re asking for. It will always help you understand what you’re getting yourself into.
I’ve talked before about fixed price contracts and how great they are if you can narrow down a specification to a known quantity. This phase of client communication is the crux of doing that.
Narrow the Quote and Make the Sale
Now that you have way more information than you had before, you can either give a firm quote on price and timeline or narrow the range considerably so you can start making the sale. If there are still lingering questions about the specification, use a range. If not, make a firm offer based on the value you think you’ll add to the prospects business and when you (realistically) think you can get it done.
If the response you get is positive, move on to a formal specification and get your deposit! If the prospect has some concerns about your quote, you should work to address them. Some possible problems and responses are:
- Your price is too high (or we can get this done cheaper)
- I believe that I’ve provided a fair price based on my experience and knowledge of your project at this point. If you’d like, we can work together to remove non-essential features from your project’s specification to decrease the price.
- We need to get this done sooner.
- Is there a specific launch date you’re trying to hit that I’m not aware of – perhaps an event that you’re participating in? If so, we can find some way to narrow the feature set and do a smaller iteration so you have a product to showcase. Alternatively, if you need to have the full product done by a certain date, I do offer rush pricing at 1.75 (adjust this based on current workload) the amount of my original quote.
- How can we be sure you can deliver?
- I’ve worked on previous projects of this size before and had great results. I can provide references and would be happy to direct you to my testimonials (which you are getting, right?)
Basically, apply the knowledge you’ve gained while working as a freelancer, know the value you provide to someone’s business, and try to work from a position of strength or as an equal to your client. When you’re a true partner, you’ll have a better project.
Sometimes, of course, there will just be too many obstacles and you won’t be able to work on a project or with a prospect you want to. Just remember there will always be new things to work on and let it go.
After you make the sale, you still have work to do. You’ve got to get a formal proposal and Statement of Work to the prospect, get a deposit, and then work your process to reach the project’s goals. Those are all pretty easy once you’ve got the client on board, though.
So how do you handle incoming prospects and what do you do differently? I’d love to hear from other freelancers out there about how you filter the good from the bad and go on to make the sale, so leave your feedback in the comments!