One of my readers recently sent me an email suggesting I write a post on how to qualify a new client. Only two weeks into her new career, she’s already encountered a complete time-waster and wanted to share her experience in order to prevent others having the same experience. This is what she told me:
“One thing I’ve found already is that it’s not that difficult to get offers of work necessarily, but distinguishing that which is really worth going after, and that which is going to be a nightmare, is quite important and I hadn’t really thought about how to tackle it.
I’m speaking from a very recent experience and have probably made a rookie mistake, but I’ve just had a waste-of-time encounter and I want to avoid it at all costs from happening again.
Things I could’ve done which might have prevented this from happening:
- Heeded your advice about not knocking down my rate (though I suppose I felt a bit desperate? It’s been a tough month financially)
- Gotten more background info from the referrer (a friend of my sister’s who is very disorganised and whose judgement I question anyway)
- Heard the alarm bells ringing when the client first called at 7pm on a Sunday evening and expected me to give them a wake-up call at 8am the next morning. I agreed to visit her home for an initial consultation and her dog nearly bit my foot (I wish I was joking…!)Needless to say, I feel quite sheepish and wish I’d turned the work down at the outset.”
First of all it’s important not to beat yourself up if this happens to you. When you start out you literally don’t have a clue what you’re doing and you will definitely come across time-waster clients.
It happens to every freelancer.
But, as you read, she did see the warning signs but chose to ignore them because she needed the work.
How to mitigate and identify time-wasting clients
Do your homework
If you use my method of getting new clients then you won’t have this problem as much because you’re the one approaching them not the other way around. But if you’re responding to a new enquiry or a referral, try and check them out before you do any work.
Ask the person referring you how they know them and what their experience has been so far, ask the client if they have a website, how long they’ve been in business, and even Google them to see if anything dodgy comes up. None of this is fail-safe but can often flag up warning signs.
Outline the way you work from the outset
When you have that first chat with a potential new client it’s important you both understand what each other’s expectations are. They’ll probably expect you to lead the conversation (they’re new to this but you’re the expert right?) so confidently explain how the whole thing works and clarify what types of things they need doing.
Email them a copy of your T&C’s but always verbally outline the main points such as your rates and payment terms.
Discussing money will feel awkward at first but you don’t want anyone pleading ignorance later – so ignore my advice at your peril!
It does get much easier, and as with your ‘new client initial discussion spiel’ you’ll quickly find a patter/method you feel comfortable with.
When hiring you, a potential client should know
- How you operate and what to expect from you/this whole VA thing
- How you communicate with your clients
- How much you cost
- When and how to pay you
- How to get hold of you
- Your working hours
With each new task, you should know
- Exactly what the task is and what they want you to do – repeat it back to them
- If there’s a deadline
- How long they want you to spend on the task / what the budget is
- If the client wants constant progress updates
- How they want the task/project delivered
- Your clients preferred method of communication
- When to invoice them – after the task or on a set monthly date
To prevent later issues always clarify, clarify, clarify!
Don’t let them dictate the terms and don’t reduce your rates
I’ve already said this in my post on how to set your rates but I need to say it again – anyone who questions or tries to negotiate your rates is going to be trouble! This isn’t a haggling contest in a Marrakech bazaar and you’re not eagerly waiting to be sold to the lowest bidder.
If the potential client wants to pay peanuts, they can get someone from Elance or oDesk to do a shonky job for a quid an hour. You’re a professional dammit so sweetly and politely point them in another direction.
Listen to your instincts
If you suspect something isn’t right then it isn’t. Again ignore this instinct at your peril (you will) but you’ll only do it once. If you don’t want to work with them then just say you’re booked solid, that it’s not a task you’re interested in doing, or it’s not your area of expertise.
Just let them go
It’s important to get a good working relationship going and if you feel you’re not communicating well, not gelling properly, they’re messing you around, you’re not keen on them or you just have a bad feeling about them, then don’t work with them.
You don’t have to take every single client that comes your way.
In fact, this is the reason you work for yourself! You’re not scraping along grateful to anyone who throws you a bone here – you’re a professional support service who works with other professionals.
Make the mistake then don’t do it again
Of course, we both know that you will make these mistakes and, like my lovely reader, you will get burned by a nightmare client. I know this because I’ve done it and so has every other freelancer I know. But you’ll only make this mistake a couple of times because you do start to get a sixth sense about new enquiries after a while.
Resources and action
* Here’s a great article called 42 Questions Every Freelancer Should Ask Their Clients from Freelance Folder. It mainly focuses on questions to ask if your potential client is a company, but most of these questions also apply to individuals.
* Buy my guide on how I find my clients. I don’t do any networking and I rarely take on new enquiries – I go and find my clients instead. This method works every time I use it and is the only thing I do to get new business.