Yesterday I listened to a seriously illuminating talk with Ed Gandia, author of The Wealthy Freelancer, and the Freelance Writers Den founder, Carol Tice, about prospecting clients and bidding on projects. They converted their years of experience into money-making and sanity-saving advice.
One takeaway is to be as clear about what you aren’t. That is know what you don’t like, know what you aren’t great at, and know who you don’t want to work with. And, then, don’t go there. Because even though money may be on the table at that moment, you will waste time that could be better spent reeling in bigger and better-paying clients.
So in the spirit of things that make you go no, here are eight don’ts for vetting clients and projects (and whole bunch of dos).
Don’t be an editorial evangelist
At least not during the consulting phase of a project. If you want to publish an article, create a section on your site, or start a cult then by all means do, but client consultations are not the time or place to promote our profession. Why? Quite simply, if a potential client does not believe in the value of a good writer, you’re not going to change that. And even if you do — or seem to — what you’ll probably find is you’ve landed a difficult client that doesn’t pay very well.
Don’t put the quantity of client leads over quality
Freelancers, Ed said, tend to think in terms of foot traffic a la brick-and-mortar stores: get enough people in the door, and the registers will ring. This is a mistake. Instead, he said, think of your business like a boutique agency or a pricey tour bus that only has six seats. You don’t want party crashers; you only want good fits.
Don’t forget to ask how a prospect heard of you first
This is not only a way to determine which of your marketing efforts are working (SEO, LinkedIn, advertising, a list you’re paying to be on, a referral you should thank), but it also helps you size up a prospect. Though good clients can come from anywhere, Ed said, he finds the best ones come from referrals. And that could be different for you!
Don’t become a dispenser of free advice
Find out what a client needs, how badly, and how fast. This is what Ed calls “determining pain points.” The more pain they’re in, the likelier they are to hire you. And knowing this early tells you to spend more time with them.
Don’t be afraid to ask if they’re talking to other writers
Sometimes you’ll know they’re only calling you, and sometimes it’ll be clear they’re not, but other times it’ll be muddy. Like you’re getting mixed signals. At this point, Ed recommends asking point-blank. If they’re only on a shopping expedition, you can make your case and get out fast.
Don’t get caught up in a prospect’s drama
Startups with lovely stories. Small businesses with low to no budgets. Quick turnarounds because of internal frenzies. While understanding potential clients is important, never let their problems become yours.
Don’t use the word “budget”
A lot of companies, don’t have budgets for writers, so asking about it will lead to a nonanswer, which could put off talking money until it’s too late. That is you may not find out they can’t afford you until you’ve already invested tons of time, and that’s when it becomes hard to walk away. Instead Ed recommends throwing out a number early. (He says within 10 minutes, but everyone should determine their own timing. Whatever it is, though, it should be early). This changes the question’s dynamic into something that’s no longer open-ended. You give them a number; they give you an answer. If they won’t then that’s its own answer.
Don’t start at the bottom of your price range
Clients always remember the lowest number you throw out. So if you’ve done similar projects for $1,000-$2,000, say your rate is between $1,500-$2,000. That way if they negotiate down, you have room. Or if the project is easier than expected, you can delight them with a lower rate (while still making more than you would have starting low).