In last week’s lesson, we went through 15 strategies for finding new clients. The next step is knowing what to do with that first client once they express an interest!
In today’s lesson, we’re going to go through the four steps of taking a client from “Point A”, their interest in working with you, to “Point B”, a closed deal and a down payment.
These are the four steps:
- Qualify – Make sure that you and the client are a match for each other.
- Build Rapport – Make and build on a good first impression.
- Educate – Help your potential client make a good choice.
- Close – Ask for their business.
Alright, let’s get started!
In the early days, I wasted time on projects that I didn’t end up winning because I didn’t properly qualify the client. In other cases, I closed a project only to later realize that the project (or the client) really wasn’t a match.
A qualifying process saves the time (and pain) of all involved and helps set the stage for a successful project.
Here are some qualification factors to consider:
- Timeframe – If your potential client is coming to you with a deadline, can you meet it? Don’t just say “Yes!” unless you’ve counted the cost and you’re certain you can pull it off. In my experience, client deadlines tend to be flexible when they are met with realistic and reasonable expectations. In all cases, make sure the timeframe is a match before you move forward.
- Budget – More often than not a client won’t have a predetermined budget to offer you. They do have a price though! Make sure that you establish a budget before you move forward. More on that in a moment.
- Technical Difficulty – I said “Yes” to more technically challenging projects than I probably should have early on in my development career. I could take the risk, though, because my responsibilities were relatively low (I wasn’t married yet). As you consider a project, evaluate the technical difficulty. Can you manage it all within your current capabilities? If not, how much learning would be required of you? Make sure you can manage the work you take on.
- Personality – Some clients are easier to work with than others. Is their personality a match for you? Watch out for clients coming to you with a high stress, high demand attitude – it rarely lets up. Also, be wary of clients who have bad things to say about their previous developers, especially if their negative comments are focused on the developer themself (as opposed to the work, which could indeed be poor). More often than not, a client who’ll badmouth a previous developer will badmouth you next.
More On Budget
Hopefully since lesson three you have given some thought to how you will price your projects, with that in mind, you have two options, you can either
- List your prices straight away on your website to help qualify your leads and simplify the process. This can lead to a one-size fits all approach, meaning the project may not be a good fit for the client and it may lose clients that you could have easily accommodated for
- Dont list your prices publicly, instead work with each client to craft the project that will meet their needs exactly. This will usually lead to a happier client and more trust being built in the process. The down-side is the extra time spent by you and your leads will be less qualified. Having said that, it is the process that I have found works best, it also allows your prices to fluctuate as needed from project to project.
Next, when it comes to working out a price for a project, here are two strategies for figuring out their budget:
- Ask – During your initial conversation, ask the client for a budget. Most will say “I don’t know.” Then, follow-up with, “Ok, no problem! Are you thinking $1000? $2000? $5000? $10,000?” At some point, they will stop you and let you know what their limit is. (Prepare for an awkward moment if you hit $100,000 on your first project and they haven’t stopped you). Explain that there are a lot of ways to get things done and you want to make sure that you’re recommending options that are a match for their budget.
- Estimate – If getting a number from them fails or it isn’t a match for the type of work, offer a rough range for the project (tend to go over, rather than under) and ask, “Is that a match for your budget?”.
If you are still trying to settle on a pricing structure, make sure you read the next lesson as it will include several pricing tips.
2. Build Rapport
First impressions matter and what you do with those first impressions determines how a relationship grows. When a potential client initiates contact, the timeliness and the way that you respond makes a big difference and helps to establish rapport.
Here are a few factors to consider for that first impression:
- Verbal Communication – How do you answer the phone? “Hey.. What’s up?” is probably not the right way to answer. “Hello, Jonathan speaking” is how I usually answer. Consider your tone of voice, clarity, and the words you use.
- Written Communication – How do you answer emails? While your style and personality should certainly shine through, make sure that your communication isclearand to-the-point, without wasted words. Also, make sure that it’s timely – a day or two is acceptable in response time, but not a week (unless there’s a good reason). Read each email you write at least twice, checking for errors and for anything that can be cut out. Break important points into bullets.
- Physical Conduct – If you meet in person, give careful attention to how you dress and present yourself. Give a firm handshake and look your potential client in the eye. Sit up straight and listen to what they have to say.
Beyond that first impression, building rapport is the work of establishing a personal connection with the potential client. It’s the process of working to understand their feelings and ideas.
Here are some ways that you can establish a personal connection:
- Find Common Ground – Look for something that you and the potential client have in common. If possible, take the opportunity to learn about them prior to your first contact and be prepared to point out what you noticed. For example, “Hey! I noticed that you’re a classical music fan! Do you have any current favorites on your listening list?” Now, make sure that your common ground is genuine. If you’re not a classical music fan, be transparent about it. You might follow-up with, “I’m more of a country music fan, but I’m always looking for ways to broaden my musical horizons.”
- Ask Questions – Early in the conversation, focus on asking more general questions. Perhaps you noticed the area code on their phone number was from the West Coast. You might say, “I see your phone number is from California.. How’s the weather out there this week?” If, like me, they have a cell phone number and they’re in another State, they might respond that they’re actually on the East Coast. Then, you might say, “Oh wow, what took you out there?” And so on. Then, as you move beyond the general questions, ask questions about the project, starting with the “big picture” and then moving down to the details.
- Listen – As the conversation continues, listen carefully to what they have to say. Take notes when it makes sense (not when they’re talking about the weather) and ask follow-up questions. If you’re doing most of the talking, then you’re not taking the time to listen, which means you need to slow down and ask more questions.
Building rapport is an art that grows out of a genuine desire to connect. As you meet with each potential client, make sure that “winning the project” is not your highest priority. Focus, instead, on establishing rapport and building the relationship. If the project ends up not being a match the relationship you establish may open up doors of opportunity in the future.
One of the keys to my success as a web developer has been taking the time to educate clients with the goal of helping them make good decisions, whether or not we end up working together. Education is important in any industry and especially in web development where folks are bombarded with a very wide range of options.
First, if you’re going to educate someone else, you need to be prepared yourself. Here are few aspects of preparation to consider:
- Know Your Industry – Within the context of this first four weeks, an intimate knowledge of the web development industry (or even just WordPress) isn’t possible. You can learn the basics, though! On the WordPress side, reference my article (How To Become A Top WordPress Developer) for some good starting points. Make sure that you can answer basic questions about your industry and specific line of work and then, over time, expand your knowledge-base.
- Know Your Client – Take time, wherever possible, to get to know your client. Search for them on Google and read what you can about them. If information about your client is unavailable, look for information on similar businesses or organizations and, where your knowledge is lacking, be prepared to ask questions to educate yourself further (which helps build rapport).
- Be Emotionally Involved – Make sure that you love and believe in what you’re doing. You’re not just building websites to add to the millions already out there, you’re building websites that matter and that make a difference for your clients and the people they serve. Be excited about what you’re doing and let the excitement show.
Next, look for opportunities to share what you’ve learned with your client in a way that provides value. Here are some examples:
- CMS vs. Dreamweaver – Perhaps your client’s last site was built with Dreamweaver. Take the opportunity to encourage their decision for its time and then explain the benefits of a CMS (“Content Management System”) and what it helps them accomplish that working with Dreamweaver couldn’t. Adapt my 7 reasons article to your needs and explain why WordPress is a great choice as a CMS.
- Benefits of Social Media – Explain that social media is really just a powerful tool for communication and there are rules that govern its usage. The fads will come and go, but the principles remain constant even as the platforms change. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World by Michael Hyatt.
As you’ve qualified the client, built rapport, and provided education, the natural next step is to ask for their business. While the methods and techniques will vary, the process is simple: Ask. The worst thing they can say is “No” and if you’ve gone through the first three steps (especially the first) then they are probably ready to move forward.
Here are some closing techniques to work with:
- Move Forward – Go forward as if the project is a done deal. This is what I use more than anything else. After I’ve prepared a scope of work and sent to the potential client, I ask if the project is a match and, if so, I let them know that I’m ready to move forward and get started as scheduled. I then follow-up with an invoice (I nearly always require 50% payment upfront) along with any other preparatory steps and then move ahead accordingly.
- Be Quiet – When you’ve come to the end of the process and it’s time to close, ask a question that implies moving forward. It can be as simple as, “Are you ready to get started?” Then, be quiet and wait. If there’s a silence, don’t fill it in. Wait. They’ll let you know. If “Yes”, congratulate them and explain the next steps. If no, ask more questions and circle back through the first three steps.
- Give Options – Rather than a “Yes” or “No” answer, offer them options. Perhaps you have a “Basic” and “Premium” package for your services. As you ask for their business, present both options, “Do you want to go with the Basic or the Premium package?”.
As you work towards the close, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Timing – Odds are, you’ll be ready to close before they are. If you’re at the end of the process and they’re not ready, start back through the previous three steps. Make sure that they’re qualified (is there a time concern? Budget, perhaps?), continue to build rapport, educate further, then ask for the sale again.
- Predictability – At the end of each sale I want to be able to predict, with as much accuracy as possible, what the client will say and what the factors are that will influence their decision. If you’ve gone through the first few steps correctly, predicting the outcome is usually straightforward. If you’re at the end and you can’t predict (with confidence) what they’re going to do, ask more questions. For example you might ask, “What are the factors influencing your decision?”.
My Closing Process
Here’s a short outline of the closing process that I use for potential clients who contact me for work:
- Initial Contact – Whether by phone or email, I start by qualifying the potential project. I begin with questions about the project itself (most people don’t start off with many details) and I ask for budget.
- Follow-up – Over the course of typically 1-3 email/phone exchanges I follow-up and ask more questions. I learn about the project and I look for opportunities to educate the client. I also look at each communication as an opportunity to build rapport.
- Make Offer – Once I have a clear grasp of the project, I make my recommendations. I prepare an outline of the work to be done and break it into bullet points, then present it all via email. After the outline, I give them a price along with options for upgrades where it makes sense.
- Invoice – After I’ve made the offer and have their acceptance, I send over the invoice via PayPal or my own accounting solution (for Sabramedia, we use LessAccounting.com).
- First Step – I take the first step on the project as quickly as possible, giving them an assignment if they have work to do or doing research on my part and presenting them with choices (perhaps helping them decide on a WordPress theme).
That wraps up lesson #4! In next week’s lesson we’ll go over one of the least discussed but most important elements of creating great clients. Value Creation and Value Communication.
Meanwhile, I’m sure you have questions! Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @lukef I look forward to hearing from each of you!
Hey there! I am always looking for ways to make these lessons even better. Would you take a moment to send me your feedback?