How to Qualify Clients
When I first started freelancing I hunted for jobs on Elance. Elance merged with Odesk and now it is called Upwork.
In some ways, finding work through a job board like this is not ideal: price can be a major factor. There are thousands and thousands of people competing for jobs. You can end up dealing with people who are really REALLY not used to working with contractors, and that shows in their communication. Clients give public feedback, which, if the project doesn't go well, can wreck your chances of ever getting any other clients.
However, there are some really GREAT things about working through a job site like Upwork, and one of those is that there are some safety nets in place for you and for the client.
Safety Nets with Job Boards
- Reading feedback from other clients about a contractor's skills. Contractors can read ratings and feedback about potential clients. (The feedback to clients might not be as honest as the feedback to contractors because contractors are always in fear of not getting more jobs if they leave bad feedback. HOWEVER if someone effusively praises a client, they're probably ok to work for.)
- Dispute mediation.
- Project website/section for all communication. (You email and transmit files entirely through the job board site so there is always a record of what's happening.)
- Payment gateway for secure payment handling.
- Escrow capabilities (money can be placed in escrow before the project begins).
- Ability to easily collect feedback and testimonials about work.
- Contracts and work agreements built into the system.
You can create some of those things yourself, but when you move from a job board site to working with your own clients off a site like that it is easy to overlook some of those steps or simply not do them.
The over-arching reason why freelancers skip a lot of those steps when they're untethered?
FEAR OF NOT GETTING HIRED.
After almost a decade doing this I have the opposite fear.
THE FEAR OF WORKING WITH A CLIENT WHO IS NOT A GOOD FIT.
I am DEFINITELY a people pleaser in a lot of ways. I really REALLY want to do a great job for my clients.
Sometimes, though, I end up with a client with whom I don't really mesh. This could be because our work hours are really different, or we have different communication styles (One of us communicates a lot all the time over every medium. The other doesn't communicate at all. Never answers emails. Won't pick up the phone.) We could have different understandings and skill levels about technology that end up meaning a lot more work for one or the other of us.
There is a way to make it more likely that you're bringing a client onboard who will be a good (or at least a reasonable) fit for you and your skills, and that is to qualify them. (I say more likely, because you never REALLY know what it is like to work with someone until you work with them.)
When you're sending them your portfolio or samples so they can review you, you can send them a survey or worksheet to fill out so that you can review them and identify any potential trouble spots or spots where you can really help them.
I have one and it is called my "Getting to Know You" Form. Here are some things in it, including questions for clients to answer.
- A letter welcoming them and thanking them for taking the time to help me get to know them better.
- A checklist of things they might need help with. (They can highlight or keep the ones they're interested in and delete the others.)
- Why they're contacting me. (They need extra help, they don't have time to do it themselves, and so forth.)
- What their primary goals of the project are. (I give some options)
- A reality check with some estimated costs of frequent projects. (If they think they're going to pay $500 for something that will cost them $2500, best if we don't go any further.)
- Timeframe in which they want the project completed. (If they want it done in 2 weeks and it will take six months, another red flag for them and for me.)
- Tools: Do they know how to use drobpox/google docs/ and so forth. (If they won't use any technology tools and they want me to do something that will require them to pick up with technology and run with it that is a red flag to address.)
- Their contact info. Name. Phone number. Email. Time zone.
- Assets. What do they already have? Website, one-sheet, logo, business cards, books?
- Anything else they want to tell me.
I'm always revising this based on my experiences. Currently it is a word doc but I might make it into an online form.
A getting to know you doc, sometimes called "onboarding doc" will give you lots of information. There are the answers to the questions, but there is also a lot of info if you read between the lines.
- Did they drag their feet on filling it out? Not a good sign. They will probably be slow getting information to you.
- Did they flat out refuse to complete it? STEP AWAY FROM THAT POTENTIAL CLIENT
- Were they effusive and excited in their answers? That's a GREAT SIGN! They WANT to do this project. They are ready!
- Do their answers wander all over the place? They might need extra help refining their goals.
- Are they confused about most technology? Not necessarily a deal breaker, but it could add more time on your end, so you'll want to think about that when budgeting.
So, the next time you look at engaging a client, remember, they're qualifying you, but you're also qualifying them.