I say–while there are always people who are just jerks–most clients are not bad. Most “bad” clients were good clients who became “bad” because the screening process you used wasn’t sufficient, or they didn’t know what to expect. This is the process I use to determine if a client will be a great fit to work with me. Hopefully it will help you screen your own clients, and end up working with some amazing people!
I always try to do a certain amount of vetting before agreeing to a project. Most of these initial questions are actually covered by my intake form, so I don’t waste time with back and forth emails.
First, I want to know that this is a project I will enjoy working on. It’s not fair to clients to half-heartedly work on their project. I like to scope out any online presence they have and make sure I feel a connection and will be proud to promote them. I also ask them about their business and goals to ensure I know what they’re all about.
Second, I want to know what the client wants, and determine if the scope is something I’m willing and able to take on. There’s no point in wasting time talking to a client who has their heart set on Squarespace if you only work with WordPress.
Third, I want to know that the client has a realistic expectation of the timeline. I’m frequently booked a few weeks out, so if they need something ASAP, I need to refer them elsewhere before wasting anymore of their time.
Fourth, I want to know that they can pay for my services. I often send the official quote after the Skype chat, but I always give a rough estimate early on. If the client agrees to that price range, we proceed.
While it seems like the welcome packet shouldn’t be sent until after the contract is signed, I like to send a version of it earlier (I call this an “intro packet“).
By sending my intro packet before even agreeing to work with the client, I make her aware of my office hours, process, and what is expected of her throughout the project. If she has any questions or concerns, we’re able to address them. If they’re not fixable, we still haven’t wasted a huge amount of time.
See if you jive
I ALWAYS Skype with potential clients for anything that I anticipate will take longer than a week or two. While I may not need to hop on a call to see how well I jive with someone just needing a link added to her menu, I definitely need to jive well with someone who will be occupying my mind for the next few weeks. Whether that be a development or mentorship client, we’ve gotta click.
I find Skype (or Google Hangouts) is a great way to see how you interact with someone. If there are a lot of awkward silences, or she seems distracted, it’s a hint that maybe we’re not on the same page.
Skype is also a great way to discuss how you work, and clarify any expectations. Sometimes things aren’t clear in writing, so reiterating and expanding on your process via Skype lets clients know what to expect.
If a client makes it through my initial questions, agrees to everything outlined in my intro packet, and the Skype meeting goes smoothly, it’s a go.
Watch for red flags
I always advocate going with your gut. If at any point of the process you get a bad feeling, then the client is probably a bad fit. Every time I’ve worked with a client and had a bad initial feeling, the project has been less than pleasurable. Not every one of those bad feelings has been a BAD client, they just haven’t turned out to be the best fit.
Be honest with yourself
Are you getting a bad vibe from the client? Is the project over your head? Do you need to ask more questions?
If you need to ask more questions, do it. If the client is rubbing you wrong or the project is over your head, refer them elsewhere.
Your bad client may be someone else’s dream client. So don’t feel bad about referring her to someone else. We all connect differently, and jive with different types of people.
The important thing is to ask questions, share your expectations, and see if you get along. Along the way, listen to your gut. It won’t steer you wrong.