When I started freelancing, I worked with every potential client who contacted me. This is normal for someone who is starting out. After all, you want to get all the experience you can get your hands on. But after a while, you’ll realize, like I did, that your clientele should be more targeted than just “whatever comes along”. You need to qualify your potential clients.
One important benefit of qualifying your clients is that you don’t waste your time. You get the clients that you want to work with, you’re paid the rate you want, and both parties have realistic expectations. You don’t spend hours working on a proposal that your client eventually rejects because they realize that you weren’t on the same page after all. If that scenario sounds familiar, then it’s time to start qualifying.
What criteria can you use to qualify clients?
The easiest way to qualify clients is based on price. This means that you’re trying to avoid clients who will try to haggle you for prices that are below your bottom line. While negotiation is part of any business, it’s also important to work with clients who understand your worth.
Does your branding and online presence reflect your price? If you’re one of the highest-paid online freelancers out there, can your potential clients know that based on your site design? When they look at your portfolio, do they see that you’re only working with the biggest names in their industry?
The same applies if you want to be the more affordable option, you’d want to make sure that this is reflected in your marketing materials as well. Your affordable rates should at least be hinted at in your website, if you can’t state exact figures.
Stage of Development
There are businesses that are mature, while there are others that are so new that they’re asking you to design a website when they haven’t figured out their target market yet. Do you want to work with startups that are still figuring out their identity, or do you want to work with established businesses? Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Startups can be exciting because you’re part of the birth of something new, but you might encounter multiple revisions under a low budget as the company tries to figure out what works. Established businesses, on the other hand, might be more straightforward with what they want, but they may be hesitant to change their old approach to some things, even if this approach does not work.
It’s up to you to judge where you’ll thrive, the conception of something new or the revitalizing of something old? Incorporate your answer into your branding so that you can be there for new clients during the stage where you can be of most help.
There are also businesses that are under a problematic stage, and they turn to you. If you like these types of challenges, that fine. But know that while these problems can be simple and superficial, that’s not always the case.
Some problematic businesses are dysfunctional throughout the organization, and yet their owners think that a simple website redesign or a new press release will be a fix-all. They want hire you because they think you’ll give them better profits, when all you can give them is a band-aid solution. They actually need stronger marketing efforts, a new image, or a more productive system – something that may be out of your expertise or job description.
Unless you’re an expert at what your client truly needs, you’ll never be able to provide the solution that can help them the most.
When qualifying your clients based on branding, you’re judging the character of their business because you want it to match your own. The benefit of qualifying clients on this level is that you truly understand their business. You understand their vision, culture, and ideas because they are similar to yours.
If you’re the more laid back type of web worker, it might be more difficult for you to work with clients who are corporately competitive. They might call you every hour and expect you to pick up 24/7. Or if you’re a formal type of person, maybe you’re not the ideal freelancer to work with “Poop Jokes Inc.”, since you might not “get” the spirit of their business. You’ll be out of touch.
While there are many criteria you can use to qualify clients, it doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Just use the ones that are important to you. Of course, this will lessen the number of leads that convert into clients. But know that the ones who approach you will be closer to the kind of clients that you actually want to work with.
Do you qualify incoming clients? How do you do it? Is your approach direct or more subtle? If you don’t qualify clients, how do you deal with the problematic clients that come your way?