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4 Signs That Your Potential Clients Aren't Interested (and What to Do About It)

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472145_lightbulbEvery time I apply for a new job, I’m always excited to start working. Despite this, some prospects don’t always seem to share my enthusiasm. They might seem uninterested and may stall negotiations or contract signing. How can you tell if a prospect isn’t serious about working with you, and what should you do about it?

It’s been a week since their last email. After seeing your web site, some leads will contact you asking for more information, a project quote, or links to your portfolio. But after you give them what they need, you might not hear from them for a few days. Then, before you know it, more than a week has gone by and they still haven’t contacted you.

I find that prospects like these are often just shopping around and gathering as much information as they can from multiple freelancers. Many of them want easy answers, such as a hastily computed price quote or a vague list of services. There’s no in-depth discussion of the project. In fact, it’s possible that they haven’t told you what the project really is.

The fix: For cases like this, I find it helpful to ask a question at the end of my first reply email. This leaves the door open for additional incoming communication. You can also suggest a phone or VoIP discussion so that all the important details are covered in one sitting and no one waits around for email replies that may or may not arrive. If your prospect is still avoiding real discussions after you’ve tried these tips, then you shouldn’t be interested in working with them, either.

They keep asking for more of your previous work. You’ve already sent your portfolio and a list of client references, but somehow they want to see more of your previous work. When you send them a link to your web site showing an extensive list of clients, they ask, “Do you have anything else?”

Usually this means they’re looking for something specific and they’re hoping that you’ve already worked on something very similar before. It’s also possible that their project is different from anything you’ve ever done before and they just want to know if you can handle it.

The fix: Instead of just sending out links, why not add a description of what your portfolio means as a whole. For example, you can write something like, “As you can see from samples X and Y, I can create both illustrative and typographical logos.” Also, research their business beforehand so that you’ll know which portfolio items to highlight when they first ask for samples.

They ask you to make “samples.” Sometimes, a prospect might say, “How about you show us three concepts you have for the project and we’ll let you know if we like them?” They’ll call it an audition or a test, but it’s really spec work. Usually, spec work is a sign that the client isn’t interested in you or your skills. They want to see as many ideas as possible, all for the price of zero dollars.

The fix: First, think about whether your prospects are aware of what they’re doing or if it’s simply an honest mistake. If it’s the latter, it’s usually easy to have a conversation about the best work process for both parties. But if you’ve tried to talk to them about it and all you get is, “So what? The three other freelancers we’re talking to will do it,” then they clearly don’t care about your work and what you have to offer.

The project is all talk and no action. I’ve encountered several prospects who’d take the first steps with me — needs analysis, project proposals — but they don’t follow through. They want to have more meetings and discussions. Weeks later, I find that we’ve talked for several hours but nothing has been accomplished.

The fix:
When sending documents during the negotiation phase, it’s best to write clear action steps in the form of milestone sheets or schedules. In fact, why not include a “Where do we go from here?” or “Recommended steps” section at the end of your proposals.

Often, clients who don’t show interest in your work or decisions don’t really mean any harm by it. It’s possible that they are just extremely busy or they’re not used to working with freelancers. On the other hand, if you know that you’ve done your end of the work and they still remain indecisive or distant, then it’s time to call the relationship dead before it has even started.

What do you do when your leads and prospects have poor response time or don’t seem engaged enough in the project?

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11 Responses to “4 Signs That Your Potential Clients Aren't Interested (and What to Do About It)”

  1. Thanks Rick. I agree, no work is done until the check is received. That said, once you have a signed contract with Client A and a “check in the mail,” you naturally tell Client B and Client C you can’t take their jobs because Client A will be taking up your available time for the next (insert timeframe here). Then Client A stalls, and you end up losing all three.

  2. Quix,

    I start work when I see the check. The statement of work lists dates and I’d that payment must be made within X days of contract signing or the contract is void. If there seemed to be a ‘check is in the mail’ issue, I’d get on the phone with my contact and ask politely what was going on with the delay. People are amazingly reluctant to tell you even the smallest negative things like a new VP that’s froen payments. But stand up for yourseld tell them that you can’t turn away other clients because of their issues and if payment isn’t in hand by X then project start will need to move out a month (or whatever). Then take on client work from people who are willing and able to pay.

    Ultimately this has the be a business relationship based on respect – you’re not their lackey but a professional providing a service they want.

  3. OK, so what if your client signs a contract with a stipulated advance payment and promises to send a check (multiple times). So you turn down work from other clients. Meanwhile, the client commences with the foot dragging. Do you play it cool and wait for the process to play out? Do you start nagging? Or do you get nasty and pull the “we have a contract, now at least pay me my advance for the other work I’ve lost” card?

    Any tips?


  4. @Rick, sorry then I must have misread then. What I meant is that I have seen some companies who start working on a project for a possible client and show a small demonstration to convince them they are the right man of the job.

    Often the final product is not meant for the client but intended to be distrubuted by the client to third parties.

  5. Wouter – Asking for some percentage of the fee on signing/start of project isn’t that unusual and it shows people a few things. First, that you’re a business. This is a transaction that’s at least partly about the money, not about touchy feely stuff. Second, it weeds out people who are cheap, don’t have funding (or have it approved) and reminds people that I’m not a bank – I’m not there to extend them credit, I’m there to provide work at a reasonable rate. If I’m investing some sizeable chunk of hours before seeing a dime, all of the risk is on me. If you compensate me upfront for a small percentage of the fee we both have something to lose by terminating the project or letting it go sideways for weeks.

  6. Another method, although aggressive, is to send them a mail and then contact them within the hour with the excuse if they got your mail and ask them (after asking if they got the mail) is too ask a question that is hard to evade (so not “what do you think about it” questions).

    Another rule is to use the most direct method of communication (already stated as the first fix).
    Touch (face to face meeting), see (Video communication), Talk (phone, VoIP).

    Also the point made by rick is a good one but keep in mind it might be a double edged sword.

  7. As a freelance copywriter, I get tire-kickers all the time. If I think they are just price-cruising I send them my rate sheet and forget about it. If I think they are serious but just busy, I send a custom quote and keep in touch weekly. I find that if I keep up with my prospecting, I have enough leads that I don’t have the time to worry too much about the less than serious ones and can concentrate on the clients who are ready to work.

  8. Celine,

    Good points. On the last one I also attach some price to the start and first phase of a project so that they have a concrete interest in moving ahead. Not a lot – 25-33% of the cost – but it’s motivation to take the next steps.