10 Steps to Your Next Freelance Client

OK, so you’ve pounded the streets, knocked on doors, and schmoozed ’til you’re blue in the face… and it’s finally paid off! You’ve landed a meeting with a potential freelance client! You polish up your folio, practice your hand-shake and iron a shirt. But one question remains: what will you actually do in the meeting?

Will you provide your client with a quote?
Show her potential design ideas?
Step her through a 500-slide PowerPoint presentation titled "The Value of A Website in Business Today"?

I’ve been at these sort of meeting hundreds and hundreds of times, so today, I’d like to offer the following 10-step plan — it works for me!

1. Be Prepared

Your client will make her decision on whether to employ you to build her site (if she hasn’t already) in the first 7 seconds. That’s not the way it should be — but that’s how it is. If you go into the first client meeting armed with this knowledge, you already have a great advantage.

So maintain good eye contact, use a firm handshake, and give your client a big smile, along with a "Nice to see you!" …and that’s your 7 seconds accounted for!

2. Have a Business Card Handy

When you pull your folder out of your briefcase and the client sees that it has her name, address, date and time of meeting printed on the front, they’ll immediately think "Well he is organised. And he’s noted the date and time of the meeting – he must be very busy (and therefore very good)!"

Next, hand over your business card. It gives a real air of professionalism to your approach, and sort of acts as ‘insurance’. The card tells the client who you are and where your offices are located. It shows that you’re a true professional who’s serious about their work, as opposed to a fly-by-night rip-off merchant.

Now you pull out your best possible pen to write with — I use an old fountain pen and clients love it.

3. Don’t Mention Prices

Mentioning prices up-front is a bad idea. It can see you tied to low rates that you might have mentioned off-the-cuff for the duration of the project.

It can also put a potential customer on guard — if you can quote a price before you even know what they want, then the client may ask whether you’re really focused on providing them with the best possible solution for their specific needs, or you just want to land the job. So don’t go into any detail on expenses — if and when the question comes up, tell her you’ll get back to her with a fully itemized quote in a certain timeframe.

In a similar vein, don’t show the client potential designs you think she might like at the first meeting. If she hates them she won’t choose you as her designer. It’s better to gauge what the client likes and dislikes, as well as her needs and requirements, long before you start showing her design ideas.

So what can you do at this first meeting? Think of it this way: you’re on a fact finding mission, nothing more.

4. Reassure and Reinforce

First off, you should reinforce your client’s buying decision. "Thanks for your time Mary. You’ve certainly made the right decision in deciding upon a Website to promote your business. They really have become a business imperative these days — and they’re a tremendously cost effective asset when you compare them to just about any other marketing tool."

5. Question your Client

Ask questions, questions, and more questions. After that: more questions! You’re a Needs Analyst at this meeting, so you need to know everything about the client, their organization, how the site will be used, and by whom.

Tell your client something like this: "Well Mary, what we need to do at this meeting is to establish exactly what you want your Website to involve. I’ll certainly provide some recommendations on what features it may need to have, and what it can do, and together we need to establish the best way to achieve your goals. And your key goal is to make more sales, is that right?" That should get the ball rolling!

6. The Recommendation

Once you find out all about:

  • her business,
  • her logo,
  • her market ("So Mary, your market is women over 40 — I’ll make a note that the font might need to be a little larger than it might be if the site were aimed at a younger audience. Of course, we’ll test the usability of your site with a sample of users who fall into your target market, to make sure we’ve hit the mark."),
  • her plans for expansion,
  • her brand’s position within the market,
  • her products,
  • her level of computer skill ("Okay Mary, so you’re not too sure on how to edit Web pages. Three things a Website needs to be are interactive, informative and ever-changing. I’d certainly suggest you need to update your site on a regular basis — is that something you’d need us to do?"),
  • which sites she likes and why,
  • which sites she hates and why,
  • when she needs to have the site finished,

…then you’re in a position to make a recommendation!

Now your recommendation will be based upon an in-depth analysis of your client’s business, her philosophy and her needs. She has also just invested an hour of her time with you, and you’ve established a rapport — and that will increase your chance of landing the job considerably.

But don’t give her the recommendation straight away. Instead, say: "Thanks Mary. That gives me a terrific understanding of your business, and what you need the Website to achieve. I’ll go away and give it some thought, and come back to you with my recommendations, and a quote. When do you need the quote by?"

Usually the client will say "as soon as possible," so be ready to suggest a specific day and time. "Okay Mary, I’ll have the quote to you by 1pm on Friday. Is that good for you?"

7. The Follow-Up

Get back home and immediately send her a letter to thank her for her time, restate what she wants, and confirm that you’ll have the recommendation to her at 1pm on Friday.

Now here’s where you will excel yourself. Of course, you aren’t going to have the quote to her on Friday. You lied!

8. Presenting Your Recommendations

Here’s where you really get to wow the client. You call her at 10am on Thursday and say something like "Mary, because you require the quote so urgently we’ve burnt the midnight oil and we have our proposal ready for you now. When will be a good time for us to get together and go over it?"

Now Mary is impressed — really impressed. Of course, if she originally said "There’s no hurry on the quote" then this approach won’t be relevant. But for the client on a deadline, your quick turnaround will earn you some serious brownie points.

Now the quote you’ve prepared isn’t actually a quote.

It’s a proposal that addresses the criteria she and you would have established in the initial meeting. It’s a document that allays all her fears: "And of course Mary, we guarantee our service 100%. If you’re not happy with the quality of our service, then there is no charge."

It’s an investment price, the impact of which can easily be softened. How? Try providing some quantification of the benefits the site can generate. In this case, imagine the client is a small business. They probably have brochures. So quantify the benefit of a Website by saying something like: "Mary, 5,000 brochures cost you about $800. As we’ve discussed, a Website is an interactive and ever-changing brochure for your business — and it’s so much more…" etc. This approach will put the figure of $800 in her head. Beat that and you have the job.

Want to charge more? Fine. Try this: "So Mary, as you know, a quarter page advertisement in the local newspaper costs you $1,200. That ad reaches 50,000 people, 5,000 of whom are your target market. My research shows that 80% of your target market are online and have access to Websites. This site will give you a detailed and constantly-updating means by which to reach this target audience, with far less media wastage, for a fraction of the cost per exposure…" etc.

9. Ask for it!

Here’s the most important piece of advice: ask for the work. I know you’re sitting there, nodding your head and saying "Of course I will!" But many, many people don’t ask for the work.

"Well Mary, you agree that the Website meets your needs as we identified th time. Would you like us to make a start on the site?"

Regardless of her answer (Yes, No, Maybe) make sure she gets a "thank you" letter as soon as you get back to the office/home.

10. The Final Word…

Take a receipt book. You are going to get this job. Not only that, but she’ll refer her friends to you because of the great work you do (and because you keep reinforcing the great decision it was to have you design her site). And you’ve just embarked on the great adventure of designing Websites for a living.

Good luck!

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