I’m starting to gain a bit of momentum in freelance web design & development, and I’ve noticed a common issue that I’m not sure how to deal with. A couple of times now I’ve had potential clients that seemed very interested, met with me, had multiple phone calls, etc. then ended up either wanting to delay the project, or changing their minds completely. I’ve realized that I shouldn’t count on anyone until the contract is signed.
So lets say I have 4 potential clients, all of which I’ve met with, that want to get started on their project within a month. Integrity is important to my business, and when I tell someone that I can start on their project this month, I want to be able to stick to that. If I’m having that same conversation with 4 people, that’s an issue. How can I deal with them honestly, when their time slot might end up getting booked by another client?
If you’re talking about a few thousand dollars of business per client it’s all in the screening: where are they in the process, how do they value the need of the project, when will they move. Those on the fringes are often best avoided even if you lose a few chances as a result. Those who are close need a short sales cycle and into agreement phase… there’s no profit in waiting around.
However the further you move up the cost ladder the longer the process, and the less assured the project is. On the extreme end I once had a deal take nearly a year longer to close than intended.
It’s not a matter of honesty so much as priority, availability of resources and internal hurtles. Your job as the sales person is both to understand those [so you know where you stand] and to help instill the proper sense of urgency to address them. It’s a tough place to be as you rarely know all of the factors on the other side and not everyone is capable of being upfront about their real timelines, if they even know them. Your goal is to find people with the same goal even if they sit across the table so that when things slip, and they will, you’re privy as to why.
Thus as much as you may want it to all lay out in a neat circle sometimes you do have to reset expectations and explain that while you’re glad to jump when they’re ready, you may not be able to jump right away. Those that get it are the clients you want enough to keep leaning on.
I think that is great you’re already thinking about how to manage your time with clients. You definitely need to do this!
Let me just say first, I’ve worked in sales both as a freelancer and for a larger web development firm. In my experience, there is no such thing as an guaranteed sale. Please don’t have this notion that you’re clients have no integrity. Sales, in my experience, is a learning process. This means you will learn about the company you’re developing this site for and they will learn about you.
Sales is not 1-to-1 in this way, you will always take calculated risks with your prospective clients. To manage the right expectations I recommend that you be open about who you are as a company, what resources you have available to your clients, and what skill set your offer.
Recently I hired someone to help us streamline our sales process. The one piece of advice that we most took to heart was ‘clients will tell you how they want to be sold’. We learned (and practiced) the simple art of listening to a client, asking questions, and trying to find out exactly what it is that will make them decide to sign a contract.
In so many cases, it turns out to be pretty easy if you ask the right questions. I find myself saying things to new clients like, “It sounds like you could be a great-fit as a client for us. I would really like to do business with you. I understand that you are concerned about managing budget and quality - what can we do to make you more comfortable?”. And clients will so frequently just tell you what would make them happier, and it’s amazing how many times we can actually accommodate then (or come close).
I am learning that, like doggydish mentions above, you can be very open with clients and get away with it. Nowadays I don’t really try to ‘sell’ as much as just cut to the mustard and tell clients what we can do, what we can’t do, and find out what we can do for them.