Today we’re back on the subject of vetting clients with initial emails. To see the ground we’ve already covered you can check out the rest of my Client Vetting Series.

What if, after sending the initial email questions, the answers you get are…odd? How do you deal with that?

Let’s look at some answers I’ve gotten when using my email templates.


My timeline is always ASAP.

So your timeline is always ASAP, is it? Huh. Well that’s awesome, I guess.

My initial humour head says tell that prospect that their price is always whatever is reasonable then multiply it by 3 since it’s always a rush.

Really what this response tells me is that this prospect has no real plan, likely just comes up with the development ideas on a whim, and is likely to request changes mid-project.

If I take on a client like this I need to price and draw up the scope super specifically to make sure the project has the highest chance of success.

Here’s what I’d write back:

Hey [name], Of course all business owners want everything as soon as they can get it, but ASAP isn’t actually a time frame and I’m busy. Given the very little bit I know and how busy I am I can’t start for 3 weeks and the work is likely to take 2 – 3 weeks. Of course, once we actually talk about your project we are likely to adjust the time frame.

If that sounds like something that fits you then let’s talk a bit more about the work.


I hate that question. I don’t have a pre-determined amount of money I’m willing to spend. It might take more or it might take less. How would I know until it’s complete?

So you don’t know how much you expect to spend, do you? Have you actually thought about the ROI on the project? I mean, if you expect your investment to only earn you $1,000 more over 6 months, then you certainly wouldn’t spend $6,000 to build it right?

Well, you wouldn’t if you’re a smart business owner.

Smart business owners know the ROI on projects, or at least have an idea of what it might be. I don’t want to work with someone that doesn’t know it and isn’t willing to engage in a conversation on budgets. It’s a total waste of time for both of us to talk about a project I feel is worth $5,000 and the prospect feels is worth $500.

So this is my typical response:

Yes, budget can be hard but it’s super important so we need to have a good idea about what you expect to spend on the work. A great way to think about it is, what do you expect the work to earn you, or how much time will it save? What’s 10 – 20% of that number? That’s a budget we can start with to see if it matches with the work you’d like.

If you don’t know how much you’re likely to earn from the work, then we can certainly do a discovery session together to figure that out. Discovery calls are 1 hour and cost $500 and full discovery sessions start at $2,000 which includes a proper written scoping report.

I break projects

I’ve been struggling to find someone who can do it the correct way for me. Have gone through a couple guys. I blame myself.

This is certainly concerning. Do you want to be the latest in a long list of developers who ‘failed’ at a project?

I certainly don’t. Here it’s important to have a solid process and make the client stick to it. It’s entirely possible that the client has never been trained to be a good client. Maybe all the other people they’ve worked with were terrible, with bad project management and/or communication skills despite being awesome programmers.

I also want to talk to the other programmers in this case to get their take on why the project went wrong. It may be they admit the project went bad and it was totally their fault.

I had one of those last year. The client is awesome, understanding, had a budget and I totally screwed up. They’re now looking for a developer to pick up a project I failed at and they keep talking to my friends. So I keep getting questions about it, and I simply admit I screwed up and the client is awesome.

So, when I have a prospect tell me they break projects, my response is:

It takes some good self-awareness to admit you may be breaking projects. Honestly, that makes me pause a bit about working with you, so I have some more questions about how/why projects haven’t worked that I’ll need you to answer.

  1. Why would you say you break projects?
  2. How was the communication on other projects set up? (Email, project management system…)
  3. Can I have email addresses for 2 of the developers that didn’t work out so I can ask them why they think the project didn’t work?

If we work together I’m sure we both want to turn around the failed projects and I have a process to give us the best opportunity for success. I’m going to require that we use my process. That means my project management system and we meet on my schedule.

Once I get those answers we can see about working together.

Caution advised

If you encounter any of the above scenarios, you should proceed with caution. It has been my experience that in 90% of cases when you get responses like the ones I’ve illustrated, it’s not a project you should go ahead with.

Every now and then, though, there is the exception. You may get a prospect who’s never actually worked with a proper professional who runs a legitimate business. They’ve only dealt with people who run a ‘hobby’.

If you have received any odd answers to your initial email I’d love to hear about them. Post them in the comments and I’ll put together another post covering my responses.

photo credit: nolnet cc

2 responses to “Dealing with odd responses to your initial client email”

  1. John Locke Avatar

    It’s super important to work with people who have clarity about what they expect, and who are willing to be honest. When people deflect the budget question, it indicates a lack of trust on their end…like they’re playing their cards close to the vest to see what you say. Most of the time, these sorts of prospects are not willing to invest what it takes to build something that will deliver results, so these are better to pass on.

    Two things I like to ask regarding timeline are “What is prompting you to do this project now?” and “What is significant about your ideal launch date?” If I can get good answers to these questions, it reveals a lot about the motivations behind the project, which helps me figure out what is valuable in the project to the client.

    Prospects that say they have gone to other developers are a huge red flag for me. While I DO have long-time clients that have come out of these scenarios, this is often an indication that the prospect has a “slash-and-burn” way of working with developers who have not had a structured process. Further investigation is always needed in this scenario, but gut feelings are almost always correct.

    My best response to an email inquiry was to the question: “Who are your biggest competitors?” The reply was “I have no competitors, as I am the only one who will be targeting this market.”

    While I can see why the prospect may have thought this, a little revealed that there were other people targeting this particular market. More distressingly, it revealed that the prospect grossly underestimated the breadth of services that would be competition for their service. This was a project that never went forward, as they went completely AWOL before a proposal of work could be discussed.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      Yup the timeline questions reveal the importance or lack of importance of a project for sure. I only want to engage with important projects.