Something we all want is clients/work. We need client work to pay the bills. How to get more clients is one of the questions I get over and over from freelancers at all stages of the game.

When you’re starting out, your challenge is finding those initial clients and once you’ve been at the freelance game for a while it’s all about generating a consistent flow of work.

We’re going to start today by talking about some of the red flags that might pop up as you work with prospects, because this is an important subject.

No matter what stage in the game you are at, I recommend you don’t work with just anyone that comes along. For example, you should never do work for a prospect that you consider morally objectionable or that makes you feel uncomfortable.

When you’re just starting out, it will be hard to turn away some work, because as we said, work pays the bills. But the longer you work the more you’ll use the word ’NO’, and be comfortable doing so. As you learn to use the word more and more, you will see you’re really building a business that makes you feel free.

So let’s cover some red flags to watch for with prospects — the red flags that may alert you that you need to say ‘no’ to a project.

My son/daughter/cousin

One red flag is a prospect mentioning they have a family member who could do this project for them. A statement like this is often used as attempted leverage to get you to lower your pricing or start the work faster than you said you could.

If they have a family member who can do the work faster and cheaper, then why the hell aren’t they getting the family member to do it for them?

They aren’t getting the family member to do it because that family member either doesn’t actually exist, or can’t/won’t actually do the work. Maybe your prospect’s son did indeed build a website for his video game guild. Sure it works for a guild, but does that mean he can build a website that will actually bring any value to your prospect’s business?

Maybe their family member is just as awesome as you but has a policy that they don’t work with family. Maybe they know that the client experience will be so terrible that they won’t even provide a referral to a trusted friend in the industry.

Whatever the reason, if a prospect mentions this fictional family member to me I always reply:

I’m really glad you have that resource. I guess you’ll have to use them since I’m no longer willing to take the project on.

My idea will change the world

It’s true that sometimes people have world-changing ideas but I get at least one email a week about a world-changing idea. I delete these emails right away.

That’s because 99% of the time the idea isn’t new — I’ve heard about it 3 times this year and built it once last year.

Plus, these world-changing ideas are really only mediocre, but they prospect would like to convince you it’s world-changing to try and leverage some free work out of you in exchange for some equity in the world-changing idea.

Only about 1% of the time will that equity will turn into anything of worth.

I get that the prospect is excited about their idea, but have they done any proper business analysis? Before I buy into a world-changing idea, I want to know if this prospect has 10 years of experience in their industry — and all the contacts that come with that experience — that they can leverage?

Do they have 10 customers willing to pay for their idea? By willing, I mean do they currently have money from the customers — not just 10 people that said they’d be interested in giving them money for their new product or service?

Probably not, and that’s why I’m not interested in working for equity.

I’ve got a friend

Hey, I know lots of people that need web work. Can I get a discount on my work and I’ll send you referrals?

Over the years I’ve run businesses outside of building websites and the single most consistent thing I’ve found is that the ‘bad’ clients almost always knew lots of people that would give me work if I could give the client a small discount.

You know what? None of those clients ever sent me a single referral even when I was dumb enough to give them a discount.

When I encounter this question I just tell the client that I’m sorry, but I’m no longer interested in the project and they can find someone else to work on it.

I do have a friend who offers a discount on future work based on the number of referrals his client generates. It’s something like a 2% discount per referred project over $5K, applied toward the next project for the referring client.

Light on details

Is your prospect barely able to give you complete details about the project? Have they used the phrase “I know it when I see it”?

Don’t fall for this. They won’t know it when they see it, and even if they do it’s going to take 2,000 revisions to get to what they see in their head. If you’re a developer building a site and you feel you need a few more pages of detail (like a proper responsive version of the PSD), then ask for it.

If the client says, “Oh just work with what you have it will be fine” — it won’t be fine. Even if they don’t know it or say it, they DO have a vision in their head of what they want their site to look like but you can’t read minds, so what you envision will be different.

If you work with a client like this, then you’ll go back and forth so many times you’ll end up hating the client when really it was your fault for not pushing for a proper responsive version up front.

Can you please?

Yeah I’d love to work with you but I need you to add in XX feature to the project before I can accept the estimate.

Typically the above statement by the client implies that you add their desired feature without raising the cost. If that’s the assumption (not raising the price) then get ready for more and more ‘scope creep’ as they want to add more things under the original cost.

I always say, “Sure we can do that just let me revise the estimate with the additional cost.” To do this, I start asking them about their perceived value of the extra thing so I can gauge the additional value provided.

What you normally find is that the additional feature, in reality, has little value and the client just wants more work for free.

Arguing about your initial questions

If you’re not using something like my initial email questions, stop here, go read that post and start adding questions like those to your process.

Better yet, get my email templates and use exactly what I and many others use.

What if the client argues or avoids the initial questions, though? I don’t talk to them on the phone without my initial questions answered because I consider their refusal to be a big red flag telling me not to work with the prospect.

You need the questions answered to serve them properly and see if you actually provide any ROI on a project. If they won’t answer the questions they likely aren’t thinking of you as a strategic partner but as a set of fingers to do their bidding. That’s NOT what awesome long-term client relationships are built on.

Tomorrow we’ll jump into how to get your first freelance clients.

photo credit: ericconstantineau cc