One of the challenges for freelancers is closing the deal and securing work. It’s a crucial step, but how you do it can also set the tone for the rest of your project. If you’re dealing with unresponsive clients, out of control demands, or off-the-rails projects, you might need to go back and reconsider your initial client consultation.
A client consultation is an initial meeting with a client to figure out what they need and to sell your services. At the end of the meeting, you should know if this client is a good fit, exactly what they need, a rough price point and whether or not you’re going to put together a proposal.
Not every freelancer has a specific, organized consultation with a client. Everybody has their own process. But it can be a way to streamline your sales process and waste less time with prospective clients that never pan out.
In this post, we’re going to explore what a client consultation meeting looks like, why you should do them, and how to conduct them.
What Is Your Current Process For Landing Clients & Securing Projects?
Before exploring the ins and outs of a client consultation meeting, it might help to consider your current process first. How exactly do you land a client and secure a project?
Some freelancers don’t have a formal process. They make first contact with a client, maybe from a website form or a referral. They trade emails, answering some questions and asking others. A back and forth dance ensues, and it may stretch out over weeks or even months. Eventually, they get enough clarity about what the client needs to make a proposal and the project moves forward.
That may be the best case scenario. A lot of times those conversations peter out and nothing comes of it. That’s one way to land a project. It can work, but it’s not very efficient. Not having a process wastes time with prospective clients who may never pay you a dime. It’s also prone to missing important details or forgetting to ask questions that can cause problems down the road.
We talked about the importance of creating critical freelance systems, and that starts with how you secure clients and land projects. If you formalize and streamline that process, right from the beginning, you can be more efficient, more productive, and more profitable.
First Client Contact
You should have a formal process for what to do when you connect with a new prospective client. You need to figure out what they need, how serious they are and if you want to work with them. A good process will help you weed out bad clients and avoid nightmare projects.
A helpful part of this first contact is to mention a dollar amount: “Our minimum price for a website is $X.” You’ll find out quickly how serious they are. You’ll also scare away bargain hunters.
Mentioning a minimum project cost is an initial client screening. You might have a script of a few preliminary questions to ask. Maybe you put together a short online form you ask prospective clients to fill out.
The end goal of this first contact is to schedule a client consultation meeting. If this sounds like a project you’re interested in, with a client that seems reasonable, and the budget is workable, then you need to sit down together and have a serious conversation.
What Is a Client Consultation Meeting?A client consultation meeting is a focused meeting to move a prospective client from first contact to a proposal and, hopefully, a signed contract.
- Get the details: It’s a limited, streamlined meeting that should tell you everything you need to know about starting a project with a client.
- Work toward a proposal: It’s a chance to gather all the important details to make a proposal.
- Know the client: It’s an opportunity to get to know the client and find out if they’re someone you want to do business with.
Let’s talk about what the consultation is not:
- It’s not a sales pitch. OK, yes, you’re trying to sell your services. But more than that, this is a first date. You’re testing the waters of a relationship to see if this is something to pursue. Spend more time evaluating the client and less time pitching yourself.
- It’s not to refine the client’s business plan. If the client doesn’t know what they need or what they’re doing, that’s a red flag. They don’t need a developer to build a website, they need a consultant to refine strategy. You can still do that work, but propose a discovery phase and not a website (or refer them to someone else).
- It’s not to explain how. This meeting is to discover the client’s goals. Talk about what those are, don’t talk about how to meet them. How to meet those goals is what you get paid for.
Why Have a Client Consultation Meeting?
OK, so why is this meeting so important? A number of reasons:
- It formalizes your process. If you want to be more efficient, more productive, and more profitable, you must have a specific freelance system. This is how you efficiently move clients from first contact to signed contract.
- It lays the groundwork for a good project. A client consultation meeting is where you can set all the expectations for how the project is going to go. You’re setting up guidelines for the project that will keep the client on track (see more on the Terrible Client Protection Plan).
- It can save you from trouble. Keeping the client on track can save you from costly detours, but some clients just can’t help themselves. A client consultation meeting will help you spot those red flags and avoid monster clients.
- It can save you time. Ever spent hours agonizing over a proposal only to discover your price wasn’t even in the client’s ballpark? A client consultation puts a budget on the table. Ever spent hours in meetings with a client but never landed a project? A client consultation can help you push those vague meetings into a discovery phase where you get paid.
- It gives you a script. If you’re nervous about meetings or worry about forgetting something, a client consultation meeting gives you a script. You don’t have to think about what to ask next, because it’s all spelled out.
- It makes it easier to sell ongoing maintenance. While this meeting is primarily about vetting clients, it’s a chance to talk about the need for ongoing maintenance. It’s better to sell ongoing maintenance before a project than to spring it on a client afterward.
- It shows your professionalism. All of this illustrates that you’re a serious, organized, professional developer. That should put clients at ease and make them more willing to sign a contract and get started.
How to Do a Client Consultation Meeting
So how do actually conduct a successful client consultation meeting? Nathan Ingram shared how he does client consultations during our recent Freelance Summit. Nathan uses the “SCOPE” acronym to define what needs to happen during the consultation meeting:
- Scope: Learn enough about the project to create a proposal. This is where you ask questions—lots of questions—and it should take up the bulk of the meeting. (See more on 65 questions to ask during your next freelance client meeting.)
- Chemistry: Determine if this is a client you can work with. This will happen throughout the meeting as you watch for red flags.
- Ongoing: Explain the importance of your ongoing services. Take the opportunity to stress that a website needs ongoing maintenance and the client should plan for it now, either by hiring you to do it or being prepared to do it themselves.
- Process: Set expectations by walking through your process. Let the client know what the next steps are and how you work.
- Estimate: Provide a ballpark estimate and get client buy-in. You need to have a rough budget. If a client isn’t willing to talk about the budget, that’s a red flag.
You should be able to walk through these steps, including all the questions, in about an hour. That should give you enough information to understand what the project entails and create a proposal.
Remember that this is your meeting. You run it. Take charge and run through your agenda to make sure you’ve covered everything you need to. Don’t let the meeting drag on or get sidetracked. If a client is all over the place and doesn’t know what they want, then it might be more appropriate to propose a discovery phase where they pay you by the hour to sort out strategy as opposed to bumbling forward with a rudderless website project.You want to minimize time spent with a client when you’re not getting paid. Yes, answer their questions, explain how your process works. But don’t get sucked into giving free consulting advice.
More Freelance Training
If you want more help for conducting client consultation meetings, check out the Freelance Summit. Veteran freelancer Nathan Ingram offers 11 hours of video training, including more detail on client consultations. The Freelance Summit videos cover process, profit, and productivity, and include sample files and templates.
Once you’ve finished a client consultation meeting you should know whether or not you want to do business. You’ll know the scope of the project, you’ll know if it’s in your wheelhouse and if you’re in the client’s budget. You’ll have a measure of who they are and if you’re willing to work with them.
If all is well, the next step is to put together a proposal. This is where you put everything in writing and get your client to sign a contract. For help with proposals and contracts, check out the Freelance Summit.