We've talked about those demanding clients and how to watch out for them. But what about the golden eggs? The ones who are a dream to work with?
During that initial contact, there are certain things you can look out for. Subtle cues and signals that reveal just the type of fantastic client you're on the verge of sealing the deal with. And because this type is rare, it's important to spot them immediately, so you can convince them to work with you, and no one else.
From nearly ten years in business, I've learnt to look out for the following healthy signs – signs that will tell you whether a potential client is worth the time and investment. Keep the following checklist in mind when you next meet someone, because time is money in this game. And you'll want to ensure you don't waste a moment:
1. They make an effort to come to you
You've won them over during that initial chat on the phone. Now they want to meet you. If they make an effort to come to you – that's a great sign. If they compromise and meet you halfway – brilliant. If they're not interested in travelling anywhere and insist that you make the one hour drive to see them, then that's not a good start.
However, if you want their business, and they're going to be spending money with you – sure, you need to make an effort. But in my experience, the best clients have always been the ones who also consider my needs.
2. They say 'please' and 'thank you'
Some people I've dealt with have never thanked me for my advice. You know the type. You have at least three phone calls, one meeting and various emails before you make things 'official' – and not once do they show any gratitude.
The sad thing is – you care, and you want to show you care. But this type of client doesn't appreciate that. Look out for whether they use 'please' and 'thank you' – because a great client will be polite, grateful and respectful of your time.
3. You instantly get on with them
Nothing beats instant rapport with a prospective client. If you're having a laugh and understanding each other, then you should take this as a healthy sign. After several years in business, you'll know instantly whether you 'click' with someone.
I remember a nice chap called Andy coming to visit me when I ran my business in a small Cheshire town. He was establishing his architectural firm and needed some PR support. As soon as he walked through the door, I just knew he was a good egg. We're still in touch, and it's great to see his business doing so well.
4. They talk amicably about other suppliers (instead of the opposite)
If a client is complaining about current suppliers, that's worrying. Yes, it might be good news because you could take over the work. But listen to what they're saying, read between the lines, and you can gain a good understanding of what this potential client might be like. If they're whinging about not being looked after, for example, it could be that they're a nightmare to deal with – and have high expectations that are impossible to meet.
However, if a client talks amicably about other suppliers – that's a good sign they're going to be great to work with. Especially if those suppliers are also friends and they've been loyal to them for many years.
5. They get excited about your ideas
There's nothing more beautiful than meeting a potential client and getting excited about how you can help them. But it's a cherry on top if the client gets excited too. If they're eager to hear your ideas, that's brilliant. If they're turning their nose up at everything you suggest, it's not a good sign. Why hire you if they think they know better? You're going to be fighting a losing battle from the very start.
6. They don't expect miracles
If they're realistic and have expectations, you can meet, that's fantastic. You don't want someone who expects miracles. Instead, you want a rational client who appreciates you haven't got a magic wand but will do your best to solve some of their problems.
7. They've got a sense of humour
Are they a good laugh? Or do they take themselves too seriously? Business is about people. If the potential client is difficult to get on with, are they going to be a good fit for you? Clients who have a sense of humour are the best type of all. They'll see the funny side when things go wrong, and be much easier to work with.
8. They ask about payment, in a good way
A decent client will always care about your business, and won't hesitate to ask how much they need to pay you, and how you like to be paid. As a bonus, they might also express that they'll pay on time or upfront. They certainly won't pull a face when you talk about money. Be very wary of clients who think 'money' is a dirty word.
9. They give you time and space to pull together a quote
A great client isn't over-demanding. They understand you're busy and need time to pull together a quote for their business. They don't have an ego. They appreciate you have other clients. They also won't chase and chase, giving you essential space to think carefully about your offer.
10. They don't push you down on the price
It's the biggest insult of all when clients question your costs. Ok, they have a business to run – but so do you. You've given your best price, so why are they fighting you at the final hurdle? Don't be completely unmovable. Provide a discount – but only after you've considered the bigger picture. Will the client be easy to work with? Could this project lead to bigger and better things? Have you a full scope of the work involved? Do you think you can stick to the budget?
One way to avoid discounts is to offer a higher rate, then expect to be pushed down on price. That way, you get roughly what you originally wanted, and the client thinks they're getting a good deal. Which they are because you were never really expensive in the first place.