How to decide if a client is worth pursuing

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When a potential client approaches you with a new project, it's only natural that you'll have a 'filtering' system in place to decide who is and isn't worth your time pursuing.

Time is money, as they say. And so your subconscious list of warning signs will always be at the back of your mind.

But how do you know whether a prospect is worth pursuing? The truth is – you don't. Every prospective client is a mystery and will be a potential risk to your time and business.

However, there is a way to limit the time-wasters and ensure you're winning those realistic prospects. The following scenarios offer some helpful advice on how to decide if a new client is worth the effort.

If they're only interested in price

Businesses will often search for what they're looking for in Google, pick out three or four freelancers or agencies that they like the look of and then fire out generic emails with a very vague brief and request for prices.

Be wary of those who do this. You don't want to work with people who are only fixated on price. It's not starting a relationship on the right footing. However, don't dismiss them entirely – mainly if it's with a brand or company that you'd love to work with and have on your portfolio.

Respond by not providing a price, and instead ask more questions about the work. Take this time to sell yourself and your range of services. Request a meeting if you think it's worth it. Even better, pick up the phone and speak to the prospect, as you might have an even higher chance of winning the work by establishing a relationship. For extra help, read our tips on how to win business over the phone.

But if they're still obsessed about price, and it's clear that their only motivation is that – instead of quality and skills involved – then consider whether you want to work with someone like that.

If they're expecting too much too soon

If a client wants to know your ideas and how you think you should solve their problem, be warned. It might only be someone who is after free ideas, and that isn't something you should willingly dish out. Especially at such an early stage.

You can throw as many ideas around as you want, once you're contracted to work with said client. But until then, tread carefully. Yes – you can show your passion and enthusiasm and some initial ideas. You can talk at length about how you've helped other businesses. But don't belittle your skills and expertise by giving all your secrets away. They could be exploited, and you will have wasted your time.

If they're unable to provide a budget

It's only natural and professional that most freelancers and agencies will ask a potential client if they have a budget in mind. It allows them to weed out any time-wasters and immediately see if they're able to help. But it's also common that businesses won't provide a budget, as they might not want to lay all their cards on the table.

So by all means, ask the potential client if they have a budget. But be prepared for a vague reply. You should explain that a budget helps you to determine if and how much you can help. If that still doesn't work, then consider whether the client is serious and by all means, provide a quote if other signs are looking positive.

If the work seems unrealistic or there's no brief

If a client approaches you with a vague idea of what they want, then it's almost impossible to determine whether you can help and how much the project would cost. In which case, be prepared to ask a lot of questions. Read our 50 questions to ask when designing a logo for some inspiration.

At this stage, it's also an excellent opportunity to discover whether the client is the right fit for your business. You'll learn about their culture, whether their expectations are realistic, and how they're organised internally. You'll be able to determine if you can help.

And if you're someone reading this, thinking about hiring a freelancer or agency – read our tips article on how to write a brief.

If something doesn't quite smell right

That old gut feeling is something you shouldn't ignore. It's the subconscious warning sirens that are telling you to run away as fast as possible. Trust your instincts and don't be afraid to turn work away professionally.

For further reading, check out our tips article on how to trust your gut feeling in business.