Most small business owners are usually really happy and grateful when a new business inquiry comes through. I mean, why wouldn’t you be - new inquiry, new project, more money...right?
Well, what if the inquiry is a “bad fit” for you or your business? Are there any warning signs that a client can be a “bad fit”? How can you tell?
My friend, I’m here to tell you YES. Yes there are warning signs that a client is a bad fit for you and believe it or not, these signs can come up super early...
When a client inquiry lands in my inbox one of the first things I do is arrange a consultation call at the nearest convenient time for both of us. I find it’s always easier to talk to get to know each other better, go over the details of my service package, and answer any questions that they may have.
During this consultation I am able to get a really good feel of if the project is a good fit for me, as well as the client. It’s kind of like a screening process I guess, and trust me, it works well for both parties involved.
Speaking from experience, the consultation calls provide an insight into how working with the client can be. In a few cases I’ve had some major alarm bells ringing before the call has ended….
1 | Interview style questions
I totally understand my potential client wants to know more about me as I do about them. There's no harm in that, in fact, I think it's a good thing. However, when the politeness has changed for interview style questioning I think it's fair to say if any alarm bells go off - listen to them!
There is no need on either party to turn the consultation call into a formal interview. That is definitely not the intention of the call. This leads me to warning sign 2...
2 | Talks at you
During the consultation call, it’s important to be able to talk about my offering as well as listen to what my client wants. That way I can share my expertise, advice, and a solution based on my experience and knowledge.
After all, that is why they contacted me. They have a requirement for someone with my service offering. That being said, I would expect my potential client to talk WITH me, listen and discuss the elements as part of the conversation. However, my alarms bells starting ringing when my potential client starting talking AT me, not WITH me. Have you ever experienced this?
It was quite baffling to start with, and almost makes one feel as though they are wrong. Being spoken over, corrected, and made to feel as though my offering was not what they expected is not a great feeling. However, it all made sense after I asked if they had taken a look at my website and the branding and website design packages I offer. They hadn’t… Ding dong ding dong!.. The alarm bells were off...
3 | Hired a “project manager”
Small businesses often only have 1 or 2 people that make any major business decisions, especially in the early stages. When it comes to working with a potential client, ideally, working with 1 person is best, however if there is more than 1 person, I always ask for them to decide between themselves who the main point of contact and main decision maker will be and so there ultimately is 1 person who “calls the shots”.
I had a serious alarm bell ring during a consultation call once, the potential client (halfway through the call) kindly explained that although they are in charge, any design decisions will be made by a project manager that they were going to hire. They then also said...that “at any time after a design decision is made, they will have the right to overrule that decision”. This was after I had discussed my process and mentioned the system I have in place to make the project run smoothly and on time to meet the deadline.
4 | Disrespect for the project
Ok so your on a Skype call with a potential client and they have “briefed” you on their requirements. Everything sounds fine until you discuss your services and timelines associated with the project. Then, the potential client decides to tell you that you have it all wrong and that the project should run like X or Y, and that they don't need Z. What if they were totally disrespecting the project - weren't ready to use your project management tool, or tell you that deadlines will slip but they still expect you to deliver on time… what would you do? Well a red flag should starting waving in your mind telling you that this client is a bad fit for you! This leads me to my last but not least, final warning sign...
5 | Lazy attitude towards working with you
Being a proactive person (I think you need to be if you run your own business, no?). I like things done properly, and on time. That’s actually one of the main reasons I am able to juggle so much in my personal and business life simultaneously. In the same manner, I refuse to be lazy if I am working, or collaborating with someone.
If a potential client has a lazy attitude towards working with you it can be awfully frustrating. Signs like, turning up to the initial consultation call late, or making excuses to not take the call, or leaving the call early. These signs are bad. Bad for your project and bad for your business. It’s worth mentioning, that some people just need a little “kick up the butt” to get them going, but in the same light, you shouldn’t really have to force a client to work with you.
Is there a solution…
Ultimately yes, the solution is to not work with them if you feel as though they are, or will be, a bad fit for you and your business. This is easier said than done and for some freelancers or small businesses may not be a financially viable option. In which case, I suggest before moving forward you way out the pros and cons of the client and project.
Tip: As a kind gesture, and to ease the blow of rejection, you could suggest someone else who you feel would be a better fit and send them on their way.
So, have you ever had any warning signs that a client is a bad fit for you and your business? How did you deal with it? What warning signs did you have? Tell me the juicy details!