How do you choose your clients? Do you put out your information and hope for the best? Do you work with anyone who asks, because you’re so grateful that someone has picked you? Or maybe because you fear no one else will show up?
Most business-owning moms start out crossing their fingers and hoping that clients will pick them out of the sea of similar providers. It’s nerve-wracking, and stomach-churning because you don’t know who’s going to come along. If anyone, right?
But I promise, this is backwards. It takes a lot of business owners a while of trial and error to figure that out. Business owners have to choose their clients.
I like to talk about this because it was the first thing that really helped me succeed.
Mindset Shifts Toward Choosing Clients
The longer I’m in business, the more I attribute successes to mindset shifts. Two big shifts required are:
Be an owner, not an employee
It’s your job to look out for the business and select what’s best for the business. You’re not here to follow directions. If you want to create a job for yourself, that’s perfectly valid, and I think being a freelancer fits that bill well. But if you want to own a business, then think like a stockholder, not a middle manager.
You have the right to decide who your clients will be
You ARE allowed to pick your clients. And, working with the right clients can change your business completely. They bring the right energy, the right problems that you can solve, the right satisfaction of a job well-done, and the right money to compensate you for your valuable work.
The wrong clients often have a problem that you can never solve to their satisfaction. You truly do them a service helping them move on so they can find someone who can help them.
When I first started building websites I signed up for various job boards including Upwork. The best thing ever happened to me. My first client was delightful. My second prospective client was a nightmare with red flags waving high. I took some bravery, but I told him that we weren’t a good fit and I couldn’t take on his project. Having to say no early on to an obvious trouble client did me a world of good. I realized that not everyone was going to be honest, or kind, or fair.
I have never understood the complaints about job boards that clients forced freelancers to take low pay or work crazy hours. It’s completely false. While there are low-paying clients out there, and rude, unfair ones too, no one’s made a rule that says we have to work for them.
Although I don’t use Upwork like I used to, I have found fantastic clients through Upwork and other boards. But I knew I had to qualify prospective clients, even from job boards, before I had a formal process. And I think it was that angry, second prospect that taught me this lesson.
Deciding which clients to choose
Don’t skip over this part, like you probably want to! Deciding who you want is definitely the toughest part of the whole thing. But until you do, you have no criteria to use to judge prospective clients.
First, have you developed a niche? While I do believe you can be a generalist, you have to have a niche to aim for in your marketing and your planning. Figure out the problem you want to be known for solving.
Next, build out a client avatar to help you stay focused on who you want to work with. This keeps your brain aware and primed to spot opportunities that you might otherwise miss.
Third, make a list of absolute deal-breakers. I call this a red flag list, and I have a free checklist and method to come up with your list of red flags if you want a head start. If anyone who wants to work with you has any of these red flags, have a process in place to turn them down.
And finally, have a list of characteristics about a client and/or her project that make an ideal working relationship. Lots of organizations have their own models or frameworks for qualifying leads – you can read about them in this article.
As a mom with a business, it makes sense to let your branding, marketing, systems and tools do as much of the impersonal work as possible, so you have time to create meaningful relationships with the clients that will be right for you and your business.
The easiest step is to passively qualify people. This is why it’s important to start with knowing who you do and do not want to serve. And you don’t have to feel guilty about not wanting to serve someone. You can be sure that someone else does.
Your branding and all of your marketing materials will do a big part of qualification for you.
Your website vibe and what you publish on your site will attract some people and will repel some people. That’s how it should work. For example, if you publish your prices, you will repel folks who think you’re too expensive. And you will also repel folks who think you’re too cheap to be good.
Your content, whether it’s written or video, audio or visual will do the same.
The way you network, the way you show up in real life and online, and how you present yourself will all be filters that help select or turn away potential clients.
You can also put in place hurdles for your prospective clients to overcome. Not only can you use these to find out more information about the people who want to work with you, but you can see how serious they are about working with you.
If you ask them to complete an action, and they don’t, you don’t need to chase them down or bend your rules. They weren’t very serious to begin with.
Questionnaires online or in person can be very helpful. I ask potential clients to fill out a project planning worksheet before our first call. This helps both of us. The questions help me qualify clients, but also help the clients think through their actual needs.
You can do the same in an interview, if you feel you need to see or hear the person you’re qualifying. I prefer to let the questionnaire do the work, so then I can either redirect them to someone else, or have an amazing first conversation that’s really productive.
I learned this in relation to qualifying a client from Troy Dean of WPElevation. (It’s funny, I end up buying things from other people that I learned in school. School was terrible about teaching how to apply the things we were learning. Or maybe I just didn’t see that then since I wasn’t running a business.)
Anyway, if you pick your top three criteria for clients or projects, rate every new prospect on each of these criteria on a scale from one to five. Combine the scores to rate and rank your prospects. You’ll have to decide the cutoff, for me, a total of 12 – 15 is someone I’m definitely working with.
This is just one of the scoring methods I talk about in my Find Your Best Clients workbook. You can use whatever method feels right for you to choose. The important thing is to own the choice rather than let clients tell you how to run your business.
I definitely recommend checking in with your gut feelings too. I’m amazed at how often my gut feelings are right, and I’m trying to trust them more!
Think about how you can take this information, and the info from some of the linked blog posts and build a system to choose your clients.
Here’s a little secret. Most of these blog posts, or any content I create for that matter, are sets of directions to myself. Or organizing information so that I can better internalize it. So often we know more than we use or implement. I encourage you to find a way to use what you learn too!