Once you have a pre-qualification process in place, you’re going to really have to evaluate any potential client that comes through that process.

Setting up objective criteria on which to evaluate leads is a good first step. The trick for me is to run through the evaluation each and every time. I tend to get excited when I see that email come through from a lead, and I immediately start thinking about how I can help out. Better to slow down and do an evaluation of the answers before replying!

Every business is going to have their own set of guidelines to identify great leads. For example, I don’t care a bit about the fitness level of my clients, but a strength training coach just might. I’ve put together some suggestions of criteria, to give you a place to start.

Evaluation Before Talking with Your Lead

1. Did the lead follow your process for initial contact?
In my case, this means, did she fill out my worksheet, and did she give thorough answers? I find that leads who are happy to follow my process from the beginning are ones that I end up helping the most. For me, it also shows that they’ve thought about their business and can talk to what will make the project a success. Knowing that upfront allows me to really know what I can do to help them.

2. Is the project one that fits your business?
Are you excited about the work this client will need? Sometimes, people will come along and ask you if you can do something for them. And, the answer will be that you could do it for them, but that’s not what your business does and/or you don’t want to start doing it. A good example is logo design. Aside from some basic tech logos, I don’t do that, though with some work, I probably could. I have art, design, and technical skills, but I don’t build logos day in and day out, so I refer that work to experts.

3. Can the lead afford your services?
I know not everyone is going to ask about budget, but I do ask for a range. I go back and forth on how to do the ask, but right now, it’s in my pre-qualification worksheet. I want to talk with everybody, but I just don’t have the time to talk with someone who isn’t going to end up hiring me anyway.

If the incoming lead passes the evaluation above, I’ll suggest a call for a short discovery session. This isn’t a full discovery or paid, but it does help me get a feel for the potential client and their project. I also try to make sure I answer any questions that the lead has about me or my process so that if we go forward, I’ve already started setting the stage for how we’ll work together.

Evaluation After Talking with Your Lead

The top 3 questions still apply. Sometimes you’ll find out that leads lied about budget numbers or the project isn’t quite what you had thought. In addition to those:

1. Trust Your Gut Reaction
You’ve probably found that once you talk or video call with someone, you get a gut feeling about how they would be to work with. I nearly always know from the beginning how something’s going to go. For so long, I’ve tried to ignore that feeling when I needed a paycheck or wanted the project. Always a bad idea.

2. Did the Lead Bad-mouth Anyone?
This is NEVER good. In the early days of my business, I remember a phone consultation with a salon owner. The project sounded awesome and it was a great fit for what I wanted to be doing. But about 15 minutes in, the owner told me that his previous developer was garbage and he wasn’t paying him. Then he ask me if I could copy what that developer had started. NO. It’s not always so clear cut though. I’ve found for me, that if a lead bad-mouths anyone in that first call, the project will turn sour at some point.

3. Did the Lead Ask for Anything Illegal or Unethical?
If so – NO. I usually see this in the form of a lead asking if I could copy someone else’s website. I give a brief explanation that this violates copyright, and is just not done, though we could use that site as inspiration for new work. If they don’t immediately understand and agree, then I decline. Any other shady questions around strange payment or using other people’s work also results in a NO.

4. Did the Lead Ask You to Do Free Work?
Don’t ever do free work unless you initiate the project or have some sort of pro-bono policy & application process. If you do free work at the beginning of a project, you’ll be doing it throughout. Here’s a trick that low-life leads use – they ask for a small sample of work, done for free to qualify you and your work. You think if you do a good job, you’ll get the big project. Trouble is, this lead asks many folks to do a small part of the project for free, and there is no big project prize.

Next Steps

Make your list, and update it as you run across new red-flags and evaluation criteria.

And finally, the hardest part – use it consistently!!!