Why You Sometimes Have to Turn Away Customers

I’m working right now on updating my client pre-qualification process. I find this to be harder than asking for money!

One of the things I’m hoping I can do is eliminate the tire-kickers and only spend time talking with folks that I can really help. I just hate the thought of turning someone away, though.

If you’re like me, and your time is tight because you’re a solo-person business or trying to fit all your work within the hours of the school day, you just don’t have time to talk to every person who expresses interest in what you do. Sometimes I fall into the trap of meeting with potential clients or chatting on the phone about what I do just because it’s kinda fun to talk about myself & what I do.

But, really most of those conversations end up interrupting what I’m working on. Then I get all excited about how I can help the person out and start thinking about the upcoming potential job. I love the beginning phase – when everything’s new and shiny and has all the potential in the world. And finally, the conversation will start to stall when I see it’s clear that we’re not going to be a good fit. Their budget is laughably low, or they want to micro-manage you, or they really don’t quite know what they want to do.

You may have been told (by your family???) that the customer is always right, and you’re obligated to fit your way of working around what a potential customer wants. Or, you’ve been told not to let any lead get away – close them at all costs. But what if the time you’re spending with a dud is keeping you from spending time with the folks that you could really be helping?

These are the types of things I think about as I re-build my pre-qualification process. I’m scared to turn anyone away because I want to keep working solidly and I don’t want to turn away a paycheck. Since I’m a Southern woman, I hate the idea of coming across as unapproachable or stand-offish. I want to be friendly and talk with everyone and be “nice”. But that keeps getting me in trouble.

Just this summer, I was really looking forward to a potential job with an artist who had asked about my web and marketing services. It seemed he had a budget and a lot of material to work with, and I really thought I could make a difference in his sales. I told him my recommendations, but he what he really wanted was for me to give approval to the course of action he wanted to take, then he would ask again about what he should do. I knew this wasn’t going to work out, but I foolishly kept talking backing and forth, hoping things would magically fall into place. I knew better, but I spent way too much of my time answering questions and clarifying things for someone who wasn’t even a client.

Which meant: I wasn’t getting paid & I wasn’t spending time with my family.

Getting Started with a Pre-Qualification Process

So, as I get more serious about pre-qualifying leads and clients, you might want to think about pre-qualifying your own customers. I’m starting with a semi-implemented system I learned from Troy Dean in the WP Elevation course. I think I didn’t fully implement it because I wasn’t sure of which customers I did want. So, here are the steps I’m going through to work out how I want my process to work:

1. Who Do You Want?
While this could be an entire course itself, I do buy into the idea that if I can focus in on a particular type of client (“niche-down” in marketing jargon), it will be much easier for me to attract the right clients. But at a more basic level, I think it’s important, or at least easier, to first define some general things about the clients you want and don’t want. For example, I could probably do graphic design work, but I know that I don’t want clients who want me to do their graphic design work. I want clients who have had a taste of success while DIY’ing and are ready to move to the next step with their online marketing.

2. What Are Their Characteristics?
Again, for your marketing you’ll need to dive deep into the lives of your ideal clients to figure out how to serve them best, how to reach them, and how to position your products and services to them. First though, start making list of the characteristics of your favorite clients – what have they had in common? Are there characteristics that you wish they had? Examples might be: an engaged email list of 500, clear goals and an eye on the next step, pleasant to work with, energetic.

3. What do you need from them to ensure a successful project?
Now, these might be repeats from 1 & 2, but it’s important to know this. One thing that I need to know is a client’s goal, and how success is going to be measured. For too long, I designed and built websites that looked good and represented my clients well, but didn’t really work hard for them. Partly, this was because I was picking clients who had a goal of: I want a new website and success is when I have a modern looking website. Now, I’m looking for someone with a measurable goal.

4. Gear your marketing materials to that type of client.
You marketing materials include nearly everything, right? This is a step that will be ongoing throughout the lifetime of your business. I’m including it here so you keep it in mind. Interestingly, the way in which you pre-qualify a lead or potential customer is a strong bit of marketing. It sends a signal to the visitors who encounter your process. If you’ve done a good job, your ideal clients should be happy to pre-qualify, and your not-so-ideal client visitors will think you’re difficult or not the right fit.

Next Step

1. Make your list of what you’re looking for in an ideal client and start thinking about ways that you can have those folks identify themselves before you even meet with them. Alternately, think of ways that you can filter out people who don’t meet that description.

Other Resources

Want more info? Here are some guys who talk about pre-qualification frequently:
1. Troy Dean of WP Elevation
2. Mike Killen of Sell Your Service
3. Sean McCabe of seanwes