How to Qualify Your Clients (and why you should)


Image by sillygwailo via Flickr

So you’ve got a fresh, new small business prospect. He runs a small chain of fitness centers and he wants a web site.

His business also fits right into your niche market. You ask (innocently) how much do you want to spend? He gets mad. Or he doesn’t know. You get annoyed. So does he.

What went wrong here?

The problem isn’t that the client is dumb. The problem is that he has no frame of reference. He doesn’t know what a site costs, because it’s not a common expense for him. He has no idea if you’re overcharging or undercharging.

The budget question is common and ordinary in larger agencies and businesses, but it’s not so common for small businesses.

The way to get around this is not to ask the question at all.  Instead, ask  your client questions that he can answer.

Questions to ask

What should the site do? What do you want to accomplish?  Is it a “brochure” or will it have e-commerce?

Will you be updating the site regularly? Will there be a blog? Or Is it a static site?

Are you going to host videos or podcasts?

Will other people from outside the company be involved?

How will they measure the result?

Explain some simple and complicated projects you’ve done, what each option cost (and why). Use Olympic pricing.

Evaluating the answers

Use the answers to find out if this client is a good fit for your skills and  your business.  Does he need something you don’t provide? Are his expectations realistic?  Does this project fit with past projects you’ve done? Or is it way outside of your comfort zone (that can be good, or it can be a warning sign).

What are his expectations about timing and the number of revisions you’ll do?

What payment schedule does he expect?

Does he have previous  experiences hiring freelancers? And are you the first person working on this particular project?  If your predecessor didn’t work out, what happened?

Educate them. You’ll both be happier (and smarter).

How to Find Your Ideal Client by Going Fishing


Image compliments of chefrandan

Is your marketing going fishing?  Not real fish, though this one is a lovely example (done on a computer).

I mean fishing for ideal clients.  It turns out that marketing, and finding your ideal customers, has quite a lot in common with fishing.

Don’t try to please everybody

One of the hardest lessons for many solopreneurs (and even bigger companies) to learn is to not try to please everyone, only your own school of fish.

Apple doesn’t care what “everybody” thinks. Some people love the iPad. Some don’t care. Others hate it. Apple focuses only on the first group – and it’s a big enough tribe that they sold $150,000,000 worth of iPads in one day.

They know how to find a niche market, determine what they want, and how to deliver it.

Focus only on  your “fish”

Before you can sell anything, you need to know what your ideal client “fish” look like, what information they need, and how you can help them get it.

Are they big fish (companies)? Small fish (solopreneurs)? Are they older fish (established businesses) or newly-hatched fry (baby fish)? Knowing this will tell you more about how to reach them, who to talk to, and how much they can afford to spend on your products or services.  For example, bigger companies have more resources, but are also likely to be more bureaucratic.

Where are they?

Where do they swim?  In lakes? Or the ocean? Or are they in rivers?  Apply this same principle to the clients you want to reach. Where are they? Locally? Nationally? Internationally?

What meetings or industry events do they regularly attend?  What industry magazines do they read?

This also applies, by the way, to their online presence. Which social networks do they use (if any)? What forums are they active in?  What industry sites to they comment on? Or do they own one, where you can comment?

What do they want?

Actual fish want to know what’s for dinner and where to find it…the best sources for smaller fish, or plants, or flies.

Your clients probably don’t eat flies (at least I hope not), but they will want to know how to get their contract employees’ tax files processed. Or how to set up a blog. Or an ebook on how to get more web site sales.

Have you been able to find a market niche (or your fish)? Want some help figuring it out? Try this free ideal client profile worksheet (just download it, no obligation).

What Can Birthday Cakes Tell Us About Marketing?

Why all the cakes?

They’re not there to make you hungry.

They’re there to make a point about marketing personalization strategies.

Three friends, three cakes

My invisible (that’s invisible, not imaginary!) friend Megan had a birthday in January. I couldn’t be there in person, since she’s in Austin and I’m in New York City, so I got her some cyber cupcakes.

Two weeks ago, Jill, another faraway friend had a birthday too, so I sent her chocolate cake.

This Monday, it was my friend Bronwyn’s turn. Her cake was elegant and decorated with flowers.

A funky, creative friend got cupcakes that matched her personality, an extra-chocolatey cake for my chocolate-loving friend, and an elegant cake for the one who’s a member of the Royal Commonwealth Society.

Give them what they want

Aside from wishing my friends happy birthday, I made choices based on my friend’s preferences, not my own.

Do the same with your potential customers. Create an image in your mind of what they like, need, or want. You can even create a series of biographies. Name them. Draw up a profile of what they’re like and the kinds of information they’re looking for.

To each, her own cake

For example, if you’re a blog consultant, you might have some prospects who are complete beginners and don’t quite know the difference between a blog and a blog post.

Other readers may already have blogs, but want some tips on how to improve them (attract more traffic, get more comments).

A third group might be more interested in technical information – like tips for using PHP (blog programming language) or developing plugins.

This is especially important if you have more than one niche. Create content, products, and services that meet what your specific audience wants, needs, and can pay for.

Do you think this is important? Do you have buyer bios? Or, have you asked your readers for their opinions? Tell me what you think.  And, which cake is your favorite?

Cake images, in order, thanks to:
morguefile, morguefile, and tim parkinson

OK: Confession. Bronwyn, if you’re reading this, you probably noticed that’s a different cake. When I went back to the cake I sent you, I found that it was OK to share, but not OK to use commercially. So, I had to improvise. Hope you like this one too.

Is Your Business Niche Market Too Big?

crowd of colored pegsTrying to sell to an audience that’s too small can kill your business before it starts. Hamster shoes, anyone?

Too big, or too varied a niche can be a problem too.

Trying to reach too many people (or two entirely different groups of people can sink your marketing before it starts.

A business marketing niche that’s too big

Just the other day, someone wanted a business name for a company she was putting together with two friends. She was having a lot of trouble finding a good name, and asked for help.

Each of them had a different specialty. They were: fitness, safety training (first aid and construction), and weddings.

Several people (including me) begged her to reconsider. We said, that’s three businesses, not one. Split them up. She left, disappointed that she hadn’t gotten what she wanted.

Why this business niche isn’t a niche

  • it confuses prospects – the three businesses are so different, people will wonder how you can be good at any of them
  • It may drive people away – do people looking for a wedding really want to see smelly people working out in a gym?
  • They’ll need three marketing plans, three brochures, three sales pitches on the web site, and three sets of audiences to build

A real niche marketing strategy

  • Picks a specific business to be in (say the safety training)
  • Narrows that down further (maybe safety training on construction sites)
  • Chooses a specific problem in that niche (safety training for new workers on commercial construction sites)
  • Addresses marketing, web, business cards, ads, etc. to the people in that niche and only the people in that niche.

Not everybody, just your tribe.  The blue guys.

If you really want to be in two or three different businesses, maybe you need two different web sites.

Tomorrow, can your niche afford you?

Image thanks to  svilen001

How to Find Your Ideal Client

100_percentDo you have an ideal client? Do you know why you need one? Or how to find your ideal client?

It’s one of the first questions a marketer or copywriter will ask.

Do you know the answer? If not, you should.

Why do you need to find your ideal client anyway?

Because you need to think like a fisherman. Decide what kind of clients you want to catch. Then you’ll know where to go look for them, how to attract their attention and what services to offer them. The closer your prospect is to your ideal client, the better.

What kinds of people do you enjoy working with?

Think about the problems you solve. If you’re a web developer, you solve the problems of people who want web sites, and don’t have them. People at large corporations? Solo entrepreneurs? Musicians? Are they creative risk-takers? Or more conservative?  Fit your prospects to your personality.  If you’re a creative person, full of ideas, and a risk-taker, accountants may not be your best choice.

How much can you spend to reach them?

There’s no sense trying to find clients with a splashy Super Bowl ad campaign if you’re a small business. Think about the resources you do have. There are inexpensive or even free ways to promote your business.

Can they afford you?

It’s no use trying to sell a $10,000 solution to a small business that earns $100,000 a year. They can’t afford it. To attract smaller companies, offer less expensive options, or payment plans.

Why you?

Do you specialize in a particular industry or offer specialized services? Pick a niche . If you design web sites, set yourself apart from every other web designer. Be the designer who specializes in small business web sites or the designer who does sites for independent bookstores.

Do they want what you sell?

Are you offering something people want? Is there a big enough market for it? Think about the kinds of challenges the company faces (outsourcing, increasing market share, learning to use social media) and how your services help them solve those problems.

It doesn’t have to be a multi-million dollar problem; it could be helping someone who is overwhelmed with paperwork and needs a virtual assistant.

Who is the decisionmaker?

Are you talking to the head fish of the family? (OK, so I’m stretching this metaphor until it nearly breaks) Aim your marketing and your discussions at the person who has the authority to buy your product or service.

Need more help figuring this out?  Download this free ideal client worksheet.

Image: Iamwahid