You already know you need to identify your ideal client. The process starts with visualizing the person most likely to buy your service or product, and then describing them in full detail from demographics to their emotional state.
You’ve described their personality, traits, values, buying behavior, interests, and pain points.
You’ve considered aspects such as market segment and business size. All are crucial in finding and engaging with folks most likely to want — and be willing to pay for — what you’re offering. It’s a crucial step you can’t afford to skip.
But just because someone fits your ideal client demographics description, it doesn’t mean they’re an ideal client for you. I visualize the ideal fit discussion in two sections: Demographic fit, and Circumstantial fit.
Demographic fit is just what it sounds like. By all indications, clients matching all of your demographic criteria should be a good fit. But what is Circumstantial fit? The client could check every box in your Demographic fit list, but circumstances still indicate it would be unwise to engage.
Why include Circumstantial fit as part of the overall client evaluation?
There’s no shortage of guidance around Demographic fit. Coming up with your own list of Circumstantial fit questions is equally important.
There’s plenty of work out there.
Why be unhappy or resentful when you could just as easily find work and clients you love?
Here are 9 questions not for potential clients, but for you. Formulating answers will help you evaluate responses during initial conversations, and do a better job of pre-qualifying potential clients.
1. How flexible are you willing to be regarding timeline?
Even if they are the perfect Demographic fit, if the client needs a new site in two weeks, and you’re booked for the next two months, that’s a potential deal-breaker.
If the client really wants you, they might wait, but that’s not always an option.
- Are you willing to take rush projects? Would you charge extra?
- Are you willing to re-prioritize your workload in order to take on a highly coveted client?
- Are you willing to extend your working hours to finish this project on time?
2. How flexible are you willing to be regarding price?
If client expectations about the price range are far below yours, where do you draw the line?
- Are you willing to offer a discounted price to get the job, even if it means reducing profit?
- Are you prepared to suggest a phased, scaled-back approach, with hopes that more work can be done in a few months?
- Are you willing to trade services to offset a budget difference?
3. Are you willing to engage in a lowest-bid competition to land a project?
If I learn the client is running a bidding war, I gracefully bow out. I already know mine won’t be the lowest proposal. My approach: “You can’t be the best and the cheapest at the same time.”
Are you willing to:
- Low-ball your estimate to win a bidding war?
- Disclose up-front that you don’t engage in low-bid competitions?
- take a lower-paying project that steals time which could be applied to a more profitable project?
4. Are you a purist working in only one platform?
If you’re a WordPress expert, you may think you’d never even talk to someone requesting a Joomla site. But if they fit all of your other criteria, a discussion is worthwhile in case one of you is willing to consider alternatives.
- Will you only work on a single platform?
- Are you willing to learn another platform to land an otherwise-perfect fit client?
5. Is client location a concern?
I prefer taking clients in my major metropolitan area. I like being close enough that we could conceivably meet other than on Zoom, and love helping my clients network with each other.
It’s my policy, so I can allow a rare exception when it makes sense.
One long-term local client suggested his brother contact me about redesigning his website. While the brother lives in another state, I was willing to talk with him given the existing relationship. We hit it off and now both brothers are long-term clients.
- Do you limit clients by geographic constraints?
- In which cases would you consider making an exception?
- How far apart can timezones be, where you still find a comfortable overlap for meetings?
6. Do you evaluate clients for strategic positioning within your portfolio?
If you specialize in a niche market, at some point you could be approached by an existing client’s competitor. If they’re not in the same geographic area, it may not matter, but with so many online businesses, it very well could. If they’re in the same area, it could be a conflict of interest if you’re simultaneously trying to optimize SEO on both sites for the city name or other local factors.
Since so much of my work is local, I avoid taking direct competitors as clients. In addition, I actively volunteer on local political issues and campaigns. It would be unethical to accept website projects for opposing candidates, and I’ve turned down work on this basis.
- Do you have a policy about not accepting clients when there is a conflict of interest?
- If you would consider potentially competing clients, would you notify both clients? If so, what would you say?
7. Are you focused on short-term or long-term work?
Most web pros prefer long-term engagements. Short-term projects without opportunity for ongoing maintenance or additional projects mean more marketing and sales to replace them in your pipeline.
In addition to Care Plan commitment, my ideal-fit clients have additional billable work for me, such as content creation, social media, newsletter, or print collateral. A short-term project doesn’t rule out a client, but I’d rather invest the time in a client with long-term potential.
- What is your definition of “long-term?”
- Would you consider short-term projects, even if there is no long-term work with this client on the horizon?
8. Would you turn down a client based on your perception of their business skills?
There are also red flags you may not discover during the Demographics fit discussion, especially if that first screening is in the form of an online questionnaire. There are no easy questions to ask clients to get answers on these topics, until you’re having a discussion.
Would you turn down a client if they...
- Have an unethical or unstable business model?
- Can’t clearly articulate their business or site goals?
- Don’t seem to be on board with your expectations around payment, communication, and day-to-day engagement?
9. Would you turn down a client based on interpersonal skills?
In addition to the definable characteristics, I listen closely to how the client speaks about their project. Seemingly casual statements can foreshadow potential issues down the road.
Would you turn down a client if they...
- Vocally expressed opinions indicating you’re on opposite ends of the political spectrum?
- Appear to have poor communication skills?
- Have what you consider an offensive sense of humor?
- Say they “want the best” but also say they have a very limited budget?
- Perceive cost to be a burden (as opposed to an investment) and ask “how much will this set me back?”
- Start the conversation with a barter offer?
- Promise visibility in lieu of payment?
- Say “I don’t know how to describe what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it?”
What if you discover a Circumstantial bad-fit situation?
If it’s not the right fit, I recommend orchestrating a graceful exit as soon as possible. There’s no point in wasting either party’s time.
- If I can confirm a solid reason for rejection, I’ll do my best to explain it so the client knows why. If it’s an item related to interpersonal skills, I may avoid direct confrontation or embarrassment, and just say “Sorry, I don’t think this is going to work out.”
- If there’s a logical opportunity to make an exception, I’ll consider it — but I never feel obligated. I might tell the client I have a concern, need to consider the options, and will get back to them.
- If the client is someone I’d like to work with but can’t due to Circumstantial fit, and I can suggest another web pro I trust, I’ll offer to make a referral. I’ll say “I can’t take the project, but let me check with some trusted peers, to see if they’re available.” I never want to send referrals without first checking the person has the bandwidth to take on new clients.
Before speaking with potential clients, it’s critical to have a clear understanding of the topics on which you’re willing to compromise. Starting with a self-questionnaire clarifies your boundaries, leading to better preparation before Discovery Sessions or other preliminary “is this a good fit” conversations.