Find out what your client wants, and then what they need

A winning proposal starts with the client always, no exceptions.

A questionnaire will help with initial screening, but little else. I find it’s preferable to meet in person, which for me means via Skype. If you work remotely as I do, then it’s your only option.

What comes next is an interview with the client, which I call my Initial Client Assessment. It sounds like a big deal, but it’s as easy as getting to know someone. Talk, talk some more, and then talk some more again. Just make sure it’s your client who’s doing the talking. The longer you can engage a client on their favourite topic— that of themselves and their business—the more insight you’ll have into their goals and expectations.

There are many reasons why it’s worth making this in-depth Initial Client Assessment a regular part of your proposal process. Probably the most important one for you is determining if your expertise is a good match for this client’s needs. You don’t want to waste time reeling in a job, landing it, and then discovering that you’re going to be miserable or the client is going to be unhappy when it’s completed.

So what should you be looking for, what should you be asking? It’s not always easy to start from scratch, so I’ve put together a list of questions that will help you get the ball rolling.

Remember, these questions are only a starting point. The answers can take you anywhere. If the conversation goes in a direction you hadn’t anticipated, that’s okay. You want to get to the core of the client’s problem. So ask questions, but above all, actively listen.

Here’s a list of starter questions you can use for your Initial Client Assessment:

  • Tell me a little about your business. What do you do?
  • Why do you need this website/app/service?
  • What problem is this project going to solve for your business?
  • What will happen if this project doesn’t go ahead? How will it affect your business?
  • What results are you hoping to see in your business when this project is complete? What do you want to achieve? Be as specific as possible.
  • Where do you see your business in 12 months after completing this project?
  • What are your goals for this project? Is it to make money, generate more leads, increase trial signups, increase brand awareness or simply annoy your ex- business partner who’s apparently doing so much better than you?
  • What sets your business apart?
  • Why are you looking to start this project?
  • What sort of timescale are you looking at?
  • Did you have a budget range in mind? Are we looking at $5k, $10k or $15k? I don’t want to waste your time with some crazy proposal.
  • How would you measure the success of this project?
  • Do you have any way of measuring your current successes or failures? (Analytics)
  • What do you think might be the hardest part of this project? What most concerns you? What aspects of your current product or service work well? What doesn’t work so well?
  • What are the short-term goals for your business?
  • If this project could only achieve one goal, what would it be?

These questions aim to start a conversation that goes a little further than “When do you need it by??”

You’ll be amazed at what you can learn with just a few simple questions. And don’t think you’re being nosy or too pushy. If a client doesn’t want the best for their project, well… there’s only one solution for that.

Interview Tips

  • I find that it’s incredibly helpful to record client interviews for future reference. Repeating a client’s problems back to them in the proposal—using language they’ve actually used—is very powerful stuff. Be sure to get permission before you record any interviews, however. You don’t want to create any problems for yourself further down the road. I use Call Recorder for Skype, which does a great job.
  • Don’t be afraid to be quiet. Ask your questions and let the client do all the talking… seriously. In fact, if you only say four things during the entire conversation, you’ve probably done a great job!
  • You don’t need to ask all of these questions, so play it by ear. I’ll go into more detail on the whys of some of these questions in a minute.

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10 must-ask questions for your initial client interview

Ensure you are asking your client the right questions so that you clearly understand their challenges, needs, and goals. Establish the basis on which you can provide your client with the best proposal possible, ultimately leading to tangible improvement to their business.
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