The moment arrives: managing the call

Learn the basic rules and principles to help your client interview go smoothly and comfortably as you navigate the hard but necessary questions and discussion.

I’m going to let you into a secret. Meeting clients can be awkward. Other times it can be tense and a lot of the time it just doesn’t feel natural. But do you know what helped me overcome these feelings?

Switching roles.

In a corporate setting, the standard interview process involves sitting in a "hot seat" for approximately an hour and enduring a form of questioning that can feel somewhat like an interrogation. Now, imagine you could be the one doing the questioning. Well, you can! Think about a client interview as an exercise in gauging the suitability of a client for your services. It’s you who explores what they really want and it’s you who decides whether they get to work with you. This subtle shift in mindset can really help to make a difference.

Let’s get practical and share some tips to help any client interview go smoothly:

  • Firstly, approach the meeting as if it were a casual conversation. Typically, people are willing to talk about their challenges and struggles, so you won't need to do much prodding. However, as previously noted, it's helpful to have a set of prepared questions to make sure you cover all the major points. Other than that, allow the conversation to naturally unfold.
  • Secondly, don't forget to record your meetings. I may have mentioned this before and sorry for sounding like a broken record, but it's worth reiterating. Recording your meetings is incredibly valuable. If there's a gap of a week or more between your first meeting and the time you write the proposal, the chances are you’ll forget key information.

By recording your meetings, you'll gain valuable insights into comments that may have been made in passing. You'll be able to identify changes in tone of voice when they discuss certain pain points, and you'll have the added benefit of being able to note the exact language they use to describe their challenges. Framing your response in similar terms will help demonstrate that you understand their situation fully.

That Sticky Question: Discussing Money

We've already touched on the topic of budget, but it's worth emphasizing as it's typically the most awkward aspect of a client interview.

Social norms tell us that asking about money is kind of rude or inappropriate. To remove this sense of discomfort, you can phrase the question more tactfully by requesting a price range instead of an exact budget. For instance, I frequently ask a question along these lines:

What budget range did you have in mind? A ballpark figure is fine. I don’t want to waste your time with some crazy proposal.

Some clients may still be reticent to disclose their budget so you can follow up by asking for a range and making some suggestions

What budget range did you have in mind? A ballpark figure is fine. Are we talking $3-5k, $8-10k or $25k+

Giving a range is a psychological technique which allows your client to place themselves in a bracket without revealing or having to calculate an exact figure. Typically they’ll say, “Well, we’re probably looking at between $5 and $10k, but it depends on X…”.

This is a great starting point. You now know what kind of budget they have and what kind of proposal will fit that. By now you should also know enough about the project to know that it interests you and that you can help.

So what about when a client asks how much you’ll charge? Should you give a quote during the initial call?

We’ll get straight to the point here. The simple answer is no, you shouldn’t.

Revealing the cost estimate too early can be risky. It's understandable to feel the urge to provide a quote and close the deal there and then. Your client would surely love to know too but try to remember that there are still additional steps to determine the final price.

Locking yourself into a price commitment now would be doing both yourself and your client a disservice. Once you’ve pledged something it’s so hard to row back. And yet there's still much you don't know about the project and how you can add value. That's why it's important to record your meetings. Upon listening back to previous conversations, you might uncover different challenges or fresh opportunities that weren’t fully explored in the initial interview. More exploration or clarification may be necessary, so it's best not to rush into any promises.

Sorry to bother you, but…

Many of us freelancers are overprotective of our clients. We believe that they are super busy people who will get angry at getting pestered with all our questions. We don’t want to annoy them and we don’t want to reveal that we have doubts. The last thing we want is that they’ll get cold feet and have second thoughts. And sometimes you’re right to worry but for the most part, it’s good to ask a few questions.

Successful projects require collaboration, and the days of freelancers disappearing into their caves and emerging weeks later with a finished product are long gone. Communication is key, and the more questions you ask now, the fewer surprises there will be later. This will help you and your client work together smoothly from start to finish. It can also show that you are friendly and easy to work with.

Can’t I just send a questionnaire?

Nope. Formal communication methods like email and questionnaires are unlikely to help you build a personal connection with your client. In the world of business, building relationships and trust is crucial. It's just hard to establish trust and rapport with a form, no matter how well-designed it may be.

Moreover, email communication is often devoid of context, making it easy to misinterpret the tone and meaning of messages, which can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts. How many times have you lost your temper with a client after reading a request that used a “tone of voice” you didn’t appreciate? The same request made in person would probably have come across as courteous and maybe even helpful.

Unfortunately, tone and inflection are lost in written communication, making it challenging to convey emotions and intentions accurately. While email, forms, and questionnaires may be useful in some situations, they are not ideal for getting to know your client's needs and building a meaningful relationship with them.

The initial meeting with a prospective client can be intimidating, but with practice, it becomes less daunting. As you develop a routine, you’ll find it’ll become familiar and a good deal less stressful.

Stick to the steps in your process and things will fall into place.

We have to embrace tech and everything it offers but as it advances it becomes more and more important that we understand the true needs of our clients. Working remotely with processes powered by automations means it‘s nearly impossible to achieve this kind of understanding without speaking together face to face or on call.

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Final notes

There’s no way around that client interviews are an essential cornerstone of the successful proposal writing process.
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