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.

Proposals are fundamental to the success of any new client project. Without them you have no clear objectives. You also have nothing to measure your success against. Perhaps more importantly, without a proposal your client has no idea whether you understand their problem.

But before you get anywhere near a proposal, you need information, and the only person who can give you this information is your client. So be sure to ask the right questions…

In today’s post we’ll look at 10 questions you should ask in your next client interview. Your client’s success depends on it… And so does yours.

1. Why Do You Need This New Product or Service?

It’s common for a client to come to you with a request to create a new website, deliver a redesign, update their codebase, or write up some new marketing copy. But on many occasions they give little to no information about the reasons behind their request.

Knowing why a client is beginning a project can change everything. You may be surprised what lies beneath. It could be something as simple as an offhand remark made by a friend that turned into insecurity. Or it could be that they haven’t updated their branding in years. The reasons they give may be skin deep, but it’s a great place to start digging.

2. What Is This Problem Going to Solve for You?

If you’re not solving a problem, why are you talking?

Your client needs to be sure that the work you do will improve their business. While working on projects without a clear focus will pay the bills for a while, it won’t establish you as a leader in your field (pro tip: leaders command higher fees). If you want to be the go-to person for “X”, then you need to make sure your work improves people’s businesses.

This question can also open up further discussion if your client hasn’t thought too much about the root of their problem. They may simply be reacting to a comment made in passing and not given a second thought to the reasons behind it. As I’ve said, proposals fail because they fail to communicate understanding. Make sure you and your client completely understand the issues and each other.

3. What Will Happen if This Project Doesn’t Go Ahead? How Will it Affect Your Business?

Again, this goes back to correctly identifying the problem and knowing how you can help. If you have a baseline to start from, then you know what you have to improve upon. For example, your potential client informs you of the following: “We’re currently spending $2,500 a month on advertising and in return we get 5 new signups, each worth an initial $15 a piece.”

The implications run deeper. According to your client, if they continue to acquire customers at such a high cost, they’ll be out of business in 12 months due to lack of funding and a particularly aggressive bank manager. This affects where you should help and tells you exactly what’s at stake. It can also give you an idea of how much your help might be worth to their business.

4. What Results Are You Hoping to See in Your Business When This Project Is Complete?

Is your client looking to make more money, generate leads, increase trial signups, heighten brand awareness, look good in front of the boss, or have more time to spend with the family?

This is where the problem they’ve presented to you and their goals can start to separate. If a client tells you they need to redesign their marketing campaign, you need to know why, right? If they go on to tell you that they’re not getting enough trial users into the system, but then say their goal is to increase revenue, you can see that their goals don’t necessarily relate to the problem they’ve come to you for.

Sure you can increase revenue by adding more users, but there are lots of ways to achieve the goal of increasing revenue. It’s the client who’s suggested getting more users into the funnel. By digging deeper on these initial questions, you’ll uncover all sorts of nuggets. Note down any language, phrases and terminology used by your client. Use the same language your client uses in their proposal. It’s a sure-fire way to hit the ground running.

5. Do You Have a Budget Range in Mind?

This is always a hard question to ask, and sometimes a hard one to answer. Clients are afraid that you’ll max out their budget, whatever it is. But the truth is, if you have no idea what they’re willing to invest, then you may well be wasting your time (and theirs).

As a side note, regardless of a client’s budget I will always include at least one price option that comes in over their budget. Tiered pricing can increase your chances of upselling a client, bring more value to their business and more revenue to yours.

Try framing the question as, “Do you have a budget range in mind? I don’t want to waste your time with some crazy proposal. Are we looking at $5k, $10 to $15k?”

Softening the tone can help a client feel more comfortable in giving out a ballpark figure. Giving a budget range isn’t as scary as a definitive dollar amount. Proposals take time to research and write, so don’t waste time on a client that’s going to say “no” anyway. If you get rejected for being too expensive, there’s only one person to blame.

6. How Will You Measure the Success of This Project?

This question is extremely important! You need to know that you can make the project a success, therefore you need to determine how you can measure a project’s success.

Success can mean many things: More signups, more people on their mailing list, more revenue, a lower churn rate… in fact, it could be anything, as long as there’s a way to measure it.

A healthy ROI doesn’t have to be quantitative either. A qualitative return can be just as valid. You want your client to succeed—and have proof—whatever form that success takes. Get them to tell you how you can succeed.

7. What Concerns You Most About This Project?

There will usually be aspects of a project that worry your client more than others. But why does this matter to you?

If a client is nervous, then it’s your job to put them at ease. Closing a deal is all about identifying and calming fears. If a client doesn’t trust you to cure whatever ails them, then you’ll have a hard time being successful.

This question will also give you insight into what could be some of the underlying problems behind their initial outreach. The more you know about your client, their project and concerns, the better you can advise.

8. What Aspects of Your Current Product or Service Work Well?

A wise man once said “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Knowing what a product or service currently does well is worthy of your attention.

Let’s look at an example: A UX designer is called in to redesign a client’s product. She’s a talented designer and has a great feel for user experience. However, she doesn’t take into account that for the last 12 months her client’s users have been creating reports a certain way—a way which they both like and feel comfortable with. The designer steps in, unifies the entire experience, makes it look fantastic… and unintentionally alienates half of the users in the process.

Be careful. Don’t wreck your client’s product or service in the process of building a new one. Know what works, what doesn’t and why. Forewarned is forearmed.

9. If This Project Could Achieve Only One Goal, What Would It Be?

This is where you find out what really matters. What’s at the heart of all this? It helps your client to really hone in on the problem.

If I was to take Nusii as an example, I’d say our priority is to help creatives win more business with their proposals. Most everything else is secondary.

Every project will have primary, secondary and even tertiary goals. Hitting those goals is of the utmost importance to your client’s business, and yours. Knowing what these goals are can only come from talking to your client.

Be insistent. If they don’t have a clearly defined goal, your job is to do all you can to help them find that goal. How will you succeed otherwise?

10. How Did You Hear About My Services?

This question is often overlooked, but knowing where your clients find you is important for obvious reasons.

If a certain channel is bringing you more leads than another, work it even harder.

If a client came to you via a referral, then you’ll want to thank that person (even if the project doesn’t pan out). If they found you via an article you wrote, a product you created or a Google search, you’ll want to know.

In any case, this question is a quick tool to give you essential information about how you’re connected and regarded in your area of expertise.

Ultimately it’s on you to find out what your client needs. If you go in guns-a-blazing and end up disappointed, you only have yourself to blame.

If you don’t think you can actually improve a client’s business, should you even take on the project? I’d say probably not. But without asking these sometimes awkward questions, it’s impossible to know otherwise.

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Next chapter

How to ask your client about their budget before creating a proposal

Asking the hard question upfront, “What is your budget?” will save all parties involved time, energy, and headache in the future. In this chapter, we ask several of the creative industry’s best and brightest minds how they approach the question of client budget and what they do when a client resists answering that question.
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