Preparing for your initial client assessment interview

“Don’t try to be what you’re not. If you’re nervous, be nervous. If you’re shy, be shy”. - Adriana Lima

So now you have your questions, it’s time for the Initial Client Assessment. Connecting with a potential client over the phone can be a nerve-racking encounter. Even if you’ve done it before, the onset of nerves and racing thoughts can be overwhelming. However, these early discussions are fundamental to the success of your proposals. Let’s learn how to ace them!

The Overeager Creative

When I first started out as a freelancer, I’d get a lot of these “Dear Designer” emails that sprouted up in my inbox. My immediate response was always to race to answer it and beat everyone else to it. Of course, part of the reason was that I needed the work but after a while I realised it was a waste of my time.

Before we go any further and, in case you’ve never seen a “Dear Designer” email, here’s an example. I’m sure something similar exists in every creative sector:

Dear Designer,

I was searching for web designers when I came across your portfolio. I really like your work and I’d love to get a quote from you for my upcoming project. I’m looking for someone to help me redesign my current web site which is looking pretty dated. Here’s a little info about what I need:

  • Redesign of current site:
  • Should include:
    • Portfolio/gallery page
    • Contact
    • About
    • Home
    • Be responsive
    • Have links to my social media accounts.
    • Look amazing ;)
    • Be live by the end of the month

I’m not sure what this should cost, so I’ll be talking to several designers. I’d love to get a price from you as soon as possible.

Thanks, A potential new client

Back in the day I would have sprinted to my desk, opened up InDesign, whipped out my proposal template and replied as fast as humanly possible. I used to write a boilerplate “job spec”, fill in the line items and have the whole thing sent out before lunch. I WANTED THAT JOB!!

Obviously, there were a bunch of other freelancers competing with me. And, of course, they were all sending out their proposal templates at breakneck speed leaving little more than the final price to help distinguish one web designer from another.

The realisation that I was just another designer struggling to set myself apart was both frustrating and depressing! So, what should you do instead? How can you show that you are different? What can you do to stand out?

Start by getting a deep understanding of your client's requirements. The email above does not provide anywhere near enough detail or nuance for you to understand the project properly. Even if you were chosen for your competitive pricing, the end result might not meet the client's expectations due to a lack of understanding of what the deliverable should look like. Reach out to the client and get a feel for who they really are and what they really want.

Get on a call and talk

Email is great for transactional communication but there’s no substitute for a face to face chat. Talking to clients is not old-fashioned. It’s how any successful project starts. The more time you spend talking to your client, the more you will understand what their goals are, what is most important to them and how they expect your deliverable to be. Plus, you get to know the person and the business. Creating a rapport greatly increases your chances of sending a winning proposal.

The last thing you want, though, is to be engaging in an email exchange just to schedule a zoom call, particularly if time zones are involved. Instead make sure you have a calendar booker such as SavvyCal your scheduling process. Your clients may even be grateful for a smooth experience and a friendly reminder they have booked a call with you.

Make sure to include your Zoom, Teams or Google Meet link in the invite - there’s nothing worse for you or your client to be scrambling around trying to find the link just before the call is scheduled to start. If you really want to show off, include a brief outline of the call inside the invite. Something these lines:

  • Intros - 5mins
  • Project Background - 10 mins
  • Project Scope - 5 mins
  • Design Experience - 5 mins
  • Closing questions - 5 mins

Remember the longer your meeting is the harder it will be for the client to find a slot. Keep the first call short and to the point. Half an hour is plenty of time to make a great first impression and get them hooked! If you both need more time, don’t panic, you can agree to extend or book a follow up call which gives you a chance to reflect and prepare to seal the deal.

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Next chapter

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.
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