5 questions freelancers should ask potential clients
Freelancing can often be a bit of a guessing game when it comes to working with clients, but it doesn't have to be. It is very important to have a clear picture of the clients needs, expectations and most importantly resources (i.e. budget).
Simple things like knowing how much to charge or how long a project could take, are much much easier when you know the clients budget and time-frame.
Knowing the right questions to ask potential clients will help you achieve a stress free working relationship and make any project run smoother from the start.
What are the key goals of this project?
Scope creep. It is a KILLER. It catches so many freelancers out and is not a nice situation to be in. You can end up in a situation where you are working for free, doing endless "extra" tasks that weren't discussed when the project started. You struggle to say no, because the client has a large portion of the project still to pay and you don't want to annoy them. Sound familiar?
Having crystal clear goals of a project prevents this. Let me give you an example:
Option1: We need a website for blogging.
Option2: We need a Wordpress website, with a pre-developed theme. A plugin to allow us to write blog posts and a contact form.
You can see how Option1 could lead to scope creep. What is included in a "website for blogging?". Option2 however has very clear defined goals that are not open to interpretation.
If the example client above comes back and says, "I thought the website would have had comments built in". Looking at Option2 it is very obvious that comments were not a goal.
This is exactly why you need to ask the client and agree what the key goals of the project are. That way everyone is on the same page in terms of what to expect.
What is your budget?
I come across a lot of posts online which say it's unprofessional to ask a client a budget. I could not disagree more.
Firstly, it immediately stops the "Sorry, but that's too much" response after you spend days writing a proposal. It allows you to know if the client has the budget for the project they want done. If they have far too small a budget for your services you can very quickly let them know and not waste each others time.
If they have a sizeable budget it allows you to craft a much more complete proposal with options. Most of the proposals I write these days have different brackets of what is achievable for each level of a budget.
Just because a client has $x amount of money to spend, does not mean that's the exact amount a proposal should equal. Offer differing levels of your service at a lower/medium and high amount within their budget. This will let the client know they have options, and know what can be achieved for differing amounts.
This will actually make the client much more comfortable as they can easily see what is achievable for their budget.
Lastly, it stops you low balling yourself.
Sometimes you think a client has a small budget so you lower your costs a little just to get a project, and in the end it turns out they had a perfectly sizeable budget. Don't let this happen. Always ask what a clients budget is.
What is the deadline?
This is a very important question as it usually impacts how much a project will cost. Can you take your time, or does it have to be done ASAP. Both those options will usually be charged differently.
Sometimes projects have a very FIXED deadline, like a specific date. Other times they will have X amount of days/weeks/months as a time-frame. Knowing if the deadline is flexible or not is also very important.
You will also come across clients who don't have a deadline. This is usually bad. Having a date which you are both targeting is very important to help keep a project moving along. If no deadline is set, a client can sometimes start to delay certain parts of the project. For example, say you need an image for a new website. I have been in situations were a client has taken weeks to provide important resources to keep a project moving along.
Having a deadline, even loosely, will prevent this situation.
Has any work been done on this project?
This question is super important, here is why. Sometimes you will be offered a project that a client has already tried to get completed with another freelancer, but didn't finish it (for many reasons). This then means you are expected to inherit the work done or salvage it.
Working with a partially completed project or salvaging an attempted project is never easy and it's important to know that you might be expected to do that before writing a proposal.
You need time to examine what has already been done to know the next steps forward. Don't let yourself get blind-sided when you get a project for a "new website" and once started the client says "here is some work I have already had done". I have been in that situation, it's never easy and it's never fun.
On top of this, if a client says that they have had work partially completed on a project that they want you to take over. Always ask what happened the original freelancer. Many reasons exist that the original freelancer is no longer working on a project, but in my experience this situation is usually always a red flag. If you want to learn more red flags that a project could be bad, I wrote a post on that here. A freelancer leaving a partially completed project (in my experience) is usually because of a disagreement. It could be over skill, deadlines or budget, but whatever the reason I would proceed very cautiously.
If you can speak to the previous freelancer and everything was amicable - great, otherwise I would carefully consider the project.
Will this project need ongoing maintenance?
Retainers (a fee paid upfront every month for your services) are in my opinion the ultimate goal to an easy life as a freelancer. It will smooth cash-flow, makes planning projects easy and stops you having to hunt down new work all the time.
Getting a client to a stage where they feel comfortable on a retainer takes time, therefore it's important to start sowing the seeds at the very first stages of working together.
Identifying if a client has a need for ongoing maintenance once the initial project is completed is the first stage of that. Will their website need updating monthly? Will they need someone always available to make changes or tweaks? These are all things you should be considering and be asking them so they are aware you are available on a more ongoing basis.
These days all my clients are on a retainer, and many of them took months if not years to get to that stage so you should start aiming towards that goal as soon as possible with each client.
Obviously a client might not need more work done once the project is complete, and that's completely fine. Knowing who will and won't, will help you identify who might be a good candidate for a retainer client going forward.