How to Reel in Clients Without Landing a Stinker

Jesse Petersen Speaking WordCamp Orlando 2013One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced as a solopreneur is quality client acquisition. Thankfully it’s not something that is still a challenge because of the mistakes I’ve made and the adjustments I’ve been agile enough to change who can refer to me as their WordPress guy.

I was honored to speak at WordCamp Orlando and presented on the topic that is the title of this post. My goal was to help people identify six different types of clients as early in the process as possible to avoid some of the trials I’ve been through. This is the first in a 7-part series, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any of them.

Six Types of Clients

Without watching the video and the lengthy but amazing Q&A, here are the six types of clients I’ve been quickly able to identify within one or two exchanges and nearly every first call (for those that go that far). They are:

  • the noob
  • the rescue
  • the know-it-all
  • the “Client from Hell” candidate
  • the cheapskate
  • the dream client

As you can tell from that list, it’s critical to determine a couple of those types immediately.

Here is the talk and discussion in its entirety. I’ll be writing on each type in the posts that follow to expand on each but I’d like to go ahead and discuss red flags below the video since that is separate from the specifics of the types of clients.

Beware Red Flags

Red card!Over the years, I’ve become much more in tune to my “Spidey Sense” to the point that I have lowered the threshold for a red flag to where my yellow flags used to be. My wife has said that I boot potential clients too fast, but my goal isn’t more clients for the sake of numbers. My goal is to have as many dream clients as I can handle.

Right now, I have at least a dozen dream clients. Some of them are harder to recall than others because they are both completely autonomous when we’re not making improvements and they don’t mess anything up. They pay on time, respect my time and experience, and we get along great. More on that in the last post of the series.

I used to have a 2 or 3 yellow flags limit and sometimes I’d even overlook a red flag. Those, in particular, usually came back to bite me. If you haven’t been afraid of losing your good name and getting some baseless lawsuit, you haven’t had a crazy client that you regretted allowing the process to continue because you thought, “I’ll be able to make this work with my charm and excellent communication skills.”

As time went on, I upped my standards to create this formula:

2 yellow flags = 1 red flag = not going there.

Of course, nothing is simple

Now for the tricky part, what about after the first few e-mails and the first call or two? What if that’s when you realize they are going to be a challenge?

I’ve got one client right now who has officially put himself in my dream client category, but it started out pretty good (if not a good bit better than that based on our first contacts). As the project moved on, the WordPress install wasn’t jiving and something was fishy about the whole thing.

My Spidey-Senses were going wild a bit too late in the process. I started to lose sleep and my appetite for a couple of days. I started working on other projects and avoiding the situation.

Finally, I went out on a limb and expressed my concerns about what was being asked and why because it didn’t quite match what I was seeing in the dashboard. I was so bothered by what I was seeing that I quietly asked two of my closest developer friends if they agreed with my concerns and the¬†consensus¬†was worse than my own assessment.

His reply was quick and appreciative that I cared enough to voice my concerns. It turned out that the previous developer actually was a crack addict (how many times do you hear that and it be a sad truth?). He did the work $50 at a time to support his habit, so what I was seeing was the work of a bonafide crackhead. Now, we have great calls and lots in common once I was able to get past that hangup. He’s fed me at least 5 new projects to work on together and we love what we do and who we serve.

Red flags are a grey area

The bottom line in that case is that if I’d seen that stuff in the first contact, I’d be gone. I’ve run faster than that dozens of times. On the flip side, look at the effort it took to clear things up: an exchange that can go either way and turn into that ugly mess that strikes fear of a request for refund or worse.

That makes all of these following posts on the initial interactions guidelines that I follow. Just like in fashion, once you know the rules, you can break some and get away with it. Ignore several at your own peril. Yes, I often have to change one or more items before leaving the house – I don’t know those rules that well.

When have you ignored a red flag and it bit you? Have you ever been glad you didn’t throw a red flag?

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  1. David Parsons says

    Great talk Jesse! A lot of great points! I’m looking forward to seeing you at the next WordCamp!

    • says

      Thanks, David. How’s it gone after our little talk in the hall at Orlando? Did you bump it up on a call after that? I won’t be at Miami, but I should be at Orlando and Tampa (when it happens), since I’m on the Tampa planning committee.