(Or whatever sound your phone makes to let you know that your first or next web design client is waiting in your inbox.)
Inquiry received! #MakingItRain
But before you go poppin’ the bubbly and marking that project in actual ink on your calendar, you may want to take a step back and ask yourself, or rather your potential client some questions.
Because no matter how much you need them dollar bills, you need a consultation call to ward off potential future headaches even more.
I know, I know! The consult call is supposed to be all about talking up your mad skills as a designer, but it’s legit just as much about finding out if they are the right fit for you.
While it legit stinks to be turning down extra cash, the quality of your clients as a designer will greatly affect your life and business, so it’s worth you being just a little bit picky.
If you’re constantly taking on projects that you are less than excited about, or downright wish you had run from when you had the chance, it’s going to start showing up in your work.
(So you can say goodbye to that ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review, and to having a portfolio piece you can actually use).
How do you weed out the less-than-ideal-for-you type projects?
You don’t want to wait to find out that your not at all the right fit on some face-to-face Zoom call.
So, to cut down on the number of “it’s not you, it’s me’s” that you have to deliver mid consult call, why not stick some qualifying questions right there in your inquiry or contact form?
We’ll talk dollars and cents a little more later in this post, but one of the most obvious ways to weed out the clients who won’t be the right fit is to throw in a question about budget right out the gate.
Pro-tip: It’s helpful to make this part of your inquiry form a multiple choice question, rather one big free-for-all that’s left open for interpretation. For example:
My budget for my project is…
Oh, and wherever you talk budget, you’ll want to include some indication of scope too, so you know roughly what they expect to walk away with for that price point. Again, multiple choice is your friend here!
I’m looking for…
⦾ A full new website
⦿ A full new website + branding (or other complimentary service you offer)
⦾ A few tweaks to a current site
⦾ A few tweaks to a current site + brand
You don’t need your client’s 10-year business plan or entire life story to get started, but you do want to make sure you’re in the same ballpark on a few things before you move on to the next step of booking a time to chat.
This way, you’ll know what you’re both working with, so you won’t have to talk money the minute you get on the phone, and you’ll be freed up to really get to know your client and their vision.
Did your potential client pass the qualifiers? Great! Onto the next round! (But don’t forget to come prepared to your call with some version of the following questions!)
If you’re jumping on a call with the owner of a business called Sue’s Bakery, it’s prettyyy obvious what her business does, but you still want to hear directly from Sue on this one.
Listening to the way your potential client speaks about their business is a super sneaky yet totally natural way to learn about their personality, the dreams and goals they have for their business, and what sets their business apart.
All of which can be infused into your designs for their project!
Also, your clients may have no clue what features, functions, and integrations they’ll need on their website, so rather than asking “how many pages do you need?” asking what they offer will be a good indication of the scope of the project and the things they may not have known to budget for (but will definitely need to run their biz.)
If they do, what do they like about it? What do they not like about it?
If they aren’t super enthusiastic about their current website, chances are they are probably going to answer “everything” when asked what they don’t like.
But since this doesn’t exactly give you a lot to work with, try having your client screen share while they navigate their current site, so they can show you specifically what is and isn’t working for them.
While you can see their screen, have them show you their favorite websites too! Just be sure to give them plenty of heads up to come prepared with a few links to sites they love so they don’t feel like you’re putting them on the spot!
You’ll probably notice some common themes between the designs they are picking, and you’ll be able to see first-hand where they seem most drawn to on a particular inspiration site.
Oh, and even though you aren’t anywhere near starting the actual design process, talking shop with your potential client can get them dreaming about their future website, and therefore picture what it might be like to work with you to make it happen!
So far, these questions have been for both you and your potential client’s benefit.
But this one? This question is 100% for you and you only. (Well…you and your future sanity.)
Asking about past projects they outsourced will help you to spot the red flags before you sign on that dotted line!
If your potential client tells you an absolutely wild story about their last designer, totally dragging their name through the mud, you can probablyyy guess that there are two sides to that story!
If they have worked with a designer, why the redesign?
If it’s simply because they’ve updated their branding/messaging, no problem. Every business needs a facelift from time to time!
But if it’s because they got into a knock-down, drag-out legal battle with their last designer and their website was never actually completed…well, I’ll let you decide whether you need that kind of excitement (*ahem* crazy) in your life.
Your client may be the one footin’ the bill, but if you’re doing your job right, you’re actually designing this thing for your client’s clients, right?
Asking who it is they hope to serve with this website will be a pretty solid starting-point for the vibe and feel of their finished design.
If you enjoy designing for artists and creatives, but your potential client’s target audience is made up of CEOs from multimillion dollar corporations, the super formal, corporate-y vibe of this project may not be for you…
So even though you are designing the site for your client, it’s really their clients who you would need to keep in mind when creating it.
Say your client wants to travel the festival circuit and sell custom bedazzled, 100% recycled-denim vests. #nichemarket
All they are picturing is a simple online-business-card-type-site for festival goers to easily find their contact info and some deets about where their booth is bound to pop up next.
The design and scope of this particular project will be veryyy different from something like a music school who wants to set up an online student portal, a school newsletter or blog, an events page for all their upcoming recitals, an online store to sell their school swag and lesson books, and a directory of all their staff.
Asking their goals will provide you with a lot more insight than the ol’ “how many pages” one-liner we mentioned earlier.
Your potential client is super stoked to see that you offer a two-week custom website service!
But does this mean you will have a website launched and ready for them exactly two weeks from today?
Or will the project take two weeks total…starting six weeks from now when you actually have an opening? Or when they can get their content together?
I’ll let you decide whether this deadline question needs to be included in your inquiry form or tucked away in your list of booking consult questions, but wherever it lives, your client’s answer to it will usually be pretty make-or-break, so I wouldn’t suggest waiting too long to broach the subject.
Your clients aren’t designers (surprise! That’s why they hired you!) so it’s entirely possible they will assume things like site copy (a.k.a. their website words) and site images just come part and parcel with paying you to build them a website.
The consultation call is a fabulous time to do a little bit of educating on what’s included in your packages, and also for getting a feel for how prepared they are to start working with you.
If they don’t have their website words written, you can try to design with future copy in mind, but not knowing how much text you’ll need space for may put a bit of a kink in your design process.
So now that they know site copy is it’s own deal, what do they plan to do about it?
The turn-around time for client-DIY’d copy is going a lot shorter than if they decide to hire a pro, and rounding up a few stock photos will take no time at all compared to waiting weeks or months for the edits to be ready from a custom brand photo shoot they have planned.
Finding out their plans for providing you with content will inform just how far down the road that project will need to be placed on your books!
You don’t want to be turning away other work while waiting on homework from this potential client!
Bringing this up before you book will also help you feel out the quality of the content they are coming to you with as it will have a huge impact on your final product.
Poorly thought out copy + low-quality images = one sad website… No matter how you much time you spend pixel-pushing and trying to make something out of nothing.
“Wait…isn’t that what I’m paying you to do?”
This is where you make it super clear whether branding is a service you offer, and if so, which packages it is included in.
If they don’t have branding, and it’s not something you offer, they will need to pay to have branding done prior to you building their site since it will pretty much decide color schemes and font styles for you.
If they do already have branding…can you stand it? #IWishIWasJoking
Seriously, consider how this project lends itself to your portfolio for attracting future clients!
You may decide you need the work anyway, and that this particular piece just won’t end up featured in your portfolio, but it is easier to do a good job when you’re excited about the project.
So if the client comes to you with a super dated bit of ClipArt their nephew made them in grade 7 computer class back in 2002, it may be a sign that this project isn’t the right fit for you…OR that they need new branding.
(A fab opportunity for an upsell, if that’s a thing you offer!)
So your packages start at $2,500, but the person inquiring has budgeted $500 max, and unless your potential client is an actual wizard, those numbers are never going to magically match up.
“You’re a wizard Harry!” (…Sorry, couldn’t help myself! )
Back to business now I’m done with my Harry Potter quotes…
Thanks to those pre-qualifying questions you asked, nobody is going to be wasting their time on a consult call that was never going to work out anyways.
If, however, your potential client offers up a number that is close to your price range, it could be a good opportunity to educate them on what they can expect for their money.
‘“For X amount of dollars, we would be looking at my mini design package, which includes XYZ, which doesn’t sound like it covers all the goals you have for your project.
My recommendation would be to go with my Grande package which starts at X amount of dollars, and includes A,B,C,D, & E.)”
It’s entirely possible they just don’t know how much these things cost, and that if you lay out your offerings, they will agree that they are going to need to pay a bit more to achieve their desired result!
If you have just one person (your client) to run decisions by vs. needing approval from twenty-seven board members and their mom, it’s going to change the way the project is handled.
(And the time it takes to complete TBH.)
Even though the higher priced projects tend to come with a few more decision makers, you want to avoid the nightmare of having your project stall out for weeks while you wait on feedback.
Ask who you’ll be working with directly, and be sure to give clear expectations for how many cooks are allowed in the design kitchen both during the consult call and in your contract.
If your potential client is not at all techy, they may just assume they would contact you, the designer, anytime in the future they need to swap out a photo or bit of text.
Do you offer retainer services? Awesome!
Now would be the time to talk about those so that they know what to expect post-launch.
If you don’t want to be stuck on retainer for life, what do you offer instead? Do you refer to an agency with hourly-based freelancers? Do you give access to a library of tutorial videos that help them to make their own changes? Do you teach them how to use their site in a personalized training?
Setting them up for success post-launch could be what sets you apart from other designers, so make sure you’ve thought this through before you jump on your call!