What Does “Busy” Mean?
For most WordPress freelancers, business is good. And for some, it’s almost too good. When I was at PressNomics recently, I spoke to lots of WordPress freelancers who all said the same thing:
I’m very busy, business is great! Just too much to work on…you know the deal.
But at every conference or WordCamp, I also overhear a lot of complaints about clients changing the brief mid-project, dragging their feet on content deadlines, or generally frustrating the creative process.
So I have to wonder, is it good to be “busy”—if that means more stress and less creative fulfillment? I don’t think so. I think the problem is this: a lack of focus and positioning at the front end of the client relationship.
A New “Busy”
My idea of “busy” is working with clients I like, on projects that excite me, and for the fees I deserve. I have consciously wound back the number of projects I accept each year and, at the same time, have been increasing my fees.
This has been a conscious decision and has been achieved through some strategic thinking about how I am perceived by my prospects before they become clients.
So here are 7 things that I have tried and tested that I believe have helped position me as a premium consultant in the eyes of my customer.
1. Qualify Incoming Leads Before You Speak to Them
Ask your prospect to fill in a simple website briefing form that will give you the information you need to make an informed decision about whether or not they are a good fit for your business.
I have this setup on my website and a simple canned response email that I send to any incoming lead. This one simple idea saves me hours every month as I no longer need to get on the phone with someone and spend 30 minutes finding out they have no budget and no clear focus.
2. Ask Better Quality Questions than Anyone Else
There are two reasons to ask good quality questions. First, it will tell you a lot about your prospect and how committed they are to the project. Second, it will highlight to your prospect how much you care about their success.
The best quality question you can ask is “why?”
Why are we building a website? Why have you approached me? Why are we using the internet at all?
Asking these questions will probably feel a bit awkward, and that’s okay.
3. Define Success Measures and Budget
The more you can understand about your prospect, the more chance you’ll have of forming a symbiotic relationship (yes, I just used the word “symbiotic”), or going your separate ways before you invest too much.
Ask your prospect to explain, in detail, what a successful website strategy looks like in 12 months time. Then go wide and deep on those answers to fully explore them.
In other words, get as much down on paper as you can at a high level and then get as much detail as you can on the most important success factors. This process should reveal things about the business that could be critical to the success or failure of the project.
Also establish at this point what kind of budget your prospect has allocated to bring this vision to life. Allocated—not maybe, or we’ll find it, or we’re having discussions—allocated. You can do this very easily in the website briefing form. Oh, and this should feel a bit awkward too.
4. Understand the Role of the Proposal
This is where I see so much waste in the freelance-consulting world. Have an initial meeting, spend hours crafting a proposal and then pitch it over the fence, cross your fingers and hope for the best. Even worse, a week later you put in a call to “see if there have been any developments” or “get some feedback” on the proposal.
If you absolutely have to submit a proposal (and most times you don’t), you need to understand the role of the proposal. The proposal is usually the prospect’s way of making you feel like you’re in with a chance and delaying the inevitable awkward conversation about budget. You can mitigate this by establishing budget in the website briefing form (see above).
Sometimes, however, the proposal might be used by your prospect to win over other decision makers in the process. In this case, a proposal can be your opportunity to help your in-house champion win the job for you.
Ask your prospect what a proposal looks like to them. How many pages? An executive summary for the CEO? Technical details for the IT manager? (Shudder—I hope not). Budget breakdown for the CFO? How much detail do they need to get the rest of the team on side?
Ultimately your proposal should clearly communicate how you propose to solve their problem. It should look, feel and smell like a lifebouy.
5. Do Not Chase Them
Once you’ve had an initial conversation or submitted a proposal, resist the urge to follow the prospect up no matter how much you need the work.
It’s like calling someone after a date to ask for feedback. Was I polite at dinner? Did you like my clothes? Did I wear too much cologne? It’s a bit desperate and very unattractive.
I like to drop them into a bucket that triggers a drip campaign of personalized emails, which educates them over a period of time about online strategy with specifics to their project. You can use MailChimp to do this or setup some pre-written emails and schedule them in Gmail with Boomerang.
This is much stronger positioning and will entice them to chase you.
6. Do Not Discount
This is a no-brainer but it’s worth mentioning because I still see it happening all the time.
If you quote a prospect $10K for a website and they balk at the price, your instinct might be to drop the price—especially if you need the gig. The problem with this approach is twofold: first of all their perception is that there is a lot of fat in the price you can trim, so effectively you were inflating your price to begin with. Secondly, if you can trim 10% of fat, why not 15%? Why not 25%? Where do you draw the imaginary line?
Chris Lema has written a lot about the dangers of discounting. My approach is to suggest scaling back their success factors to fit the budget. That is usually a very short conversation.
7. Have an Opinion
Finally, one of the most effective things you can do to start attracting higher quality clients is to form an opinion and express it often.
There is something super-attractive about someone who is comfortable enough in their own skin to state what they believe in with conviction, even if you don’t agree with them.
Shane Pearlman, Chris Lema, Adii Pienaar and Carl Hancock are four WordPress personalities I respect immensely (and I don’t agree with everything they say), because they are prepared to communicate what they believe in and why.
They are anything but boring. They speak for those who haven’t found their voice yet and they spark debate, which is healthy. Discover what you believe in and publish it. Just don’t be beige.
Are You Still Busy?
I believe there is a better way to be busy. It means adding deeper value to those clients and projects you are best suited for and flipping the rest.
It means getting clear about who you serve best and focusing on serving them better than anyone else. It means saying no more often to those prospects who don’t respect your process or whose budget doesn’t add up.
It may also mean fewer projects a year and more time to do the things you love.
How do you intend to make your busy better?
Troy Dean is co-founder of Video User Manuals and WP Elevation, the world’s 1st business accelerator program designed specifically for WordPress consultants. He speaks regularly at WordCamps and is also a professional musician and voice over artist.