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This is a mega crash-course on attracting clients.

But we’re not just talking about opening the floodgates and getting whatever clients you can. We’re going to show you exactly how to get the kind of clients you actually want.

You’ll learn how to never get another client from hell (warning: the answer is one you won’t like).

From the time a client lands on your website, to closing the deal, getting a signed contract, and getting paid, all the way to presenting the final solution, this episode walks you through each and every step meticulously.

Somehow for such an intense show that’s jam-packed with everything you didn’t learn at school (that you paid good money for) and how to get the clients you want without compromising your process and rates, we still manage to have a ridiculously good time and a lot of laughs.

It’s a fun and fiery show you’ll want (and need!) to listen to again and again just to take it all in—and that’s no exaggeration.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins:
  • Earn trust by providing value and establishing a relationship before the client is even interested in hiring you.
  • Specializing in one thing doesn’t mean you can’t work with clients who produce something different.
  • Taking on the wrong type of client is never going to lead to the right type of client.
  • The goal is to attract the right clients, not convert the wrong ones.
  • Filter with your questionnaire—filtering lets in the good clients.
  • Potential clients that aren’t serious aren’t going to take the time to answer your questions.
  • Educate your clients before they get to you.
  • Your results require your process—there is no result without the process.
  • Money does not matter to the client—the project should be about value.
  • Price according to the value that you’re creating.
  • Don’t expect the client to read through all the terms. It’s unprofessional for you not to explain your contract in plain English.
  • If you’re thumping the contract then something went wrong.
  • The client is responsible for two things only: content and goals.
  • Taking responsibility is about providing more value to the client, not restricting their ability to operate in the relationship.
  • Professionals seek to acquire responsibility.
  • Instead of asking a client for their business, provide value for them.
Show Notes
  • 03:08 Sean: A lot of people have problems with starting the relationship with their client off on the right foot. They’re trying to get the kind of client they want, but they keep running into issues. If you had set all the right pieces in the beginning, laid the foundation, communicated, and set expectations, you’d be in a better spot. You have to lay the groundwork.

Build Trust

  • 04:58 Ryan asks, “How can I best explain in early conversations how my service will bring them increasing value over time, and that it is worth paying for? Specifically for me, I want to help companies make weekly videos that help their customers, and in explaining this value it’s important to note that they have to be prepared to make videos for at least one year before they see significant engagement and possible returns. There’s a lot of trust necessary there up front.”
  • 05:26 The number one thing, that’s probably understated by me, is that you have to have trust in the beginning. We talk a lot about professionalism, responsibility, and setting expectations, but it’s all built on a foundation of trust. The client has to come to you because they’re trusting your expertise.
  • 05:50 Ben: I had a phone call yesterday from our local Fox News station trying to sell me an ad for their website. At first, I was polite, and I said, “No thanks, I’m not using traditional advertising for the services I offer,” but he kept pressing. I wasn’t rude, but I told him that traditional advertising wasn’t going to get me the clients I want. I would get clients looking for a service, see that my company provides a service, maybe click on my link, and they might read about what I do briefly and then decide to hire me. That doesn’t lay a foundation for trust. Trust is something you have to build over time; it’s something you have to earn. That’s the problem with traditional advertising. It tries to circumvent the trust relationship.

You earn trust by providing value and establishing a relationship before the client is even interested in hiring you.

  • 07:15 Sean: The reason traditional advertising can work is because, for some people, an ad can solidify the Magic of 7. People need to hear things seven times; it takes seven times for something to resonate. Maybe, over time, they read six different blog posts or watch videos, then they see your ad and they think, “Okay, I’ll give them a call.” Then the advertising people say, “See, it works!”
  • 07:43 Ben: Traditional advertising can be part of your strategy, but it should not be your only strategy.
  • 07:51 Not in this age. Building trust is the first thing. The way you build trust is by establishing yourself and showing your expertise, that you know how to do the work you’re trying to get people to hire you to do. That comes with content. When it comes to attracting clients, content should be in the form of a portfolio, case studies, and blog posts. A portfolio shows clients how you work and work you’ve done in the past. Case studies tell a story of a project that the client can envision themselves in. The client is smart. They’re not saying, “I don’t own a bakery and you’re talking about a bakery,” they’re substituting their specialty wherever you talk about a bakery.
  • 08:44 They’re wondering how it would look for them to be in this picture. I’m talking to designers right now but it works for anyone. If all you have is a grid of images, that’s not telling a story. That doesn’t tell your client how you work, what they need to know as a client, what they’re bringing to you, what you’re handling, what you’re responsible for, and how you’ve helped people like them in the past. They want to see themselves in your story.
  • 09:20 Ben: Testimonials can be another way to do that if you’ve worked with enough clients. It’s a form of trust-building because it’s social proof. People are seeing other people talk about their personal experience with your service or product and that can be very powerful. Testimonials can work in conjunction with case studies. Not only do you have a case study, but now you’ve also got a picture of the CEO of that company that you did the service for on your website talking about the great experience they had and what it meant for them monetarily.
  • 09:59 Sean: Kyle says, “I’ve had a potential client that wouldn’t actually substitute their specialty. They said my case studies weren’t in their industry so they couldn’t trust the process.” Okay, pass on them and move to the next client. Stick to your guns; stick to your specialty. I talk on this podcast primarily with a background in design and some people are smart enough to design for whatever they’re working on. A lot of people listening aren’t designers, but this stuff is applicable to other fields. Some people are smart enough to do that; some people aren’t.
  • 10:52 The nice thing is that Kyle is curating and because he’s being very specific, he’s going to attract people to him for his specialty. Just like Tommy in the Community, who has decided that not only is he going to focus on logo design, but he’s going to focus on craft brewery logo design and branding. If I’m that, I want this guy. He has a specialty. What if I sell wine or soda? I could look at what he’s doing, see that he’s not in my industry, and move on to find someone who specializes in soda branding.
  • 11:35 Ben: You could go further than that. What if you’re the promoter for a band, and you want someone to put together a flyer that has that kind of craft beer logo design look? Any number of different industries can look at your style, and if they feel confident in the work you do or feel like it will add value to whatever they’re doing, then nothing’s going to stop them from seeing the value of working with you.
  • 12:10 Sean: You’ll get people reaching out saying, “You do branding for breweries? I do this. I don’t know if you want to take me on, because it’s not that, but I thought I would ask because it looks like you’re really specialized in this and you do a really good job. I thought this might be up your alley.” You have an opportunity there.
  • 12:30 Ben: Depending on what kind of workload you have or whether or not you want to take on that project, because it would be a deviation from what you are trying to curate and specialize in, you could pass on it or you could take it on and not put it in your portfolio.

Specializing in one thing doesn’t mean you can’t work with clients who produce something different.

  • 12:57 Sean: Kyle says, “It was a pass, I was just pointing out that it exists and I was surprised.” There’s going to be people who come across you and won’t trust you because they don’t want what you specialize in; it’s not a guarantee. Curation isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get every single person. Some people can take that mental leap and some people can’t. You’ll get the people you’re targeting and you’ll get some of the people who are able to make the mental leap.
  • 13:28 Ben: In the preliminary process—talking about your design process, your values, and what you will and won’t do—if you pick up on a lack of trust based on how the customer is communicating with you, is that something you should walk away from or do you try to address that directly with the customer? Should you try to clarify with the customer, pointing out that they seem hesitant and offering to clarify or answer questions, or is that indicative of a lack of trust you won’t be able to overcome?
  • 14:28 Sean: The main thing with building trust is that you want to overwhelm people with informational value that pertains to your specialty. You want to find things you can relate to your focus (Related: e181 How to Establish Yourself as a Teacher in a World of On-Demand Education). Even if you think that something isn’t really related and you’re wondering what that has to do with you, that’s the question I want you to ask yourself. What does that have to do with you? What is your relationship to that thing?
  • 15:00 What does billing look like for a logo designer? What does attracting clients look like for a logo designer? What does working with you when you live in the same city look like? What does working with you when you’re remote look like? What does working with you on a logo design look like versus a full branding project, a logo design where the client doesn’t have a website yet, or a logo design where the client has an existing brand that’s been around for 25 years? Come up with all of these. You can get a ton of ideas from this.
  • 15:33 Start writing about this stuff. Writing is how you make a name for yourself. This is the difficult part, because you need to put the information out there, but you also have to have the guts to put a time stamp on your blog posts. They’re going to assume, if they see a recent time stamp on a blog post, that you’re available because your content is fresh. The difficulty with that is that you have to keep it fresh. If the last post is from May 2011, people will assume that you’re just posing and you aren’t taking client work. Keep it fresh, keep it coming. You can think up ideas and create content to help that client trust you.
  • 16:20 Ben: Sometimes the direction we naturally tend to go is a deviation from our specific focus and go more lifestyle or general business concepts. There’s nothing wrong with writing about those things, even though they fall outside of your specialty, but tie them back to your specialty. Make those things that seem unrelated on the surface about the specific thing you do. If you do that consistently, you’re offering the same type of value that people get out of that lifestyle or business article, but it’s catered to your specialty and it’s going to give you more credibility.

Attracting Clients

  • 17:18 Sean: “Do you have any advice for how to start the relationship on the right foot if you’re reaching out to them to offer your services?” Do not reach out to clients and offer your services. You might be wondering what I’m talking about, because you know all these people who need work. We’ve talked before about why you don’t want to approach clients and ask for their business; you want to attract them (Related: e146 Attracting Clients and Positioning the Conversation Around Value & e164 Full Price or Free). Also, consider the Rule of Reciprocity—if you ask somebody for something, you’re indebted to them. You’re essentially asking them for the favor of being your client. When you give a gift, the other person feels obligated to return that gift. The client is giving you the gift of being your client because you came to them with an ask.
  • 18:33 It’s the pop-up on websites. You land on a website, and you’re immediately trying to determine whether it’s a giving page or a taking page. Are they going to provide value to me, or are they going to ask something of me? A pop-up is an ask before they’ve even provided any value. They’re saying, “Give us your email address.” When you’re approaching a client saying, “Will you work with me? Will you be my client?” you are asking them to give something. When they give you the favor of being your client, you’re in debt. You now owe them and the relationship is imbalanced. The goal is to establish yourself as an expert, a professional, and have people approach you. That’s how people are going to come under your process, because they’re in a deferential position. They’re coming to you saying, “I would like the privilege of working with you. What is your process? How does this work? What do you need from me?”
  • 19:33 Ben: I like the idea of trying to out-give in the relationship. In the relationship between you and your client, be the bigger giver. The indebtedness plays itself out in compromises in your process, which leads to not your best work and not the best solution for your client, which potentially even leads to something you don’t want to put up on your website as an example of your work. It’s not that the client is going to maliciously take advantage of their position in the relationship; it’s just a natural tendency.
  • 20:56 Sean: It’s just the rule playing itself out. The client doesn’t know better. It’s your job and responsibility to set the expectations and say what’s going to happen when. When they start off the relationship by giving you the favor of being your client, it throws everything off. They’re thinking, “I already said yes by doing you the favor of working with you, so can’t we just do this?” The reason you feel so awkward is because you tried to fight the Rule of Reciprocity. You have this internal conflict that you may never have been able to articulate, but the reason for that conflict is because you know it’s wrong and unprofessional to change things in the middle of the project and fight the process but you also have a desire to give back.

Be Selective

  • 22:00 Say no more than you say yes. A lot of people are desperate to get clients. A lot of people see a contact submission in their email and their number one goal is to convert this client to what they want. Someone made it into your inbox, so you want to find a way to work with them. What you really should be saying is saying no to nine out of ten clients. Be selective. You must afford to be in the position where you can turn down work. That’s why we have the Overlap Technique (Related: e102 Why It May Be the Wrong Time To Pursue Your Passion). Get a day job. Cover your bills somehow, however you want to do that. Cover your bills so you can afford to be in the position to turn down clients.

Taking on the wrong type of client is never going to lead to the right type of client.

  • 24:57 Tommy says, “Say a potential client reaches out and their initial message makes them seem like a poor fit. Is it worth it to attempt to educate them on your process and turn them in to a good client, or should you just pass on the project and wait for a better fit to come along?” It’s not worth it. It’s simply not. My motivation is to help you and help you save time. I’ve done it the wrong way, and it sucks. 1% of the time, you’re going to convert this client.
  • 25:54 You just said it looks like they’re a poor fit. You know that. Those of you listening know what I’m talking about. You see the contact submission come in, and you can tell it’s not going to be a good fit. If you know, don’t try and convert them. You’re going to get 1% of people to convert if you’re lucky. In my experience, it never ends up working out. You end up regretting it, you end up compromising, and it ends up being a nightmare. Like you said, Ben, you end up with something you don’t even want to put on your portfolio. It’s just not worth it.
  • 26:56 Ben: The better question would be, “How did this client get to me?” If they’re getting to you and they’re a bad fit because they don’t fit your process, how did they get to you in the first place without understanding your process and determining for themselves whether you would be a good fit?
  • 27:26 Sean: I would bet they didn’t type in your Where are they coming from? How did they make it to the point of contacting you? You could ask them point blank, “Hey, how did you find me? What did you see on my site? Why did you choose me? What made you contact me?” You could look at your analytics and see what pages people are looking at before they come to your contact page. Are they looking at multiple pages? How long are they staying on the page? Do you share your process multiple times, or do you just have it on one page and hope they make it there? Are you reiterating that process in all of your case studies? Are you linking to it enough from other pages? Are you establishing your expertise enough? What channels are they coming through? Maybe you shouldn’t make it so easy to hire you. Are people skipping past everything they need to read? Is your process on your hire page as a preliminary to filling out the form?
  • 28:47 Eric says, “Why would you say no more than you say yes if you’re consistently attracting the right kids of clients?” If you’re consistently attracting the right clients, stop listening to this podcast and go make some money. Most people don’t have that problem. I never had that problem.
  • 29:35 Ben: Ideally, if a client comes to you and you can tell they’re not the right fit, that’s an opportunity for you to go through the process that they used to get in touch with you and see how you can weed those out. If you do a lot of that work, eventually you could get to a point where more of the right type of client reaches you than the wrong type of client.
  • 30:12 Sean: If you’re attracting all the right type of clients, still say no to more than you’re saying yes to, and you need to double or quadruple your rates—even ten times your rates. If you’re attracting all the right type of clients, you’re doing something right. You’re in demand, so raise the prices. Work with one client for ten times the money instead of taking on ten of the right type of client and killing yourself. If doubling your prices does not result in losing half your client base, then you win.

Filter With Your Questionnaire

  • 31:10 Why filter? Most people put up a contact form: What’s your name? Why are you contacting me? Just saying hi. I want to hire you for a logo design. They probably want to hire you for a logo, so skip the formalities and ask them the questions you’re going to ask them. The reason people have this basic contact form is because they’re thinking in terms of scarcity. They don’t want to ask a lot of questions up front because they think they’ll get less submissions.
  • 32:08 You don’t want to attract everyone. Get your bills covered so you can stop thinking in terms of Scarcity Mindset. The goal is to build a professional business where you work with clients you enjoy working with, solve problems that matter, charge what you’re worth, and make a real, tangible difference in the bottom line of your clients. You put up the questions you’re already going to ask your client on your contact form to serve as a filtration device.

The potential clients that aren’t serious aren’t going to take the time to answer your questions.

  • 33:13 If they’re going to spend $2,000 or $10,000 with you on a project, don’t you think they could spend a little time filling out details? You spend $15,000 on a car and you spend time in the salesman’s office filling out paperwork. You do your research before going to the lot; you spent hours calling up different shops and negotiating because you’re about to spend money and you want it to be a good investment.
  • 33:46 Ben: What if all of my questions drive a potential client toward one of my competitors who doesn’t have as many questions? Think back to the traditional advertising model: that’s someone who’s looking for a service provider. What you want is someone who’s looking for you because you’ve demonstrated the kind of value you provide.

The goal is to attract the right clients, not convert the wrong ones.

  • 35:11 Sean: This works because filtering lets in the good clients. What’s involved with this filter? Below are some questions I would use for my logo design questionnaire and you can find more in my Learn Lettering Master Class. I know a lot of people listening are into lettering and some aren’t. Lettering is my background, but a lot of this is generally applicable:
  • What does your organization do and why does it matter?
  • 36:10 The “why does it matter” is important, because if you just ask what they do, they can just give you their tagline without thinking about it. Try to dig in a little bit more. They don’t usually have to answer that question. Why are they in business? What is their goal or mission?
  • What is your target audience?
  • 36:43 Some people don’t know this, but it’s really important. You need to know who you’re trying to reach. Your client needs to know who they’re trying to reach. If they don’t know, how can you help them do that? This business is in business because of people; it’s attracting people. “Everyone” can’t be your target audience because that’s not a target. You can’t attract everyone to something. That’s why you’ve got to narrow down. If they don’t know that, they’re not ready to hire a designer or whatever your specialty is.
  • What needs is your target audience bringing?
  • 37:24 If they don’t know that, it’s another red flag. Ask this so you can know how to serve those needs. Are you getting a bunch of clients that fill out this questionnaire who don’t know their audiences’ needs? Don’t offer to do that research for them or go on without it. If people aren’t filling out your questionnaire with good answers, maybe you should write a blogpost about it or include it in your process. Say, “This is the point in the process where we ask you about your business and how you work and what target audience you’re attracting,” and link to a blog post.
  • 38:38 How do I find my target audience and discover their needs? You put out content, get people to contact you, get them to sign up, send them an initial email to ask them what they’re struggling with, or even call them up on the phone. Teach this business how to do that in your blog post. You do the work upfront to educate your clients before they get to you. After they get to you, if they’re the wrong type of client, it’s not worth your time to educate them right there. This is a process. It happens over a long period of time. You just have to put the credits in with your blog post.
  • 40:30 I said to call someone on the phone because this happened to me recently. We signed up for Infusionsoft and it requires you to do a kickstart training that’s a couple thousand dollars and involves hiring a specialist because it’s such a complex system that they won’t let you go in there without knowing how to set things up. We have a specialist that we work with, and in this whole arrangement, I got signed up to his newsletter. I got this email and I showed it to Cory. It’s a jump-start your business and marketing automation vacation destination thing, Come to London or Come to Hawaii, all these different locations. The idea was to come for a couple days and have them focus down on your specific stuff. The target audience for that email was business owners who have money, are overwhelmed and need help with their marketing automation, they understand making investments and getting returns on investments, and probably could use a vacation. It looks really enticing when that vacation could be a business expense.
  • 41:56 You’re thinking, “Yeah, I would spend $1,000 to have someone come help me streamline this stuff and automate it. I could make that money back in a month or two.” If that’s how you think, it’s a no-brainer. It’s brilliant. These people know their target audience. The next day, I get a phone call from someone who works at this firm. They leave me a voicemail asking me how it’s going and noting that I got their email, asking if they could answer any questions. It was totally personalized, very friendly, and a little creepy, but how powerful is that?
  • 42:49 You might think it’s creepy and that you wouldn’t respond to someone calling you like that, but you would be an exception. With 90% of people, it’s all about targeting. If I’m a busy business owner, and someone said, “I want to help you grow your business, make more money, and give you a vacation,” that’s pretty good. Because of the Magic of 7, sometimes I just need to be pushed over the edge. Sometimes I just need that one more reminder, and a personalized phone call could do that. If your client has a business and they don’t know what their target audience is, you can teach them in a blog post how to set up autoresponders, and maybe even call them.
  • 43:43 Ben: I like the idea of teaching your client. If you’re working in design and dealing with clients, you need to remember that although you specialize in something you can also identify other needs and offer other services or at least know someone who does, so you can provide even more value for you client by positioning yourself as a consultant. You’re someone who understands how business works and the needs there, and you may discover through your process that the client needs to do some things before they’re ready for your specific service. If you can show them that, they can realize even more profits and you can charge them more because you’re providing more value. Because you’ve given them the gift of this knowledge, they’re more willing to come under your process to pay you what you’re worth.

Watch Out For Common Red Flags

  • 45:15 Sean: Bryan asks, “If the client doesn’t feel comfortable answering the questions, is it viable to educate them about the importance of it, or is it already a red flag?” It’s already a red flag. They’re either coming to you for your expertise or to use you as a tool, a technician to do their dirty work while they watch and dictate. Don’t try to watch and convert them at the last minute. In theory, they’re coming to you for your results. There’s some element of trust because they saw your work and they want that for themselves. They’re thinking, “I want those results in my business. I saw your case study and I want that for my business.”

Your results require your process.

There is no result without the process.

  • 46:08 Your process is a part of how you come up with the results, and your questionnaire is the first part of your process. It’s how you filter the people coming in, so it’s critical that you have that. People might say, “I saw your big long questionnaire, but I looked up your contact and found your email and thought you might want to work with me, but I just don’t have time to answer the questions.” The questionnaire is a part of your process. You don’t say, “I want your world famous pizza, but you have to make it like I tell you.” That’s ridiculous.
  • 47:11 Jean asks, “After the questionnaire, what are additional questions to gauge if the project is going to be a good fit?” Gabrielle follows up, “What are some common and not so common red flags to watch out for in the beginning stages?” Some red flags to look out for are:
    • Talking about money upfront.
    • Telling you how to work.
    • Telling you they have some ideas and they need someone to execute.
    • If they say, “This is a great opportunity for exposure.”
  • 47:30 If they’re saying, “Hey, I’ve got this much money. Will you do this job for this? This is my budget…” Listen to the Value-Based Pricing series (Related: e145 Getting Started With Value-Based Pricing, e146 Attracting Clients and Positioning the Conversation Around Value, & e147 The Nuts and Bolts of Value-Based Pricing). It’s a can of worms: should you have a rate or should you price on value? Don’t have a budget field on your form because it starts the project off on the wrong foot, which is talking about money to you, the person doing the work. The project should be about value to the client. Money does not matter to the client. They may say, “This is all we have,” or, “This is all we can afford,” but what they say they can afford is not always what they can afford. They’re allocating a certain amount of money to solve what they believe is the problem they want solved.
  • 48:56 If you position yourself as a consultant, and you say, “There’s no budget field on this form because I want to talk about your goals and make sure that we can fit this to your needs. I don’t want to limit this project to some arbitrary budget we have upfront.” They might think, “I want to hire you as a developer to adjust this form and tweak this variable so we can plug this in and do that, and our budget is $500.” A lot of developers will do that. You’re missing out here on a ton of potential revenue. These are the benefits to you on this project, but it’s not just revenue to you—it’s value to the client. Don’t limit a project with a budget field; uncover it first.
  • 49:58 Ask why they’re wanting to do this functionality and these variables. “We just need to be able to do such-and-such on our e-Commerce store.” You say, “Oh, you want to be able to do this so that your customers can come in and do that automatically. But, if you do it this way, it’s only going to work out for this one category, and the next time you update your inventory you’re going to have to update all the numbers. That’s terrible. What we really need here is a more streamlined automated system that will handle all of this more dynamically. We’ll have fields for you in the dashboard where you can just go in, set it, and forget it. From then on, it’s automated forever. If two clients a month come in wanting to do this with a product, imagine that extrapolated out over the next year. We’re talking about thousands of dollars in revenue just this year.”
  • 51:04 See what we just did there? You’re telling them about making thousands or tens of thousands in the next year as a result of this project that has expanded because you’re actually solving the real problem instead of doing what you’re told because they’re stuck on their budget. You’re creating real value. Price according to the value that you’re creating, some percentage or variable of that. You say, “I’m going to charge $2,000, and I think you’re going to make $10,000 to $20,000 easily in the next year,” and that’s a no-brainer to the client. That’s way better than $500.
  • 51:42 Ben: Imagine there’s a business that wants to get into the content marketing game because they’ve read a lot about it and they hear that it’s more effective, but they want to dip their toe in because they’re so used to doing traditional advertising. They say, “We have $1,000 a month we can allocate to content marketing,” if you come in as a consultant and say, “Let’s talk big picture here: what are you trying to accomplish? Is it really going to be effective if you allocate this much? What are you spending on traditional advertising? What is that actually bringing in for you?” It’s likely that $1,000 is just the tip of the iceberg of their actual marketing budget, and if you can show them that if they shift those funds away from something that’s not as effective toward something that’s going to be more profitable, then you could change their tune. It’s not that they’re not willing to do that; they just don’t know, and they need someone to tell them.
  • 53:04 Sean: Brookes asks, “What if they state their budget upfront and it’s higher than what you charge?” You don’t know what you charge because you haven’t gone into the preliminary discussions with the client yet. You haven’t figured out the real problem that you’re solving. You’re taking what they’re saying at face value, asking no questions—which is not professional at all—and you’re assuming you know what you’re going to charge. You shouldn’t know what you’re going to charge. We’re not trying to cheat people. We’re not saying that we don’t want to know their budget because we want to jack up the price; we don’t want to know the budget because we don’t really know the problems we’re solving, so let’s figure those out first and then discover what kind of value this is going to create, and then by proxy what we will actually charge.
  • 53:57 Ben: They may not have that money in their business, but they might own another business and be willing to reallocate some money. If you convince them of the value of their investment, they’ll be willing to take money out of another business and put it toward this thing that they’re enthusiastic about now because you’ve educated them.
  • 54:21 Sean: Or, come back later. They might realize that you were the only guy who asked them instead of coming back at them with a bunch of prices. You asked, and they got ideas, so they are realizing that you can really help them solve the problems in their business. They may not have that money, but they’re going to save the money and come back to you. You might not even be available because you’re so busy and you’re charging even more now. That guy will still save up the money because of the impression you set.

Use a Contract

  • 55:15 Here are some terms you’ll want in your contract: Project time frame—when does it start and how long is the project going to go? Are you going to need feedback from your client during this project? What happens if you don’t get feedback? This project timeframe is based on next day feedback from the client where necessary, otherwise the timeframe will be shifted back the same number of days as has been delayed. Payment terms, deliverables, and feedback are all terms you’ll want in your contract.
  • 56:22 Changes: do changes happen? Do they not happen? If they do, what does that look like? Termination: what does it look like if one of you wants to end the project? What happens if the other person does? What happens if you do? What happens at different stages in the project? Transfer of rights: who gets what rights? Who owns the design or whatever it is? When is that transferred? How much is that transferred? Is it just license granted for a certain amount of time?

Verbally Communicate the Terms of Your Contract

  • 57:05 It’s not enough to send a big long contract full of terms and expect the client to read it. We don’t read contracts. There are joke websites about how we don’t read the terms. We don’t even read anymore. If it’s more than 140 characters, we get bored. You expect people to read all the terms in your contract?

It’s unprofessional for you not to explain your contract in plain English, even if the client doesn’t read it.

  • 57:42 This is about communication, you can’t just say, “I sent them the contract and they should have read it. They should have known about section 17b, I told them!” You’ve got to make sure they understand in person, whether that’s in email, a phone call, or on Skype sharing your screen, iterate that in plain English.
  • 58:06 Ben: Slavic said, “Contract equals safety,” and while I understand the desire for safety and for both parties to be protected, you’re trying to go beyond that. As the professional, you’re trying to have everyone on the same page, so that because of the relationship you’re developing and the trust you’re instilling in your client by going through the contract, you’re almost making the contract unnecessary. It’s unnecessary in the sense that you’re preventing something from going wrong because of how clearly they understand your terms.
  • 59:09 Sean: I did it wrong, and that’s why I’m telling you with so much passion to do it right. I’ve experienced the disaster that results when you don’t do this stuff. This is how a professional thinks. They encounter problems, and they say, “How can we prevent this problem in the future?” They don’t look back and say, “This is where the client is blamed.” You don’t get to say, “I told them in the contract,” because you didn’t communicate the meaning of the contract. I used to think that the client should have read the contract, and when things go wrong in the project, I’d point out a section in the contract and get back to work. They’re going to get mad at you, and you don’t get to be mad about that because you didn’t communicate.

If you’re thumping the contract then something went wrong.

When anything goes wrong, it’s the professional’s responsibility.

  • 01:00:42 Cory: I had a no-contract project and I was just run over. They ran everything because I couldn’t say anything. Luckily, I was dealing with a project they had a deadline for, so it couldn’t go on indefinitely, but if they had no deadline, it would have gone on until they were happy.
  • 01:01:02 Sean: So many people right now are in a project that’s been going for a year. You can’t say that it was supposed to be done at a certain time if there never was a contract.
  • 01:01:17 Ben: If your potential client says that they don’t need a contract or you’re trying to go through the terms with them and they say, “It’s okay, you don’t have to explain it all to me,” that’s a red flag too. You want them to want that kind of clarity in the relationship. If they’re not after that, it’s going to cause problems later on.
  • 01:01:49 Sean: These people exist. These clients that want to better their business and will trust you to do your job really well are not magical, fictitious unicorns. You’re not getting them because you’re not filtering, you’re saying yes too much, and you’re probably not charging enough. $1,000? Let’s get real. Get serious about your business. The clients who are serious will see that you’re not charging $10,000 and think that you don’t understand.
  • 01:02:19 Ben: It can work. You can not be professional and not follow this advice and you can make even a good living, but the professionals, the ones who take responsibility, they’re the ones making the big bucks. They’re the ones demanding figures you can’t even imagine for yourself right now.
  • 01:02:42 Sean: They’re doing this while doing work they love, they’re good at, and being empowered to do it and having people thank them for doing it and thank them for charging what they charge. $10,000? That was the best $10,000 they ever spent. They got $100,000 six months after that because of your work.
  • 01:02:59 Ben: Let’s go beyond the money, too. Think about the legacy you’re leaving as an artist or a designer. You want to leave your mark in this world. You want to add value. You want to make things that matter, that accomplish things for people, that you can point back to and say, “I’m so glad I made that because now the world is a better place because of it.” Being a professional is the way you get to do that kind of work.
  • 01:03:28 Sean: Justin in the chat said, “Your conversations with the client upfront should result in your ‘being a surprise’ only in one way: they’re going to get so much value for so little money, from their perspective, that it’s actually a surprise.” It’s positioned according to the value—you’re not an expense.

Set Expectations

  • 01:04:12 What’s going to happen when? Who’s going to handle it? What are we going to focus on initially? What’s going to happen before the next step? How will I know what the next step is? The client is wondering these things. Am I involved in that? How involved am I? Set these expectations. Tommy asks, “Setting expectations early on is extremely important. How do you know you’ve set expectations correctly?”
  • 01:04:37 You know when it went right, and you know when you screwed up. You’re not going to be in the middle of something and know you set expectations perfectly. You won’t really know until a problem happens or doesn’t happen. You know after the project when nothing went wrong. The mindset you need to have is: when something goes wrong, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to improve on the next project?
  • 01:05:04 Ben: The last client you had may have gone through your process perfectly and ideally, but just because they didn’t have certain tendencies and didn’t expose holes in your process doesn’t mean the holes aren’t there. Eventually a client will come along, and as the professional you’re hoping this happens, who identifies some new hole in your process that you then get to fix. Then, they don’t lose out on the value you could provide for them because of a hole in your process the next time a client comes along with those same tendencies.

Taking responsibility is about providing more value to the client, not restricting their ability to operate in the relationship.

Establish Responsibilities

  • 01:07:34 Sean: Define the roles. I’m talking to designers here, but most of this is generally applicable. The client is responsible for two things only: content and goals. You need to get both of these things upfront. When it comes to logo design, I provide a single concept (Related: e037 The One Concept Approach: How a Professional Designs A Logo). I don’t send them a bunch of options and ask them what they like and how they want me to change it. We’re solving problems, not providing options. We’re not saying the client isn’t an expert in their field. We’re spending days, if not weeks, talking with the client upfront and diving into their business, figuring out who we’re reaching, what their needs are, and where they’re coming from. Do we want to get more people where we’re already attracting them or new places? How are we wanting to expand? What are the long term visions of the company?
  • 01:08:49 Get in there and trust the client. Defer to them in their expertise about their own business and their own industry. That’s their domain. I am not saying that we don’t listen to the client and we just tell them how it is. I’m saying, let the client be in their own domain of experience and defer to them as the expert. The client is the expert in their field, so defer to them in their field. You’re the designer, developer, or whatever, and part of that is establishing responsibilities. You’re saying, “Here’s what I’m going to do. Here’s what you’re going to do. Here’s what I’m not going to do. Here’s what you’re not going to do.” That’s your job as a professional.
  • 01:09:38 The professional is responsible for every problem that occurs. The one that just popped into your mind, that you’re thinking is the client’s fault—it’s your fault, every time, because you’re the professional. There’s no such things as “clients from hell” because only designers from hell take on those type of clients. They can’t be clients unless you take them on. If someone else takes them on, that’s not your problem.

Every “client from hell” is your responsibility because no one can be a client unless you take them on.

Professionals seek to acquire responsibility.

  • 01:10:13 Where can I hold myself responsible for this problem? I don’t like to be past focused. It’s all about the future: what are we going to do next? A problem happened, a problem that my previous immature self, my non-professional self would have responded to with, “Stupid client, I hate this client. This client is a headache to me, a client from hell.” You’re a designer from hell. A professional will say, “Why did I take them on? Where did I go wrong?” It’s always a challenge to yourself. Where’s the hole in my process? Where can I go back and patch it? What question did I not ask? What did I not know that I did not know, and how can I prevent that in the next project?
  • 01:11:14 Ben: It’s similar to the approach we have for failure. If you look at failure as an opportunity to learn and do better in the future, as opposed to something that destroys or defines you in some way, you can feel excited about the the possibility of every new client finding a hole in your process. There’s going to be some problem or issue that you’re going to take responsibility for, and it could be a small thing or a big thing that costs you money, but you want that. Your attitude should be: the more this client can bump up against the boundaries of my process and find those holes, the more I can make it hospitable for my future clients.

Get Paid

  • 01:12:20 Sean: Professionals get paid. It’s good news for everyone. If you’re not getting paid, that’s a problem. Get paid upfront before you do the work. Don’t do free work, ever. Don’t do it to show the client how good you are or to show them that they should work with you, not to go into a contest to hope you get picked, not to do a little trial in the bidding section where the client gets to choose from a bunch of people depending on their work. Don’t do free work—it devalues your professionalism.
  • 01:13:05 I’m not talking about pro-bono projects. I’m talking about doing things to try to get the client to hire you or doing the first half of the project or all of the project without getting paid. In the context of a paid project, get paid upfront. If you can, get paid 100% upfront. That’s not a choice the client gets to make; if you’re to that level of expertise and you have the professionalism, proficiency, and ability to demand that, then get paid upfront—the full amount.

At minimum, get paid half upfront and the other half upon completion, before you send the deliverables.

  • 01:13:51 Don’t send the deliverables and then say, “I hope you pay me.” There’s all these free-lancers sitting around pointing at a board on their wall of clients who screwed them over because they never paid their invoices. You gave them the finished product, so they’re in no hurry to pay you. There should be no Net 90. I’ll give you the work when you pay me for the work.

Present the Solution

  • 01:14:31 Ben: For example: when it comes to a logo design and you’re walking someone through your process, because you do want to present your work before you get paid, how do you present your work without giving them the deliverables?
  • 01:15:02 Sean: The “Get Paid” section should have been at the end, but now you know. Before you get paid, you need to present the solution. A lot of people say, “Here it is, I’m done! I’ve attached it to this email. Thank you very much.” For logo design, I present the logo and craft this experience. You want to put a page on your website and have an image at the top that shows the completed work, but go through the steps and show the process. Explain the “why.” Walk through it and tell a story, don’t just dump something in their email inbox.
  • 01:17:13 Ben: I can hear some designers saying, “What if I put that page together and even though they need the full version of the logo to be able to implement it, what if they have a designer that can grab the featured image and vectorize it? What if that happens?” If it keeps you from getting paid, it could be a problem.
  • 01:17:54 Sean: It is a problem. Not getting paid and having a designer trace the work is a problem. Who’s responsible for all problems? What we have is a challenge here. Where can I take responsibility for this? If you’re attracting the right type of clients, though, it’s not a concern you need to have.
  • 01:18:37 Ben: Those are edge cases, most of the time. If those edge cases and questions you have are keeping you from the work you should be doing, just stop asking them. Come back to reality, know that those risks do exist, but assume the best and move forward responsibly.
  • 01:19:10 Sean: Present the solution. The main thing is, don’t just dump it in someone’s inbox or on their front doorstep. You don’t want to reach out to people and ask them to be your client, but you still want to get on these people’s radar. Brent asks, “I agree with Sean that you shouldn’t be chasing after clients, but in instances like making a connection, I’m interested in how you make that connection the right way. Getting your foot in the door where all the work is coming from can skyrocket your business. You’re not begging for work at this point, but you’re introducing yourself to the market and growing a network of valuable connections. That’s how I see it at least.”
  • 01:20:23 If you ask someone else for business, then you’re fighting the Rule of Reciprocity. Instead of asking a client for their business, provide value for them. Aaron Dowd has done this in the past. If he wanted to edit a podcast for someone, he would reach out to them and provide value. “Hey, I noticed that your shows had this little problem with the sound. You can fix that by doing this,” and he actually did that for them and sent them the file and a video showing how to fix the problem on future episodes. They’re going to think, “Wow,” and suddenly you’re on their radar. The next time they think of someone who’s good at podcasts, they’ll come to you.
  • 01:21:20 That first email might not get you on their radar, so repeat this process until they come to you. Provide value, don’t ask them to be your client. “Hey, I made this thing for you. I noticed you needed this thing and I fixed it. This might help.” That’s it. Don’t do a give-and-take. Don’t say, “Hey, I did this for you, so if you ever need anything…” Let them come to you. That’s how you get on people’s radar. When it comes time, they will come to you and under your process. That’s going to start your relationship off on the right foot.

Provide value around your area of expertise and people will associate you with that thing.

  • 01:22:12 Ben: There are a lot of designers out there who have these dream clients they want to work with, and it feels like a long shot. Do some research and log some hours. See if you can identify some problems your expertise can solve. Articulate their problem for them, maybe in a way they didn’t even know to articulate it, and demonstrate what that problem is costing them. Provide a solution, and show them how your solution fixes their problem and provides greater value for them.
  • 01:23:22 Sean: Coby asks, “What do you do when the client is convinced you’re the right person for the job, but you know in your gut it will be an awful experience because of the difference in values?” You just answered the question yourself. You know it will be an awful experience, so pass.