Vetting clients with your first email

We all get a lot of email don’t we, it’s hard to keep up with.

It’s hard to keep up with the new client requests if you’re doing your marketing right unless you take some steps to automate it.

I have most of the emails I send to clients automated in templates because it lets me send more emails to potential clients. I happen to love TextExpander but you can use Gmail canned responses or just copy/paste from a text file.

The key to the first interaction is getting some control over the situation with the potential client. Most clients send that first email to you figuring that they have the money so they have the ‘power’ in the relationship.

They figure you should be begging them to get the work.

Even when you’re starting and that may actually be the case, you’re only in for a big old world of hurt dealing with a client on those terms.

Don’t opt in for that bag of hurt

Your first email should follow this basic formula:

Section 1: Thanks but…

Thank them by name for reaching out to you on a project and tell them it sounds interesting. Before you get on the phone or take any other steps you need to figure out if you’re good fit (because you may not be) or if you know someone that may be a better fit.

Section 2: I’ve got some questions

This is where we can get in to a bit of technical detail if needed.

Maybe you need to know what payment gateways they need or if they have information on their demographics.

For one client who wanted a business listing site I asked why they felt it was a profitable business idea when we have so many listing sites around that could be used. You don’t want to work with a client that starts with a bad business idea since that won’t bring you a long term relationship.

Ask who (internal users or external users) have asked for the feature or site redesign. Knowing that the CEO tasked someone with the job means that the CEO is invested and that you may need to talk to them to land the job. If you can convince the CEO of your value then the budget can easily increase as they decide that other things aren’t as important.

Ask what other things are on the table that need to get done. You may find that really some other thing provides more value to your customer but they just don’t realize it.

The 2 key question that I always end with are:

  • What your expected timeline for completion
  • What is the budget you have allotted to the project?

Budgets can be a hard question, but I’m happy to work with ranges. If they say that they have between 10 – 15k then I have an approximate budget already for the project.

If they say they have no idea then I tell them that my project minimum is $10k and does that sound like it fits within their budget. Of course if my initial read on the project looks like it’s at least $20k then I tell them that I think we need to start with the assumption that $20k will get us the basics and nothing more.

Are you going to weed out clients right away with an email? Of course you are and you want to do that.

If they don’t have the budget you feel they need, then why on earth are you going to waste time on the phone with them?

Section 3: Here’s why I asked the questions

Our third section pushes the thought that you may not be a good fit for the client further. In fact out of the 5 reasons you give for asking the questions above only one of them is a ‘yes’ reason. Yes being that you might work with in fact work with the client.

All 4 of the others are basically ‘no’ reasons. No we’re not a good fit and you will not be taking their project on.

The no may be because of time, or budgets, or maybe the project just isn’t inside your particular area of specialization. Doesn’t matter what it is, you’re preparing the potential client to hear ‘no’ from you.

But no??

Yeah I hear you, so far the email you’re sending is heavily weighted to telling the client you aren’t going to work with them.

Guess what, most of them will feel like they’re loosing something right away and then you are on a more even playing field. The client is then courting you and your seeing if they’re a good fit with you.

In economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. [1]

It becomes less about them giving you money and more about being partners together on a job.

When do you send this email?

You should send this email (or a very close copy of it) to every contact unless they are clearly well out of the budget you want to work with or they hit one of your other red flags.

I’ve often been surprised by a client whose site looks like it could never afford fees near mine only to have them come back and say that they have around $40k for web development this year and a list of the other things that they want to get done in later phases.

If you liked this content then you really should check out the course I’m launching tomorrow. You can still get on the email list today to get first access and a discount before the course opens to the general public tomorrow.

photo credit: karwik cc