Want great clients? You need to be picky.

When you’re starting your business, you may not be able to afford to be picky about the clients you work with. When I started I contacted 10 people a day I thought could use my services. I’d troll Craigslist and job boards, and if I didn’t find 10 leads I’d check out the local chamber of commerce and email members listed there.

Today I do none of that. Now I have prospects regularly get in touch with me, with requests for more work than I could ever do. Today I say no to clients more than I say yes.

On the way here, though, I made my share of mistakes. I took on lots of clients that were terrible. People threatened to sue me because they were unhappy about things entirely outside my control. From those bad experiences I learned that one of the most important things to do is vet clients and only take the ones that are a great fit for me.

Decide your niche

Before you can decide if a prospect will be a good client you need to define the niche you serve. If you work with WordPress this does not mean that you work with anyone who needs WordPress services. It means you target a very specific niche of WordPress users and tailor your services to suit their unique problems.

Defining your niche is going to help you build marketing that works while you sleep. Every great business person you look up to has a niche and they service it. While their products may appear to be diverse, they got to that point because they started with a hyper narrow focus, and with some traction they expanded their niche a bit to adjacent areas. They did not dilute their marketing when they started to hit every possible niche that they might maybe be able to serve.

Decide who your ideal client is

Once you’ve defined your niche it’s time to get even smaller and define your ideal client in that niche. While you could serve every underwater basket weaving shop on earth, there is only a small subset of those stores owned by people with whom you’re truly compatible.

I don’t work well with clients who want hourly status updates. I don’t want three calls a week because I hate the rigidity that imposes on my schedule. I know I don’t want my clients calling my phone on weekends because that’s time I spend with my kids in the mountains, which is one of the most important things I can do.

Without that ideal client profile in mind you’re going to turn lots of prospects into clients who should never be doing business with you. That’s going to yield failed projects which will affect your reputation and your leads. Taking on people who are not your ideal clients may seem like a great idea, but long term it’s going to harm your business.

Client Vetting Communications

Once you’ve got a niche and have defined your ideal client it’s important that you tailor all your interactions to weed out projects and people that don’t fit in with your ideals. If you already have leads coming in then it starts with your first email to clients.

This first email shouldn’t be something you dash off without any thought, it should have a very specific structure designed to weed out clients you don’t want. It should ask questions to push the prospect to think harder about their business and if they should be working with you.

If you get reasonable responses to your initial prospect email, then it’s time to move on to a call with that prospect. The whole goal of your first call is to make sure that this prospect is indeed someone you want to become a paying client. You should be making sure they fit in with your niche and inside your ideal client profile.

Only if they fit within those two criteria should you move any further down the road and even consider issuing a proposal.

But you’re just starting

Like I said at the beginning, when you’re just starting you generally don’t get to be super picky about the clients you take. You are still building your reputation and you need money to keep eating.

We’ve all been there. Your goal should be to improve the clients you take every month. Each client you take on should be better than the last and be a better fit for your niche and ideal client profile.

If you keep refining your choices you’ll look back in a year or two and realize you’re working with great clients on projects you like.

That’s a great feeling.

photo credit: crdot cc