You don't need more clients, you need the right clients
 
Every thriving creative firm or agency has a system in place for working with the best clients and doing their best work.
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Are problem clients making your life miserable?
 
Dealing with problem clients can be painful and make you want to reconsider your profession.
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As designers, we tend to say yes to whoever comes knocking on our door. But when we do that, we get a mixed bag of client types. 

The problem is, you're not right for most people. So some might be good, but others are really bad, and the consequence from working with problem clients is they will kill your business—they drive out good clients simply by taking up space. 

You've got limited capacity, and problem clients seem to want to take up all of it for themselves. Even worse than that: clients refer like-minded clients so building a referral-based business becomes impossible because why would you want more bad clients?

Instead, you want to sift out all the crappy clients until you're left with only the really good ones. Because here's a little secret: The best clients, treat you well, respect your time AND pay you better.
 
Tired of putting a ton of effort into proposal writing, only for to get rejected? 
 
You put in loads of effort researching and writing a proposal, and the prospect passes on it. Or worse, you never hear back from them again.

It happens time and time again with freelancers. 

Getting rid of the problem clients helps but that doesn't guarantee you'll win the work. Meanwhile, you're often giving away valuable strategy work to your prospect for free.  

Well, what if you could GET PAID to write a proposal? 

Would you be surprised to hear that getting paid to write a proposal is also the way to do your best, most satisfying work?

When you are paid to write a proposal, you're paid to find the best solution for your client—instead of just executing their idea of what's best for them.

No more doing jobs that you know won't get your client the results they are seeking. And no more wasting time writing proposals that end up in the graveyard. 

Paid discovery solves this issue. 

And because you'll be getting your clients results, you're able to charge higher prices for your work. 
 
"Higher prices? But won't that scare clients away?"
 
There's a complex relationship between the amount your clients invest in working with you and the amount of respect and deference they will show you during the project. 

The less they pay, the less they value your opinion and your work. The more they pay, the more they tend to see you as an investment and a valued expert. 

So yes, raising prices will scare off some clients, but only the ones you don't want. (We don't want everyone, remember? We just want the really good ones.)

But even without outright raising your prices, there is a way to use smart pricing tactics to get the best of both worlds: winning the work WITHOUT scaring off prospects OR undercharging for your work. 
 
"But what about during the project? That's the place where most issues happen."
 
You're wondering how to stop clients from sticking their nose into your process and messing up the project, right?

Well, it doesn't have to be that way. 

But preventing clients from taking control and derailing the project, needs to happen BEFORE the project starts and before your client assumes things or gets confused with the process. 

You've been assuming that because you have policies and process outlined in your contract that your client has read them.

Well, they haven't. 

You need to put a system in place to make sure they have. Only once you've got that system in place will you see your projects stay on track.

All of these issues are interconnected. And there's a way to make them go away.

Every professional firm or agency has a system in place for working with the best clients and doing their best work. 

It's called a client intake system (aka: an onboarding process).
 
Introducing: Work With Clients You Love
 
Weed-out problem clients from your design business, do your best work and start working with clients you love (and who pay you better)
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"Prior to my exposure to Work With Clients You Love, I was burnt out and lost, trying to compete with commoditized design and crowdsourcing pricing. Building a solid process helped me to establish trust, improve communication, and do better work overall."

 
Marc Allen
Designer - Marc Allen Design Co.
 
Work With Clients You Love shows you a simple client intake system to help avoid problem clients and find amazing ones instead. It will show you how to be more selective when choosing clients, how to charge for paid discovery, how to get paid your worth without scaring away clients and how to professionally set expectations—so your client doesn't turn into a psychopath during the project. 

Work With Clients You Love gives you a repeatable process for working with only the best clients. It includes a step-by-step process blueprint map with each step described in detail (including the word-for-word scripts used for the back and forth emails with your clients and prospects at each step along the way).

You'll never get lost during the course and will always know what the next step is. 
 
Work With Clients You Love covers in detail the four phases of the client onboarding journey:
 
The four phases of the client onboarding journey
Each phase of the Client Onboarding Journey is covered in four easily applicable modules:

Module 1. Qualifying Phase

Understand what happens when you decide to make prospects qualify to work with you. If you're tired of working with clients who don't respect you or your process, you need to implement a repeatable process for making sure you are working with only the right clients. 

Module 2. Discovery Phase

Ever notice how clients always come to you thinking they know what they want? Except, then, during the project, suddenly they don't? Scope changes and a million revisions later and you're stuck in the weeds. Well, with proper discovery, you come to an agreement before you ever get into doing any of the work. And you make sure that what the client thinks they need is the thing that is really going to help them and their business succeed. 

Module 3. Pricing Phase

How do you get paid you're worth without scaring off your prospects? And wouldn't it be nice to be able to get paid 100% in advance before starting any of the work? Both of these things are simple and easy to do. In Work With Clients You Love, I'll walk you step-by-step through the process.

Module 4. Reassurance Phase

Every Client From Hell situation can be avoided with enough planning in advance. By using my Client Welcome Guide template as a starting point, you can reassure your new client—at the time they are most likely to sink into buyer's remorse—that they've made the right decision by hiring you.  You'll also use the template to set their expectations and explain your process in a professional way that earns you their trust and helps create a solid working relationship.

Work With Clients You Love takes you through the entire client intake process: from the first time a prospect contacts you, to the project kickoff meeting.

 
The course includes a detailed Process Map for each step along the client onboarding journey
 
In the course you'll learn:
• Why making prospects qualify to work with you increases your value and allows you to charge higher fees for your services
 
• The one thing to do to get started weeding out problem clients right away
 
• What questions to include in your Client Screener Email to weed out problem clients (without ever talking to them)
 
• Why being more selective of who you work with is better—both for you AND your clients
 
• Why raising your prices helps you attract higher-caliber clients
 
• Learn how to spot the 6 most typical problem-client red flags
 
• How to kindly and professionally say "no thanks" to clients who are a bad fit
 
• How to sell a Paid Discovery session, what questions to ask, and how much to charge
 
• How to transition towards selling paid discovery (even if you aren't comfortable with "selling")
 
• The one pricing mistake almost every freelancer makes 
 
• How to stop your prospect from shopping around
 
• The 5-step follow-up sequence for unresponsive clients and prospects
 
• How NOT to lose control of the project and stay on track
 
• How to run a Project Kickoff Meeting and make sure your policies are crystal clear
 
About Your Instructor
 
Hey, I’m Ian Vadas, designer and founder of Inside Freelancing. 

For the past 7+ years I've worked on hundreds of projects in both print and digital. I've worked in a variety of roles: As a brand identity designer, logo designer, graphic designer, packaging designer and web designer.

I think every designer deserves the right to learn how to increase their prices and work with the best clients while doing more satisfying design work. 

My goal is to teach you how.  
Featured in:
Premium Resources:
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Along with the course, you'll also get templates to help you get your new client intake system up and running as quickly as possible. 
 
Welcome Guide Template

For welcoming your new clients and setting expectations professionally to make your working relationship go smoothly
 
Design Contracts

Get the design contracts I spent hundreds of dollars on crafting with me lawyer. (Includes my Master Services Agreement and Subcontractor Agreement)
 
Proposal Template  

Get my Proposal Template (Indd, Idml, PDF) and get the proposal I use to successfully pitch $5,000+ web design and brand identity projects
 

"Ian has a wealth of experience that he has kindly shared in his course - Work With Clients You Love, and after going through the course I feel more confident in how I work with existing and new clients, discuss projects and close contracts."

James Alexander 
Designer - Thefingerprint
 
CUSTOM JAVASCRIPT / HTML
Choose A Package:
 
Design Contracts
Get my contracts I spent hundreds of dollars on crafting with my lawyer. Includes my design contract and subcontractor contract (for outsourcing)
Client Welcome Guide
Use this template to explain your process and policies to your new client and set expectations up front and keep your projects running smoothly
Email Scripts
Stop agonizing over what to say and save time by using these proven scripts to follow up with prospects, respond to scope creep, ask for testimonials and more
$5K+ Proposal Template
Download the Indesign file and take an over-the-shoulder look at the proposal template I use to successfully pitch $5,000+ proposals
Work With Clients You Love
Get the WWCYL Course and Premium Resources
 
+ Lifetime access to all lessons
+ Client Welcome Guide
+ Design Contracts
+ $5K+ Proposal Template
+ Word-for-Word Email Scripts
Secure payment Via Stripe
 
Complete Package
Includes a personal, one-on-one consulting call 
 
+ Lifetime access to all lessons
+ Client Welcome Guide
+ Design Contracts
+ $5K+ Proposal Template
+ A one-hour 1-on-1 Consulting Session
Secure payment Via Stripe
 
Other questions you might have...
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"Who is this course for? Is this beginner or advanced material?"
 
It's a mixture of both and is great for freelancers who've been freelancing for a couple of years (2-3 years) but didn't come from an agency background where they might have gotten experience interfacing with clients. It's also great for freelancers that don't have much of a system for screening and onboarding clients and need help defining their process.

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"Do you have a refund policy?"
 
Yes, most definitely.  The course is meant to help you but if you don't find any value in it, let me know within 30 days, and I'll issue you a full refund. No questions asked. You can even keep all of the downloadable materials if you want. 


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"Other advice I've found gives you a vague idea to go on. What I loved about Work With Clients You Love is that it gives very clear advice with concrete, practical ways to apply it. I particularly love the emails scripts (which I have loaded up as canned responses in Gmail) and use them often to save time. 

 
Tola Alade
Designer - Swifty Studios
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The Ultimate Guide To Working With Great Clients - Part 2:
Barriers to entry
 
When you understand that your services are not right for everyone, the next step to take is to filter out the ones that aren’t right for you.

Start that process by first figuring out your minimum engagement amount (MEA). Your MEA is the lowest amount possible for taking on a new client.

Since it takes time and effort to get a new project up and running, you’ll want to make sure it’s worth talking to them in the first place.

The first step is to ask yourself this question, “What is the minimum size project I will work on?” 

The number you land on will immediately eliminate any clients that come to you with a project budget below that amount.

Your (MEA) will disqualify those prospects before you ever get into a conversation with them. That’s a good thing because it will allow you to concentrate your time on the ones that are worthwhile.

You’ll be tempted to keep that MEA number low. Try to avoid that. Instead, keep this in mind: it takes roughly the same amount of time and effort to work with a client paying you $10,000 as it does with one who is paying you $1,000 for the same or similar service. So you may as well cater to better-paying clients.

Another point to keep in mind is this: Your MEA demonstrates exclusivity. When you say that you only take on projects starting at $10,000 (or $50,000 or $100,000), it shows a level of exclusivity and attracts more of the type of client you are looking for while repelling the clients that are a bad fit budget-wise.

The right prospect—the kind you want to work with—associates higher price with higher value. When you present your high MEA to that type of prospect, instead of saying you are too expensive, what you are signaling is that you are a freelancer that delivers high value.

After you’ve figured out your MEA, you are ready to start using the Client Email Screener. As soon as you get an inquiry, send them the screener.

What you are doing with the screener is putting up roadblocks (or barriers) into place and getting a prospect to jump over them. (Figuratively speaking of course.)

When you make clients jump over hurdles, and they follow through on it, that's a sign of trust.

Clients who trust you will pay more for your services. 
 
The Ultimate Guide To Working With Great Clients - Part 3:
Client Email Screener
 
Send this email to qualify prospects. 
 
1. This question should give you a basic idea of the “why” behind the project. You want to understand why they are looking for help with their project. The more specific the answer, the better. The best clients have good reasoning for undertaking a project. The ones who don’t will give short, vague, generic answers. 

2. I like to set the budget minimum to a decent amount to discourage any tire kickers or lowballing clients. Once they see that you have a minimum amount, those guys usually go away. 

Most times you’ll get an answer like: “We want to discuss budget specifics with you”. Which means: yes, they can afford that amount. Rarely will you get an actual number. That’s OK. The goal with this is just to make sure they have SOME money. You can work on the actual number later. Even if they do give you a number, don’t assume that is all they have available to them. Again, all you are trying to determine is whether they have money available, and at a minimum, is it greater than XXXX? 

3. This question is all about expectations. You want to understand exactly why they are interested in you. Is it because they love your style, or because you were the first person they came across after a Google search? Or were they a referral from a previous client? By asking this question, you’ll be able to get a feel for what their expectations are. 

4. You want to make sure you are talking to the decision maker. If not the actual owner of the business, then the person responsible for the project. I avoid any project that reports to a committee. So no non-profits for me. I would genuinely like to help some of these causes, but with such a convoluted approval process, it’s just not worth the time and energy.

5. This question will give you a sense of whether they’ve hired a freelancer before. You’ll want to know if they have had previous experience and have a general feel for how the process works. If they say yes. Great. If they say no, that’s fine too, but proceed knowing you might have to explain things in detail.

Note: My MEA changes depending on what I know about the prospect and how in demand I am at the time. It never goes below a certain amount, but during busy times, what I include in the budget question may be higher than my normal MEA. 
 
Red Flags
 
Prospects usually telegraphic their moves far in advance of making them. Over time, you get better at spotting these indicators so you can avoid them. 

Here are some obvious red flags:

Poor communication 

Clients that don’t answer the questions, or use short, one-line answers are an automatic delete for me. Good communication is at the heart of every good project. If they can’t find the time to be thoughtful about their answers and are having a hard time communicating via email or phone at this early stage, you’ll likely have a much more difficult time during the project when you are having more meaningful and in-depth conversations.

Sometimes bad communication can be due to no fault of their own, but still be an issue. For example, I’ve been approached many times by prospects from abroad who’s native language is not English.

It’s difficult enough to understand the motivations and nuances of ANY client. Add in a language barrier on top of that, and it gets even more challenging. It’s not a deal-breaker for me, but it’s something to take into consideration.

The perfectionist 

Clients who “Just want to make it perfect.” tend to be another red flag for me. Try to avoid perfectionists if you can. These tend to be the same clients who during the project say things like, “I’ll know it when I see it.” Unless you like being micro-managed and having all of your time taken up by one client, avoid the perfectionists.

Need it done yesterday

Sometimes, a prospect will think they are in need of something right away. But after talking to them, they realize that investing more time to get it right is a good idea. But if they are adamant and have unreasonable deadlines that you can’t meet, it’s a recipe for disaster. 

Their previous freelancer didn’t work out  

If they are coming to you because they had problems with their previous freelancer, this could be a potential problem and could be telling of things to come. You’ll want to ask questions about that experience and why they think it didn’t work out. Find out if it was a bad fit with the previous freelancer or if this is something else.

In some cases, this can actually be an opportunity for you to close the deal. For instance, if you can explain how you’d do things differently (perhaps by educating the prospect about your process), and ensure them that the same problem won’t be repeated, you’ll build trust with them and likely get the job based solely on your professionalism.  

 
Response Examples (Bad Fit)
 
Here’s an example of a prospect I decided was a bad fit for me. 
 
This prospect was looking for packaging design. He was a referral from an old client so I had already received an introduction email and this was my follow-up email asking to fill out the short questionnaire. (Always ask them to fill this out!) I customized the questions a bit since I knew a little bit about the project already. 

1. The timeline was especially important to me since I had just taken on a large project. Most of the time when asking the timeline question, you’ll get back the standard answer: “ASAP.” Which is a codeword for “I haven’t given it much thought”. 

2. Here, I set my minimum budget relatively high because I was already booked and in demand and if I were to take on this project, it would have to be worth my time (and energy). 

3. This is a variation on the “Why did you come to me specifically?” question. This prospect was a referral, so it wouldn’t make sense to ask that question. Instead, I did a bit of research and knew the client had already done some packaging work in the past. Finding out what went wrong helps you know how not to repeat those same mistakes, and this question again gets at what the client is expecting from you. 

4. This is a good time to ask if there’s something else they have in mind besides what they have initially asked for. Later, when you put together your proposal, you can include any additional deliverables they’ve mentioned. 
 
Not a good start with this response. Although people are busy, if they can’t take 15 minutes to fill out the questionnaire, that could be a problem with availability or unwillingness to respect my time and process later on down the road. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it counts as points against in the communication column. 

Even though I would have liked to get a response via email, I still went ahead with setting up a call.
 
Notice how I’m giving options on availability? This cuts down on back-and-forth emails trying to nail down a time. Here, I’ve given two days to choose from with a few time windows so they can choose a time that works for their schedule.

Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back for another couple of days... 

...at this point, my gut is telling me to be cautious with this prospect.

Two days later I got an email with these short answers highlighted next to my questions and no mention of scheduling a call.
 
1. First off, the timing was a bad fit for me. With the holidays around the corner, I had a couple of weeks off, so the timeline was too compressed for me.

2. The budget was fine, but it’s not always about the money. Sometimes you have to let a project go even if the money looks good.

Based on his responsiveness and answers, I got the feeling that this client was going to be hard to work with and he wouldn’t respect my process. My gut was telling me to say no to this project. So I listened.

It takes time to be able to decipher what is and isn’t a good project fit, but over time you get better at it. Again, this was a bad fit for ME. You need to determine what is good or bad for you. Sometimes a bad fit will still slip through, but 90% of the time you’ll end up with clients that are a better fit and a pleasure to work with. 

The first place to start is to put up some barriers and make the prospect jump through them to see how they react. 

In this case, I found out it was a bad fit and didn’t need to spend any more time or energy thinking about it or putting together some big proposal.

Closing the loop

A few days later I wrote this short email telling him we wouldn’t be working together.
 
If you don’t think it is a good fit, don’t work with them, but make sure you let them know. (You never know when they’ll have a project that is a better fit, or refer someone else that is a good fit for you. So don’t burn that bridge.)

Keep the email short and to the point.

Try to be honest about why you are not working with them but don’t be rude.

If you know someone that would be a better fit for them, ask the prospect if they would like a referral. If they say yes, pay it forward and refer them to your fellow freelancer.

In this case, there were too many red flags for my personal taste and the timing was wrong.

 
Response Examples (Good Fit)
 
If I do get a response back from the prospect, and it looks promising, I’ll send out an email in the same email thread with the objective of getting them on a call.  
 
The goal with this email is to schedule a “Discovery call”. Always have a goal when you send an email. You are either trying to gather more info, trying to get a call/meeting scheduled, or do something to move the process along. You need to be aggressive without being pushy. The way to do that is to always make the prospect make a decision by asking them a question or having some kind of call to action. 

In this email, the decision I want them to make is to agree to a call to discover their needs. I’m making it easy for them to make that decision by offering different times that could work for them. 

Make sure to include the time zone so there are no mixups. If possible, use THEIR time zone to make it easy for them to understand what times you are proposing.

Give them the option to call you if they prefer. (I’ve had busy people call me right after sending the email over.) 

It’s normal to want to just correspond via email—and that’s totally fine­ if your prospect isn’t responsive to a phone call. But don’t underestimate the power of getting on a call and letting them hear your voice. This alone will help you close more deals. Half the battle is in showing up. Even if it’s just for a phone call. 
 
If those times don’t work for them, be sure to work around their schedule. They’ve told you when they are available, so be flexible. 
 
Ask for their preferred number and once they say yes, send them a confirmation email telling them “Great. I’ll call you on Tuesday at 12:30 pm PST at (555-555-5555). Please let me know if there are any changes. ”

Include your phone number in your signature so they can quickly find it if anything changes.  

 
The Ultimate Guide To Working With Great Clients - Part 5: Discovery Call
Discovery Call
 
Demonstrate your expertise by asking diagnostic questions. 
 
On the call, you’ll want to make sure you have a reason to talk further.

You might find out that even though they are a qualified prospect, you might not be able to help them. 

Ed Gandia calls this a “Discovery Call”.

“The whole point is to learn a little more about each other. To learn about their needs, and to see if we even have a reason to talk further." 

To prepare for the call I look at the answers they’ve sent me up to that point and follow up with questions needed to clarify. I also want to keep digging deeper and deeper and asking as many ”why” questions as possible to learn about them and their business. Open-ended questions work best. I want to uncover their fears, hopes and dreams/expectations for the project, so I know best how to serve them.

Some possible questions to ask are:
 
Fear/pain based
 
“What hurdles are you facing right now that are getting in the way of your progress in X area of your business?”

“What is the single most difficult thing in your business right now?”

“What will happen to your business if nothing changes?”

“Why now? Why haven’t you made this change yet?” 

Expectations/Dreams based questions

“How did you find out about me?"
 
“How do you think I might be able to help you?“ 

“How do you perceive success with this project and what does that look like?”

 “Where do you really want to take your business?”

If they’ve come to you with a particular deliverable in mind (let’s say a website redesign), try to talk about the “why” behind the “what”. 

Why do they want/need a redesign? Do they need more customers? Do they need their site to convert better? Maybe changing the copy is a better solution than redesigning the entire website. 

Your job is to find out if what they are asking for is actually going to solve their problems. They’ve self-prescribed themselves as needing a redesign, and you need to find out if that is the correct prescription for the diagnosis. 

There might be a better way to get the results they are seeking instead of jumping into a massive web redesign project.

It’s not widely talked about, but you can charge more for providing a more professional process and experience to a client. 

This entire onboarding sequence of getting the prospect to jump over these barriers is designed to weed out prospects who are a bad fit by asking them questions that gauge whether or not they align with you.

But the additional upside to you is that prospects that do jump over these hurdles are set up to trust you and be more engaged clients (and pay higher prices).

Just the experience of walking the client through the onboarding/intake process and asking good questions that get them thinking about their business is a valuable service­—a service that you could even charge a fee for.

Many agencies do just that, by offering paid discovery. But even if you don’t charge for it, you can still get benefits from it. \

I’ll give you a recent example in my business:

A prospect came to me after working with a cheap logo design service. The fact that they didn’t get what they were looking for and needed to find someone else to do the design work over again should tell you all you need to know about the level of service they were provided.

After taking the client through my onboarding process and before this prospect signed on with me, he told me, “Ian, you are bringing a level of professionalism to this project that is through the roof compared to what we experienced before.”

He said this before the project even started. 

When you hear something like that, you know the client is ready to work with you and already seeing you as a freelancer that delivers high value. And when the value goes up, the price goes up with it. 

This level of service, of behaving in a professional way and walking a client through a process, builds trust and really gets you on the same page with your client to set you up as a trusted partner instead of a low-priced commodity vendor.

 
The Next Step: Where to go from here
 
We’ve covered a good amount of ground in this guide...
 
• We talked about why you need to avoid prospects that are a bad fit for your business and that not everyone that approaches you should be your client

• We talked about how to determine what a good fit for you business is and that you need to make up your own “House Rules.”

• We talked about creating barriers to entry and that by keeping you MEA (Minimum Engagement Amount) on the high side, it implies that you are a freelancer that delivers high value

• We looked at an email exchange I had with a client that I determined to be a bad fit. (Even though their budget was greater than $10,000.)

• And we looked at how to set up a Discovery Call, and the reason shepherding a client through the Onboarding process sets you up as a trusted partner and can get you paid better
 
So what’s next? 
 
Once you have gathered all the intel to properly gauge that this is a client worth working with, the client is now ready to be priced. So the next step is the pricing phase. 

If you are at the proposal writing stage or want to learn more about the pricing phase, I want you to do two things next:

1. Sign up for my FREE short email course Pricing For Freelancers. You’ll discover new, easy to implement ways to set up your proposals that will maximize your pricing and help you land more, higher paying projects. 

2. Come join us in the private Pricing For Freelancers Community group on Facebook where you’ll be able to get advice and feedback from me on your proposals, watch teardowns of other freelancer’s proposals, and learn and share tips on pricing. 

Click Request To Join and I’ll add you asap.

I would love to hear from you if you have any questions. 

Email me: ian@getaheadfreelancing.com

I hope to you meet you online,

Ian

 
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