Truths revealed by walking in a prospect’s shoes

stay-calm-and-assemble-the-minionsAssemble the minions!
— Gru,
Despicable Me (2010, Universal Pictures)


Most of us know what it’s like to be the freelancer trying to get the gig. But how often do we get to see what it’s like on the flip side of the coin? To be the one hiring creative talent?

I’m not talking about hiring other writers or designers to help with your own clients. I’m talking about inbound prospects who only know that they have a problem, that you might be a solution and not much else.

A lot of freelancers give these prospects the brush off because “time is money” and “I only want to work with people who already know my value” and all that. Instead, these prospects could be opportunity knocking.

It just takes a little empathy.

These past several months, I’ve been that prospect. Every person I’ve contacted is just like us.

  • Independent, creative  entrepreneur
  • Constantly works to drum up business
  • Juggles multiple clients and projects
  • No steady paycheck or 40-hour work week
  • Deals with demanding, crazy nutcases with unrealistic budgets, timelines and expectations

Here are some hidden truths I’ve seen that could turn a prospect into a steady client.

Referrals are everything

Almost anyone can be found online. Search results alone are overwhelming. Remember, we’re talking about prospects who aren’t familiar with what you do. They don’t know which freelancer is good and which to avoid. And it’s not always easy to tell just going by a writer’s web copy, no matter how well-written.

So they ask around. They get recommendations.

With one exception, every vendor I’ve hired came recommended by a trusted source. In turn, I’ve recommend these vendors to anyone who asks.

Cultivate relationships. Get testimonials and put them on your website. Build a solid network. Stay in touch.

Jump on that first inquiry

Let someone know when you're available.One-third of the people I contacted asking about their services never responded.

Solid, established entrepreneurs with years in the industry. One-third. No response to my inquiry. On the flip side, almost every person I’ve hired answered my general inquiry within two business days.

Answer fast enough when that prospect first reaches out to you and you become that person’s lifeline. It’s not about beating others to the punch; it’s about establishing yourself as the known factor. One that’s reliable and responsive.

Focus on the prospect’s needs

Yes, we want to share what we can do. We want to present ourselves as the polished, experienced professionals we are. But independent creatives too often overdo their sales pitch, especially during the consultation.

It’s not about you. It’s about how you can meet that prospect’s needs. And maybe that prospect doesn’t need you to pull out every trick in your book. You should be able to boil the conversation down to:

Prospect: “I need (_______). Can you do that?”

Freelancer: “Yes, I can do that.”

Prospect: “Can you meet my budget of (________)?”

Freelancer: “Yes” or “No.”

Conversation concluded. Next steps, please.

Your opportunity to upsell will come in its own time. Help that person solve the problem at hand first.

Stay reasonable but flexible

Draw your lines in the sand. And keep ‘em drawn. Protect your business, sanity, productivity and work/life balance.

Still, a little flexibility to meet a prospect’s actual need can make all the difference. Don’t answer every fire drill, but if you can take a phone call when you normally wouldn’t, consider it. If you can include an extra revision, consider it.

Let that prospect know that it isn’t normal and that it’ll be the only time it happens. Set expectations, but be flexible once in a while.

Communicate your availability

“I’m sorry it’s taken me two weeks to get back to you, but it’s been busy around here.”

Unless it’s a family or medical emergency, this isn’t acceptable. Not for the prospect, not for you.

Let the person know when you’re available beforehand. If you’re out of town or your availability is limited, set up an automatic email reply to let people know even if they’re sending their first inquiry.

I had to wait three weeks for one consultation. Not ideal but she let me know up front. And I hired her. (So if you make people wait, be worth it.)

Don’t mention other clients unless you have to

“I’m sorry, but I’m unavailable that day because I’m juggling other clients and projects.”

It may seem professional, upfront and transparent. It might even make you look in-demand. But what it really says is, “Other people come before you.”

Who wants to hear that?

Saying “I can work that into my schedule (whenever)” is sufficient. They don’t need to know it’s because you have other clients or that you’re taking the day off to sculpt life-sized unicorns.

They just need to know when you’re available.

Rejection sucks both ways

We always want to know why we didn’t get the gig. We whine when we don’t hear back from prospects because we’ve been left wondering.

Guess what? Of all the tasks that can be put off for time immemorial, rejecting someone ranks at the top of the list. Because unless you’re a sick, sadistic jerk, you probably hate telling people that you’ve chosen to “go another route.”

Rejection sucks both ways

As a freelancer, what can you do? Reach out to that prospect. Ask if they have any concerns. Open up the conversation. Then make peace with the thought of never knowing and get on with your life.

A little empathy can go a long way. And in the end, you might have won a long-term client.

What about you? Ever walked in the shoes of a prospect or client? What did you learn? Share in the comments.

6 thoughts on “Truths revealed by walking in a prospect’s shoes”

  1. Erica, this is an excellent post, I can tell how much thought you put into it. I agree with so much of what you said.

    A lot of these same condierations you mentioned are missing in the retail sector too. When I worked in retail I was trained in stellar customer service. It used to be when you walked in a store and they considered your value over a lifetime and treated you as such. Now it seems they only care about today and coraling you in and out the door (oh an by the way would you mind checking yourself out?). Sorry, I’ve had a few bad experiences lately. Maybe material for a later post.

    Again, great job, it is always good to consider walking a mile in your prospects shoes before insulting them (because then you are a mile away and you have their shoes). Just kidding.
    🙂 Have a great day.

    1. Thank you, Peter. That’s a high compliment. 🙂

      And I agree with you about retail. Too many business owners (in almost every sector and industry) care more about the quick sale than building relationships with their customers. So frustrating.

      1. It can be frustrating, but sometimes you just gotta as my wife says, “roll with it.” I don’t know if you saw my recent article, but since we’ve both written about funny aspects of our families and you wrote about having a cheerleader, I think you aprreciate it. Have a great weekend.

  2. Erica

    You mention focusing on the prospect’s needs a lot here. And quite rightly too.

    Just yesterday, we had a salesman come to our home to give us a quote for cavity wall insulation.

    Yet for some reason it was all about him.

    He said he was really busy and still had loads of other households to visit – and that it would be much more convenient for him if we made a decision there and then.

    In fairness, he wasn’t actually being pushy and we all know what it’s like spending time servicing prospective customers who might not actually buy.

    But, quite frankly, I didn’t give a toss about his other appointments. Just like talking about your other clients, he shouldn’t have mentioned them.

    That appointment was supposed to be about us NOT him. Needless to say we’re looking elsewhere.

    1. Putting potential customers on the spot to make a big decision right then and there will rarely win the business. Yes, I have every sympathy for people who get frustrated trying to take care of people who won’t even hire them, but sheesh!

      There’s no clause in the contract that says, “Customer agrees to make the Service Provider’s life as easy as possible at the expense of the Customer’s project needs.” 🙂

      1. Erica

        Hurry up and order some SEO copywriting from my website will ya?

        I simply haven’t got time to waste on people who aren’t gonna buy.

        PS When I said I needed to think about it, this guy had a face like a smacked arse. I thought I was gonna be turned to stone.

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