This is a long one (but important!) so grab a glass of wine or coffee and take notes!
You have your website, you have your services, and now you start getting client inquiries from your snazzy contact form.
What to do next?
When I first started I had absolutely no process in place- I did it all on the fly. This meant that with each client inquiry, I was spending incredibly wasteful amounts of time. Responding to the potential client, asking a bunch of questions about what they’re looking for, describing to the client the process, explaining their different options, and finally stressing over what to quote based on all the various information given to me over several days, across different email threads. (That was a long sentences. Because it was a long process.) And in the end, not always getting a yes.
So much wasted time and effort that it almost made me cringe when a new email inquiry came in. Crazy, right? Those are the happiest emails we are supposed to get!
And even when all went smoothly and the client booked, since I had no process in place, the rest of project went exactly the same way. Back and forth questions, waiting days to hear back from the client while I twiddled my thumbs for an answer because of course- without the answer I was blocked from moving on.
As soon as I put together a clear, repeatable process, my entire business changed.
- Each project took half the time (meaning I could take on more clients and more $$$ in my pocket)
- My clients fell in love with me quicker when they saw how prepared and organized I was.
- My clients were happier in the end after feeling like I finished their project in light-speed time without too much stressful work on their part.
- I had all the information I needed up front and no longer wasted time being blocked waiting for a response from the client.
If you can relate to any of these issues, this post is for you. I will outline the different processes I have put together and why. Hopefully if you try them out they may work for you too.
As I am a web designer/developer, I will of course be using specific things to this field as examples. But the general ideas work for any kind of freelance service business.
When first starting out, I knew that every project is different, every clients desires are different, and therefore the work involved and fee would be different.
So I didn’t put packages on my site and instead asked simply for a list of things the client needed and I would create a custom quote for each project. This works for some people, and it may work for you. But for me it certainly did not for the majority of requests I get.
The reality is that not everyone that asks for a quote may want to work with you and you may not want to work for them. The majority of requests that come in are basically the same. Most people want and need the same things.
Once I figured out what those things were (as well as the things they may not know they need, but I do), I packaged them up into a general category.
Of course sometimes people need a little more than what is listed, and at that point doing add-ons and adjusting the quote works just fine. But having a baseline to start with makes all the difference. For the client and for you. Because most clients don’t really know what they want or need and prefer it when you tell them.
So the first step in developing a process is making your packages. It could be just one, it could be 3 (that’s a topic for another day), but at least get a package outlined and on your website.
Basic Client Intake Form
Whether you put a form on your site (I use Typeform because it’s free and easy) or have one ready when someone first contacts you, a simple questionnaire is essential to understanding immediately whether you are a good fit for the client and if they are a good fit for you. **I do recommend putting it on your site, why waste time with an extra email?
Imagine a situation where a potential client briefly describes what they need and you say yes right away to get started. Then you find out their dreams are way bigger than you have the skills of creating/have time to create/or want to create?
I was always scared of this happening, but now my system prevents that.
The first intake form should speak to these issues and get them clear up front.
Some question ideas for this form:
- Name, last name, website
- Business and reason behind wanting my services
- What package are you interested in
- Do you have a deadline
- Give examples of other sites you are inspired by or hate
- Futher comments that will help me understand the scope of the project
You can see my intake form here.
So as an example for me, the most important questions I want to know upfront are whether or not it is a redesign and what kind of style they are drawn too. This gives me an idea of how big of a project it is and whether or not my style jives with theirs. Plus if they point out really code intensive development site as an example, I can explain immediately that the project may be out of the scope of my packages and a custom quote is needed.
Action Step: think about the first questions you always have for a client and what you most want to know up front and get those in your intake form.
Once the client has decided on a package and is ready to book
This is the point where putting together a streamlined and clear process will completely effect the rest of the project experience. The best way I have found to make it clear to the client about what happens next and to set the tone going forward (as well as save me a lot of time) is to have pre-made PDF documents that I can send to each one.
Yes, it takes some time to get these put together once, but more than worth it when just needing to click attach/send with each new client.
Here are the documents I send as soon as a client is ready to move forward:
Website Planning Guide
This is a visual PDF guide to all the different aspects of a website. Header, Layout, Fonts, Colors, etc. I show examples as choices and point them to online resources for further investigation. This saves me a lot of time having to explain all the different decisions they will have to make about their website.
No matter what kind of freelancing you do, I’m sure you can think of some specific visual details to put together to help explain the process to your client.
This is a fillable PDF with every possible question I could have from them about their desires & needs along with all the boring technical stuff. I also refer back to the Planning Guide in the questionnaire.
For example: In the Planning Guide I will show them different options for their header (name/tagline, photo/name, etc) and in the questionnaire I ask them to choose one of the options from the Guide or list something different.
This helps give them direction and makes the tech terms easier for them to understand.
Some examples of items I list in the Questionnaire:
- All login information for any account I would need access to.
- How many pages they will have and their names.
- Which pages in the menu bar
- Menu bar below or above header or if other
- Desired page layout for each page (examples in the Guide)
- What feeling do you want to portray
- Who is your competition and what do you like/dislike about their websites.
- Who is your target customer and what do they like.
Etc, etc….I think I have over 30 questions in mine!
Does this seem like a lot to the client? Probably. In the beginning I feared they would be turned off by the amount of work on their part. But the reality is that there IS a lot of work on their part. They will answer these questions at some point, it’s better for both us to have them sorted out up front and not across a million emails during the process.
I tell them I’m always available to hop on the phone to discuss any question in further detail and for the really awesome clients that want me to make the majority of decisions, they can tell me that too. But that is rare.
Some things I include:
How To Get Started
The first thing I ask is that they looked over the guide and questionnaire and decide when they will have that, along with all content and images ready for me.
This is KEY. I don’t start the project until everything is given to me.
I received an email question from a lovely reader and it explains perfectly why:
My very first client has been a bit of a nightmare…She is super sweet but she couldn’t decide what kind of website she wanted.. she went from super simple to I want people to be able to upload things…
Plus she’s a procrastinator, she contacted me in early April and it’s almost November and she can’t get her content together…it just drives me crazy to be working in bits. She will send me an email about the fonts and two weeks later a list of services. Meanwhile I lose momentum and even forget how I was building the site in the first place…
People do not have a clear idea of what they need or want so they hand their content by bits and pieces until it’s no longer practical or profitable (or even motivating) for you to keep working on the site. This is why I ask about your workflow. How do you get clients to start and end a project on a given schedule?
Clients need deadlines and they love processes. They might not say so but it is true. Whether disorganized or not, every client appreciates knowing what they are supposed to do and when.
If you start a project on the fly, you risk it dragging on forever.
The simple solution is to outline it upfront and stick to it. Don’t start a project until you have everything you need.
In the beginning, when you don’t have a lot of freelance work, you may think “I might as well start, I have nothing else to do and the sooner I start the sooner it will be over and I can get paid.”
But in the end it is not worth it, I promise. And there are better ways to get paid (read on…)
So make sure the client and you have everything you need before you get started. I go as far as to ask them for their desired start date (based on when they can have everything to me) and request that all items are sent 1 week prior to that date. If they aren’t ready, we’ll push back the start date.
Everyone does this a little different and there is no right or wrong answer. But make sure you are setting your payment schedule to reduce the risk for both of you and to make it as fair as possible for the work you are putting in.
I make sure this is listed in my process document and make it clear to the client how this works and why.
Personally I ask for 50% before starting and 50% when the project is done or within 30 days, whichever comes first. This ensures that I am getting paid regardless of whether the client is dragging their feet with their side of the work. This also puts a timeline in their head and makes them feel like they need to get it done before the 30 day payment or I could technically just run off with the cash 🙂 I hope they don’t actually think that, but psychologically I think it has an effect.
And if they are booking in advance (for those lovely months where I am actually booked out) I ask for 25% non-refundable booking deposit. This ensures I’m saving my time and brain power for the serious ones and allows me to count on future income to some extent.
Other Process Details
Some other details to list in the process document:
- How many revisions you will do and what happens if they need more.
- Typical working hours and when to expect a response to an email (I tend to respond to emails late at night and on the weekends, but I let them know that although this happens, not to expect it as I do have to set boundaries as they should!)
- What happens if they want to add anything extra in the middle of the project.
- What I work on first, second, last (so they get an idea of the behind the scenes stuff they don’t see).
- What happens when I finish (how do I hand over the work, what else will they receive from me, when will they receive the final invoice).
And that’s it!
I put together these 3 documents once for a package and can use them over and over again. I simply send it to the client immediately after they express desire to book with me, and when the project start date rolls around, they hand everything over and it’s my turn to get to work!
Of course, there are always new questions that come up, and email exchanges about details. But having everything together, in one place cuts down on a lot of that and ensures the project gets off to a timely and productive start.
How To Make These Documents
There are a few options for making pretty pdfs, some paid, some free, depending on your skill level and what software you already have on your computer. Or you can just stick to an editable document like Word.
- Microsoft Word
- iWork Pages (Mac)
- Adobe Acrobat
- Adobe Indesign
For fillable PDFs:
If you are proficient in Adobe Acrobat or Indesign you can make your PDFs fillable with those tools. If you want to go as simple as possible and stick to Microsoft Word, I recommend using someone on Fiverr.com ($5) to add-in the fillable areas under your questions. I have used and recommend Zaphara.
No matter what kind of freelancer you are…
web designer, graphic designer, photographer, copy writer, videographer….etc, taking the time to set up processes (preferably in pdf documents that you can use again and again) will save time usually wasted on email, speed up the turn-around of each project, and help show your clients you are the pro they hope you to be.
And remember. Your process goes beyond just the intake form. For more help in setting up your entire A-Z freelancing process, download my FREE Freelance Process Cheat Sheet. It covers a few more of the steps you need to streamline and automate and some online tools to help you do so.
If you do find this useful, let me know in the comments and share this post on Facebook or Twitter, so I know I’m on the right track!