How to Screen Potential Clients

As a freelancer, when someone makes contact saying that they want your business, the first instinct can be to jump on it straight away – you don’t want to lose business, right? But by doing this you’re ignoring one of the biggest questions when it comes to working as a freelancer: ‘do I want to work with this person?’

This question is especially important because choosing your clients is a key factor of working for yourself.  “Freelancers don’t just have to take work because it’s in front of them”, says Paul Jarvis, a freelance web designer turned founder of The Creative Class, which helps to educate other freelancers. “They can screen and evaluate clients to see if it’s the type of work they want to be known for and ensure that the client understands and values their expertise.”

Screening Contractors 1

Working with an ill-suited client can have some problematic consequences, like work taking much longer than it should do, or causing you unnecessary hassle or stress and possibly resentment from both parties. So how can you best prepare yourself for a client?

Check Out Their Online Presence

It’s always good to get some background information about anyone you work with, especially if it’s on a bigger or more difficult project. However, when you do get round to checking out your potential client’s online presence, don’t just limit yourself to their website. While it’s true that the client’s website is a good and helpful tool to find out who you might be working with, you can find out so much more by using outside websites. You’ll find these outside sources to be unbiased, and you might come across some reviews covering how they have dealt with freelancers in the past too.

If you find a couple of unsavoury reviews, you can often dismiss these as special cases, but when you find a client with a lot of negative reviews, it’s probably best to avoid working with them.

Screening Contractors 2

Find Out If They’ve Worked With Freelancers Before

One of the most important questions to ask a potential client is whether they’ve worked with freelancers before and, if so, how that experience went. If it turns out that they haven’t worked with a freelancer before, they might need a little bit more “hand-holding” to understand how the process works and what the differences between freelancers and employees are. If they’ve had some bad experiences with freelancers in the past, you can always try and find out what exactly went wrong.

Was the freelancer supposedly inattentive to deadlines? Did they turn in sub-par work? Did they refuse to take calls on a holiday weekend? Of course, this will require some reading between the lines, as you’re only hearing one side of the story, but in doing so you’ll be able to see clearly if this is likely to be a difficult person to work with.

Obviously, if the client loves working with freelancers and does so very often without any major issues, then you’re in for some good work.

Nail Down Payment Details

It’s always a good idea to try and agree on a budget and payment process before you invest too much time and effort discussing other aspects of the project in detail. If the client is being cautious or reluctant about discussing such matters, then that should be a clear sign that they haven’t budgeted adequately or that they don’t value the work all that much.

“If they’re constantly bringing up the budget or saying ‘There’s not much budget for this one, but we’ll have more budget down the road,’” that can be a serious red flag, says Jake Poinier at DoctorFreelance.com

You should never be afraid to ask about the budget or their accounts payable process, and any other processes involving money for that matter (unless you’re asking for their bank details, they shouldn’t feel awkward). If they don’t know the information, tell them you need to know. Clients who continually gloss over the financial and payment details of a job, or get sheepish at the prospect of a deposit, might be more headache than they’re worth.

Screening Contractors 3

Just remember, as a freelancer, the choice is yours – don’t take the work just because it’s there. You now have the power to say no, and sometimes saying no is a lot better than having your head swimming with stress from a difficult client.

Something else that can also be incredibly stressful is your finances. Here at ICS, we’re some of the best contractor accountants around, and we’ll help you with every step of your finances, meaning that you can focus on the thing that really matters: the work. For more information, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, or contact us on 0800 195 3750 and speak to one of our friendly team today.