Client horror stories. If you’ve been freelancing or part of an agency for any length of time, there’s a high probability that you’ve spoken with a prospective client who regaled you with a horror story about their past web designer or web developer. Sometimes, it even seems like every new potential client you speak with has been burned in some way or has had a less than stellar experience with a previous service provider that has left them jaded, nervous, and hesitant.
While it’s true that their previous experiences have nothing to do with you and that you should never discount your fees just because someone else failed to deliver, it’s also true that having empathy for the prospective client and working with them to alleviate their fears can help you close the sale.
Once a client has been burned and lost money or felt like they were mistreated by a designer or developer, they often become skeptical about every other designer or developer they speak with—even if they came with a glowing referral from someone they trust. This skepticism creates a whole new dynamic in the sales process because what normally works to close a new client isn’t going to work in this situation.
There are four simple things you can do to move a client from unsure and hesitant to confident and excited to get started—and they all revolve around lowering the commitment level and making it easier to say yes.
Here are the four ways to close a hesitant client:
1. A Single Block Of Hours
Instead of going for a retainer agreement at a high price point or a high number of hours right away, consider pitching a single block of hours. When I notice that a client is unsure about a big commitment, offering them the chance to invest in a single block of hours to test the waters eliminates risk.
- Identify something important to the prospective client that needs to be done and the number of hours it will take (ideally in the 10-30 hour range).
- Pitch a block of hours at a set fee and what you can get done for them in those hours.
- When the hours are used up and the project is complete, the client can choose to continue or move on.
With this approach, the client has very little risk, the commitment is low, and they don’t have to spend a lot of money, and they get to sample the partnership and see what it’s like working with you or your team.
2. A Month to Month Retainer
If a client is coming to you after investing tens of thousands of dollars on a website that’s basically a mess, they may not be ready to jump into a long-term contract. Instead, consider pitching a month-to-month retainer package. With this approach, you’re not asking the client for a huge commitment at a high price point and you’re not locking them into a relationship with someone they don’t know very well yet.
By inviting nervous prospective clients to get started with a month-to-month retainer that can be canceled at any time with 30 days' notice, you’re putting the client in control and you’re giving them an easy out if they need it. This greatly reduces objections and risk and sets the client's mind at ease.
3. A Trial Period
If you can tell that a prospective client wants to say yes and work with you, but they’re holding back out of fear or uncertainty, consider offering them a trial period. While a trial period is similar to an introductory block of hours, it typically lasts longer and is used to mitigate a different type of risk.
When a client isn’t sure about the number of hours they need and they’re worried about overspending, a trial period is the perfect answer.
- During a 90-day trial period, each project or task the client needs to complete is estimated upfront and approved before the work is done and all work, communication, and project management are meticulously tracked.
- At the end of the trial period, data like the amount of work completed, the amount of money spent, and the number of hours spent on project management, actual work, and admin tasks is reviewed, along with what tasks didn’t get done.
- Then a report is provided to the client of how many hours they used each month, how much they spent, and what got done. This report can then be used as a guide to creating a longer-term retainer agreement.
4. A Technical Assessment
If a client is reaching out to you after having a major negative event with their website—a crash, a hack, a loss of sales or money, or another problem—it’s highly likely that they need some immediate help and need to focus on the problems at hand before thinking about any kind of commitment.
Instead of turning them away because you require a retainer agreement or ongoing support agreement, consider pitching them a technical assessment. With this approach, you get paid for your time to address the immediate website problems, the client gets their website fixed, and you both get to see what it is like working with each other.
A technical assessment is similar to a single block of hours or an introductory project, but it focuses on solving a specific problem.
- It begins with a comprehensive review of the website’s backend and technical foundation to identify where the problems are and what is causing the problems.
- A report is then provided to the client that outlines and prioritizes the work that needs to be done to bring the website back to good working order.
At this point, the client can then choose to hire you to complete the work outlined in your report or they can take the report you created for them and do it themselves or hire someone else.
Empathy Creates More Opportunity
What you need to remember is that your clients don’t build websites for a living. They don’t work on websites every day. They don’t live, eat, sleep, and breathe the internet as you might. And, they certainly don’t have your expertise.
Clients have to rely on professionals like you to build, manage, and expand their websites. Often it feels like they’re throwing their money into a black hole they don’t understand, and when they have a bad experience, it just makes things worse—and they become skeptical, nervous, hesitant, and even fearful.
When they finally reach out to you, you have a chance to step in, step up, and bring them back to a place of positivity. You have the opportunity to provide peace of mind and reassurance, show empathy for their situation, guide them with care, and demonstrate what partnering with a great service provider is like.
If you can do that, you will have not only earned a client for life, but they will become a valuable brand ambassador and evangelist who will refer you to everyone they know.
Jennifer Bourn is founding partner at Bourn Creative a full-service design and development company specializing in WordPress. With twenty years in the industry under her belt, she is an award-winning designer who consults on branding, website strategy, and content strategy. Jennifer speaks often, delivering workshops and keynote presentations, co-organizes the Sacramento WordPress Meetup and WordCamp Sacramento and writes regularly about freelancing, client services, blogging, marketing, websites, and branding. Learn more at the Jennifer Bourn website.
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