Don’t do this on consultation calls.

I talked about what to do once a client says they want to work with you—but a whole lot happens before then. Oftentimes, the interaction starts with a complimentary consultation call or, as I like to call it, a free chat. Even though it’s free, you can make it super-valuable for your potential client and for yourself, but first…

Why consultation calls should be free

I don’t care if you call it a free consultation, a complimentary 30-minute call or a discovery session—but I think it should be free of charge as long as it’s around 30 minutes. Just two people getting to know each other and talking about a project. No charge. No obligation. I know some people charge for it, but I find making it free is a good way to learn about the types of people who are interested in working in you. In the corporate world, you go on job interviews—and the more you do, the better you get. The same thing goes with chatting about new projects. I try to do at least 5 per month. (At least one or two usually turn into projects.)

Info I gather in advance

To make the call more efficient, I use my contact form to qualify prospects and get a little bit of info about their needs. A good contact form can also weed out people who aren’t a good fit—first, by eliminating the people who don’t want to take a few minutes to fill it out, and second, to get some preliminary info about the project’s viability. (Depending where you’re at in your career, you might decide against a consult after receiving the person’s form.)

What to say on the call

It’s your job to lead the call. Be confident! Get the information you need to make this call valuable for everyone involved. I remember reading about a designer who would wear snazzy high heels on her consultation calls because it made her feel empowered.

I like people to tell me in their own words what problems they’re facing and what they need help with. Basically I say, “Tell me about your business and your project.” From there, a lot of the call is just me listening. If it sounds like a fit, towards the end, I’ll tell them about how I can help and what the process would look like. Make sure to discuss:

  1. Timeframe. When do they need the project completed by? Find out. If their deadline doesn’t work for you—tell them. Be prepared to explain how long the process normally takes you and the steps involved.
  2. Budget. You can’t have a free chat and not talk about money! And since you’re facilitating the call, you’ll have to bring it up. Find a way that works well for you. You can ask what their budget is (except they usually don’t know the answer). You can say, “Is your budget $1,000, $5,000 or $20,000?”—which will usually elicit a response—or you can use my favorite approach and say, “Have you had a chance to look at my packages?” Since my pricing is right on my website, it makes everything transparent.
  3. Talking to other people? Find out where they are in the decision making process. Are they just gathering information or getting ready to decide? You can even ask: Are you talking to other people? If they provide names, you’ll know who your competitors are!
  4. Anything else? I always ask, “Is there anything we haven’t discussed? Do you have any questions?”

Don’t do this on a consultation call

The free chat is all about gaining an understanding of the project to see if there’s a match—but you’re not giving them ideas at this point. You might share a creative suggestion or two, but you’re absolutely not starting to work on the project in any way. You’re figuring out what the problem is—not starting to fix the problem. You want a clear understanding of what they need. That’s it. We don’t start working until we get a deposit! Got it?

@jilllynndesign Check out what not to do (plus what you should do) on your free consultation calls. #clientonboarding #smallbusiness #freelancer #businessadvice ♬ Happy Background Music – AlexRockBeat

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Tell me about your free (or paid) consultation: What information do you gather?

About Jill Anderson

Hi, I’m Jill, a WordPress WordPress designer/developer who partners with talented designers, copywriters, and agencies on their websites, and their client’s sites. I’m passionate about crafting beautiful and innovative WordPress websites focused on clear positioning and positive user experiences. Get my free report, Get Your Website Done: 12 Actionable Steps for Designers, and check out my Client Onboarding Toolkit, a simple 4-step digital course for converting prospects into a paying clients.


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6 thoughts on “Don’t do this on consultation calls.

  1. Excellent article Jill! On consults my biggest fumble usually would be the asking about budget part, but I like how you worded it to ask them if they have seen the prices on the site yet. That’s a good way to handle it. And absolutely agree in regards to NOT giving them any form of workable details on the project at hand prior to them paying something down, because chances are they will never actually hire you!

  2. Hi Jill, I agree that the initial consultation should be free and also to focus on the business needs before the technical solution. I use the client feedback from the consultation for my proposals and find I can close much easier if the prospect helped me create the solution.

  3. Really good points, Jill. However I sometimes have trouble cutting it off after a half hour if we’re into a productive discussion. Once I more or less understand their challenge, my mind starts reaching for strategic directions. In any case, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to offer ‘general’ insights, such as, “if we work together, we should look at the website from the customer’s POV, not just the company’s POV; does that make sense?” If they agree, that’s an implicit buy-in, offering something my competitors probably haven’t.

    1. Totally get that, Tom! Sometimes I get excited about the possibilities and give more specific direction, too. Especially when the client sounds like a really good fit!

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