Marketing Monday: The Non-Clients

What I’m reading: The  Illustrated Mahabharata

What I’m listening to: You’re the Best Thing About Me by U2

At this writing, I’m back at my desk and trying to get client work finished. I intend to head back to my parents’ house next week. My father has stabilized (remarkably), so I felt it safe to head home for a while. My Christmas happened finally, and the tree is down and the decorations stored for eleven more months.

Time to market.

As promised, I’m back with another Monday episode of Marketing Monday. The ideas are simple, and some of them may feel right for you. Not all will, and that’s okay. We’re all different, as are our businesses. Use what appeals.

Today’s Marketing Move:

Know who isn’t a client.

If someone tried to sell you a sled dog and you live in Florida, would you buy? Recognize when the need and desire for your product or service isn’t there.

Ask yourself of every potential client: “Do they ever buy this type of product/service?” If the answer is no, move on. But it’s more than that: it’s knowing if the fit is right for you, too.


So how do you know when a client isn’t your client? Here are a few clues:

They never respond. Ever. Not to your initial email, not to any of the four follow-ups you’ve sent. You can continue in hopes that they may someday hire you, or you can pick up the phone and gauge their response directly.

They keep dangling the carrot. The prospect I had for four years kept promising to call after the conference. I did one better — I sent him a reminder. Then a second. Each year, silence. Each year at the next conference, he’d express regret and tell me how busy he’s been. So I stopped. If he’s too busy to make time to shovel some work my way (and lighten his own load a bit), he’s not a serious prospect. He knows where I am if he needs me — I won’t send anything else (if that sounds harsh, think of it as removing unwanted email from his in box).

They’re kicking the tires. For me, it’s a red flag when a prospect mentions they’re talking with a few other writers, particularly if it’s in response to my rate. That’s someone who doesn’t understand how to hire a writer, which is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but who is leading their search with price. Moreover, the mention of other writers sounds like they’re hiring an employee — I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not start any working relationship with a client who is “selecting” me from a pool of candidates or have me compete with any other freelance writer based on price. I sell quality. If price is the main focus, the relationship is doomed from the start.

The need is too vague. If they cannot describe their project summary in under three minutes (minus the details, of course), or if they say “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know,” they may not be your client. It’s an uphill battle to try pleasing someone who has no idea what he or she wants, or can’t convey it in a simple summary. “I just need you to help me with brand awareness” is like saying “I just need you to increase my income threefold using nothing but matchsticks.” It’s an impossible target.

Writers, how have you identified prospects, or even clients, who weren’t really your clients?
Have you had to break up with a client because they no longer fit? If so, how did you handle it?
How do you qualify your clients? What questions do you ask?


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  • Jake Poinier January 15, 2018 at 9:28 am

    A few years ago, I’d networked into a couple of “personal/life coaches” who needed basic web and marketing materials. One of them was a super-nice guy, but I could tell he was a little outside my usual business focus: kind of zen, touchy-feely stuff. I decided what the heck, since he was a referral from a good client, we had good rapport, and he seemed like a go-getter.

    Long story short, nothing I wrote was quite right for him, and his feedback was unhelpful. (As in your final bullet, vague, with a dash of touchy-feely for good measure.) As it turned out, he was able to use about 50% of what I provided him, and I was OK with lowering my price because 1) I didn’t feel like I’d hit the target and 2) he wasn’t a jerk about it. We parted amicably, and we’re still in contact–but I wouldn’t do work for him again. The lesson for me was not to be fooled by rapport; you still need to be able to accomplish the task at hand.

    Glad to hear your dad stabilized!

    • lwidmer January 15, 2018 at 9:40 am

      Jake, proof right there that rapport is nice, but a shared vision is much, much better! I’d have done the same for the same reasons.

      I actually have, now that I think of it. I’d had a phone conversation with a client that went south quickly. He talked for 56 minutes (I’d recorded it), and at no time could he tell me in any way what he did for a living. Instead, he sent over an article a client had written that he said summed it all up.

      It didn’t. Not even close. Moreover, the client said he didn’t want to promote his business as he had plenty already. Huh? Just a website revision. So I did what I could with the 56 minutes and one vague article.

      Of course, he said it wasn’t right. I didn’t quite understand (no shit). But he was very decent about it (a really nice man), so we decided on half the fee. I don’t think he ever got what he wanted. In fact, I believe Cathy Miller and I had both had some form of contact with him, and she saw what I saw — a hot mess with no direction. The man is successful, though I’m not sure how people know to hire him.

      • Jake Poinier January 15, 2018 at 10:22 am

        Yep. Sometimes problems aren’t as obvious as a red flag–it’s more of a flag with a Rorschach inkblot on it!

        • lwidmer January 15, 2018 at 10:32 am

          LOL Good analogy.

          • Cathy Miller January 15, 2018 at 3:47 pm

            Hmm, I don’t recall that particular pretend client, but that could be my boomer brain talking. 😉 Also, glad to hear your dad is stabilizing.

            I had one client early in my career who, try as I might, I couldn’t shake. He was in a particular part of health care that’s not my thing (philosophically or business-wise). He wanted me to ghostwrite for him and I kept trying to convince him he would be better off with a writer who understood the legal ins-and-outs of his specialty.

            He assured me he wanted me to write about the benefits of good health and nothing product-specific. So, I did that for a bit and pushed back every time he wanted me to stretch that to his products. Fortunately, for me, he took a break and when he came back I told him my schedule wouldn’t allow for additional projects.

            I would not have such a problem saying no – now. 😉

  • lwidmer January 15, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    Cathy, he was the one who had that crazy website that said a whole bunch of nothing. I thought he was a coach, but he said no, he was a consultant. But doing what? He couldn’t really say.

    I’ll email you privately. I think you’ll remember him. 😉