My friend Sharif recently asked about my client questionnaire. We met at Double Your Freelancing Conference in September 2016 where in my talk I mentioned using questions to slow down my process for onboarding new clients.

Various savvy consultants have already trod the client questionnaire path, and they inspired many of questions in mine: early episodes of Brennan Dunn’s Double Your Freelancing Podcast, Kurt Elster’s new client questionnaire, and my Tennessee-based software developer friends at Vrasa and at Spartan.

Though the idea of interviewing and hiring clients isn’t new to me, I only got serious about formalizing my process after two design projects blew up on my face earlier this year.

Neither explosion was my fault. Both were my fault.

In theory I could and should have disqualified both clients. A bit of probing would have revealed that neither company valued high-end design. For years both made do with clip art logos. Spending a big chunk on identity design was unfamiliar territory for them, and because I didn’t explain the process adequately in advance, they second-guessed every detail and fought every decision.

You’re more likely to fall off a horse if you’re scared of falling off a horse.

onboarding new clients

Photo Credit: Matt Lee via Unsplash

I decided to learn from those frustrating situations. We need process to protect us and keep us smart. Money can make us stupid. Many a bad-fit client can slip through your defenses because they wave a wad of bills at the border.

But more time spent on due diligence translates into better client fit and better outcomes.

A client questionnaire is now a major component in Wunderbar’s screening process.

Ask the right questions in your client questionnaire.

You’ll notice that the questions below cater to our specific niche—business growth consulting and content marketing for tech consultants and SaaS companies.

The right questions help us qualify the right clients and disqualify the wrong ones:

  • What is your name?
  • What is your preferred email address?
  • Are you the primary decision-maker for this project?
  • What is the project?
  • Do you have an existing website and/or blog? If yes, paste the link(s) below.
  • How often do you currently create and share new content?
  • Have you ever gotten any leads (new prospect, client, sale) through your website? If no, write “No.” If yes, provide some context below.
  • From where does most of your new business come?
  • Which of the following best describes you?
  • Share a bit about yourself.
  • What kind of work do you do? What do you sell?
  • What’s special about your business or company?
  • What is the #1 business or marketing problem we can help you solve?
  • Describe your experience with marketing.
  • Do you currently have a budget to invest in business growth?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
  • Do you already have a document that describes your needs? If so, upload it here.

Feel free to borrow these questions, but be sure to customize them for your niche.

When onboarding new clients, I use Typeform.

I like Typeform’s UI/UX better than Google Forms, and the fact that the tool is unfamiliar to many of my clients immediately positions me as “in the know” expert.

client questionnaire

The questionnaire is, in fact, an application.

I don’t want to work with Everyone who has a budget. I won’t be a good fit for Everyone, and Everyone won’t be a good fit for me.

My goal with the client questionnaire is to figure out fit first and budget second. If a prospect or referral or stranger isn’t willing to take 5-10 minutes to fill out a questionnaire, then s/he has taught me something very important: “I don’t value your process. And it’s safe to assume that I’m not coachable/teachable.”

Typeform makes it easy to export a spreadsheet.

This is not a distinctive feature, I know, but it is important. Once I have downloaded the spreadsheet, I can copy and paste people’s answers from it into email communications, into quotes, and into my Client Service Agreement. I can sell to people using their own words.

The most powerful way to sell is to use your prospect’s words. You get the double win of efficiency (copying and pasting) and effectiveness (talking about clients’ desired outcomes in their vernacular).

The questionnaire shifts the conversation from price to value.

Prospects often know what they want to happen, but the path that they propose often isn’t the best or right one: “Hey, I want a new website to grow my business.” Maybe they have never gotten a single legitimate lead through the old website.

If their business’s stability and growth has instead come from referrals, then a robust follow-up program would make a lot more sense than a web redesign. And even if you could help them with online lead-gen right off the bat, they may not yet have earmarked adequate budget to invest in and sustain a smart inbound marketing mix.

So instead of looking for the right angle so that you can shoehorn your product into their business (whether or not they really need your product), you can use the client questionnaire to dig down to the true need.

You can then use their answers to steer the conversation away from a transaction and toward a consultative relationship.

Then, once they have engaged you for consulting, you can first help them double down on what’s already working and later use the profits you create together to bankroll new initiatives.

This type of consulting relationships has a higher lifetime value, and helping people actually achieve their goals is very fulfilling.

You have a record of what they wanted.

Down the road, as you’re trying to fight against scope creep or a client’s chronic second-guessing or Shiny Object Syndrome (”I just read this post about Facebook ads and I really think we should do that instead”), you can gently guide the conversation back to stated goals.

The client questionnaire supplies you with an artifact from a specific moment in time. It is a chronicle written on vellum by the client, stating, “Here is what I want.”

Sure, needs, preferences, and goals evolve, but not as often as clients change their minds. From time to time, we all need to refocus on stated goals, and you can use the chronicle to keep conversations grounded and keep the positive outcome clearly defined.

Your clients have a profoundly felt if unarticulated need for you to NOT do everything they ask in a “Sir, yessir!” manner, but to instead, at every turn, keep the crew of adventurers pointed toward Polaris.

Our job is to protect positive outcomes.

We serve our clients by protecting positive outcomes and pointing out potential threats. Our other job is to protect our own time, talent, and trust. With the help of a thorough client questionnaire, you can achieve both ends while onboarding new clients quickly and effectively.

Do you want to build a profitable business you love?

Duh. Pony up that email address, and you can learn from my failures. You can laugh at my mistakes. You can envy my success at croquet, slow running, and modest bank accounts. Let’s make good money and leave the world better than we found it.

No-nonsense business advice for content writers and freelancers. Served warm with a side of dad jokes.

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