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6 Questions You Should Ask Your Clients Before Signing On The Dotted Line

Have you ever felt that vague sense of foreboding as you walk into your 9:00 am client meeting, feet heavy, heart sinking further with every step? The client is already there, prepped and polished, but all you can think about is how they’re squashing your creativity, making the entire project painfully laborious, soul-sucking and dry.

Okay, whoa, hold up for a second.

You’re pretty sure you didn’t always feel this way. What happened? Unfortunately a lot of small businesses find themselves in a similar position; halfway through a project they realise this isn’t what working on something you love is supposed to feel like. And that’s why you got into business in the first place, right? To work on what you love?

When you’re just starting out, the pressure of finding a steady stream of income can mean you give into the temptation of signing up every client that comes your way. But without a process to pre-screen these clients, you won’t know whether they’re the right fit for your business.

Luckily, we can help!

So to save yourself some tears, frustration or hair pulling down the line, before you sign any contract, exchange a retainer fee or delve down into the nitty-gritty of the project details, sit your potential client down over a cuppa and ask them a few questions!

Question 1: What values and beliefs define your brand?

History-Channel-ManifestoPart of the History Channel's brand manifesto

Probably one of my favourite questions, this addresses the biggest question of all: WHY?

If your potential client can’t answer this question off the bat, you’re headed for trouble. In essence it forces the client to explain what their business stands for. They should be living their values day in and day out – it’s the reason they got into business in the first place! Think about this as an elevator pitch, a 30s summary they should be able to reel off by heart (and with conviction).

Why do you care?

You want to build a deeper emotional connection with your potential client, and understanding what their brand is about – in their own words – is a great way of doing this. You want to work with clients who understand their business's "raison d'être", who still have the same passion coursing through them as when they first started. They’re the ones who are more likely to challenge you when something isn’t right, who will be more involved and engaged in the process from start to finish.

Question 2: What’s your vision for the business?

business-vision-moonrise-kingdom.pngImage from Wes Anderson's masterpiece Moonrise Kingdom

It takes more time and money to find new clients than to grow with your current client base. So the purpose of this question is to find out what your client’s plans are for the future. 

Why do you care?
The answer to this question will help you understand whether or not this is a high value, long term client. Are they ambitious and hungry to grow? How can you show them that you’ll be able to help deliver on this vision? If you suspect they will generate a lot of work in the imminent future, it will also help you plan your own capacity, resources better for your business.

Question 3: What challenges are you facing within your industry?


No one knows their industry better than the client, so hearing them articulate their challenges is the most effective way to do some qualitative research. Recently one of the speakers at Semi-Permanent, New Zealand and Australia’s pre-eminent design conference, talked about
how a lot of life is in our heads. So if you want an unfiltered view of what’s going on in their heads, this is a great way to get it.

Why do you care?
This is an interesting question and can tell you a lot about your client. You’re trying to understand the relationship between your client and their competitors. Where do they see themselves in the market? Whether or not it is right, the perception is important. Are they aware of what’s happening in their industry or are they stubbornly sticking to the status quo? How technology savvy are they? Also, by probing further here, you will find out about industry competitors or trends you may not be aware of – and when it comes to pitching time, the more information the better!

Question 4: Which businesses do you admire?

This seemingly innocuous questions can tell you a lot about a client’s influences, thought processes and what kind of things (or people) inspire them, day in and out. Does this client give credit where it’s due? (Trust me, you don’t want to be working with a stingy client, who thinks they know it all and no one else is good enough!) Do they look at best practice globally or are they thinking too small? It’s also good to note where they get their inspiration from – bonus points if they mention out-of-category examples, which means you can push the boundaries with your creative work a bit!

Why do you care?

You’ll quickly deduce how resistant to change your potential client is and whether or not you can you push them outside their comfort zone.

Question 5: How do you collaborate with others? What tools do you use to manage project in your business?

If the client wrinkles their brow in confusion and says something along the lines of “um, you do the work and we pay you at the end” or “It’s just a website and logo”, it’s a bad sign.

Why do you care?

Collaboration should be easy and effortless. Is it going to take a lot of work to get this client to work well and with you? If you do sign up the client, you’ll know by their answer whether you need to place extra emphasis on the all-important kickoff meeting. That’s where you’ll establish ways of working and take the client through the optimal briefing/meeting process, and your preferred tools for communication and collaboration. Using the collaboration manager feature of an online system like WorkflowMax can be incredibly helpful here.

Question 6: Are you willing to trust us?

Okay, probably one of the most important questions, and one that not a lot of people would ask. Either because it doesn’t occur to them or because they expect trust to be implicit in the working relationship.

But it’s not.

Appropriately then, trust is sometimes called the “missing ingredient” in the agency-client relationship. But if you’re going to do your best creative work, you need a client who will give you enough creative breathing space, and this can’t happen unless they trust you. So it’s a vicious cycle...

Why do you care?

You’ll quickly deduce how this client treats their agency partners. If the word trust makes them super awkward or catches them off-guard, it’s really not a sign of good things to come. You don’t want to work with a client who’s going to be breathing down your neck or requiring a reason for every single creative decision you make.

Here at WorkflowMax we know a lot of our customers struggle with client management issues and it’s a pain point we can help with! Check out some more great content to help you manage those client relationships, right here on the WorkflowMax blog: