Three questions to ask a prospect as a freelancer

When discussing with a prospect, out of respect for their time, you should find out quickly whether you can really work together. After a few long negotiations with clients, I came up with a list of three questions I ask upfront to make sure the partnership is a good fit.

What is your estimated monthly budget for development?

As a freelancer, you have multiple clients. I have found out that by myself, I can handle about 5 of them. Each client will have urgent needs, Black Friday is in the same day for everyone, each needs meetings for time to time. Because of this reason, aim for clients that budget at least 20% of your desired monthly income. Less than that is too much noise and you won’t be able to serve them well.

What’s your revenue (or number of orders/paid subscribers/paid downloads)?

Each client pays you out of their revenue. If they don’t make money, they won’t be able to pay you long term. No matter how well you do your job, they will not afford you at some point. Basically, a client will take a loss of profit only if:

  • They are a startup and hope that their product will sell a lot when ready
  • They have other sources of revenue (i.e. an online shop that’s backed up by a brick and mortar store)
  • They are heavily investing hoping to increase the business
  • They have no idea what they are doing

Evaluate well. While making some extra money is ok, it is better to have partnerships with profitable businesses.

Do you work hourly or fixed bid?

Personally I found out that working hourly is the best for my clients. If they agree on this, I simply provide my hourly rate upfront. With new clients however, you sometimes have to earn trust so you might have to go fixed bid for a while. To make sure that your expectations are aligned, give some examples from the past, i.e. “I have built this payment method integration for X”. The client will quickly realise whether you are a match for them.

Isn’t this to blunt?

No. As I stated in the beginning, you should make sure the basic terms are in order as soon as possible out of respect for the client’s time. There are some clients (especially in the lower tier level), that will wonder why do you ask these questions. Personally, I give them the same reasons I have outlined here.

What other challenges are there?

Even with the above questions answered and agreed upon, there are still challenges that might appear after signing the contract…

  • They might pay late or not at all
  • They always have urgent needs
  • In case you signed up for a fixed bid, they might ask for a lot of quotes and meetings, ending up by implementing very little, making most of your time unbillable
  • ¬†You simply cannot communicate well with them

I was not able to find the right questions for the above, so my approach is to start with a “probation” period, in which both me and the client can part ways without much heads-up. With the probation set up-front (and possibly a lower rate if it happens), you will never have an unhappy client even if you stop the collaboration. Usually, a broken partnership is reciprocal, they will want to get out of it as much as you do.