It's tough to get ahead when you're always busy with client work.

Stop needless interruptions by setting boundaries with your clients

"I just wanted to see if you got that email I sent..." (which was sent 10 minutes ago)

"Do you have a minute to talk about feature X?"

"Is helpful to my business?"

Clients have all kinds of questions for you. In their eyes, you are their expert on these matters and they want to know what you think. They respect your opinion.

This is great when you are starting out, because it makes you feel useful and appreciated and helps to boost your self-confidence.

But the luster quickly wears off when these "short" calls start interrupting your work.

You can't just stop having these conversations, because sharing your expertise is one of the best ways to build a trusting, long-term relationship with your clients.

You also can't be rude and dismissive of them, or you will damage the relationship you have already built.

But you really need to have uninterrupted time to do quality work.

So what's the answer?

The truth of the matter is you have brought this upon yourself. By answering calls and having a conversation right then, you have taught your clients

  1. this is acceptable behavior on their part
  2. you are available any time they need you

By not setting boundaries with your clients, you have allowed them to set their own boundaries. Those boundaries are always going to give your clients immediate gratification. This is just human nature.

You need to reset your boundaries to be what's good for you, and you need to do without ruining the relationship you already have.

Resetting boundaries with existing clients

Resetting boundaries sounds scary, and you are probably worried that you are going to offend your clients or hurt their feelings.

In reality, this is easy to do without being rude at all.

When they call at random times, just tell them you are working on something and will call them back later (and give them a time range to expect you). You want to get off the phone as fast as possible and back to work.

When you call them later, just explain you have organized your day to be more effective and only take calls between certain times, or that you need to schedule phone calls in advance before you can take them.

If they call again, reschedule the call and remind them of the new rules.

That's all you have to do.

Pretty quickly, they will fall in line with your new rules, and you will both be happy. You will also find a lot of the questions they want to discuss on the phone can be answered by a quick email and no call is necessary.


Setting boundaries with new clients

This process is even easier with new clients, because you don't have to remove bad habits from the relationship.

All you have to do is explain your phone call policy when they are new.

It helps to tell them in a way that they understand the benefits they receive from having a policy. They get better quality work because you aren't interrupted.

You should tell them your policy on the phone and have it as part of your kick-off document.

If you ever realize you have been slipping and client calls have crept back into your work time, then just reset the boundaries and you are good to go!

Try this out today

This is something that made a huge difference to the quality of my life. Random interruptions take a bigger toll than you realize, so try it out and see if it makes a difference to you, too.

Two quick steps to make clients love your phone skills

Have you ever had this conversation?

Client: Do you remember what we decided to do for this?

You: We made this decision on the phone a month ago, but now I don't remember.

What follows is a rehash of the same conversation you already had, but possibly without the same information you had the frist time around. It's been so long, the details leading to the decision are no longer fresh in mind.

Or maybe you have had this happen:

You spent time on the phone consulting with your client, came up with a great solution, then nothing happened after you hung up.

You both agreed it was a great idea and you both had intentions of making it happen, but it just ended up forgotten after a day or two of "business as usual".

Phone calls can be very useful.

If used correctly, they can save you a lot of back-and-forth time on an unnecessary email chain. It's helpful to have realtime communication where you can get instant feedback on what you are saying. You will often uncover details that never would have come out via email.

So how do you turn a good phone call into a productive one?

The biggest failure of a phone call is that it's ethereal. Once the phone call is over, nothing exists except what the callers have inside their heads. All it takes is a single distraction and you just move on to the next task and quickly forget about what was discussed or decided.

You need a way to make the phone call "real". You need something physical to look back on after it's over.

The best way I have found requires two simple steps, and it takes less than 5 extra minutes to do it.

Take good notes

First, take notes about what you are discussing on the phone. In your notes, put a star next to the following:

  • Decisions made on the call.
  • Unanswered questions and who can best answer them.
  • Action items or next steps and who should carry them out.
  • Deadlines for when tasks should be finished

You don't have to keep detailed notes about everything that was said, but these four are important.

If you get behind while you are taking notes, just ask the speaker to pause and let you catch up. No client has ever complained about pausing to take detailed notes on a call.

Keeping up is easier if you take less detailed notes during the call and flesh them out after you hang up.

When the call is wrapping up, quickly look through your list and find any items that are unresolved or incomplete. You don't necessarily need answers to all questions, but for anything that is still open, you want to have a next step for it.

Send the notes to the group

Second, after you hang up, flesh out your notes and organize them into the four sections mentioned above. Make sure to list everything in the action items section, along with who is responsible for them.

For example, if you have an unanswered question and Kate is the best person to ask, include the question in the action items section with Kate's name next to it.

Here's an example of what your notes should look like:

Decisions: We are going to remove the large logo from the homepage The sign-up form will only have name, email address, and password

Unanswered Questions: Should we automatically sign new users up for the newsletter or allow an opt-in?

Action Items: We need to switch the password hash to use bcrypt. -Angie Should we automatically sign new users up for the newsletter or allow an opt-in? -Kate

Deadlines: password needs to be using bcrypt by Friday the 11th

Now you just take this follow up list and send it to everyone on the call and everyone who has a follow-up item.

Set yourself a reminder to follow up again right before the deadlines occur.

Your clients will love you

Your clients will love this, because you are making the phone calls much more productive.

You are creating a record of the call that can easily be passed around and referenced in the future. If Kate wasn't the best person to answer the newsletter question, she can just forward the email to the right person.

You are making it much more likely that the value generated from the call is actually realized for your client. People are much more likely to do an action item if it is in a list sent to their peers. You also make it easy to follow up when you near the deadline.

Best of all, you are taking work off your clients' busy schedules so they have more time to do more important things.

Since this only takes a few extra minutes of your time, it has a great ROI.

The 'right' way to charge reduced rates when you start out

If you are just starting out as a freelancer, or switching your focus, you are probably considering working for low rates. If you ask around, a lot of people will say you have to do this to "pay your dues".

I get it. It's total bullshit, but I get it.

You should charge your full rates. You are experienced enough for people to pay you, you should be charging for the value you create.

If you are determined to ignore this advice and work for lower rates to start out and get some clients, I understand.

It's scary to start out and at least you are starting out.

But for the love of all things that are good and holy, take this advice when you do it:

  1. Do not advertise the lower rate as your rate.

    Instead, tell your clients the higher rate is your rate and give them a discount. Put it on your invoice as the full rate, with the discount.

    This will position your work at its actual value and remind your clients of the favor you are doing them. Because you are doing them a favor.

    It also makes it easier to raise your rates when you are finally comfortable charging for your actual value. Because you aren't actually raising your rates, you are simply no longer providing the "I'm new to this" discount.

  2. Money is not the only thing that is valuable.

    When you are starting out, you need to leverage your early clients as much as you can to get new clients. As part of the exchange for working at a lower rate—before you start on the project—ask your client to agree to being a case study for your business.

    Case Studies are a great way to showcase your value to future clients.

    You can also ask for a referral up front, in exchange for the lower rate.

    The point is, by lowering your rate, this is a great time to get some extra non-monetary benefit out of the project.

How to pitch it to your client

It's easier to pitch both of these to your client at the same time. You don't have to get fancy, just say something like this:

Since I am new to freelancing, I'm willing to offer you a discount on my normal rate of $X. With the discount, the cost will come out to $Y. As a condition of accepting this discount, I ask you to allow me to write a case study about this project we do together. If you are happy with my work, I'd also want you to give me a referral for future work.

These two tips will help you get going faster than just working for cheap.

It's easy to get stuck at the lower rate, especially if referrals want the same price their friend got. It's easy to get pressured into doing it. By offering the lower rate as a discount, it's much easier to say no and stick to your guns.

I'd hate to see that happen to you.

Did I already say you should be charging your full rate starting out?

How to stop wasting your time on clients that won't reveal their budgets

It's easy to deal with cheap clients that are open with their low budgets. At the extreme, they're the ones who want a Facebook clone for $500. Since you know their budget is way too low for you to work with them, you can send them on their way or give them some alternatives.

The bigger time-waster is the clients who don't tell you their budgets up front. They're the ones who you waste your time on proposals that will never be accepted. If you ever hear back, you're likely to find out they went with a less skilled freelancer just because they were cheaper.

Since you don't want to slash your rates to work with them, all those precious hours you spent learning about their problems and writing up a proposal were wasted.

Discuss budgets early

You need to discuss their budget early on, before you write your proposal. If you start talking about budget too early, you can make it more difficult to land the project. You want to wait until after you make them excited about working with you.

If you bring up price before they are excited, they won't feel as though they are getting as good of a bargain.

If you are way over the client's budget, then bringing up the budget early works to minimize the wasted time for both parties.

Use a direct approach and ask them their budget

Some clients are happy to divulge their budget but won't think to bring it up themselves. You should always ask for their budget directly.

A simple way to ask is:

How much do you have budgeted for this project?


What do you plan on spending on this project?

You don't have to be fancy, just ask the the question.

If they hesitate to answer, then you need to explain the benefits of knowing their budget:

  1. You know if you are a good fit to work together If you are too far apart, it's best to give them cheaper alternatives.
  2. You know the scope of the project solution This is beneficial to them because you can focus your proposal on packages that are actually viable to their budget.

Then ask again:

With this in mind, would you be willing to share your budget now?

If they are still tight-lipped, give them your range of acceptable budgets

If after asking directly and then explaining the benefits they still don't tell you their budget, then it is time for you to take action.

Tell them the price range you expect the project to fall under. If they are well below your range, they will let you know now.

Funny enough, if you blow their budget out of the water, they will just tell you what it is.

If they STILL don't tell you their budget, it's best to move on (unless you have very strong reason to believe they have enough money for you).

Otherwise… now that you have their budget, you can make the call to continue with the proposal or not. But this time, it is a calculated risk rather than a blind one.

How to write follow up emails that aren't ignored

So you had a great conversation with a potential client, sent off an email with a proposal, and now you are waiting for a response. It has been several days (or longer) and you want to know where things are.

Every piece of advice says the same thing: you need to "follow up".

So you whip out an email that starts like this...

Hey, I just wanted to follow up on this proposal and see if you came to a decision. blah blah blah...

More often than not, you won't hear back. Oh well, on to the next client.

The problem is the advice to "follow up" is bad advice.

It isn't bad advice because you should be doing something else. It is bad advice because it isn't specific.

"Follow up" can mean a million different things.

When you approach writing a follow up email, you need to approach it with the same mindset you would for any sales interaction.

Always think about value

You always need to demonstrate value. Don't rely on what you already did during your earlier discussions and proposal.

  • Can you add new value for your client?

    Adding new value for your client can be a great way to refresh the conversation and remind them why they want to work with you. It's a ton better than just giving them another todo task on their list.

    Adding value can be pretty easy. Did you read something recently that is relevant to their business? Send a link and explain how it benefits them directly. CAn you think of a new way your project will benefit the client? Explain it to them.

    You don't have to write a book, just write a quick thought to get them interested in reading your email.

  • Remind the client of the value of the project

    If you can't add something new, you should at least remind them of the most important benefits from the project.

Create urgency

For most projects there is a cost to waiting. If your project will save them $100,000 a year, then every week they wait is serious money. Don't let them lose sight that there's a cost to stalling on a decision.

I hate seeing my clients lose money over inaction. There's nothing wrong with providing a little nudge to help them realize this.

You also can't wait around forever, so there's no guarantee you'll be available if they delay.

Reiterate why you are eager to work with them

Everyone enjoys being well-liked. Let your client know that you want to work with them!

It makes them feel better as a person, and it helps build a long-term relationship with your client. It makes you stand out from the rest of the field when most people are only worried about themselves.

How long should you follow up?

There are two schools of thought on how long you should follow up.

Steli Efti of recommends following up until you get a definite yes or no.

He says:

I have a simple philosophy - I follow up as many times as necessary until I get a response. I don’t care what the response is as long as I get one. If someone tells me they need another 14 days to get back to me I will put that in my calendar and ping them again in 14 days.

If they tell me they are busy and they don’t have time right now I will respond and ask them when they feel like a good time would be for me ping them. The key here is to actually keep following up. If someone tells me they are not interested - I leave them alone.

But here is the kicker - if they don’t respond at all I will keep pinging them until they do. And trust me - they always do :)

The other school of thought is to follow up a reasonable amount of times and then tell them you are cutting your losses.

The magic email is a great tool for this method.

The magic email works by tapping into loss aversion in your client. You send them an email like this:

Since I have not heard from you on this, I have to assume your priorities have changed.

They don't want to lose you, so they will often respond to this email. If not, you have given yourself permission to drop them and move on.

With these tips you should see a much better response rate from your client follow-ups and land more sales.