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How your onboarding process can screen potential clients

Oops, I did it again. Rather, oops it happened again. This is not just a veiled reference to years gone by where Brittany Spears was in her heyday as one of the most famous pop singers.

Oops, you got another cryptic lead through your website.

You mean to make some changes to keep that from happening.

Maybe yours look like the one I got earlier this month where the person submitting the message was, “I want a website.”

Over the years I get the impossible question from business people, “How much does it cost to build a website?”

Seriously, I just want to crawl into a hole when someone asks that question.

Lately, I have been answering, “How much does it cost to build a house?”

The owner usually gets the idea. Of course the answer is, “it depends.”

This is one of the problems we have in the web industry.

People just don’t know what it costs.

Have you ever asked a potential client what their budget was and they asked like you asked their most personal piece of information?

It is something we need to know, right?

In fact, I am certain there are some things you need to know to evaluate a possible project correctly.

When we look at our onboarding process, the first phase is the Introduction Phase, and it is uber important to know if we want to move forward on the possible project.

The good thing about the Introduction Phase is that can begin before you ever hear from a lead. The Introduction Phase of your onboarding process can help you screen potential clients.

The Introduction Phase of your onboarding process can help you screen potential clients.Click To Tweet

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Start with your Website Form

Okay, so vetting potential customers starts with your website form. That’s right.

I researched several WordPress agencies and checked their contact forms only to find the standard, name, email, phone number, and message. Some had less than that.

What the what?

Forms have evolved over the years. In the WordPress kingdom, developers have access to plugins such as Gravity Forms, Ninja Forms, and Contact Form 7. Customization is no long an issue.

“But,” I can hear you say, “all the conversion experts say to simplify your form to get people to hit submit.”

Yup. That’s what they say.

There is no argument from me, however, for those contacting you about a project or service, you want them to think twice before they reach out to you with general requests.

What you get often is people who are “kicking the tires” so to speak. They are price shopping.

Some don’t have the budget to do work with you.

Why waste your time giving them that information.

You can inform them before you get deep into the project, and one of the best ways is to start with your web form.

Check out this form from Whole Grain Digital. You can see some of the things the agency asks potential clients.

Check out this webform from Whole Grain Digital
Check out this webform from Whole Grain Digital

Further, check out the contact form that Bourn Creative uses. Notice the questions they ask. There aren’t too many questions, but they ask enough to screen potential clients and learn some relevant information.

WordPress developer Erin Flynn gives us some tips for creating this type of form:

“Put your most important qualifying questions on your contact form. For many of us, this would include: the type of service the client wants, a rough budget for the project, 1-2 examples of what the client is looking for, and a short description of what the client wants. Failure to fill out this form correctly could signal a problem with communication throughout the project, so pay attention to how well the client describes what she is looking for.

Another thing you can do is set up an autoresponder to send them a comprehensive document on how you work, who you work with, and the types of projects you work. You can also send them a value driven PDF document containing a worksheet for gathering information.

This is another way of evaluating if someone is a good fit. Once they see some of the more important things to you, they can assess if you are the right developer for them.

Flynn details some of the things you might want to include in an Intro Packet.

Here, you don’t spend your time building out a project evaluation, but you give the potential client clear expectations of how you will be working with them on their project.

Following Up

Sometimes, you just need to talk to the client. You need to look them in the eye or listen to them on the phone (or Skype, etc.) to understand more about their project. This is where following up the lead comes in handy.

Sometimes, after the client has passed your initial vetting, the client needs help answering the questions. Maybe they need your help.


Setting up an initial consultation can come in handy.  An initial consultation allows you to ask open-ended questions and help them with their goals.

As the developer, you are an expert. This consultation will do two things.

First, it will show the potential client that you are the expert and have the expertise that they need. Second, it will help you decide if they are someone you might want to work with on a project.

The consultation doesn’t have to be an hour. After all, who has an hour to give?

You can schedule a 15-30 minute session and go over the information they have given you, ask some simple questions about goals and obtain a budget range.

Project Evaluation

A project evaluation is another option and is a paid discovery process. This kind of project gives the client value, a chance to see how you work together, and a roadmap if the client decides to hire you.

Wrapping it up

As business owners, we screen who we work with, those we choose to pay money to as well as any employees or contractors, but often, we forget to screen potential clients.

When the pressure is on to pay the bills, we can often overlook this part of the onboarding process.

Missing this part of the process can be extremely problematic. As Susan Johnston Taylor says in her article at Fast Company,

Otherwise, working with an ill-suited client who wasn’t properly vetted can take longer and add unnecessary stress and possibly resentment on both sides.

One thing we need to do is to not add any more stress to our lives or our business, and certainly, we don’t want long, drawn out projects that never end. It does create an extra burden for our team and us and can cause undue resentment.

How do you screen potential clients?

Discuss below in the comments or at the MainWP Facebook Group.

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Todd Jones
Along with being the resident writer for MainWP and content hacker at Copyflight, I specialize in writing about startups, entrepreneurs, social media, WordPress and inbound marketing topics.
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