First, try not to talk so much. Mostly, you listen. Let the client speak. Do that, and you will ace this.

Because right now, we don’t know much about the client and what they want, so what would we blather about anyway? Ourselves? Please, no.  (I got this wrong for ages.)

I don’t want to constrict you, but this first contact is a big deal. It’s where the price negotiation begins, even when we don’t mention money at all. It’s where the client senses who you are, and how it would be to work with you.

It’s also where you get to decide if you want to join the adventure or not. (We are freelance, after all.)

But don’t let this get you all tangled up and nervous. We can finesse this easily.

Mostly by shutting up.

If they call

We answer on the third ring. But you know that already.

They will say they found your site on the web, or that they got your name from someone else. Or maybe that you had approached them a while back, and they wanted to talk.

You are pleasantly glad to hear from them, to “meet” them. You are attentive but casual, as if you have both just sat down at an outdoor cafe.

You’re eager for them to talk. They feel that the call is all about them. They are the center of the universe for the next few minutes. (We know different, but we don’t let that show.)

We encourage them to talk, by being fascinated, intrigued.

We must resist, mightily, the urge to yammer about ourselves. Sit on your tongue if you have to.

Maybe they say, “I understand you do web design, translation, illustration, branding, articles on parenting and health.”  Whatever.

This is NOT the place to leap into your life story. Or, to give a nine-minute speech. Answer briefly, and get them talking again. A friendly parry.

“Yes, I do. It’s one of my favorite things to do all day. Tell me more about what you’re thinking about here.”

Or maybe they say, “We’re planning to update our web site, we need such and such, or we’re looking for a good XXX, or I was wondering about your services.”

Again, no speech. Volley it back to them.

“Interesting. I’d be happy to chat about that. Tell me what you’d hoping to do.”

Whatever they say, it’s the most interesting thing you’ve heard all day. “Really? How long has the company been in business?”

What we’re doing, besides being well-mannered, besides making the client feel important, is trying to figure out what’s going on here, before we launch into a speech, before we chatter on too much about the wrong thing.

Maybe, in our nervousness and newbie uncertainty, we start offering suggestions and recommendations. (Before we learn that they fired their last freelancer because they pushed their ideas too hard, but didn’t listen.)

We don’t want to harp on our XX+ years of experience, only to discover the client wants fresh thinking. Or maybe we chirp happily about how fast we are, when the client is scared to death about slipshod, half-assed work. I have gotten all of these wrong at one time or another.

We want to know if they are clients who buy this stuff all the time. (That is a good sign.)

Or if they have no idea about this. (Not so good.) Or if they are in real need, real pain. (Very good, usually.)

Listen first, talk later.

Oddly, the more they talk, they more they will like you and feel beholden.

Ideally, we want the clients to talk themselves out. Then, at some point, we say, “If you can, send me what you’re using now/your old site/the documents/ and I’ll get back to you with some ideas/quotes/suggestions.” We want them to feel their problems are over. That they talked to the right person.

Try not to quote on the fly, in real time. “I’ll be happy to work this out in detail and get back to you with something firm.”

If they insist, really insist, on some ballpark quote, shoot really high, but offer to look into it more closely.

I don’t mean to tell you what do to here. You are smart enough. Let the client talk, let them spill the beans, and you can figure out what to do.

Just make sure they talk before you do.

If they email

Prospective clients often email you, rather than call. Sometimes, its because they’re doing this late at night. Or because they think it’s too ’90s to talk on the phone. Or they feel awkward. Or they are afraid of getting sales-talked. (Which is pretty much why I email,mostly.)

Or they are sending the same cut-and-pasted e-mail to 67 freelancers. Which happens, too.

The general idea?  Same as above.

Mostly, the email will not tell you enough to make any kind of decision, to tell what they really want.

(If they merely say, blatantly, “What are your rates? What would you charge to do XX?” You say, “Probably too much.”  That is rude, but so is spamming freelancers en masse. On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t do that. But it’s an option.)

Try for a phone call. “I’d be very interested in chatting further about this, if you wish. It would probably save you a lot of time. Feel free to call me any time. Or would you like me to call you? ”

If they won’t talk, try to draw them out via email. “Tell me what you’re thinking  What have you done so far? What would you like to happen now?”

Work from there.

Listen first, talk later.

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