As independent workers, our time and energy are our most valuable resources. But are we spending these currencies wisely? The norm for freelancers is to go all out to get client work, meaning we’ll tend to agree to every sales/discovery call. Yet, dedicating our time and energy to calls can be a gamble, with uncertain returns on our investment. And a schedule overwhelmed with sales calls more often leads to burnout than success. In this article, I aim to offer some fresh thinking on the sales call strategy, proposing the integration of an essential step: Prequalification.

Redefining Engagement

In my ‘Business Unfolding‘ approach, I want to challenge the conditioned assumptions that all sales calls are time worthy. As independents, we define our own rules. We can push our schedules to the limit, squeezing in “just one more call”. Or we can become more discerning about who we want to engage with, knowing that the most fulfilling working relationships are the ones that are a mutual fit. A packed schedule of sales or discovery calls isn’t necessarily indicative of success. But having space and time to manage your workload (and still have time for play) most definitely is! So how can we get more selective?

The Prequalification Process

Prequalifying clients isn’t about being selective for the sake of exclusivity; it’s about establishing fit. A business project or coaching relationship should be a two-way process that starts long before you hop on a sales call. By observing indicators that reveal the prospective client’s values and working style so you can evaluate that compatibility.

Red Flags and Green Lights

Deciding whether to proceed with a call involves a blend of intuition and observation. Here are some of the indicators I pay attention to in the prequalification process:

1. Email Responsiveness: A prospect’s email responsiveness is often a reliable indicator of their communication style during a project. If you are struggling to get responses now, will it become more of an issue in the project itself?

Much of my work relies on client input and delays can extend the financial and bandwidth burden on me.  Chasing unresponsive clients wastes energy that could be better spent elsewhere.

2. Rescheduling: Occasional schedule conflicts are understandable. But consistent rescheduling suggests a jam-packed timetable or an over-extended business.

Is this project going to be a priority for this client? What are the implications if it is not? 

3. Metrics Over Connection: Let’s be clear, relevant stats and work samples are important – but only after mutual fit is established. My work is founded in collaboration and co-creation. If someone asks for stats and evidence pre sales call, I see red flags.

Before delving into data, it’s crucial to first establish a fundamental willingness and ability to work together. Human connection is the essential first step in any effective working relationship. Over the years, most of the challenging and unwieldy projects have results before relationships. 

4. Decision-Making Authority: Check for “middlemen” without authority. Working through an Assistant, VA or team rarely works if they can’t make real decisions or provide timely feedback. I’ve had projects, initially signed off by a team member, return later with frustrating additional amendments.

If you are working with an assistant or team, make sure your terms are expressed clearly and listed in your contracts. 

The Art of Saying ‘No’

It’s worth getting clear on your own red flags and then paying attention to them. Graciously declining calls when necessary is not just okay; it’s essential for your schedule and bandwidth. Saying ‘No’ doesn’t have to be complex or require explanation. A simple ‘I don’t think I’m the right fit for your project suffices.

I’m pleasantly surprised by the number of prospects who appreciate this level of discernment. Remember, you are also saving them time and energy, and moving them closer to the right person for their project.

Final Thoughts on Prequalification

Look at the prequalification process as a way of protecting your most precious resources – your time and energy. This approach isn’t about losing opportunities; it’s about investing in the right ones. While you may miss out on some projects, the connections gained will be more rewarding. Selective engagement is a core strength for the small business.

If you’re looking for more guidance on navigating client relationships or other aspects of independent business development, feel free to get in touch. Remember, Business Unfolding is about less stress, more time and more fun. And you get to choose what (and who) is right for you.