This article was contributed by Ian Vadas.
When a client contacts you, one of the first things you do is respond to them with an email asking them about the project, probably by using some kind of client questionnaire.
At this early stage, it’s critical to set the right tone, before the prospect has formed an opinion of you and what working with you might be like.
One way to do that is by making sure you avoid asking the wrong kind of questions. Instead, you’ll want to ask the kind of questions that position you as an expert. (Hint: experts make more money.)
Today I’m going to show you what kind of questions you should avoid and give you examples of better questions to ask.
There’s also a special FREE bonus to help you even further at the end.
Let’s jump into the details.
Order-Taker Questions (Bad)
What are order-taker questions?
Order-taker questions are questions that ask a client to be prescriptive or give their personal design preferences.
They are the equivalent of, “Would you like fries with that?”
These would be questions like:
“What colors do you like?”
“What style of fonts do you like?”
“How many pages do you think your website will have?”
“What sections do you plan for your site on the top of the home page?”
Why you shouldn’t ask these kind of questions
You don’t hire them to be your friend or design to your own whims. You hire a designer to solve a problem. -Mike Monteiro
So many freelancers fall into this trap without realizing that when you ask prospects to answer these kinds of questions, you are asking them to do your job for you. It’s your job to prescribe, not theirs.
Wouldn’t it be weird if you went to the doctor and they asked what dosage of pain medication you preferred?
That question would worry you a little bit, wouldn’t it?
When you ask prescriptive questions, you essentially hand over your duties as an expert to the prospect and set yourself up to be perceived as an order-taker—someone who simply executes work given to them.
You can still get by and do work as a freelancer this way, but someone like that is a commodity and is easily replaceable.
To earn more, you’ll want to act and be treated like a trusted partner. Someone who is indispensable.
Someone who is indispensable makes the client’s life easier by getting to the root of their problem and solving it for them. They get them more customers, make them more money, and/or reduce their stress. They seek out the prospect’s true goals and find the best way to accomplish them.
To make the mindset shift from order-taker to trusted partner, you need to start thinking of yourself as a consultant rather than a freelancer. Consultants do more than just deliver work. They make recommendations based on their knowledge and experience.
They don’t just take orders and execute them. Instead, they find out if the order will meet the desired goals and make recommendations based on their findings. They find out if the shoe fits.
It’s far more valuable to the client to know you are working towards their business goals rather than simply executing what they asked you to do.
That’s why consultants can command far higher fees for their work. When you know you are providing more value, you can confidently raise your prices.
Just like any good doctor, a good consultant will diagnose the problem first before prescribing a solution.
Order-taker questions lock you into a solution.
The second issue with order-taker questions is they lock you into a prescribed solution. They don’t allow for exploring alternate routes that might save the client money, differentiate their brand, be faster or, in many cases, lead to expanding the scope of work—which is good for you.
If blue is the client’s favorite color, now you are probably locked into creating a logo in blue. Well what if your research shows most everyone else in the prospect’s field also has a blue logo and by choosing green they could differentiate the brand a bit?
That argument becomes much more persuasive when you present it to a client as a competitive analysis. But if you ask what the client’s personal preference is, you are hindering your ability to even be able to conduct a competitive analysis.
Your job is to find out if what the prospect is asking for when they come to you is actually going to solve their problems and if it’s the best solution for them. Not what their favorite color is.
You’ve got assume the lead role in the project and take what they’ve told is their best assessment on how to fix the problem and then you formulate your own opinion.
Dream-Based Questions (Good)
How do you do that? You start by asking the right kind of questions.
Show your expertise by asking great questions.
To get to be a trusted partner, you’ve got to first understand what your prospect is trying to accomplish.
Start with questions that allow you to understand the project goals.
One question I always ask is:
“Why are you looking to start this project? What is motivating you right now?”
This question allows you to understand their project goals, rather than just blindly jumping into the project.
Other good questions let you know what their dreams are for their business and what expectations they have for the end result.
“How do you perceive success with this project and what does that look like?”
“Where do you really want to take your business?”
The dreams-based questions are a great place to start understanding what they are trying to achieve with their business and what their plans are for the future. But to get the whole picture, you’ll also need to understand their fears for their business and what hardships they are facing.
”What hurdles are you facing right now that are getting in the way of growth in your business?”
“What is the single most difficult thing in your business right now?”
“What will happen to your business if nothing changes?”
“Why now? Why haven’t you made this change yet?”
The answers to these questions give you the full view of your prospect’s business, allowing you to give better-informed recommendations.
These questions get at the root of why they are undertaking this project in the first place. The answers you get should be able to get a clear picture of why they actually want to redesign their website or why they need a new logo design.
What you’ll get from your prospect are responses like, “You’re questions are really good and have given me more to think about.” or “I love the questions that you are asking me, its getting me going!” or “I love these questions. You’re offering a real value to people with your work.”
When you start to hear that, you’ll know they are perceiving you differently than freelancers asking them order-taker questions.
What to do if they won’t give you the information
It’s a common fear of freelancers that asking these probing questions will be a turnoff to prospects. To some, it might be, but most people love talking about their business—especially if you’ve shown a genuine interest in helping them achieve their dreams.
To the few that don’t want to open up to you, it’s a simple decision: walk away.
If they aren’t willing to give you the access you need to make informed recommendations, chances are they are looking for an order-taker to execute the work, and you’ll have additional problems and frustrations with them.
What to do today
If you want to make the transition from order-taker to trusted partner, the first step is to start asking better questions and position yourself as an expert.
Start thinking and behaving as a consultant instead of a freelancer and look for goals rather than deliverables.
Understand the client’s reason behind the project instead of asking them to tell you their personal taste and direction you should take.
When you find inconsistencies with what they originally told you to execute and what their goals are, speak up and let them know.
That’s what trusted partners do.
Freebie PDF: Questions That Make You Look Like An Expert
To help you get started, I’ve put together a PDF called “Questions That Make You Look Like An Expert”. It includes the client screener questionnaire I use to help sift out problem clients (and work with only the best), and the a project goal questionnaire to set you up to be perceived as an expert right off the bat. Click here to download it.