OK, so you have a potential client land in your inbox and book an inquiry call with you. You are suddenly filled with excitement (someone wants to work with me!) but the overwhelming feeling of dread is taking over...
You have to talk to someone you don't even know on a video call, they'll be firing tricky questions at you and putting you on the spot. You loved that going freelance meant you didn't have to do an extensive interview process, but now you're facing mini ones ALL the time!
This was me the first time I booked an inquiry call. I was shaking, my mouth was dry, I'd been dreading the call all week, I was afraid my cat would interrupt us by meowing very loudly and it would be very awkward (he was getting pretty old and senile at this point), I wasn't sure what they were going to ask me and I definitely felt like I would be working FOR the client rather than WITH them.
I felt like I had to sell myself on the inquiry call, like I would be grilled about my experience and they would realise how inexperienced I was.
Well, I had the inquiry call, it was pretty excruciating and she did grill me. When she asked if I had any questions I asked her the three I had prepared, she'd already answered the few I thought I needed to know.
I did land the project, but she'd somehow managed to haggle my price in half. So although I was excited that it was my first web project, I definitely wasn't looking forward to starting it, not to mention the fact that our visual styles couldn't be less aligned.
The next time I had an inquiry call with a potential client I did my research. I learnt that I don't need to 'sell' myself on an inquiry call, if anything it should be ME qualifying THEM. I read the 'Win Without Pitching Manifesto' and formulated a call script to follow, the basis of which I still use now.
I still had the dry mouth and flipping stomach, but I was prepared and ready to qualify this client.
This time it went amazingly, I was assertive and positioned myself as the expert I was becoming, I felt like she respected me and I was winning her trust by asking all my super insightful questions.
I won that job too, but this time she didn't haggle my price. She was a dream client and we worked together wonderfully.
I've definitely come a long way since those first few calls and I like to bring a more chatty and friendly approach now, but I still ensure that the meetings are guided and that I get all the information I need to formulate a winning proposal.
My inquiry calls usually last around 30 mins, but I allow up to an hour for particularly chatty clients. I don't like to rush them and I love getting to know about their business in a relaxed and friendly way. Now that I know the questions by heart I just let the conversation flow and slip the questions in where I can so it's not too scripted. I don't always need to ask all of them as the conversation often flows into another question. I try to repeat back and summarize what they're saying so they know I'm really listening. For example I'll often say I'll say "I'm hearing... is that correct?". I learnt this from the amazing Melinda Livsey.
Right let's get into the questions.
I usually start with asking how they are etc, maybe something about the weather (I'm British so of course I'm obsessed with the weather) and then I explain what the call is about and how it works. This is important so you establish who's leading the call, and that this isn't an opportunity for them to pick your brains.
"This is a call so I can gather some information about your project. Afterwards I'll put together a proposal which you can then choose if you'd like to accept. "
The big picture questions
"How did you get into what you're doing now/your business? What are you selling?"
I like to keep my meetings chatty and informal, so when they're telling me about their business I always think it's important to get excited about it with them, even more so if it's a new business idea that they're still a little apprehensive about. Obviously don't fake your excitement, but I've usually sussed out their business from their initial email so it's usually something I am genuinely enthusiastic about.
If they're selling already: "Where can your products currently be bought and where would you like them to be bought in the future?"
It's good to know if they have brick and mortar stores, if they are stocked in retailers and how important e-commerce is to them right now. You can also ask how this might change in the future
If they're not selling already: "What stage are you at with your product development/manufacturing/sourcing/formulating? And when are you planning to launch?"
This helps you gauge where they are in the process and how soon they need their site.
"What price point will/are your products selling at?"
This is a super useful question so you can tell whether this is a high end product and therefore might influence the budget they have for the project.
"Who are your target audience?"
You've really got to know who they're selling to, if they're a bit vague about this then it might be that they need some help with the strategy side of things.
"What problems are you experiencing with your current website?" (If they already have one)
This is the million dollar question. You'll become invaluable to clients if you can solve their problems so this is one of the most important insights you need to have. You need to understand exactly why they feel they need to invest their hard earned cash into a new website. If you can solve the problems they have, then they will be so much more willing to pay good money. Try and really get to the heart of the problem, for example if they say they don't feel their website is aligned with them, ask them why again. Keep asking why until you get to the root of what they're trying to do. Simon Sinek has some amazing insight on this in his book 'Start With Why'.
"Once you have your new site, what would you like the outcome to be?"
It's really useful to know what they hope they will gain from a new website and what the ideal outcome would be. It's usually to make more sales but a new website may not be the best way to do that. It might be that they only need a rebrand and a website refresh. If you frame these problems as goals in your proposal then you'll have a much higher chance of winning the project!
"What made you drawn to what I do?"
This is a great question to find out what they're motivated by and what projects of yours they especially liked so you know what kind of style they'd like.
"What kind of style were you thinking of? Can you show me sites you really like?"
Scope of websites can vary quite dramatically, so it's a good idea if they can show you some sites they are inspired by, so make sure you have screen sharing enabled. I also find that clients often struggle with the correct terminology or describe things differently, so it's great if they can show you what they're trying to explain. For example some clients tell me they want a super interactive site, so I imagine something crazy with tons of animations, whereas they'll show me an example with a few hover effects. This, of course, could affect your quote quite drastically, so it's important to find out early. I also find it's great to show them more examples of websites that are similar to the ones they like, so you can demonstrate to them that you understand what they're going for. Obviously you'll explore these things more in depth once you're (hopefully!) working together, but it's a really good idea to have a quick share of inspiration on the inquiry call.
The technical questions
"What website platform are you currently on?"
If they already have a site, it's a good idea to find out what platform it's on as it might involve you in more work. For example if they have a website with Squarespace or WIX, it's a good idea to ask them if they bought their domain through the platform as you'll need to redirect it in order to use it with Shopify. Sometimes this can be more complicated through Squarespace or WIX than it would be if bought separately through GoDaddy for example. If they're not already on Shopify you'll also need to factor in some tutorials so they can understand how Shopify works. I include basic tutorials with all my sites (how to add a new product, edit the homepage etc) but you might have to go a little more in detail if the client hasn't used Shopify before. If the client isn't on Shopify, then ensure they know you'll start the site through your partner account. This way you'll get your Shopify Partner referral fee.
"Why do you want to move to Shopify/Would you be happy moving to Shopify?"
Since I do think that Squarespace can be a good e-commerce option in certain instances (it's rare, but I do think it can be a good option sometimes!) after listening to what they want from their site I'll advise what platform I think is best. It's good to see if they'd be happy moving or starting on Shopify.
"How many products will you/do you have?"
I usually include adding 10 or fewer products in the quote. For sites with hundreds of products, you may be able to import them. It's up to you, just make sure that you know.
"What pages do you need on your site?"
I usually list out the main pages and then ask if they would need any more aside from the Homepage, Product Page (sometimes called a PDP or Product Detail Page), About Page, FAQ, Contact Page and Terms and Conditions. Sometimes clients might want an extra page for a stockists section or wholesale contact page.
"Would you like a wholesale area?"
If clients are stocked in different places, they might like to have a wholesale area where retailers can log in to access wholesale pricing and order from the site. There are a few Shopify Apps that can do this, but make sure the client is aware of the subscription cost for features like this.
"What countries do you ship to and are different languages important?"
Luckily, Shopify makes international selling easy, but it's good to know if the site will need to be translated into different languages and currencies. If the client hasn't mentioned this then I won't usually bring it up as it might be something they would do in the future, but it's good to bear it in mind in case they do mention shipping internationally.
"Would you like extra functionality such as an instant message box, abandon cart emails, a product quiz, videos on product pages etc?"
Sometimes I don't necessarily ask this on the call, but I do often include them in a proposal. I usually give three options in my proposals, each option has a different scope and budget, so these things might be included in the top budget option.
"Do you have your photography and copywriting sorted?"
I require both of these things to be ready before I start working on their website, otherwise I just find we have to redo everything when the content is sent over. If they don't have this sorted then I will offer to send them recommendations.
"If you have your branding already, do you have a brand guideline with fonts and colours?"
Some people think that branding is just a logo, so it's really important that you understand if you'll need to source fonts and colours for the website. Of course these can influence the whole look of the website so drastically, so it's super important that their branding is aligned with your style too. If they haven't yet received their branding then I ask them to at least show me a mood board or other brands they're inspired by check we're on the same page. You'll have probably ascertained this earlier on when we were asking about website inspiration, but it's important to make 100% sure that you're aligned.
"My availability and whether I want to work with them"
At this point I start transitioning into the logistics of working together. If I don't think they're the right fit then I do try and say on the call, just so I can explain why (it might be their style, their launch date might not work with my timeline or they want functionality I can't offer etc) and I'll say that I can send them some recommendations for others who might be able to help. At this point I'll also say when I would be able to fit it in and how long the process should take. I like to save the logistics chat for the end so that if they (hopefully) really want to work with me they'll be more willing to wait if I'm booked up a few months in advance.
The money questions
"What's your budget?/I've seen your budget is X amount, how are you funding that?"
OK, the other super important question. Do they actually have the funds to afford your service? Obviously this is a tricky subject but I think it's so important to talk about this confidently and assertively without emotion. I think we (especially as women) often tie so much unnecessary emotion and self worth to this subject but we need to remember that it's just business. I like to ask the budget question on my inquiry form so I've already got some kind of idea of what they want to spend. I know this isn't how everyone likes to do it but I find it works really well for me. So instead of asking 'what's your budget?' I usually say 'OK so you've said your budget is X amount, how are you funding that?'. That opens them up to their thoughts about their budget, and I can also gauge how they're approaching the project. Since I give three options in my proposals (which vary in scope and budget) it means I can try to detect how much those cost options could vary.
If you don't have costs on your inquiry form and are either using a fixed price, or a totally value based approach, then asking the question 'What's your budget?' can be a tricky one, often they'll ask you to tell them what it'll cost. I did use this method for a while and I would see if they would tell me, if they couldn't then I'd give them a ballpark figure and gauge their reaction. This would mean I could cost the proposal more accurately. It's kind of helpful for them to say "No that's out of my budget!" while you're on the call so you can adjust the scope and budget accordingly if you're happy to. Alternatively if you say the ballpark cost and they don't flinch then you know you can probably give a higher priced option too. If we have wildly different ideas on budget then I will suggest I recommend some other designers who might be less expensive. I try to remain super matter of fact about this so it isn't awkward, and tell them that I'm sure they'll get an excellent website for their budget, it just may not be able to be with me. I like to help people as much as possible, so that they walk away feeling good - you never know they might come back to you in the future or recommend you to someone else!
I explain the payment plan
If they do flinch at costs, then I explain that we can break the payment down into more instalments if they'd like. I usually do 50% deposit, 25% before we start and 25% before I hand the site over, but I can be flexible if they'd like to pay this off in smaller instalments to make things easier for them.
Wrapping up the call
"Do you have any concerns about working with me?"
I love this question as it can really help reassure them that I'm the best person for the job. When I was just starting out with Shopify I had a couple of people say the only thing worrying them was that I didn't have many projects under my belt. This gave me the opportunity to say why they didn't need to worry, that I always want to do a good job and that I have people I can ask if I get stuck with anything.
"Are you talking to anyone else? If so, how will you decide who you work with?"
Sometimes I don't ask this if it sounds like they're super on board with me. But I like that it gives them an opportunity to say who else they're talking to and what their decision will come down to in the end. To people who are new to business and come across as unsure and might need some help, I sometimes offer to discuss their options with them and sympathize with how difficult it can be to find the right people for the job. At the end of the day I truly want the best fit for them and their project so I realise that might not always be me!
"Are you ready to book? I'll be sending over the proposal on X day and the proposal is valid for a week"
You might have already gathered from the call whether they're just in the early stages of scouting out a project, or whether they're ready to book asap. I ask this so I know whether to expect them to book in now or if they'll come back to me when they're ready. I explain to them that my proposal is valid for one week (just ensures that someone doesn't come back to you months later and your pricing has changed), that it'll have three options in and if they accept it the invoice and contract will be generated to get them booked in. Tip: If you don't have a solid project contract yet, we highly recommend this contract template. I also think it's extremely important to tell them when the proposal will be sent over so they're not waiting around. I feel like sending the proposal is the first way you can show them that you keep to your word - so send it over when you say you will!
"Do you have any other questions? Let me see if there's any I've missed."
This gives you an opportunity to take a minute and make sure you've asked everything. Some people have lots of questions prepared and for others I've already answered everything. But at least by this point they'll be seeing you as an expert, so you don't need to feel like you're in an interview!
The most important thing about inquiries is to not be afraid to say no if they don't feel like a good fit. Something I've come to realise is that a website client is often a client for life (well, a long time). Clients often need updates or experience technical issues with their sites, so it's really important that they're someone you're happy working with on a long term basis, you definitely don't want to resent them when they pop into your inbox!
If you found this information helpful, you'd love what I'm teaching in our Shopify course, Design Freedom on Shopify. Watch our free Shopify training for a peek into the course content.