Seven ways to better manage your design leads and enquiries

Spring is here, and its not just the birds and animals waking up from hibernation; new and existing clients have recovered from the January blues and my inbox is subsequently taking a battering. New enquiries take up the majority of space, and whilst I still get that “yay!” feeling every time a lead lands I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to manage them. The 80/20 rule has been ringing in my ears, and I’ve realised I’ve spent too many hours replying to enquiries that even if I did win them wouldn’t really get me even 10% towards my long term goals.

So it’s been a little frustrating, but the good news is that a few of the processes I’ve implemented recently have not only saved me some serious billable time, but also led me to discussing really exciting new projects. Here’s some of the issues I’ve encountered managing my design leads, and what I’ve discovered about solving them.

It's not just this little guy who wakes up in the spring, new clients are bursting into life.

It’s not just this little guy who wakes up in the Spring! New startups are bursting into life and I’m getting swamped with potential leads and enquiries.

1. Vague or half-serious enquiries that I’m not sure whether to reply to…

The key to this is knowing what a good enquiry looks like and being able to quickly spot things that may be high risk or low reward. I’ve developed a really basic checklist that helps me establish if I want to follow up the initial email. You could use any kind of criteria, but some of the things I check for are domain names in the email, phone numbers, links to a website, a clear outline of what they’re looking for, referrals from other clients or friends. It’s not that one of these things alone would eliminate a lead from follow up, but in combination it can be hard to get excited about a generic email from a stranger with no message other than “what’s your rate?”.

2. Everything about this lead seems good on paper, but I’ve got a weird feeling about it…

Doing your due diligence is so important, and there are loads of ways you can check out a potential client before following up their enquiry. I use companycheck.co.uk, but there are other similar providers, to check if a company is registered with companies house and look at their basic financial standing. If an enquiry is from an exotic far off destination I use www.gov.uk to check the overseas business risk of that country and make sure there aren’t any red flags putting me off. A little bit of harmless internet mooching is always wise, why not check the person out on LinkedIn or look them up on Twitter to find out if they’re the kind of client you would work with, or even have a pint with? I you’re not sure you would want to be stuck in a lift with them, would you be able to work on a six month project with them?

3. All these enquiries are great but there are just too many, and they want the work done yesterday!

So I’ve been told quite a few times that If I’m super busy I should put my rates up. For a long time I felt a little uncomfortable or scared about charging new clients more when I’m busy, but I’ve come to realise its basic economics; when demand goes up prices increase. One of the main drivers for this is a lot of the design enquiries I get are urgent and have tight deadlines. Fitting this in to an already booked out calendar needs to be financially beneficial for me, otherwise I’m going to lose motivation to get that work done in my spare time. So I’ve put my rates up recently, and it has been mutually beneficial. Its also a way of filtering the pipeline out, so letting people know that at the moment you’re very busy and your rates have gone up, but maybe if they come back in eight weeks things will be different. If they don’t offer me the work right now at least there’s a chance I’ll get some work coming through later down the line. If they are happy with the rate, the extra couple of pounds is being invested into the future of my business, and my new client is getting the design work they need when they need.

I've finally learnt simple economics - when demand is high prices go up. So should a freelancers rates.

I’ve finally learnt simple economics – when demand is high prices go up. So should a freelancer’s rates.

4. I put my rates up and they still want me to do the work. Help!

Congratulations, you are in enviable position of being able to cherry pick your projects! There are a number of ways to do this. The first thing I did was set up an auto reply email with a link to a form asking for a lot more information about the potential client’s project. I’ve been using www.typeform.com as it offers a nice, seamless non-threatening process for capturing the info. It’s really helped me establish what kinds of projects I’m interested in and get a more in-depth feel for their business before I decide to Skype them for a detailed call. Any time wasters will just ignore the form and not get back to me, so they’re instantly filtered out. I’ve had to spend some time thinking about the kind of UI/UX design jobs I want; do I want to work with exclusively startups or widen the net to other tech business? do I want to pursue longer term projects, or quick projects that I can fit into my existing schedule? All these kinds of questions inform my decisions on what to pursue.

5. I can’t tell if I’m making the right choices about all these processes…

Getting some simple customer relationship management (CRM) software has been incredibly useful as it allows me to analyse all these enquiries. It was this software that initially shed a light on how much time I was wasting replying to fruitless leads. Maybe you feel like you’re getting loads of enquiries, your inbox has new emails looking for work everyday, but until you start logging and reviewing them, how can you tell if any of sales were the sales you wanted? I’ve spent a bit of time over the last few weeks trying to answer these questions, and I wouldn’t have been able to even comprehend the stats without logging each and every enquiry in a CRM system. I use Podio, which is really simple and has some basic reporting so I can pull out useful info. But there are plenty out there to choose from, or even a simple excel spreadsheet will do the basic job just as well.

 6. Are you crazy? Most of us freelancers are just happy to get the work in, its not all busy-busy!

Maybe you’re new to freelancing, or perhaps you’re having a lean couple of weeks/months/years – we’ve all been there. But I’ve learnt that even when you’re not busy you still need to be doing all of the above to a certain degree. If you don’t you’re in danger of chasing after every shadow of a new project. I certainly felt I had to bend over backwards to win work when starting out, and spent quite a few years pitching for projects that weren’t really right for me, just because they had landed in my inbox. In hindsight I realise I could of spent that time actually pursuing the design projects that really got me going, improving my portfolio or networking with the kinds of clients I’d love to work with. Just because you need work, it doesn’t mean you need every enquiry that comes your way. So the message is continue to scrutinise and manage the enquiries you get as you would when you’re busy.

53H

Even when you’re having a lean month its worth considering how much time you spend following up leads that land in your inbox, compared to time actively pursuing the work you want.

7. How do I do all this without seeming like a stuck up jerk…

I was hesitant to write this blog, because I truly don’t want it to be about bashing all the brilliant enquiries I get and appearing ungrateful. Implementing these processes has been difficult at times, because I pride myself on having a personal approach and responding to people quickly. But I’ve learnt that as long as I’m friendly, truthful and straight forward in my communications, be it through an auto-responder or enquiry forms, that people appreciate that I’m trying to avoid wasting their time as much as my own. As long as you’re true to yourself you haven’t mislead or offended anyone its OK to be choosey about what leads you follow up.

I hope that helps anyone who’s experienced some of the challenges I have. I’d be keen to hear any other suggestions about how to manage the ol’ pipeline.

As usual, would love you to follow me on Twitter @zer0mike and of course check out my new business @bossanova_io.

You may also like to read ‘Be a better freelance designer’

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Mike Hince is a UI & UX Designer and the co-founder of Bossanova Design.

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