Ask the Right Questions if You Want to Avoid Undesirable Projects


Every web designer can envision their ideal client and project. Whether it’s a project that will utilize a specific content management system (CMS) or working with a client in a particular industry, we all have our comfort zone.

But many of us are faced with opportunities that aren’t necessarily a great fit. It might be that their timeline is too tight, their budget too low or their project isn’t within our niche. On its own, that’s all well and good.

The problem is that it’s possible to waste a lot of time before concluding that a potential client isn’t going to work out. For example, you may go as far as meeting with them and writing a detailed proposal, only to realize it isn’t a good fit.

So, how can you come to this conclusion a lot sooner? One of the best ways to weed out undesirable projects is to ask the right questions.

Get to the Point

In the quest to be polite, it can seem a bit rude to start asking tough questions right away. And there may be some truth to that. It’s hard to build a good relationship by interrogating someone.

Nonetheless, it is possible to be both cordial and direct. Depending on your personality, this may be difficult to do on the phone or in person. That’s certainly true in my case, which is why I prefer to keep the process limited to email communication – at least until I have an idea if the project is worth pursuing.

Email provides a medium where it’s possible to be friendly, yet ask very direct questions. You don’t have to use fancy wording or over-complicate things. The simpler the question, the better chance that you’ll receive a useful answer.

Start with just a few queries that paint a broad picture of the project. For example, questions like:

  • “What’s your budget?”
  • “What’s your timeline for finishing the project?”
  • “Do you need to accept online payments?”

These types of questions are short, sweet, and specific. They will get you better results than something overly-general, such as:

  • “What are the details of your project?”

Beating around the bush just prolongs the process. And it becomes more difficult to determine if this is a project you want to take on.

Short, simple questions often yield the most useful answers from clients.

Digging Deeper

If your initial questions elicit the right answers, then it’s time to take things to the next level. This is where you might want to think about a phone call, video chat, or (if you think you have something special) an in-person meeting.

Of course, reaching this point doesn’t guarantee that the project is a perfect fit. Just that you’ve found enough potential to dig a little deeper. From here, you can start to collect the smaller details that will help you make a better determination.

This is where another round of questioning comes into play. It’s still important to keep things simple and direct.

Hopefully, you’ve established the general parameters of what the client is looking for. But it never hurts to confirm these details by repeating them (“You mentioned that you have about 150 products to sell in your WooCommerce store…”). Verifying this information helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Now you can start getting into the nitty-gritty of what the project requires. In our WooCommerce example above, you might want to ask something along the lines of:

  • “Let’s discuss shipping. What’s the largest product you have? What’s the smallest?”
  • “Are any of your products available in multiple sizes?”
  • “Who will process your orders?”

As you get more answers, you should have a better grasp of both the project and the client. This should give you all the information you need to know regarding whether or not to sign on.

Once you have a general project outline, you can begin to ask more detailed questions.

Streamline the Client Screening Process

When you think about it, discussing a potential project with someone is sort of like a job interview. The other party is trying to determine if you are a good fit for their project. At the same time, you’re trying to understand how the project might fit into your business.

As a web designer, you should pick your projects carefully. No one wants to dedicate their time and brainpower to something that’s not going to be a success for everyone involved.

Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions. You’ll get to the heart of the matter and, if things don’t work out, you’ll walk away knowing that it’s for the best.

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