How to Avoid Wasting Time on a "Potential" Client

In the course of trying to run a small business, it almost inevitably happens that you waste time, especially when it comes to finding new work.  Most jobs are decided after one or two emails, one phone call, and the signing of a contract. Most. Then there are the occasional gigs that eat up more time for little or no return. Email after email. Two to three phone calls. More emails. Back and forth of endless contract negotiation. And more emails. These should be the high-paying jobs that put bread, butter, and a few T-bones on the table. Sadly.. they usually end up being the mayo on my BLT, and nothing more.

Before you set out to get that gig, ask yourself a few key questions... they may save you more than headache and frustration. They may also save you precious time:

1. Do I really want this job? If you're answering every call for a writer, photog, or dog-walker, you will eventually be forced to ask yourself this question. Yeah, it's great when your inbox is brimming with potential opportunities, but with each one comes great responsibility (plus 5-10 minutes in email replies.) If it's not something you will be grateful for later, skip it.

2. Do I know what I'm getting into? I've admittedly spent hours on phone calls to form some kind of ill-defined alliance with a potential employer/partner/colleague. I've walked away with an inkling of what I was being hired for, and not much more. This is not only a bad way to do business, but a colossal waste of time. Get in, get the facts, and get it done. Chit chat can come when the cards are all out on the table.

3. Am I giving too much away? Consultative selling is an art -- As long as you are merely consulting. Don't tell them everything you will do before you do it. Otherwise, they could just do it themselves (and many will try.) Form solid expectations to deliver upon, and leave more than a little to the imagination. You have a skill they desire. Let them desire it. 

You've made it as a successful small business owner when you can turn down work and feel better for it. Not every job is the bees-knees, so take what you can, and leave the junk for someone less disciplined.

Have you ever regretted spending too much time with a "potential" client or customer, only to regret that you didn't get anything from it?

*Photo by barbourians via Flickr.

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