As a freelancer, your time is in short supply. There isn’t much that is more aggravating than wasting hours talking to someone about their project, scoping it, and writing a proposal only to get pushback on the price or have the lead disappear.

Sometimes, you discover too late that the lead doesn’t have a realistic budget for what they need done. Other times, the entire exercise seems like a free planning session where they basically get expert advice at no charge.

It wouldn’t be so annoying if there wasn’t a cost to talk to these people. Even if you have an excellent system for responding to inquiries for work you can still easily throw away a half a day you could’ve spent doing something useful.

Ugh! Tire kickers.

Is this just the cost of doing business? Knowing that you’re going to have to put out lots of proposals and talk with lots of people that aren’t qualified to work with you?I don’t think so. While it is true that you shouldn’t expect to close every proposal, it shouldn’t be because of wasting time on tire kickers, it should be because you’re pushing your prices into only the most valuable projects…that sweet spot of profit versus time invested.

In order to filter out people that are not a good fit for you, there are two characteristics that you need to center your initial qualifying questions around.

Does the lead:

  1. Have the money to execute projects in your range?
  2. Do they value what you do enough to spend that money?

In the dating scene, it’s common for men to look for attractive women and women to look for wealthy men. Obviously, these are broad stereotypes, which means they’re not true much of the time, but this perception is why, as a man, I’ve heard the advice several times that I should care about my wallet, watch, and shoes because these are three things that signal financial status. Women who do have this mindset use these items to qualify dating material.

Not everyone will have the budget to work with you. For example, you might refer a new dog grooming business that is looking for a website to someone else because you recognize that they’re just not well enough established to afford a project with you. In this instance, the wallet, watch, and shoes might be:

  • A brand new business.
  • A low profit industry.
  • A B2C service that is not mass-produced.

However, having the budget necessary isn’t enough, a lead also needs to value what you do enough to spend that budget.

For example, this week I talked with a B2B parts supplier that started our conversation by telling me that they were a million-dollar business that served several billion-dollar businesses and that part of the value they offered their customers was having a custom database on their website. Initially, this seemed like a great fit for our skill set and common project rates, but in reviewing their website I noticed that the design was very low-quality and suspected that they might not value the site enough to work with professionals at our rate. This turned out to be the case as they quickly backed away when I explained how we billed. Some people don’t value what you do and that’s okay. But you shouldn’t waste time selling to them.

Being able to ask questions and assess situations around these two needs is a skill.

You can’t tell based on simple information whether either characteristic is true. I’ve sold projects to nonprofits where I almost turned them away because I didn’t think they had the budget and it turned into a nonissue. I’ve also thought that we were a perfect match for certain businesses only to find out later that they didn’t value the work we performed enough to ante up the cash required for a project.

Like all skills, it’s something you need to practice in order to get better at. However, knowing what you need to qualify for will give you a big leg up in terms of focusing your efforts.