We’ve all seen them. People ask for a quote on a job, but they don’t seem to want to give away any facts like background info or scope. As if that would be disclosing sensitive commercial information or something. Or at the very least giving away the fact they haven’t got a clue.
Most of the time, you should simply ignore these and scroll on. But what if you don’t? What if you want to have a bit of fun and help this hapless prospect in the process?
My wife the designer is always laughing at some of the useless posts she sees on job sites. For example, simply: ‘Company website needed.’
In fairness, that’s not always it. Often they might include words like ‘ecommerce’ or ‘conversion-driven’. But nothing particularly useful.
The obvious thing would be to ask: How many pages, and what’s your budget?
But they probably don’t know how many pages they’re really going to need, and will be scared of naming a budget for fear of pitching too high or too low. The reasons for their reticence will always be rooted in some form of insecurity.
A job post this vague is probably a sign you shouldn’t reply. But you might fancy poking around in case it could be worthwhile – it’s true that many good clients get hidden behind their inability to communicate.
In which case, I’d say ask a bunch of questions about THEM before diving into the costs and scope. This will make your quote and outline seem reasonable to them when you send it.
I’d recommend responding with something like: ‘Hi – that’s great you’re getting a new website. Exciting!’
And then ask:
1. What field are you in?
Seems obvious, but asking them to define their sector will give you many clues. Firstly, you’ll learn exactly how they describe themselves, and the words they use could well differentiate them from others in the same sector. They’ll be sure to want to qualify their business beyond simply what they do. It’s a natural human inclination to show you’re an individual.
Secondly, it’ll give you context for everything else they have to say. Young or old customers, typical budgets, and of course the tone of voice and imagery that customers are used to seeing in that market.
2. What has brought you to this point?
This is where they can open up about their story and themselves. Whether young or old, start-up or established organisation, they will have evolved, been on a journey and discovered that they need to bring in help.
By asking them this, you will get to the root of their problems. They’ll be able to tell you exactly what has caused them to need your skills. So you’ll quickly understand what you can bring to the table.
Note – the wording is important. Asking ‘why did you come to me?’ is implying an internal justification on their part; asking ‘what made you take this action?’ is addressing an external influence that they need to deal with.
3. Have you done any audience/customer research?
A classic, yet vital question. If they haven’t, then it will make them realise that perhaps they should. But it will also prompt them to tell you as much as they can about their customers and the audience that you will be dealing with.
If they have, then great! You’ve discovered that they are a competent client, and you’ll have some real data on which to base your proposals/ideas/designs/first drafts.
4. What matters most to your users?
This question does develop out of the last one, but is likely something they will know instinctively anyway from their own experience.
The answers to this will give you a strong idea what issues, information and/or processes the website will need to tackle right off the bat. And will also give you instant justification for any suggestions you’ll make. After all, you’re not just conjuring ideas out of thin air – you’re addressing an issue that could make their business far more appealing to their prospects, using the evidence of their own words!
5. Do you already have a strong brand or company personality?
This is nice to ask, as it will show sensitivity to their business. People are proud and often protective of what they’ve worked to build. They don’t always want a ‘creative’ to come in and impose their new vision and innovative ideas on their baby.
If they do, then it’s likely they’ll want it ‘developed’ a little.
And if they don’t have one, then great – you’ve got an opportunity to really help them develop. Or at least make some cracking suggestions in line with their audience, sector and journey as outlined in the previous questions.
Leave it hanging, let them do the talking
Once you’ve put these questions in a response, just leave it there. No need to add a fancy sign-off, or an invitation to discuss the job over a Zoom call. Nothing.
This might feel a little awkward, but it creates a gap – a silence after your questions that the reader will feel the need to fill. Avoid the temptation to fill it yourself with pleasantries or a push to ‘jump on a call’.
Your questions are starting a conversation that invites answers. Answers to help define the project – for them as well as you. This is the message equivalent of shutting up and letting them do the talking.
Don’t feel the need to offer more info or a price – you’ll only end up undermining yourself.
Make the only next logical response be for them to answer – that way, you get the best of both worlds. Calls, costs and scope can come later.
You might feel anxious if they don’t reply. There’s no need to worry. If they don’t get back to you, that means they are not worth bothering with.
But if they do get back to you a week or three down the line, your questions will have ensured that both you and they are a lot more ready to tackle the project.
Calls, costs and scope can come later. And it’ll feel natural when they do.
Good luck with everything!