How to Vet Clients for Consistent Success

If I asked you who your ideal client is, would you be able to paint a vivid picture?

Businesses that take the time to know and then properly vet who their ideal clients are deliver superior work, keep their own teams happy, and serve their clients at the highest level.

After decades in business, I’ve realized that some of the common struggles entrepreneurs experience are often the result of a lackluster vetting strategy. A business can easily become a “master of none” if they waste time engaging clients and industries they’re not equipped to serve.

In this post, I’ll explain why vetting your clients is a simple, yet pivotal practice for long-term success. I’ll cover what to do if a client isn’t right for you and what to do if you are just starting out.

Table of contents: How to vet clients

  1. Get clear on the characteristics of your ideal client
  2. Know your client’s goals and desired outcomes
  3. Research your client’s track record
  4. Determine budget and pricing upfront
  5. Ask the right questions to create clarity
  6. Be on the lookout for red flags from prior client experiences
  7. Run leads through your vetting system
  8. What to do if a client isn’t the right fit
  9. What if you don’t have clients yet?
  10. Refine your vetting strategy as your business grows

Whether you currently have a vetting system that needs an upgrade or no system at all, here’s what you need to know to get and keep an ideal client base.

1. Get clear on the characteristics of your ideal client

The first step toward effectively vetting clients is knowing who you’re serving, including demographics. Knowing your ideal client’s demographics allows you to effectively present your products or services.This also helps you identify who you do not want to serve. Demographics to evaluate include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • Where they live
  • Income range
  • Stage of life/career
  • Marital status

To go a level deeper, look at your ideal clients’ psychographics, which examines their world view, including things like:

  • Beliefs
  • Personality
  • Habits
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Lifestyle preferences

While most business owners stop here, there are a few other questions to ask and consider when identifying your ideal client.

What are their values?

Your ideal client’s values are foundational to helping you communicate in ways that resonate with them on a deeper level. Examples of brands that match their core values to their target demo are Apple (innovation and creativity); Patagonia (sustainability); and Amazon (convenience).

What exact problem are you solving?

Knowing rich detail about the exact problem you’re helping to solve allows you to filter out who you’re best equipped to serve and create targeted messaging to attract those clients while getting the wrong clients off the bus.

What stage of business are they in?

A web design service for a start-up can look vastly different for a solopreneur than it would for a family-run legacy business. Knowing the stage of business (and life) your ideal client is in allows you to communicate effectively.

What are the before and after?

Painting a clear picture of what the before and after look like when you work with a client is essential. When you know who your ideal client is, you’ll be able to communicate the situation they are in when they come to you, and the results they can expect after working with you. Consider your ideal client avatar to be your marketing “North Star.”

For example, an accountant who delivers financial services for businesses could have a generic tagline that doesn’t attract their ideal client, or a more detailed description of services that targets their exact client sweet spot:

  • General: “I help businesses do their books on time.”
  • Client specific: “I help solopreneurs and freelancers manage and optimize their books, take the guesswork out of tax season, and experience peace of mind.”

Both communicate the same service but with a different focus. The second example will help target a specific client that maps more accurately to whom they serve. Now that you have a more clear picture of your ideal client, let’s take it a step further.

2. Know your client’s goals and desired outcomes

Vetting clients effectively requires knowing them better than they know themselves. Business today has become more personal and business owners can’t afford to miss this two-part step.

Step One: Get crystal clear on your client’s goals for working with your business. While this may sound obvious, many businesses don’t spend enough time vetting their prospects to ensure they’re 100% clear on an outcome. A client that’s not clear on what they want can lead to misalignment of expectations at best and a sour experience at worst.

Step Two: It’s important to know your client’s goals that are above and beyond your scope of work and understand how your brand, product, or service acts as a bridge to fulfill those goals. These are often called auxiliary goals.

An example of a main goal would be a business owner’s desire to consistently make $55,000 a month. An example of an auxiliary goal would be to alleviate stress related to monthly bills that are due. Try to find out the hidden goal behind the main goal your client would like to achieve with you. When identified correctly ahead of your work together, achieving the auxiliary goal becomes a new benefit that arises from the work you do with your client. Knowing these ahead of time creates trust, connection and credibility.

3. Research your client’s track record

Properly vetting clients in a changing digital landscape goes beyond a sales conversation or filling out an online form. This shouldn’t take much time and effort. A little due diligence at this stage goes a long way in ensuring both parties are a fit to work together. Take a look at the company’s online reputation, track record, and reviews, including:

Online reputation It’s never been easier to get a snapshot of a business’s overall reputation by spending time reviewing its online reputation, including years in business, company profiles, and social media.

Business track record Explore any public information related to their track record, case studies, founder and team bios.

Reviews and/or complaints By researching reviews, you’ll get a sense of how your potential client delivers on the promises to their clients, and common feedback that could help you recognize patterns.

4. Determine budget and pricing upfront

One of the most effective ways to vet clients is by being upfront and transparent with pricing. Sure, there’s always a case to be made to establish a connection and build rapport first, then mention pricing later. But too many businesses waste time by delaying the conversation.

There are typically three ways to address this.

  1. Ask for the client’s budget upfront to get an idea of what they’re able to afford.
  2. Be transparent about your pricing from the start, filtering those who can’t afford it.
  3. Create a brand or business aesthetic and messaging that, while less tangible, reveals the market you’re going after.

Remember: Not every prospect is a fit to work with your business, even when needs and solutions match up. Being upfront about pricing allows you to filter clients who may not have the budget or desire to work at your price point.

5. Ask the right questions to create clarity

The most important tool in your arsenal during the initial discovery phase is to ask the right questions at the right time to create clarity. These questions can be asked explicitly on an online form, during a sales conversation, or from another type of communication. Substitute generic questions for specific ones to quickly vet clients. Here are some good questions to ask:

Does your potential client have the budget?

We covered this in the prior section, but pricing creates instant clarity for vetting. You’d be surprised how often business owners “cross their fingers” on this one.

Are they the decision-maker? If not, who is?

Knowing who is making the final call saves you time and energy and helps you speak to the decision-maker.

Do they have a clear need for what you’re offering?

Note the keyword “clear.” If the business owner or decision-maker is hazy about their own needs, they may not value what you’re delivering.

What kind of timeline and priority is this for them?

Having a sense of priority and timeline is crucial for success. Is this project a priority or is it a “task” on their list? Being on the same page can make a world of difference.

What would make this a successful project for them? Aim for specifics.

Always get clear about what “success” looks like ahead of time. Aim to get as granular and specific as possible before starting any work.

What is their expectation with communication and feedback?

It’s pivotal to be on the same page regarding ongoing communication and how the feedback process will work. Otherwise a short project can turn into months of headaches and a negative experience.

6. Be on the lookout for red flags from prior client experiences

Every business, no matter how impressive its track record, will have a client experience that didn’t work out. It’s the cost of being in business long enough. However, it’s how you deal with the lessons from this that will help shape your vetting process for years to come.

It’s human nature to get excited about a prospect who walks in the door and is interested in hiring you. However, hindsight is a valuable business tool to determine key patterns. Try to find out if working with the client will be a fit. These are common red flags to avoid:

  • Isn’t clear on outcomes
  • Asks for discounts upfront
  • Requests too many meetings
  • Complains about other providers
  • Uses inappropriate or demanding language
  • Has unrealistic communication expectations
  • Has demanding timelines
  • Adds to the scope of work without negotiating a higher fee

Run leads through your vetting system

Now that we’ve covered the ways to vet your clients, you can create a standard system to apply to new prospects. A proper vetting strategy will change as you grow your business, get more clear about who you serve, and build your track record. Here are general guidelines to follow:

Have a system The first step is simply to have a system in place. You can get started on this as early as your next prospect or by shifting the communication on your website, landing page, or business profile. Start small and involve your team.

Create processes Once you’ve started to implement a system for vetting, create processes for both yourself and your team (if you have one). This could be as simple as mapping out the touch points and communication to vet clients before a sales call.

Be willing to evolve Your business, clients, and the marketplace are in constant evolution and you must be willing to adapt. Set up a client ‘vetting’ system that is duplicatable especially as a business grows, receives more referrals, and improves its marketing.

What to do if a client isn’t the right fit

Imagine you’ve come across a prospect with a clear problem you could solve, but they’re not an ideal fit based on the criteria above. This doesn’t have to be a lost opportunity. Develop a referral network of people you trust who may be a better fit for the client.

Sending business to someone else while serving the client is a win-win. You’ll be building key alliances with other businesses that you can trust and will be more likely to get referrals from them.

What if you don’t have clients yet?

I mentioned the difficulty of saying “no” to a prospect who is engaged and ready to take the next step. It’s even harder when you’re starting out and don’t yet have many clients.

Even at the beginning, it’s important to get clear on who your ideal client is, but you may need to be more flexible with your standards until you have more experience. Each client will help you get more clear about who you want to serve, and garner positive reviews along the way that will attract more clients.

Ultimately, you want to treat every prospect and client as a data source for your vetting process. The most frustrating experiences for business owners often lead to the greatest clarity and lessons for the future.

Refine your vetting strategy as your business grows

Vetting your clients will not only pay off in the short term. It will set a foundation for long-term success.

My advice is to start small and commit to refining your vetting strategy as your business grows. Remember: Who you’re focused on serving today may not be the same person in the future.

That’s normal!

Businesses who know who they serve, how they serve, and are willing to develop an effective vetting process around those insights will be one step ahead of the game.

This article was submitted by and expresses the views and opinions of the independent freelancer listed as the author. They do not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork, and Upwork does not explicitly sponsor or endorse any of the views, opinions, tools or services mentioned in this article, all of which are provided as potential options according to the view of the author. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situations.
This article was submitted by and expresses the views and opinions of the author. They do not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork, and Upwork does not explicitly sponsor or endorse any of the views, opinions, tools or services mentioned in this article, all of which are provided as potential options according to the view of the author. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situations.
Article Author
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Jeremy M.
Expert Vetted
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San Antonio, United States
Digital Marketing
Email Marketing

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