A strategy call is a smart way of saying “let’s talk about your business and what you’d like done”.
It goes by many names such as “clarity call” or “discovery call” but you don’t have to name it at all. It’s been a part of doing business for so long that most people have an idea about what it is when you introduce it.
Each type of call is slightly different depending on the client, their industry, and your services. It is often assumed that it is a sales call… because it is. Sort of.
Many potential clients tend to avoid the calls because they don’t want someone to hard-sell them, so taking a learning-approach tends to work better.
Some will even have multiple calls before working with a client if it is a bigger project or one where you might need to look at their data before agreeing on the project.
They typically last 45 mins to an hour but can be shorter especially if the client is busy.
Use a strategy call to save you a headache down the road
Strategy calls are a great way to vet clients before you begin a project together, so you can avoid ones that aren’t a good fit for you.
Especially, if you find clients via platforms like Upwork that tend to have its fair share of crazy clients. You can probably avoid 80% of those that aren’t a good fit.
It will help you build trust with the client. Unless you are selling a commodity service at volume, freelancing is a relationship-based business and there is just something about hearing someone’s tone of voice or seeing what they look like on video.
Not only will it help you better understand your potential client’s project but with more details about their business, you can later suggest ideas for more projects.
All of those things translate into more money for you and a client that is more comfortable.
I’ve noticed this strange thing where clients tend to prefer to work with someone they know a little bit but aren’t the perfect fit, instead of someone they don’t know at all but might be a better fit.
It will be easier for you to spot the red flags on a call because you are able to go deeper together.
Classic red flags you might notice are:
- The client wants a discount for no reason (good clients work to find a good solution for both of you if they can’t pay your fees – like suggesting a different scope of work)
- They expect that you are always ready for a call and can do revisions on a whim (there are exceptions with some industries where this matters a lot)
What to do on the call
The call itself comes down to general social skills like any other conversation. A good rule of thumb is to talk about 10%-20% of the time and ask the clients questions to better understand their project and business in general.
It doesn’t feel nice for the client if it becomes an interrogation, so make sure to sprinkle in your own experience, stories, or examples where they fit.
The key is to really listen to them because you’ll likely learn some valuable insights about their goals and challenges, that you can use next time you pitch another potential client with a similar business.
While someone is talking many of us have a bad habit of thinking of what we should say next. Work to avoid that.
Here are some example questions I like to ask during the call:
- Who are your best customers?
- To get customers, what have you tried? And how did it go?
- What is your business goal this year?
- If we work together, what would that look like on a daily basis?
- Have you worked with any freelancers before? How did it go?
- What are your biggest sticking points/bottlenecks right now? How have you been dealing with them?
- How much time do we have to get this done?
It’s always great to prepare for what they might ask you as well. Often they’ll want to know things like:
- A deeper look at the ideas you sent them (if any)
- Your background and relevant experience
- Your fees, timeline and next steps
Generally, they only care about us freelancers in as much as it helps them. You don’t need to share random details or everything you have ever done in your career.
By doing that we are giving the client extra work trying to sort through which parts are relevant and which are not.
Rather, share your experience where it is relevant to their project. For example, share your thoughts on how to approach the coming project (check data in advance if possible), how you’d solve it, and share an example of how you’ve solved a project like that in the past.
Let the client know that they don’t need to worry about taking notes because you’ll be doing it and sending them a recap after the call. By doing that, you’ve now created an opportunity to show the client that follow through on your word.
Just like in many other situations, our words and actions are all we have to build trust with other people.
It is SO easy for someone to say they are going to do something (hello new year’s resolutions!?). In fact, most freelancers do it all the time yet never follow through. Clients might be used to flaky freelancers but that doesn’t mean they like it.
In fact, among clients, we freelancers as a group have a bad rep for being unreliable. By simply doing what you say you are going to do, you’ll leave a great impression and easily stand out among the 80% of freelancers that don’t.
The 80% is an arbitrary number I pulled out of my butt to express importance. Don’t take that number too seriously.
As a freelancer, we have a benefit in the strategy calls that consultants usually don’t have. Because we focus more on implementing projects rather than only sharing advice, we can give as much free advice as we want to.
Personally, I prefer to work with busy clients that are smart enough to implement the ideas I suggest but don’t have the time to do it on their own. That way, I can share all the ideas I have without being afraid that they might steal them.
Although it does happen every now and then. At first, I used to get annoyed but I’ve come to realize that if they discard themselves that early in the process, it saves me both time and headache. It means I can focus my energy on other clients that are a better fit.
It might not look like a lot of hours spent in your timesheet but the emotional energy and headache are worth avoiding.
I’ve found that the technique is great because most freelancers tend to be focused on themselves, so clients instantly notice it when you are not.
By thinking long term we can focus on the client’s best interests rather than our own. Ultimately, it is more profitable to get projects from your existing clients than having to find new ones all the time because of the trust you have with each other.
Side note: Clarify any project details that you are unsure of sooner rather than later. It will haunt you if you don’t.
We all know that moment when we’ve asked someone to repeat themselves a few times and it becomes awkward to ask yet again.
If you get stuck there, recap with them by repeating what you understand, so they can clarify. You could for example say “… Just to make sure I understand everything correctly, you’d like XYZ-project details. Do I have that correct?”
This has a great side-effect: you’ll notice how they act when things aren’t perfect. If they get mad and that bothers you, maybe it isn’t a good fit?
If possible, it is always great to tie the tasks and projects back to the overarching goal that the client has.
By always showing how the tasks work to achieve the goal, you are more likely to get a yes and land the project.
How to schedule the call
So, how do you get these calls for your own freelance business? My approach to landing freelancing clients is generally based on four steps
- Introducing myself to the business
- (Strategy) call
- Client accepts and the project begins
I like to get a good understanding of their business and share a few ideas first. Then suggest the call, so I can see if we’ll be a good fit before going too deep with them.
Below is a phrase you can use to ask for the call. I usually add my ideas just before the phrase and finish the email with the question. That way it feels natural for them to respond to that first rather than have to dig up the question somewhere in the middle of the email (or potentially forget about it altogether).
It would be great to get a better understanding of your business and fill in the blanks. Would you be able to do a brief 30-min call on Thursday at 4PM or Friday 9PM?
If you suggest a 30 minute-call, be mindful of their time and ask them at that mark, if they would like to continue. Often they will say yes and secretly give you bonus points.
A strategy call is a terrific way to vet clients and avoid the crazy ones while building trust with them, so they feel like you are the right one for the project.
You’ll get better and better the more you practice, so don’t worry if they first few calls feel a little weird and awkward. Threat it as a coffee meeting you with a friend or a friend of a friend.