How To Diagnose Your Client Before the Sale

diagnose Google SearchImagine that a client has approached you for work.

Or imagine that after lots of hard marketing effort, you’ve managed to convince a prospective client to give your offer serious consideration.

No matter what your current scenario is, you’re finding that you’re this close to landing a new client, putting work on the books, and most importantly, padding your financial coffers.

But what a minute!

Are you certain that this is the client you need to form a partnership with?

You’ve heard the client horror stories. Your friends and colleagues have probably bombarded you with sad tales of misguided partnerships. I recently talked about why you should fire toxic clients in the new year.

But what if you could avoid them to begin with?

What if you could allow yourself to pause for a beat and give yourself the time to diagnose your prospective client?

What if you took that extra day to truly think about what you’re getting into with this new client? And what if you didn’t allow yourself to make your next business decision based upon fear, financial need, or excitement?

What might your diagnostic review process uncover?

Since prospects don’t come to you with warning labels, a bit of sleuthing is key to uncover symptoms that could reveal the potential for a diseased business relationship.

Here’s a few questions I’ve learned to ask after healing from sickly client partnerships:

Is The Prospect Neglecting Crucial Operating Functions?

One day as I was reflecting on how I’d gotten involved with a client who turned out to be clueless about content marketing (and a host of other things), I remembered something that they’d said.

The comment seemed insignificant at the time, but in retrospect, that small comment should have served like a huge red-flag:

We haven’t focused on marketing in about five years.

The client (still a prospect at the time the phrase was uttered) went on to explain that they’d managed to generate business by word-of-mouth contacts, and now, they were out of contacts to tap on the shoulder for referrals.

Nevermind the fact the client in question runs a digital marketing agency!

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again:

If you fail to market, then you’ll fail to pay your bills (let alone turn a profit)!

If I had to do things over again, I’d never do business with a prospect in any industry who failed to perform marketing functions, especially for so long a period of time!

Are They Price Shoppers?

In general, there’s three category of clients:

  • Those who shop for quality, sparing no expense
  • Those who shop for the best value for their money
  • Those who want to spend the least amount possible, regardless of quality

Of course, the holy-grail client of every business owner (regardless of the size of your business) is the client who spares no expense for high-quality work.

These are the clients who understand that hiring the best talent isn’t a line-item expense: It’s an investment.

But there’s the rub:

These are often the type of clients who only work with A-list creatives.

You know, the names that everyone’s heard of. The type of creatives who can send their clients five and six-figure invoices without batting an eye. The type of creatives who charge four to five figures an hour for their consultation fees.

And while you’re probably a great creative professional, chances are very good that you’re not in this realm just yet. And that means that unless you become darned-lucky, then the holy-grail clients aren’t going to give you their business.

That leaves you haggling with the clients in the bottom two categories. The second type of prospective client appreciates great creative work, but they want to receive the work at the lowest price possible.

Think of them as the retail mark-down store customer. These are customers who love finding a $60 coat marked down from its $200 original retail price.

Worse, they expect everything in life to be priced like one big mark-down store! They don’t understand that there’s a huge difference between fungible commodities and creative work that serves as an appreciating asset.

And then, there’s the bottom-tier prospective client.

They’re the ones who could care less about the quality of the product, so long as the invoice fits in the price range they’re willing to pay. Mind you, the price they’re (usually) willing to pay falls well below the point of what’s customary or reasonable.

But mention this fact to this type of prospect, and they’ll practically bare their fangs at you! And they’re not above playing gaslighting (perception mind games) or projection games on you if you try to fight for a fair rate quote, either.

It’s not hard for you to figure out which type of prospect you have on your hands, either. Simply start quoting your fees.

The lowest tier prospect won’t even allow you to pitch your services. They’ll angrily demand to know how much you charge, immediately!

The second-tiered client will listen to your pitch, but they’ll negotiate you down as low as possible. And if you’re blessed to land a holy-grail client, then they’ll pay your fee if you’ve pitched yourself as a trustworthy, high-quality service provider.

Do They Make You Feel Valued Or Disposable?

I recently had a refreshing experience with a short-term client. I was asked to quote my content management consultation fees.

Instead of making me feel guilty for quoting my fee, the prospect asked me if they could start out with a smaller block of consult time at my quoted fee. They didn’t argue with me as to why I should lower my price “like the others do.”

Not only was a I glad to provide them with my service, I thanked them for not devaluing my work by demanding that I lower my fees to accommodate their needs.

Do They Project Their Inadequacies On You?

I once pitched my service fees to a prospective client outside of the content marketing realm. They immediately wrote back, informing me that they’d been quoted a much lower fee by a stable of prospective service providers.

They went on to mention that they (the prospect) could probably find service providers offering fees that were lower than they were quoted.

If no one tells you this, then please let this sink in:

People endeavor in business to generate revenue and become profitable.

Let me be more plain:

You don’t owe it to your prospects to lower your fees to accommodate their finances.

You aren’t cheating or scamming anyone out of their money by charging fees that are in line with your current market value.

You have every right to become wildly profitable and prosperous.

Anyone who makes you feel otherwise is projecting their financial or personal inadequacy on you, and you should leave smoke running away from them!

Client acquisition can feel like the most exciting part of operating your own business, but failing to diagnose your client before you accept the project could turn your partnership into a sickly (and possibly fatal) experience!

*photo source

About Terri Scott

Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time. You can view her work at, and she'd love to hear from you:

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GREAT post and oh so true. Better to have 10 clients who appreciate, value and pay your worth than 100 who’ll nickel and dime you to death.

A mindset diagnostics is not only worth the extra time, it can be the difference between a red or black bottom line .

Terri Scott

This is one of the best comments I’ve received! Thanks so much! πŸ˜€


I’ve been there and understand what you are talking about Terri. I have found that being confident to sticking to your prices is usually the first line of defense against bad clients. It’s like a filter. Ofcourse that’s not the whole story but it’s a starting point. Thanks for sharing

Walt Goshert

A digital marketing agency who hasn’t marketed in five years?

Imagine hiring a personal trainer who hasn’t exercised in five years?

It’s always better to work with Good marketers who are committed to becoming Great.

They understand the value of investing in marketing.

Thanks Terri… great insights on working with the right clients.

k Dub

“You don’t owe it to your prospects to lower your fees to accommodate their finances”

Would you mind if I get this printed on my own personal t-shirt? LOL

Best advice I’ve come across in awhile, and very encouraging. Great post all around.

Peter Neilson

Your story about price shoppers is right on target. I provide pony rides fir kids’ parties, and I have discovered that it is basically not worthwhile bothering with people who are looking for a low price. “You have some nerve, asking that much!!” one mom said. Well, her kid didn’t get a pony party.

Fairly often the parents first ask about price, but I find that steering them onto talking about the party and the children and the ponies is a necessity. Really, I cannot begin to help them until I have some idea how far away they are, how many children there will be, and what expectations they have.

My major problem is that my business involves finding the people who have never imagined, listening to their children asking, “I wanna pony,” that they should try to hunt for someone like me. those fine people aren’t out there hoping to find a pony on Facebook or Craigslist. Instead they think, “No pony. End of discussion.”

It would be good if I could find an article on how to hunt up customers who are totally unaware of the existence of the product they need. Any suggestions?

Terri Scott

Walter, it’s true that you should stick to your prices. The issue comes about when as a service provider, you’re too broke to stick to your guns. It happens all the time, and it’s happened to me. I hear stories from my colleagues all the time about how lowering the prices was the only way (they felt) they could earn any money at all. Of course, this creates the cycle of poverty and low-balling.

At this point, I’ve figured out that I should offer services that allow for a lot less low-balling in my pricing scheme. For example, I’ve started a virtual assistant business, and I charge by the hour for those services. This way, there’s a lot less room for low-balling, although a few have tried!

Terri Scott

Ah, Walt…live and learn, right?

Your analogy is spot-on! But when you’re facing your first big-time gig (like I was), you don’t know what the red flags are. After what I’ve faced dealing with that outfit, I definitely know what to look for, and that’s why they were mentioned in this post, lol!

Terri Scott

I wish there were a way that the sentence could magically become a part of every service provider’s and small business owner’s brain!

You wouldn’t believe how many providers there are who feel that they are obligated to lower their prices to make a prospective client happy. Of course, this is the type of manipulating client who will never be satisfied.

But since we can’t wave a magic wand and implant this into everyone’s brain, maybe you can share this article with everyone you know? πŸ˜‰

Terri Scott

Hi Peter,

First, like I wrote, there will always be prospects who shop on price alone, and to heck with the value of the product, the service, or the vendor.

There’s nothing you can do with those prospects except accommodate them, or refer them to someone else.

As far as finding an article like the one you’ve mentioned, I’d suggest learning how to create a content marketing strategy of your own. You’re going to have to make yourself known to your target audience. Social media platforms are a great start. Research how to use content marketing on social media. Good luck!

Kennedy DeWitt

Hi Terry,love your articles,keep them coming
Sincerely, Kennedy.

Akshat Jiwan Sharma

>Paula: Better to have 10 clients who appreciate, value and pay your worth than 100 who’ll nickel and dime you to death.

Great thought Paula. Walt Kania wrote an article about ten true fans where
he said that as long as you have ten people who really value your work you
can survive as a freelancer. It’s a great article you can check it out here.

Paul Feakins

I really liked this article, and learnt a new word: gaslighting!



Thank you so much for a great article! Everything you wrote here is so true and on point. I had a meeting with a prospective client just a couple weeks back from the last category that you mentioned in your article. And the sad part is that I was actually contemplating lowering my price to accommodate them.

After I read this article, I said you are 100% right: I DON’T owe it to your prospects to lower your fees to accommodate their finances. You don’t go to Chanel to buy a purse and then expect to pay Target prices.

Thank you for writing this timely piece. πŸ™‚

Terri Scott

“You don’t go to Chanel to buy a purse and then expect to pay Target prices.”

Yaasss! You nailed it, Stephanie! And it’s sad that so many service providers think so little of themselves, they back themselves into a corner for prospects who have zero respect for your skills and talents. But when you know better, then you can do better! πŸ˜‰

Terri Scott

Paul, here’s an abbreviated definition of gaslighting:

“Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.”

Yes, this happens in business all the time! I’ve actually experienced this recently, but fortunately, I have paperwork that protects me from falling for the client’s crap!

Terri Scott

Thanks for sharing that link, Akshat. πŸ™‚

Terri Scott

Thanks, Kennedy! πŸ™‚

fredrick mutia

very great…thank you terry.

Terri Scott

Thank you!


Thank you for the boost of confidence about my value!

Terri Scott

You’re very welcome! Sorry about the delayed response. I’ve recently moved, and I was on leave. πŸ™‚

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