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If you’re in the business of selling services, you’ve undoubtedly met your share of tire kickers. You know the ones — people who have no serious intention of actually hiring you, but they happily engage you in endless back-and-forth emails and initial consultations.
Tire kickers don’t mean any harm, it’s just that they have questions, they need help, and you have answers. What they really need is information and you’re the source.
Now, most trained sales professionals know how to qualify prospects and quickly move tire kickers toward a “yes” or “no” and move on with their day. But freelancers, solopreneurs, creative professionals and consultants — we wear all the hats. We sell the thing and do the thing too.
If your sales process (all the things you do to book clients) is long and drawn-out, you already know it’s a tremendous time suck. But what you may not be thinking about is just how much it’s costing your business.
What is the cost of a long, drawn-out sales process to your business?
In my free class, How To Create A Client Attraction System, I share an example of a client who wanted my help with a project and over the course of two weeks, 61 emails were exchanged.
Now, let’s do some math. Say 1/3 of those emails were from me and I spent on average, 15 minutes per email. In two weeks, that amounts to 5 hours of my time. 😳
Think about how many similar exchanges you’ve had. Think about how much time is slipping through the cracks having conversations that are never going to lead to a paid engagement.
Let’s extrapolate further. I’ve been in business for 17 years, so being VERY generous with the numbers here, say I spent 2.5 hours per week in these back-and-forth conversations — that’s 2,210 hours.
That is the equivalent of working a full-time job for one year for free.
Let’s not even multiply that by my usual hourly rate, let’s pick the lowest number I ever offered, one I used when I was first starting out — $50/hr. At that rate, it amounts to a minimum of $110,000 worth of my time. 😳
Okay I know what you’re thinking, we don’t always have endless opportunities to bill our time. Even if there wasn’t the potential for me to be billing my time during those hours I spent, IMAGINE what could be done with 2,210 hours of free time?
- How many blog posts could you write?
- How many products could you create?
- How much authority could you build?
- How many vacations could you have gone on?
- How many days could you have just given yourself the rest you need?
There’s always a COST to spending your time with tire kickers.
But you’re still not convinced, and thinking… “but Taughnee, it’s just part of the job!”
Yes, sales conversations are the cost of doing business, but …
There’s a smart way to go about it and then there’s being loosey-goosey and losing track of all these precious minutes, hours, weeks, and months of your time.
Tell me if this one sounds familiar…
Now tell me how many times you’ve said “sure!” to a lunch or coffee date where someone asked for your ideas, opinions, thoughts, recommendations… for free?
Lots? I thought so.
What I’m getting at here is that it’s up to you to have professional boundaries in place so you’re not giving away your product (ideas, opinions, thoughts, recommendations) for free but instead, you’re thinking like a salesperson — someone who quickly qualifies people and moves them to a “yes” or “no” right away.
If people want your brain stuff? Give it to them in a blog post, a podcast episode, a video, or a social media post — then broadcast that 1-to-many rather than giving it away 1-1 where it’s gone forever once that conversation is through (and isn’t benefiting your business in any way).
Create A Tire Kicker Strategy
The way to recapture all of this lost time that never leads to booked engagements is to be prepared.
First, think about all of the common questions people ask you when they inquire about your services.
“I need a _____, how much would that cost?”
“I need help with ______, is that something you do?”
“I want to _________, can we schedule a time to talk?”
How you respond to these questions will determine how it’s going to go from here.
How will you qualify them?
Ask good questions
Before you get on a call or arrange a meeting with a potential client, it’s important to qualify them first to get a sense of whether it’s a good fit for both of you. You’ll also want to determine how ready they are to start (or is this just some “maybe someday” idea?) and their ability and willingness to pay the rates you charge.
“When are you looking to start?” and “can you give me a sense of your budget?” are important questions in the initial exchange. If they say “I’m in no rush” and “I have no idea about the budget” that could indicate that they’re still in the early stages of their decision-making process — there’s no urgency for them to solve their problem, they’re just gathering up information to consider.
Rather than getting on a call so they can pick your brain, I recommend having a “lead service” ready to offer them instead. This is something I go into more detail on in the masterclass or you can read more about it in this post, but it could be as simple as creating a “project assessment meeting” that you charge for, explaining that at the end of the meeting you’ll prepare project recommendations and next steps and if they decide go to forward with a larger engagement, you’ll deduct the fee.
Make sure they know how it works to work with you
One way I qualify clients before getting on a call is to send them a “How it works to work with me” document that outlines all of my service offerings and my professional boundaries too. I have fixed price, scope, and timeline services for them to review to see if it’s a good fit.
If I’m too expensive, or if they’re looking for someone who works differently than I do, this informs them. It’s better for me if they find that out before I get on a call. I don’t assume they’ve looked at my services page — in fact, most people who inquire about working with me haven’t. More often, they’re following my blog or my social media channels and want to understand how working with me works.
Included in that document is my lead service — this is a low-price offer that will help them solve their problem and it monetizes the sales process too. Rather than going through the back-and-forth discovery process and offering a “pick my brain session” (a.k.a. the “free consultation”), I’m monetizing that process instead and providing standalone value whether they decide to continue on with me or not.
The “How it works to work with me” document is not a substitute for a formal contract — which they must sign before work begins — the contract repeats some of this information but goes into more detail formally. (Think of it like a pre-contract.)
When I send that over, I say, “If you have questions, let’s get on a 15-minute call.”
At this point, one of three things happens.
- They’ll say, “sounds good, let’s do this!” or
- “Looks great, I’ll be in touch when I’m ready or
- I don’t hear back at all.
If I don’t hear back, I consider that a win too — I know they were kicking tires and I’ve saved myself a ton of time. Sometimes I hear back from them down the road when they’re ready and that’s great too!
Either way, it cuts the sales process to a short conversation.
Your time is best spent creating an amazing client experience or working on your business
In the above “61 emails example” I want to confess I did not spend 5 hours in the back and forth email exchange — it was more like an hour total.
In each email, I offered to help them by offering them a service they can book to solve their problem. They kept responding to that with more requests for information, thoughts, ideas, opinions, and recommendations and each time I invited them in a firm but friendly way to book me.
Ultimately they didn’t hire me — I was too expensive and they hired someone cheaper. And that’s okay! I totally get that. The final result wasn’t the same quality that I would have delivered and that’s their choice. But had they “picked my brain” for two weeks and also hired someone cheaper, I would have kicked myself.
My brain stuff is valuable and so is yours, you have my permission not to give it away for free!
This may seem unfriendly or harsh, but I’m not a monster, I am always friendly and helpful and generous. But in business, at some point there needs to be an exchange of value — when my clients book me for an engagement they’ll be the first to tell you they get the red carpet experience.
I can’t give red carpet service to my clients if I’m tied up giving brain stuff away to people for free.
If you don’t put your business first, it’s very hard to find the time to create an amazing experience for your clients and do the things that allow you to scale and grow. So be mindful of the tire kickers and your opportunity costs. Be prepared and be in control of the process!
Was this helpful? Do you have a tire-kicker strategy or story to share? Let’s talk about it in comments!
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.