My 20 emails rule for freelancers

EmailsOf the two services we offer (Migrating your site to WordPress and native A/B testing for WordPress sites), the first one is more a consultant-like service.

We did develop migration scripts to semi-automate the work but each migration is different so there is a “discovery and negotiation” period where we discuss with the clients about their exact needs, the complexity of the migration, proposing alternatives,….

In this phase, we obviously exchange quite a few emails with them. This exchange is for free, all the information we provide at this stage is aimed at understanding what the client wants and making sure s/he understand what she’ll get at the end and why this is the best way to proceed.

Some clients end up declining our offer, and that’s fine as well. We did some work for free but we hope they at least learnt something useful about their site and who knows we may be able to help them in the future.

What is terrible for the business is to get caught in an seemingly infinite exchange of emails that bring you nowhere. These clients do not even know what they want or have unrealistic expectations impossible to answer to, no matter how much time you put in it. The sooner you realize you should “fire” them, the better. And, after dealing with a few hundred of clients until now, my rule of thumb is the following:

In 20 emails a clear path to completion must be agreed upon, otherwise it won’t happen regardless the number of exchanged

After reaching this point, I always send them an email emphasizing the time invested (again, with no results, 20 is not the total number of emails to finish the work, is the number of emails I need to see if we have a chance to understand each other), summarizing the disucssion so far and clearly letting them know that it’s not a good idea, for neither of us, to continue the business relationship. Some become suddenly reasonable, others just get angry but I´m happier since we imposed this rule (and in the end, this is all it matters).

Sure, in your business, this number can be different but decide your limit and stick to it. It’s good for you, it’s good for your business.

If you liked this post, you should also follow my thoughts on twitter about software development or web design, WordPress and social media .

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2 thoughts on “My 20 emails rule for freelancers

  1. Hi’ there
    I would thought that for any business, getting into an endless exchange of emails is always unhealthy in the free consultation period. Here at Ro’tware, we have a charge first and often policy; which mitigates the cost issues, but it’s still dull and boring to manually handle 😉

    The ‘not’ in the first sentence of the fifth paragraph, seems to argue against the rest of your blog.

    😉 made me laugh tho… Happy xmas

    1. We charge the client a 30% before starting the actual migration work but we do not charge anything to analyze the project and prepare a quote. Your “charge first” policy includes charging to prepare the budget already?

      And fixed the typo (thanks!)

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