Bad First Impressions That Can Drive Potential Clients Away

bad-first-impressionsYou never get a second chance to make a first impression. Those initial defining moments can be the determining factor for whether or not a client hires you, so it is critical to make them count.

When a potential client makes first contact–by email, phone, IM, social media or in person–everything you do and say will have a lasting impact on their perception of who you are, how you operate, and more. It is important to ensure that this impact is positive, and not the opposite. This post will point out some of the worst first impression mistakes a freelancer can make and give some direction for ways to avoid them.


Too Busy to Talk

If you are a freelancer who is lucky and talented enough to be extremely busy, it can sometimes become a burden to take time from your work day to have anything more than a succinct and focused business conversation. This can inspire an approach to communication that, in its attempts to be streamlined, could make a potential client decide to look elsewhere. While every client knows they are probably not your only client, every single one wants to feel like they are your biggest, best and most important. If your first contact leaves them feeling like you were in a rush to get off the phone or you just typed out a quick, one-sentence email lacking any and all personality, they will definitely be concerned with how you treat them once you’re hired.

Some clients will keep it strictly professional, but many want to know that you value their business and who they are. Take time in the beginning and throughout your working relationship to show some interest beyond the project and you could find yourself with a client–and possibly even a friend–for life. Take the blinders off and see the person and the organization, not just the business. This first impression could set you apart from others they are considering simply because they can sense that you care.


Slow Response Time

What you think is an acceptable amount of time to respond to communications may not be the same as what your potential client is expecting. One of the quickest ways to knock yourself out of the running for a project is to have slow response times. The capabilities of modern technology have raised expectations for response to a sometimes unreasonable level, but delaying your response to a client’s first contact with you will likely make it their last.

Reply to emails and return phone calls within 24 hours or less to make a solid first impression. The quicker you can respond to a client the more valuable they will feel, and the more likely they will perceive you as a professional. A good way to stay on top of this is to have scheduled times for returning communications each day, keeping them current and avoiding the message pileup.


Spelling & Grammar Errors

When you do take the time to communicate with clients, it is important to make sure you are using correct spelling and grammar. Some clients could care less, but most professionals will stop considering you for a project because of the perception that is given when you fail to use spellcheck. Honestly, there really is no excuse anymore. Every word processing software and email client has the technology built right in and with the simple click of a button or two you can identify and repair all errors before sending your document to the client. Failing to take this step can communicate that you are lazy, uneducated, unintelligent or just plain unprofessional. Who wants to hire someone to write copy or load content into a website if they don’t even spell correctly or take the time to utilize the readily-available tools?

Double-check the spelling and grammar on every document you send to a client to ensure a first and lasting impression of professional and quality standards.


Still in Your Pajamas at the Meeting

Okay, so no one (I hope) would go to a first (or any) client meeting dressed in their pajamas!

Still, many of us have worked at home long enough to have forgotten how to dress in a professional atmosphere, or our wardrobe has fallen by the wayside for lack of necessity, or we have adopted an attitude that says, “I can wear what I want since I’m my own boss.”

Whatever the reason, your potential client could probably care less. It is more likely that they see this freelancer walking up in jeans and a t-shirt as someone who is unprofessional, brazen and cocky, or just plain sloppy. None of these perceptions will boost confidence or motivate them to hire you. Although most freelancers can enjoy the benefit of no dress code, working with other professionals requires meeting their higher expectations–even in the wardrobe department.

Freelancers should have at least one professional outfit for client meetings. It may even be advisable to have a few, so you don’t show up wearing the same thing every time you meet a client in person. You don’t have to sacrifice your personal style, but remain mindful of professional standards and do your best to work within them.


No Policies and Procedures

Entering a conversation with a potential client unarmed with answers to commonly asked questions will always leave a discouraging first impression. Clients want to feel confident that you know what you are doing, that you have sufficient experience and that you already have an idea of how you will accomplish the task they are proposing to you. When discussing your process it is unimpressive and amateurish to stumble along, making it up as you go.

Prepare an outline of your process beforehand that is specific to the proposed project and familiarize yourself with it. Keep a list of your personal policies and procedures so you’re not caught off guard, and add to it when new questions are brought up. Know your business better than anyone else, and clients will walk away confident that you know what you’re talking about.


Not Sure What to Charge

This is always a sticky point. Wavering on your rates, charging too little or too much, or being unclear about them will not only leave a miserable first impression, but it could cost you dearly down the road if the client still hires you. Some clients will try to haggle with you, while others may perceive your lack of certainty as flexibility, but everyone wants to get the most for their money. Leaving the door open for clients to talk you down in price can communicate weakness, inexperience and even a lack of value. Attempting to charge them more than the current standard will drive them away faster than almost anything else you can do. Presenting a solid grasp of what you charge for which services will always instill confidence, even if it is beyond the potential client’s budget.

Create a price list of your services, whether for public consumption or your own reference, and memorize it. Work in as many variables as you can imagine that may raise or lower the price and keep the list constantly updated as new situations arise. Armed with a solidified menu of services, you should always get what you’re worth when hired and the client will be impressed with your preparation and self-value.


First Impression Mistakes You’ve Made?

This list is obviously not exhaustive, but these are some common mistakes that I have made myself or seen others make that have driven potential clients in the opposite direction. Hopefully, we can all learn from them and avoid making them in the future.

Do you have a first impression nightmare experience you can share and we can learn from? Have you made any of these mistakes in the past? Be sure to contribute your thoughts in the comments below.