How To Effectively Screen Clients For Your Business

My business vs theirs

When I was in the final year of my degree (yeah, I studied graphic design), they brought in a few recruiters to speak to us. They told us the following story:  We know you’re able to get a job at the local print shop for R 8000 per month. Yes, other design agencies will offer you R 5 000 per month. But imagine in 5 years how your portfolio will look: 5 million business cards or campaigns done for all the big brands: it’s your choice! In the same way, you get to choose if you want to take on a client. 

Many small businesses are willing to do anything for money – they are willing to go the extra mile, even if it means they need to sacrifice their souls and their own businesses. I used to do that too: Whether it’s a WordPress site, a small coding thing or even email newsletters: the keyword was “YES!”.

I have since decided to take a different approach. 

There needs to be a client/me alignment – My client needs to fit in my offering, where I want to go with my business and who I am.

What do you do?

As a person, a company and/or a freelancer, you need to know who you are, what you offer and the direction you want your business to go. Though tedious at times, these can be achieved by having a personal development plan (article here), a vision and mission statement and regular check-ins to confirm you’re on the right path.

Once you’ve established who you are and where you want to go you will have an excuse to say no to people – as it doesn’t fit who you are.

How do I know if my client and I align?

I offer software development and consulting services to startups and small businesses. Knowing who I am and what I offer is exceptionally important – but knowing your customer and what they want is vital in doing business. The misalignment of a product/market fit (what you offer vs what they want) can cause a chicken/egg situation: should I change my product or my market (i.e. the client)?

Product/Client fit

If you choose to change your market, it would mean that you have pinned down your mission and vision. You know who you are and you know what you offer. And the people that you’re offering your service to is not your real target market.  On the other hand, you might want to make changes to your product or service offering. This doesn’t mean that your mission or vision is invalid, it simply means you need to tweak and make small changes. 

Who you are and who they are

Though this might sound really complicated when we talk about products, markets, clients and other technical terms, the takeaway should be that you need to know who you are and who they are. 

Once you’ve established this, you can decide if you want to take the client on. 

I like doing this through building relationships.

Building relationships with your clients

When doing my initial first (free) session with my clients, I ask all the difficult questions. I try and establish who they are, what they value and what their budget is. The best way to illustrate this is through stories:

I met up with a client who was also interested in doing less and testing the impact of their decisions. They outsourced their work to India, but I kept in the public eye by regularly checking in on how their project is going. When the business relationship went sour, I was there to assist.

I was contacted by a client in Australia for some freelance work. We did two Skype calls and a few emails, but I wasn’t convinced. I told him that I could do a small piece of work (2 hours) for him, and then we build the relationship from there. It’s been 2 years – he’s become a recurring client.

The point is this – find ways to grow your connections into relationships. 

Starting the customer journey

Different businesses require different onboarding solutions. As a simplification of a very complex process, I like the process below before you do any work for a client:

  •  Pre-screening: a call, a questionnaire or something similar
  • Initial meeting – signing an non-disclosure agreement or similar
  • Onboarding – working with the client to explain the process going forward
  • Diagnostig – in case the client’s needs are to be unpacked first


Your time is precious. 

It is the one resource you can never get back. 

Spend it wisely. 

In some industries, the time you spend on a client doesn’t matter. For example, if you are at a market and sell products and a customer requires more info on your chilli sauce, that’s a minute or two. But if you’re in a technical field such as software development or financial planning, you need to know as soon as possible if you can meet the client’s expectations.

To save yourself time and effort, it is advisable to do pre-screening if the client will be spending more than a few Rands with you or will be paying monthly for a retainer for services offered. Pre-screening can be done by sending the client a checklist, form to fill in or similar.

Once you’ve received the checklist back, you can in your own time quickly see if this is a job that you would be interested in. Here are a couple of things I recommend checking:

  • Does the customer have a budget?
  • What line of business is the client in? Is this something I want to explore?
  • Does the customer have requirements?
  • Does this align with my own business vision and mission?

The first meeting

Once you have established that you want to work with the client (and that you’re not wasting your time) – you can schedule a meeting or ask them to schedule one through your website. I use Calendly on my business website to do this, as it links to my business calendar.

During the meeting, you will need to chat about what you can offer them over coffee, but the most important thing you want to establish is if you would be able to build the business relationship and if your goals and vision align. Here’s another story to explain:

  I had a meeting with a client that passed the initial checklist. The client seemed to be struggling with “developers not delivering” . After further investigation, it was revealed that the client kept on changing the requirements.  He didn’t have a clue what he wanted and kept blaming the developers.

Make sure you check for personality alignment and other technical questions that weren’t answered in the initial checklist.


If you are working hourly or supplying a product, you might want to have an onboarding. This might be as simple as a form with delivery addresses or a contract.


In some cases, you don’t have what you need to get working. It often happens in my industry: customers don’t have a technical specification or want a quote after a 15 minute call.

Personally, I make a point of it that I work with my clients, not for them. 

In my industry, I find that when customers need to start paying, they become quiet – they fall off the face of the earth! For this reason, I charge for a diagnostic

Charity is charity, and business is business.

To figure out what they want, I do a diagnostic phase – sometimes called a spike. As a deliverable, I give them a small document with my findings. We can then decide together how to proceed with the engagement.

I don’t want to take on this client

The reason we go through all of this trouble is to understand if we want to do business with the client. 

And you don’t HAVE to do business with any client.

At any time in the process, you can say no – and I have done so.

Here are some of my reasons and ways I’ve said no:

  • I didn’t like the client: “I have decided not to take on the project with you at this point in time.”
  • The client doesn’t have the funds to pay: “Please see the link here for a post on getting funding from my influencer page. Once you have funding available I will be able to assist with the project.”
  • The project doesn’t align with my mission and vision: “As this is not my speciality, I am not able to assist with your project at this time”

We should never feel guilty about not taking on a client. 


We screen clients to make sure if we can build relationships with them – and engage in business. 

Never be afraid to say no. 

We should also not be afraid to charge for our time and effort – business is business and charity is charity.

Happy investing!

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