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I receive a lot of leads requesting quotes for work to be done. Most of these leads end up fruitless. I've started to think that most of these come from other upcoming freelancers who are looking to provide estimates to their own clients without putting an effort to it.

I would like to know as to what the best practices are in vetting a potential lead before providing time and cost estimates.

  • 1
    I think you have to find out why so many other freelancers ask you for a quote (why you specifically) or otherwise, why people ask for an estimate but they prefer buying from somewhere else. One screening idea (to find out who's speaking with you) is to get proof that the business they say they represent, really exists. – Avram Cosmin Apr 18 '14 at 18:38
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Impossible in 99% of cases!

For a long time, I am of the opinion that 4 of 5 estimations I make are done for other freelancers. At first, I was furious and could not know what to do, but then I sat and thought about it. What is an estimation in its essence? It a synergy of YOUR skills, experience and ability to solve problems. So if I estimate some project for 100 work hours, some other developer will finish it in 300 or in 50. After that I was relieved cause I knew that with each estimation I also get better at estimating and the bad freelancer will get into trouble cause he'll either not get the job (client will say it's overestimated) or he will need more work and will have to work for free.

Are you relieved now?! :)

But what should you not do:

  • give low-level estimation without receiving upfront
  • spend more than a couple of hours/week estimating
  • go into detailed discussion on technology you plan to use
  • reveal any your own trade secrets you reveal to your clients
  • not propose (explicitly) any new feature (I say here something like "I have a few cool ideas how to make the app better, but I will disclose them after we start working")

Of course, you should also rely on your hunch. If the client seems fishy, there are high chances he is. For that client either decline him immediately (I don't do this, very rarely) or give him a 15min estimation saying if he's interested you can talk more, blah blah.

  • I like your cool & constructive ideas as it puts me at ease that it happens. I will wait for other input before marking as an answer. – ntombela Apr 18 '14 at 12:28
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There are many screening techniques but before I go in further details please bear in mind one aspect of the problem: "By doing this (deep-screening) you risk loosing potential customers which is, there is always a good and a bad in every chosen approach."

Here are some vetting techniques:

  • When you receive a new request, make them work for it. Ask for some specifics about the project. The more they invest, the more engaged they get and of course there is your proof that they have good intentions.
  • Before answering, make sure they speak in the behalf of a real company (an authentic email message should contain the telephone number, the name and the address of the company, first and last name of the person who sent the email and so on.)
  • When you first respond, you should always be brief by asking more questions than making statements (if you don't know your prospective client, how can you tell that your estimate is what they really want?)
  • Identify the channel which brings you the most time-wasting requests (your website, some ad in a paper, social media, other sources). Once identified the source, change what's necessary; the message, the price, the terms.
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This is probably industry specific, but I will say this:

As a developer, the best clients for me are ones that will work in a partnership on their projects. I can't build a successful application for a customer if I don't have their regular interaction and guidance. This is probably also true for creative endeavors such as logo and website design.

Poor prospects (those who are tire kickers or other freelancers looking for price info) won't spend the time and effort answering questions about their project.

So...

A good way that I have found for weeding out some of these non-real requests are to ask a series of questions of the prospect to see their response. Optimally this would be a somewhat generic questionnaire that you could send to all prospects as a first step in your process. My questionnaire might ask:

  • Describe the goal of your project. What are you trying to achieve?
  • How will be measure the success of the project?
  • How many users do you anticipate having?
  • Do you need to support international users?
  • What kind of testing resources will be available during development?
  • etc.

It shouldn't be completely overwhelming to the prospect, but the reality is that asking questions like this can be an eye opener to someone who doesn't really understand the work involved in a project like this. I'd prefer to work with someone who has realistic expectations from the beginning.

And for tire kickers and competitive-spies, they are unlikely to take the time to respond. Which is great, because now you don't have to pursue this any further.

Related: If this is a big problem for you, you may need to re-examine your marketing to determine why you are getting so many of these types of requests. You may need to tighten up the language or find better marketing avenues.

  • Wanted to touch the same thing that conners will not have time to discuss project details, but forgot. Thanks for that. The answer to your last questions (Related) may be answered if we consider that he is using public freelancing sites like odesk, freelancers, etc. where you get piles of requests for estimation. – Peter MV Apr 18 '14 at 15:51
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It is quite difficult to identify the generated lead whether it is genuine or fake. There are little ways to identify it. Check the profiling this is one of the better ways to check it, It will give you clear idea whether it is fake or genuine. What do you check in profiling, you have to check it his/her Name,Age,Occupation, Photo whether it is related to the name , age , Sex .

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Some simple tips that I follow, though I have to say I haven't ever said go away on the off chance I am wrong - just given less time to it.

  • Get more detail from then then record it. Ask them the same detail next time, if it is the same result chances are the aren't making it up on the spot
  • Dig deep. Use linked in, or anything else to find a trace of something. Chances are if they are genuine there will be a record of them somewhere out there.
  • Look at trademarks. Similar to the above, its unlikely a website is the first thing they are doing as a business. Here in the UK you can search for any company to see its status, board etc. If it is a proper company chances are it will be registered
  • This depends on your industry entirely, but if you are a webdesigner offer to secure their domain immediately. It only costs a few pounds/dollars and if they are genuine they will likely jump at the chance to have myname.com (if it is available!)

As everyone has said though, there are no 100% rules here.

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