I have only happy clients so far, and of course I'd like to increase this number, but I feel I'm losing a bit too much time in finding serious clients.

I have a lot of requests; asking about what's possible, about prices, time schedules, etc... I always want to provide good, exact and serious answers, so I give them a copy of their requirements, in a custom PDF file with a great overview and info about their planned project (for example).

Now, from their side, everything is always "okay", "sounds great", until we come to the pre-payment (some per cent of the agreed project payment I take before I start).

The most common "excuse" I was told was that "my wife was against the payment when I was on the bank yesterday to transfer the money", or "a friend wanted to pay it, but just hasn't"... and so on...

So I am asking you, are there any hints to find out if a possible client is really serious, so I don't waste my time with people who just have "great ideas and plans", but not the intention to really pay that money for their projects?

4 Answers 4


What I do is in the first phone conversation I give them a ball park "starting from" figure and tell them the minimum deposit - this gets rid of a few straight away. If all is good after the initial phone call I tend to set up a meeting and give them a more exact quote after the meeting and tell them the exact payment terms then - e.g. 30% up front, 30% on designs signed off and 40% upon completion.

Most seem pretty happy with this method for me, I try not to invest too much time until I know a client is definitely on board, around a 30 minute phone call, 30 minutes research and an hour meeting.


My working relationships are always bill by the hour, bill every one to two weeks, and payment within one to two weeks after billing. There is no doubt that the people I'm working with need what I do, and for the most part little doubt about whether I'll get paid. For the most part, I keep my project count limited to two or three at a time.

If you're going after two and three month projects, you're barking up the wrong tree. Generally sustainable work runs from six to eighteen months and should have potential for long term support - generally reports development and application customization up to five years out. You should have one 'core' long term account and one or two 'contingency' accounts that have lower priority needs. These latter 'backfill' in situations where you can't work on the core account for some reason. Any more than three active projects and you'll be overextended, and all of your clients will start getting cranky.


You can turn this around by asking them some questions. It'll show your interest, evaluate how serious they are and avoid giving away all your technical secrets.

  1. Ask if they have previous experience doing any sort of project like this. (Don't insult them: ask it in a way that lets them know how much help you think they'll need. And if they think this is easy that's red flag.

  2. Ask about the problem they are trying to solve. This will tell you how serious they are about this project. And, As Einstein said "if I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 50 minutes investigating it". Undestanding the problem is far more important than understanding the solution. I do realize it's not your job to make sure they solve the problem, but the more successful you help them to be, the more willing and able you will be to pay you in the future. And it shows (hopefully honestly!) that you are interesting in working with them to solve the problem.

  3. Ask them to make an initial small milestone payment (maybe even just an hour or two to cover you doing a more detailed estimate). But ask this after the other questions so you establish that you are interested in the project not just the money.

To add, paying upfront means the client is serious. Not 100% proven method, but 99% proven. Of all my clients, only 1 paid upfront and I made project specs, and later he wanted me to return him some money since he wished to cancel the project before we started.

If they refuse paying upfront, I simply don't work with them. Maybe I made a mistake, but I am 100% sure I am not on loss.

Potential clients are those who, after you give them ball park price, ask you can you do it cheaper. This gives you opportunity to tell them what you can do with the sum they are ready to pay.

And most uncertain and bad clients were those who approached to me the first time and wanted to hire me quickly.

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