How you respond to inbound leads affects the long-term sustainability of your business and your ability to exit the freelance feast or famine rollercoaster.
Getting more clients and customers is the number one objective of freelancers and small businesses worldwide. More clients and customers equal more money, and from helping others and paying it forward to reinvesting in your business and living your best life, money is what makes the world go ’round.
This dynamic makes marketing and promotion, driving traffic to your website, and generating leads non-negotiable. But building a full pipeline of prospective clients isn’t easy.
Savvy service businesses understand the importance leads play in their long-term success, after all, there is no service business without clients to serve and clients first start as leads. With that said, many of these same business owners sabotage their sales success by completely dropping the ball when it comes to managing and responding to leads.
Lead Response Failure
Imagine investing time, energy, effort, and even money to attract a qualified lead, only to ignore them and leave them hanging, wondering if their message went through. Imagine making someone who is excited to speak with you feel like you don’t want or need their business…
Considering that clients are the lifeblood of a freelance business, this sounds terrible, yet it happens every single day. It may even be happening in your business right now, which is a big problem because prioritizing lead generation doesn’t do you much good if you fail to manage inbound leads effectively and leave your hottest leads to cool down on ice.
Before the problem of lead response failure can be fixed, there needs to be an understanding of why it happens in the first place.
What gets in the way of freelancers responding to inbound leads?
- Too many unqualified leads.
When your marketing is general and aimed at anyone who will listen, you’ll get a lot of leads, but very few quality leads that convert to clients. As a result, you’re overwhelmed managing tire kickers and low-quality inbound leads that never pan out, which negatively affects your ability to respond to great leads.
- No systems and processes.
Every business, regardless of size, needs processes and systems for project management to handle the workflow and client management to care for the clients. Without these systems (and available automation), everything has to be done manually, which usually equals overwhelm, bulging to-do lists, and not enough time in the day.
- Refusal to delegate.
When you try to do everything yourself, something will inevitably slip through the cracks, and when you have to choose between meeting a deadline for a paying client and responding to a lead, the former will beat out the latter.
- Pricing uncertainty.
When you’re flying by the seat of your pants and making pricing up as you go, it can feel daunting to respond to a ready-to-buy lead. And when you don’t know your minimum acceptable hourly rate and have no process for effectively packaging and pricing your services, you may subconsciously avoid those conversations.
- Inquiry form failure. Project inquiry forms aren’t perfect. While your form settings may dictate that submissions get sent to a specific email address, sometimes submissions get stuck and never make it to your email inbox. Unless you manually check for new entries, you may not even know a new lead reached out!
The intention is to respond to a hot lead the same day or the very next day. But the next day turns into a couple of days, which then turns into a week or more, and by then it’s likely you’ve lost the lead to a competitor.
Each one of these situations often leads to unintentionally icing out prospective clients.
There’s a reason “sales and marketing” are almost always used in the same sentence. To land a new client or customer you need marketing to first generate the leads. To turn those leads into clients, you need sales to respond and follow up.
Lead Response Wins Clients
After auditing more than 2,200 businesses, Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that the average response time for a web-generated lead was 42 hours and that 23% of companies never even responded.
These findings are mind-boggling when you consider that:
- The odds of having a successful interaction with a lead are 100x greater when the initial lead response happens within five minutes as compared to just 30 minutes later.
- People need to hear from you an average of seven times before they are ready to hire you or buy from you.
- 73% of leads aren’t ready to buy need to be nurtured.
- 35% to 50% of sales — nearly half of all sales — go to the company that responds to a lead first.
- Nurtured leads produce 20% more sales opportunities and spend 47% more than non-nurtured leads.
These statistics teach us that when and how you respond to inbound leads affects the sustainability of your freelance business more than you may realize. It may even be one of the factors that help you exit the freelance feast or famine roller coaster.
Profitable Project Plan, my business training and mentoring program for designers and developers, includes an entire nine-lesson unit on lead generation, inquiry forms, lead assessment, and lead management.
Responding quickly to an inbound lead demonstrates professionalism and exceptional service. It shows a potential client that you value their time and want the opportunity to earn their business. It also builds trust and helps prospects feel confident as they explore working with you and make a buying decision.
Creating A Lead Response Plan
Nurturing inbound leads is something every freelancer needs to make time for and get comfortable doing. Nearly half of all sales are made by the company that gets in touch with a lead first, which means you need a documented process for following up with leads.
When creating your lead response plan, consider the following:
- What is your niche? Who is your ideal client? What is your ideal project?
- What makes a lead high-quality or low-quality?
- What are the different ways leads enter your business and contact you — referral, in-person conversation, lead magnet, inquiry form submission, email, phone call?
- How will you follow up with leads in each scenario? Will you follow up with a lead met at a networking event differently than a lead who fills out your project inquiry form?
- How will you identify the quality of an inbound lead and segment leads for the proper level of follow-up?
- What information do you need from inbound leads to assess their fit and how will you gather it?
- What information do you need to provide hot leads to prepare them for a sales call?
When you have a documented lead response plan in place that provides guidelines to manage different types of leads, assess lead quality, and respond to leads efficiently and effectively using pre-written email templates, following up with a lead is easy and fast. You can also delegate and automate lead follow-up to save even more time!
And, with your packaging and pricing dialed in, it removes the pressure associated with having sales conversations, packaging your services, sharing your pricing, and sending contracts.