In this article, we'll cover the essentials of running an effective discovery call for solopreneurs, service entrepreneurs, and services businesses.
But first, what is a discovery call?
A discovery call is the first conversation you have with a potential client or lead. The primary goal of a discovery call is to understand the needs of the customer and assess whether they are the right fit to continue in your sales process. You don't have to worry about closing a client on this call, because you're going to use the information you gain on the call to refine a project proposal and go from there.
Part 1: Initial Rapport & Setting Expectations for the Call
- Show that you've done some homework on who they are and what they're doing.
- Give them a chance to expand on what you already know, or let them go a little deeper and tell you something new.
- Let them know that you'll ask some basic questions to help you put a proposal together
- Tell them some information on how you like to structure your engagements. That way, if there is a special accommodation or request they can let you know upfront.
Part 2: Cover your Bases With Some Questions
- Use a template of key questions, and start filling these out from the start of the call with information they give you. You might revise your templated questions as you get more experience and find different things to look for in clients.
- Get a lay of the land for resources. Do they have a team that will assist you? What sort of technology are they working with? Do they feel like they're short on any resources with their project currently? You'll want to know this going in, so you don't quote them a price and then end up with surprises.
Part 3: Concluding with Next Steps
- Let them know when they can expect a fleshed-out proposal from you (turnaround time)
- Find out their preferred method of contact. When it comes time to submit the proposal and close the client, you want to make sure you're reaching them in the most effective way.
Now that you've got an outline of how a discovery or intro call should work, it's time to fill in the blanks and finesse your technique.
6 Tips from Successful Solopreneurs
We interviewed a handful of successful solopreneurs in the Together Digital group to get their top tips for having successful and productive Intro and Discovery calls with potential clients.
Here are their top tips:
Direct potential clients to an About Me page, or send them your Dayslice before the call
"Before setting up a call, I ask prospects to review my About Me page. It provides some information on my usual working style, terms, and rates, so hopefully weeds out some of the prospects that aren't a good fit (although some still slip through who don't bother reading it as asked)."
Be aware of your gut instinct and feelings before, during and after the discovery call
"Three things that I would suggest to keep in mind when having an initial conversation with a consulting or coaching client are:
- How do you feel about yourself? It’s no secret that we are our own worst critics, and you want to be aware of any inner judge or saboteurs or mind chatter that is trying to keep you safe or small. Prepare for the conversation by taking a few minutes to ground yourself through deep breaths or short mindfulness techniques, and reminding yourself: “I am capable. I am competent. I am confident.”—or whatever mantra of choice to engage your inner wisdom or total badassery.
- How do you feel about the client? Important: this is not what you think of them or the opportunity! But, do you feel: Excited? Peaceful? Activated? Agitated? We overlook the information that our bodies are offering us. Trust your body's signals, which requires understanding what those signals are AND trusting yourself! It’s not limited to intuition—which we may or may not know how to interpret. It’s literally tuning into the sensations in your body, which you can easily do by closing your eyes, taking a deep breath in and out, recalling the conversation, and checking in with yourself.
- Are your values and theirs aligned? Your skill set may be a perfect fit for what the client needs. But, if their values and yours are at odds, you will feel resistance when doing the work. Part of the freedom of freelancing and being your own boss is that you decide what aligns with your personal and company values—and choose work that reinforces them. Not only will you feel compelled to do your best work, but you will also feel rewarded by partnering with a client that you want to genuinely see thrive. "
Template the process and automate information gathering via a scheduling tool
"Here's what I recommend:
- Use a scheduling tool so potential clients can easily schedule discovery time with you (but don't force it to be the only way you schedule meetings - some will email/contact you and prefer you take the lead).
- Ask the basics beforehand (this varies from industry to industry, but typically business name, general needs, budget, etc.). You can put these questions into your scheduling tool or ask them via email beforehand.
- Create a template to ensure you get what you need. What questions do you need answered to create a proposal? How will you weed out potential client red flags. Spend 15 minutes creating one before your first call, then, modify it. Always make sure you find out what interested them in your services or how they found out about you.
- Keep it short. An initial discovery call should last 15-30 minutes tops in most cases. Don't overschedule time. Your time is valuable (as is your potential clients), and you can always schedule more time, but if a potential client is a chatter, you can't get time back. Make it a conscious decision.
Find out if you and the potential client are in alignment about basic things
"When speaking with a potential client, there are two things that must be discussed in that first conversation. They need to know my organization’s background and what we do and we need to understand who they are and what they need.
If these two pieces aren’t in alignment, then the conversation shifts to how we can help them connect with the right organizations or individuals that can best support them.
If we are in alignment, I like to discuss how each team likes to work or engage in new client relationships. The first call is focused on trust building and expectation setting. These are the keys that set a new relationship up for success and help us say yes or no quickly so that no one is wasting their time and they are getting closer to the solution they need."
Start with some basics and then get details on what they're currently working with
"It usually depends on what the engagement is with the client on what my format is. For a kickoff of a new ongoing SEO client, I usually ask some general business questions such as how long they've been in business (including how long their website has been live), what are their main products and services and if there are any that should be more of a focus than others, who their target audience is, what their key differentiators are, and who are their competitors.
Then I'll go into more specific SEO questions (my area of expertise), such as what terms they think their customers would use to search for their products and services, if they made major updates to the website anytime in the last few years or plan to in the future, details about the technology they use, what development support they currently have and any limitations they have with their current CMS, etc."
Figure out which things you should do before and after the discovery call to keep that first call focused and essential
"For me, the goal of this first call is to:
- Find out if the client is a good fit for how I work. I'm picky about who I work with and consider fit really important in order to build a good working relationship. (I've written about this)
- Get enough information about what they're looking for to put together a detailed proposal with service offerings and rates. I avoid mentioning specific rates on the first call, so I have time to be more thoughtful in the proposal I create and send after. (I do find it helpful to have a general range or response to provide to this question before that point, e.g. "usually around $1 a word").
- My questions are specific to what I do and the way I work, so I recommend freelancers think about which questions are most important for them to achieve these goals. Creating a templated list of questions to ask will save you time preparing for each intro call you have, and it's OK for that list to change based on the experience you have over time.
- I usually do a little bit of research before the call—a few minutes on the client's website to get a feel for what they do and what their current content looks like (since content writing is what I do). And I aim for calls to stay under 30 minutes. Often we can cover the information needed in closer to 15-20.
- I have different processes for collecting the additional onboarding information that's needed once we start working together, but all of that can wait until there's an agreement in place. I try to be careful about how much work I do before a contract is signed and a first assignment's on the calendar or (even better) a first payment is received."
BONUS: Let your true self shine!
"I was always fortunate to go into a call highly recommended, so all I had to do was my homework and be myself."