If you tune in here often, you know I'm all about managing my time as efficiently as possible, at least most of the time. Regardless, though, marketing my business and "qualifying" clients takes a significant amount of time, especially as much of the work I do now is ghostwriting/coauthoring books. Signing a book client usually takes significantly more time than getting a magazine article, so I definitely don't want to it with someone who isn't a viable client.
So let me share a story from several years ago, when I was much newer (read: mostly clueless) to the ghostwriting biz:
It started when I received an email from a potential client in the Chicago area. Well, it was actually the client's underling. Said underling was looking for a writer to handle several projects for his boss, including an autobiography. His boss was a very successful, very wealthy real estate developer.
I called the underling, and we spoke briefly. He wanted me to come to his office to meet him and his boss. I debated. The trip is an hour's drive—without traffic—and I already knew I wasn't right for a couple of the projects. My gut said "no." But my greedy little brain said, "Very wealthy!" In other words, this dude's got lots of coin to spend on an autobiography—why not spend it on me?
So I agreed, put on my grown-up clothes a couple of days later, and drove up to the northern suburbs. The traffic stunk, but I made the trip in under 90 minutes. I met with both men, and it quickly became apparent that I had wasted my time. Mr. Fabulously Wealthy began sketching out his plans for one of the projects for which he needed a writer. The project entailed an incredible amount of time and work. I listened, took notes, and asked what budget he had in mind.
He wouldn't answer me directly. Then he explained (as if talking to a four-year-old) that the writer had the "opportunity" to make an incredible amount of money as the project grew in scope. I pressed, only to have him grow angry at my insistence that no professional writer (including me) is going to put her time into a project with the promise of a payoff. We expect to be paid for our work. He waved me off, and I diplomatically suggested that I wouldn't be the right writer for this fantastic "opportunity."
Attention turned to his autobiography. Again, he fobbed off my questions about pay. "The great thing about this book is that the writer will be able to learn about my life, and learn how to sell," he said.
"And the writer will be paid for writing the book," I pointed out. Dead silence from him. Uh huh! Well, thanks for wasting my morning! Yet I politely said I needed to hit the road (I never like to burn a bridge). I drove home, mentally calculating what I'd spent for this worthless meeting. Four hours' of babysitting. Gas to drive up there. Tolls. Lost time from my real work. I came home in a foul mood, but I was just as angry at myself. My gut had warned me during my phone conversation. But I overrode it.
What could I have done differently? Number one, asked about the budget before I agreed to meet. Then I would have discovered that first, that this opportunity was nothing more than an opportunity for me to waste my time and money, and second, that Mr. Fabulously Wealthy had no intention of sharing that wealth with me.
Today, I always ask potential clients about their budget, or what they expect to invest in a project, before I proceed, let alone leave the house. I suggest you do the same.