Faced with uncertainty in the world-at-large, business prospects yearn even more for that stable, solid “piece of the rock” around which they can anchor their efforts. Be that rock.
Take the initiative to show that you “mean business.” Develop business-like agreements and contracts that address both boilerplate issues and policies about ongoing use of work, copyright, and the like—and show them to the prospect. Find out what pertinent deadlines exist before being asked if you can meet them—and be realistic in your response. If a prospect is making unrealistic demands or assumptions, apprise them. You’re better off walking away than blowing the deadline.
Ask questions. Don’t be an order-taker. Besides helping you get a better idea of needs and pertinent parameters, asking questions demonstrates that you’re insightful and dispels notions that you’re a “know-it-all.” That said, don’t ask questions just to appear interested. Make sure your inquiries go to the heart of understanding both the prospect’s business and need at hand.
Offer references and proof of claims before being asked. Determine what types of verification are most effective—contacting references, general portfolio review, specific types of work samples (e.g., industry or similar challenges), and the like.
You might even consider a very bold tactic—offering names of dissatisfied former clients or present clients with whom you’ve had an issue. This demonstrates your commitment to full disclosure and typically will astound a prospect. Note of caution: Make sure you couch your “negative vetting” in a problem/solution context so that the prospect can see what you did to resolve the issue. For example, if you blew a deadline, demonstrate what you did going forward to help avoid a repeat performance—either with that client or subsequent ones.