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How to Spend Time on Promising Leads – Not Dead Ones

How to Spend Time on Promising Leads – Not Dead OnesBy Katie McDonald

I’m in the service business. In other words, time is money.

Can you relate?

As a copywriter who writes all kinds of marketing materials for other companies, simply put, I’m a slave to my clients.

Blunt? Yes.

True? Hell yes.

Anyone in the service business will agree. Everything I do, and the entire way I make money comes down to how much time I spend working on the projects I’m hired for. So, what does this mean? It means my time is extraordinarily valuable. And it’s up to me (and only me) to respect my time, to maximize my time and to spend my time on things that my business and I stand to gain from.

Nothing has taught me to value and maximize my time more than having a kid. (Probably because now I have none of it.) I love those kid-less people who complain about how busy they are and how little time they have. I think to myself, yeah right. You think you have no time now, have a kid and then come talk to me!

New Leads Are Great … Or Are They?

Businesses thrive on new leads. Every not-yet customer who emails, phones or walks through the door is important. They haven’t opened their wallet just yet – but they might!

It’s exciting.

It’s a new opportunity.

It’s a chance to make money.

But as time goes on and you begin to settle into your business, you learn the ins and outs of the industry, your clients, your process and the most profitable parts of your service. And if you’re anything like me, you begin to see that some new leads are a colossal waste of your time.

Take a second to compare a new lead with an existing client who comes back.

To convert that new lead who knows nothing about you and your business into a paying client takes time and effort. Sometimes a lot of it.

For your existing client, you get to bypass all the initial mumbo jumbo about who you are, what you do, what makes you different from your competitors, what your process is and how much you charge. Your client already knows you, trusts you and enjoys working with you. In the service industry, repeat business is a goldmine.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t spend time on new leads. Of course not. You MUST in order to continue to grow your business. But what I am prompting you to do is change your perspective a little. Read between the lines. Redefine new leads that arrive in your inbox or voicemail or storefront.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. Instead of thinking of those new leads as instant opportunities, I challenge you to think of them as a waste of time.

Let’s see what happens to your process when you do.

#1 – Create Templates

Have you noticed a trend when it comes to the kinds of inquiries you get on a regular basis? Maybe new leads commonly ask about a particular service. Or your prices. Or how you work. Or what your turnaround time is. Whatever it may be, as you identify recurring needs, create templates that you can use and reuse to save you time.

In my copywriting business, I commonly receive email inquiries about specific writing services. For example, websites, blogs, social media, articles, press releases and so on. To accommodate these inquiries in a fast and thorough way, I created an “Email Templates” folder that contains prewritten emails that cover my specific approach, pricing and timeline for each service. So when a new inquiry arrives in my inbox, there’s no need for me to waste time compiling a fresh email that reiterates exactly what I’ve written to others a thousand times over. There’s a perfect template waiting for me in the folder I created. What’s great about this too is that not only does it save time, but it also prevents you from leaving out key pieces of information. You already took the time to write and perfect the email template that applies to your new inquiry so there’s no chance of hitting SEND and then exclaiming “Shit!” because you forgot to mention something important.

And think beyond your emails too.

Build a template wherever it makes sense. Maybe it’s a phone script, or a client engagement questionnaire, or a service agreement. If it’s a repeated need that requires your time, then a template is the way to go.

#2 – Lay it All Out on the Table 

Here’s where I’ve really altered my initial process – quite recently, in fact. I used to think that it was better to answer only what questions my new leads asked and leave out all the other additional information that must be communicated before a project closes, but not necessarily right now. My mentality was this: why would I go into so much detail today when this lead might be dead in the water the second they read my prices?

Makes sense, right?

But here’s what I found …

New leads were saying, “Great, let’s schedule the phone conference and get started.”

Let me back it up a bit and give you an example.

A new lead asks me for information about website content writing.

My old email template outlined my process once the project moves forward, which is this:

  1. First, I conduct a detailed phone conference during which I gather information about the project, your business, target audience, differentiators, objectives, vision, mission, short term and long term goals, etc.
  2. Then I conduct basic research on your industry, products, services and competitors.
  3. I produce all copy, starting with one page first to make sure I’m on the right track, then I proceed with the rest of the pages, taking into consideration any comments and feedback you provide after you receive the first page.
  4. I provide up to two rounds of revisions (if needed) on all first drafts.

Okay, so it’s good. It’s thorough. It covers all the necessary information – but only the information that comes AFTER I close the project. You see, before I even get into #1 above, I need to quote for the full project. The client needs to approve the quote. Then I need to send my standard copywriting service agreement to be signed and sent back. Then I require a deposit.

And then, and only then, do I schedule the phone conference to get started (#1 above). Well, it’s great that I know all of this, but how the hell is my new lead supposed to know? I discovered that my old template was misleading because it left out all the administrative logistics. While I originally didn’t want to burden or bore my new leads with all of this before they showed any additional interest, I recently realized that I was actually being ambiguous and misleading. Interested leads were contacting me saying, “Great, let’s schedule the phone conference and get started.” And then I had to revert back and explain, “Oh, well before we set up our phone conference, I need to quote you for the full project, send you my agreement and I require a payment deposit, blah, blah, blah …”

No good.

So now, here’s what the process outline in my website content writing email template looks like:

  1. First, I ask for a rough site map or list of pages. (If this changes along the way, that’s no problem, we’ll simply adjust accordingly.)
  2. Then I provide a full project quote, based on your requirements.
  3. If and when you approve the quote, I send you my copywriting service agreement (which simply outlines my service along with a few straightforward terms) to be signed, and I require a 50% deposit prior to project commencement. (*Note: For projects of $500.00 or less, I ask for full payment upfront to simplify the process.)
  4. I dive into the project by first conducting a detailed phone conference during which I gather information about your business, target audience, differentiators, objectives, vision, mission, short term and long term goals, etc.
  5. Then I conduct basic research on your industry, products, services and competitors.
  6. I produce all copy, starting with one page first to make sure I’m on the right track, then I proceed with the rest of the pages, taking into consideration any comments and feedback you provide after you receive the first page.
  7. I provide up to two rounds of revisions (if needed) on all first drafts.



Nothing left out.

Now, if new leads don’t like a particular part of my process, they won’t engage me. And I won’t be wasting my time going back and forth only to find out that they don’t want to move forward after 15 emails.

#3 – Deny the Meeting

Before my son was born, I used to travel to various in-person meetings with clients and potential clients. I’m a Gen Xer, so for me, everything is digital. Even in my pre-kid days, I always despised in-person meetings solely for the reason that I find them to be a huge waste of time. A single in-person meeting costs me half a day. Yes, half! Once you factor in the time it takes to get dolled up, drive, park, go pee, have the meeting, go pee, get my car and drive home … hell yeah, it’s half a day. Why can’t people hop on the digital bandwagon and conduct meetings via Skype, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, Magnocall, ooVoo? We could alllllll save a lot of time.

Now let’s tack on “working mom” to “self-employed”, “entrepreneur”, “in the service industry” and we’ve got an even bigger need for time optimization.

So what did I do?

I stopped accepting in-person meetings. And you know what? I haven’t lost a single project because of it! Preferring total transparency (even if it’s too much information) from the get-go, I simply communicate to new leads and clients the fact that I am a working mom with a little guy at home and I really need to maximize my time writing, which is what people hire me to do.

Back to you.

If you can find a way to eliminate the in-person meeting from your process, you’ll save yourself thousands of valuable working hours in the long run.

#4 – Delay the Phone Conference

So we’ve purged the face to face. But diving into a full-blown phone conference without any commitment from your client-to-be can work against you too.

Recently, I scheduled a detailed phone call with a potential client who said he was fine with my price, liked my process and knew that he had to sign my agreement and pay my invoice ahead of time. We had the call. A lengthy one. I gathered all the information I needed from him and then after the call (here’s the mistake!) sent over my agreement and invoice. He then told me he needed approval from his team members before signing and paying. Cool. It’s been two weeks. I’ve followed up twice and he says his partners are out of town. Hmmm … red flag. This is exactly why I send the agreement and get the payment BEFORE the phone conference. Yet again, I proved my process to myself. As I wait in limbo, all the critical information I gathered from the client that was once fresh in my mind is now stale. And I’m sitting on an hour and a half of wasted time. Valuable time.


Before you commit yourself to clients, be sure they have committed to you. There’s something very desirable about a service provider and business owner who has a process clearly defines it and doesn’t waver. (I’ve actually had clients tell me they were impressed with my process stringency and that this was one of the reasons they hired me.)

#5 – Trust Your Gut

How many times have you said to yourself, “I knew this client was going to be a nightmare” or, “I should have stuck with my original quote” or, “Why didn’t I just listen to my gut and walk away from this project in the beginning?”

We’ve all been there. The question is what will you do next time?

Human instinct is a powerful thing. All too often we second-guess ourselves. We doubt our feelings. We don’t follow the very first impulse behavior that comes to us. If had just trusted my gut all those times I got involved with stressful, problematic, suck-the-life-out-of-me projects, I would have saved myself a ton of unnecessary anguished time.

When you feel a headache, waste of time client coming on, stop. Assess your gut feelings. Listen to your instincts. Move on. Don’t look back. And know with confidence you made the right decision.

What about you?

What will you change about your process the next time a wishy-washy lead comes your way?

Katie McDonald is a passionate mom and entrepreneur. On paper, she’s a freelance copywriter and the owner of an online directory for senior citizens. Everywhere else, Katie is a fun-loving, goofy, energetic mom of one (with another on the way) and an enthusiastic, edgy blogger for career-minded, entrepreneurial working moms at

How to Spend Time on Promising Leads – Not Dead Ones

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6 Responses to “How to Spend Time on Promising Leads – Not Dead Ones”

  1. 1
    Dyan Fox says:

    Great advice! I need to read it again when I’m not so sleep deprived…zzzz

    • 1.1

      Glad you enjoyed the tips, Dyan. Definitely, worth another read. Setting up templates for my email has saved me a ton of time! You can also set up a FAQ on your website.

    • 1.2

      Happy to hear you found the tips useful, Dyan. Hopefully you’re feeling more rested today. I know how that feels! A slow and gradual implementation is all you need. As you learn more about your business, you learn how to be better (and more efficient) at what you do!

  2. 2
    Lisa Cropman says:

    I can’t tell you the number of hours I’ve wasted on phone calls and meetings before the cash was in my hands. I’m much better than I used to be, but still sometimes slip up. Thanks for the reminder and the tips!

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