Why clients choose someone else

I’ll never forget what landed us one of the worst clients we ever got, years ago.

Back then we didn’t have many clients, so we fought for each one that came our way. We fought for this particular project too which boiled down to us and one other company.

“I liked them a lot – but I felt like you really ‘got’ me,” she said.

And while that landed us this nightmare of a client – that same idea landed us every one of our other clients too. Including the great ones.

Back then we did our initial consults based on intuition. It didn’t take us long to realize we had a very different process than most.

It also didn’t take us long to realize that if we could get someone to that initial consult – there was about a 90% chance they’d become our client. 

So that’s what this post is really about – what we did in our consults, and why, if you don’t do this, and someone else does…

… clients will choose someone else.

When I was 14 or 15 I read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and it changed my life.

Featured Image for: Why clients choose someone else

It opened my eyes to how people work.

More than anything – it acknowledged and brought to light things I’d vaguely felt about people all along but couldn’t quite put my finger on.

And that’s that people “crave” recognition, appreciation, and understanding. 

Psst: Have you heard about Hectic? It's our new favorite tool for freelancing smarter, not harder. Client management, project management, invoices, proposals, and lots more. Hectic's got it all. Click here to see what we mean.

Dale was very precise in choosing the word “crave.” They don’t “want” it or “would like” it… they crave it, like you crave water after a hard run or like a baby craves his mother’s arms.

Thoreau tapped into this too in “Walden,” stating, “All men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

To me, Carnegie’s and Thoreau’s ideas go hand in hand:

I believe people experience that quiet desperation because most of us don’t get the recognition and understanding we need.

We’re always yearning. Never satisfied.

But if you give people that feeling, even for a moment, it’s pretty magical.

[Tweet “If you make your #clients feel important, it can be magical. #freelancing”]The relief and joy they experience is like nothing else.

It’s not the joy you get when you get a cool birthday present or when that Amazon package finally arrives at your door…

It’s more like an itch that’s been nagging them for years just got scratched.

It feels like… “Yes, finally, thank you.”

When I really understood this about people, it changed the way I interacted with them.

It made it crystal clear what they really wanted. And, being a pretty caring person, I tried to give it to them.

This poured over into client interactions too. Including that first all-important consult.

Because without realizing it, subconsciously, I had a goal bigger than getting a new client:

I wanted to make the person I was speaking with feel acknowledged, and understood, and heard. 

[Tweet “Making our clients feel heard & understood is what landed us 90% of prospects. #agency”]But as I quickly came to see – that was just the thing that landed us 90% of those consults.

I’ll get back to that in a second, but first…

About a half a year ago we looked for someone to help us with our Google campaigns at Reliable.

I came across a guy I actually found through a Millo comment.

I set up a call with him. We spoke. I left the call frustrated.

But, being experienced in business, I had a feeling this guy was good at advertising… just bad at sales.

So I wrote him a message.

I told him I was on the fence after our call because he didn’t spend any time learning about me or my problems or my goals.

He just talked for 45 minutes straight, hardly asking me a question.

I told him it made me wonder how he could possibly help me if he didn’t take the time to truly understand what I need help with.

He apologized and we started over and he did great the second time around.

The thing is… if I didn’t have the experience I do – I would’ve chosen someone else.

Because as much as I like to think the reason was that practical.

The truth is it boiled down to this:

He didn’t make me feel heard or understood. He made me feel the opposite. 

Now just because I understand what Carnegie and Thoreau were saying doesn’t mean I’m immune to it. It’s something I believe every person on this planet battles on a daily basis – even if they don’t consciously realize it.

And that’s what it comes down to:

When clients choose someone else – 9 times out of 10 it’s because you did the same thing to them.

[Tweet “If a client didn’t choose you, it’s probably because you didn’t show them you cared. #clients”]They might not have the words for it or they might say it was for this and that… but really, it’s because you didn’t establish the kind of bond that comes with making them feel cared for.

But that’s why people seek help.

They’re looking for someone to take care of them.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a gardener or a dentist or a designer – you want someone who makes you feel like: “Wow, this person is really going to take good care of me.” 


That’s why, if a consult with a new client is 60 minutes long, we spend 40 of those minutes simply listening and asking questions.

Because nothing makes people feel that more than being heard.

We ask questions like:

  • So what brings you here today? What made you reach out?
  • Why do you need a website (or whatever service they’re coming to you for) right now? What happened that made you realize now is the time?
  • And how are those problems affecting your business?
  • What goals do you have for your business?
  • How did you get into this business anyway? There are thousands of ways you could spend your time – what about this is so important to you?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • What makes you different? If you and 10 of your competitors were standing side by side in a line, why would someone choose you over them?
  • What kind of relationship are you looking for with a designer? What does your ideal relationship look like?

The questions naturally lead you to other questions.

Their answers spark more.

(Quick note: When I tell this to freelancers, they often say: “I save questions like these for the research process.” 

My response: “If you don’t ask questions like these, you’ll never get that far.”)

We’d just follow the trail until we felt like we got a good picture of who they were and what they wanted and until they felt like we understood both those things as well.

[Tweet “Don’t forget, your clients are likely very passionate about the work they do.”]See, chances are, the people you’re working with are very passionate about what they do.

Only passion can make people crazy enough to start a business.

But how often do you think people get to talk this deeply about this thing they’re so passionate about?

Give them that gift – and you’ll get more clients.

Keep the conversation going...

Over 10,000 of us are having daily conversations over in our free Facebook group and we'd love to see you there. Join us!

Millo Articles by David Tendrich

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.
Read more from David.

  1. Matthew Newton says:

    David, I hope you get to seeing this comment.

    I read this article in mid October 2016 as my business was really struggling. Now it’s 01 March and as a result of implementing your advice, things have massively changed. From wondering how I was going to pay the rent, now we’re finally stable and I know that I will be paying my team in 2 months time because their salary is already in the bank.

    I added one twist to your method – I give all the proposals over the phone and walk people through it, slide by slide as a presentation. Combining your technique and the above has worked really well and we’re converting at a very high rate – averaging 65-70% close at the moment after proposing.

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Matthew, THANK you so much for sharing.

      That is simply amazing. So happy for you and proud of you.

      The most amazing part is that you took a dive and just ran with it. Insert cliché here about showing you the door, but you’re the one who has to walk through it 😉

      Proposals over the phone is a great idea.

      We typically send proposals along with a call-to-action of scheduling to go over it.

      Huge congrats again. Can’t wait for the next update 😉


  2. Jase Rodley says:

    Thanks for posting this one David – as someone that is more introverted these are the questions I want to ask, but often find it hard to ask the first time I meet someone.

    It’s great to hear when someone is making this work (for all the right reasons) – it gives me confidence that this is the right track to be on.


  3. This article was an eye opener. I cannot believe how even the smallest things can mean the difference between gaining or losing a client. It’s important to get to know your client and for the client to understand the freelancer as well. It’s a two-way street no matter who initiates the business relationship and that is just the truth of it.

    1. David Tendrich says:

      “This article was an eye opener.” – that phrase really made me smile.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with me 😀


  4. Thanks David> I loved your article. This is a great way to really listen to clients and build a relationship from the first meeting. It is what will makes our design service more valuable than the thousands of cheapy ‘design’ sites. I’ve got clients who have been through those sites and realised they were missing out on someone to ‘partner’ with and support their business, someone to listen and care.

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Exactly! A lot of designers hate those companies because they price cheap and do bad work. (I guess those are pretty solid reasons lol…)

      But I look at them as the people who are maturing my future clients and showing them everything they *don’t* want.

      That way, when they’re actually ready for the big leagues, they’re actually ready for it.

      Very well said, thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. I actually had a very similar experience recently. During an initial meeting for a web design project, the client mentioned while we were talking that a design company had been recommended to him by a colleague. He said they gave him a flat price with little detail or explanation. I got the impression that he felt it was very cookie cutter, and he didn’t feel they took the time or care to really make him feel special or investigate his particular needs. They just slapped a price on it and called it a day. He ended up choosing me over the referred company and I suspect it was because I spent time with him, and gave him a personalized, customized estimate and proposal that addressed his concerns. It really does pay to dig in and find where the customers actual problems and pain points lie! It will probably lead to a more successful project outcome too.

    1. David Somerfleck says:

      Good article on a very important topic. All developers need help screening clients and asking the right questions to not scare them away but also at the same time, get needed information to discern if they’d be a good fit or not.

      I have a form on our company site that’s very interactive (listed below), and attempts to do just that. But I’ve had many potential clients balk at answering the questions or filling out only the simplest form. But it’s asking information we need to know.

      I’d like more articles like this, and more in-depth about forms, screening techniques, interview techniques, on-boarding, contracts, set prices web design packages vs. estimates, etcetera.

      1. David Tendrich says:

        David (nice name 😀 ) – thanks so much for your compliments on the post. So glad it was helpful for you.

        And thanks a TON for your ideas on future articles. I would love to share more about those things. Definitely got me thinking.

        Keep a lookout 😉

        1. David Somerfleck says:

          David (hey, good Biblical name, wink), I’m always open to collaborating if there’s interest…..

    2. David Tendrich says:

      Julia – I guess you can re-word the title of this to: “Why clients choose YOU over someone else” then instead 😀

      Great job and congrats on landing that project. Sounds like you really get it.


  6. Debbie Campbell says:

    This is a really excellent post. Not feeling like you’ve been heard is always irritating, especially when you’re spending time with someone to whom you may be paying a considerable amount of money. Making sure you really understand what the client’s having problems with is so important in those first interactions and helps establish the groundwork for trust.

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Yes, yes, yes.


  7. In my case, the reason is the price. While I don’t work for big rates (they’re pretty small, compared to an US business, since life here is way cheaper), there are clients (local especially) who cannot afford the services and would rather hire someone who does a crappy job, but it’s cheap.

    1. April Greer says:

      Hey Ramona,

      What I’ve found is that if you show them how much value you provide, the extra price will be worth it to them.

      So 95%+ of the time someone says “I went with someone cheaper,” they didn’t feel you communicated that you were worth the price you quoted.

      (The remainder really don’t have the budget.)

      So my suggestion is to work on communicating value. Why are you a higher price than your competition? What do you do that they don’t, and why is that so important for your clients?

      Good luck!

    2. David Tendrich says:

      It is true – some people simply can’t afford your services – so I can totally see why you might say that.

      With that said, I’ve found that what April is saying is usually true for about half of those people.

      They actually can afford to pay a bit mor e- they just don’t realize that they should. They don’t see the value in it.

      They feel your services should cost $X because of some arbitrary thought in their head.

      We’ve found with the right approach, you actually can open them up to realizing they’ll be a lot happier in the long run if they pay a bit more.

      That is our experience at least.

      I understand you have yours!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Scott Mason says:

    This is perfect, and summed up so well that I feel like I might not even need to finish Carnegie’s book…Not to be like Bob Wiley from What About Bob?. Ha!

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Any other books you’ve been meaning to read I can sum up in a sentence for you? 😀 LOL

      Thanks so much for sharing this, very honored by your words.

  9. Robyn Smith says:

    Really great article; thanks! You are so right about how much people want to be acknowledged, recognized, and appreciated. Even though not everyone wants to be put in the spotlight with grand fanfare, they still appreciate someone quietly acknowledging that they offer value to the world.
    One other benefit of asking the type of questions in your article: Many interviewees come away feeling more knowledgeable themselves about their own businesses. Some clients have actually been thankful for the insight they gained from answering questions about their own companies. With those insights, some have even improved their own systems; that’s value!

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Wow, loved this:

      “Even though not everyone wants to be put in the spotlight with grand fanfare, they still appreciate someone quietly acknowledging that they offer value to the world.”

      Brilliantly said.

      Love your thoughts about helping businesses better understand themselves through your questions as well. So, so true.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts

  10. I found this article confusing with a lot of fluff that just does not work. Perhaps that is why the author has no website of his own other than some silly thing, claiming it is on its way with a notice that he is accepting work from last year. I always research the author of the information I am reading and I do not see where David is an authority to be trusted, but that’s just me.

    1. Jim Dasher says:


      You say you always “research the author”. Well, you might want do a bit more “research”, before criticizing this author.

      It’s obvious you neglected to check his primary website: ReliablePSD. All you had to do was click on the name!

    2. David Tendrich says:

      Hey Kevin!

      Sorry you felt that way my man.

      What exactly did you feel was “fluff” or “confusing?” Would love to hear your thoughts. Maybe I can improve the piece 🙂

      BTW thanks for the reminder about updating the site –

      to be honest we have been so busy accomplishing some pretty cool and big things that we forgot to update it – and we haven’t had the time to fully finish the new one we’ve been working on.

      Credibility to me comes from a bit more than just one of someone’s websites (we do have some other projects & companies, like Jim mentioned above – thanks, Jim!), but I”m sorry if that’s all it boils down to for you and if I failed you in that regard.

      Take care,

  11. Jhonattan says:

    Simply brilliant! I’m getting ready to meet a tech company in downtown Toronto and this might just be what I needed to “hear” before I set foot into their offices.

    This is great!!!


    1. David Tendrich says:

      Hey Jhonattan, thanks so much 🙂 How’d it go!? Would love to hear if you have a moment to share.

 Sorry. Comments are closed.
Ask questions & keep the conversation going in our free Mastermind group.