Do you offer a short consult for prospective clients? Or maybe you’d like the consult to be short but these meetings always take longer than you intend. Are you frustrated that your consults don’t become paying clients as frequently as you would like?
One way to have a stronger – more effective, more efficient – initial consult is to have an intake form that you send prospects before they meet with you.
The key to a great intake form is relevance.
Just like using a microscope, you want to know what to gather and then know what to look for.
Capture enough information to let you get right to the heart of the matter without overwhelming your prospect by requesting information for information’s sake. The more relevant your intake form is to their problem, the more confident your prospect will be that you can address their needs.
Here are my tips for creating great intake forms – and some of them might surprise you…
Your intake form is part of your brand.
Recognize that the intake form is one of the first touch points with you that a prospect has. Their experience using your intake form should reflect the experience they will have working with you. By knowing your own style and brand clearly, you can create an intake form that reflects that. For example, is your style info-rich? Is it lean? Is it luxury? Is it creative? How can you create an intake form that reflects the values of your own business?
Make it super easy for your prospect to provide the information.
Most of my consult requests come in via email or the contact form on my website so I reply with a personal email that includes an attachment for the prospect to complete and return. In the past it was popular send a PDF for prospects to write out and fax back – what a hassle! That’s not super easy, even though it might let you create a beautiful form. I’ve also sent intake forms out as Microsoft word, but as platforms have become more diversified, I find that the .rtf (“rich text format”) file type is a better choice because every computer has built-in software that can open that file and let your prospect edit it. Then they can simply return that edited document back to you as an attachment. It’s not a particularly aesthetic option but, for me, it does reflect the direct style of my coaching and consulting.
Another option is a web form, but there are two things to be mindful of here. Web-based forms are problematic if you have questions that require a bit of thought. If the form can’t be completed easily in just a few minutes, then your prospect may lose their info before they finish the form. That is totally frustrating and a good way to lose a prospect.
If you do use a web form, include a way for your prospects to send themselves a copy of their answers, i.e., offer a “send me a copy” checkbox. You’d be surprised how easy it is for people to forget what they’ve told you. Examples of WordPress plugins that support this are Contact Form from BestWebSoft and SimpleModal Contact Form.
Get the basics, but don’t make it an interrogation.
What is the essential information that you need to have a successful initial consult? What do you need to create a contact record for follow up? For example, I request their name which seems totally obvious, but the email return address doesn’t always provide a full name, nor does their initial contact email request. Then I request phone number, location, and web address. I also ask for time zone. If someone misses a consult appointment, it’s almost always due to time zone confusion (though using TimeTradeto automate my scheduling has minimized this problem). You probably don’t need something like birthday on an intake form. Keep it relevant.
An intake form is not the same as a client background form. In some service areas, you’ll need information like medical history or financial information. But know when it is the right time to ask for it. In my opinion, this content feels invasive on an intake form before you have a working, confidential relationship with someone. Create a separate document for client background, and send it after you have an agreement to pursue working together.
Get a snapshot of where they are now and what their challenges are.
Ask for what their current status is. If you’re a business consultant, ask them the current state of their business vs. where they want to be. If you’re a writing coach, ask them what project they are working on and what they want to achieve. If you’re an SAT tutor, find out if they’ve already taken the test, what the scores were and what their target score is or what kinds of schools they are applying to.
Think about the problems that you help people with and ask questions that show you understand those problems. Be specific to the context for your niche to learn more about prospect’s situation.
Don’t just say things like “tell me about your situation” or “what are your goals?” Ask about specific areas that reflect your specialty. But keep it as short as possible.
Find out how urgent the situation is.
If your schedule books two months in advance and someone needs your help within 24 hours, then this question can save you both enormous frustration. You’ll be able to reply immediately to them to set scheduling expectations. Almost every potential client feels some urgency or they wouldn’t be contacting you.
Learn to read these replies to find out who is “urgent with a strong sense of purpose” and who is “urgent and demanding” or simply frantic. If you’re not in the business of “frantic,” then you might want to have referral partners who are. See my next tip for more on this…
Ask what has already been tried and what the outcome was.
This question is vital, in my opinion. You’ll understand a lot about whether your prospect is a tadpole, a guppy or a dolphin. It also gives you a sense of their commitment, their level of follow-through, and, if you know the other programs or methodologies they have tried, you’ll have a clear sense of how to distinguish what you do. I’m not recommending comparing (and especially not bashing) any other programs in your consult; just knowing the information is enough. This question often gives me a sense of my prospect’s frustration level, too, especially if they have tried other programs that other clients have frequently been frustrated by.
Include an open-ended question like “What else would you like for me to know?”
Even a carefully designed intake form will not cover every need. A catch-all question can help capture those extra bits.
Make their next steps simple and part of the intake form, too.
I include a link to my scheduling system, my email address, and the phone number that they will call for our consult. Every step in initiating a working relationship with you should be as easy as possible.
Don’t forget to ask how they found out about you – and whom you can thank.
This one question may be one of the most valuable question you can ask. I like to ask it as “Whom may I thank for referring you, or how did you find out about my services?” Following up with the people who share your work with others is extremely important and can go a long, long way toward keeping you top of mind with them as a referral partner. If the prospect didn’t find you by referral, you’ll certainly want to know what channels are working for you. Your blog? Google? A speaking engagement? Consider tracking this referral source information in a spreadsheet, too.
Read replies a.s.a.p.
Don’t wait until two minutes before the consult to open the document they return to you. You’ll sound unprepared, and you may have missed critical information that you needed to know much sooner.
Over and over again, prospective clients tell me that simply completing my intake form starts them on the process to improving their businesses. That’s your goal: start serving before you ever start talking.
Want to sneak a peek at my intake form for Branding From the Inside Out? Feel free to download it. Modify it for your own use, if you like. It’s direct and lean. I’m pleased to say my consults are more productive than ever since I started using it.
Did I miss anything that you think is important for intake forms? Let’s discuss it in the comment.