Freelancing 101: The Art of Separating the Bad Leads from the Good Ones

Categories Articles, Freelancing101, How To, iPhone

This is a guest post by Nicolas Acuna and Mikka Olsson, co-founders of, an iPhone and iPad apps development company. In the last year, they’ve had great success (and committed a fair share of mistakes!) creating apps for clients all over the world and decided to share their findings with the fine readers of Inspired Mag.

In this exploding app market, good developers are in high demand. In this blog post, we want to give you a couple of valuable tips on how to manage incoming leads, and more specifically, how to separate the bad leads from the good leads that are worth pursuing.

Most leads are not worth your time
A consequence of any exploding market is the “Wanna Be” syndrome. Fueled by misleading headlines, and a few extra dollars, people convince themselves that they have the next big idea. Their inner monologue usually goes like this:

“I have great idea, it’s just like (insert popular product here, say “Instagram”), but with my secret sauce twist.”; ” I just need a developer and maybe, just maybe, I can sell it to Facebook too.”; “If they got a billion dollars, maybe I can get a million, it’s not that crazy right? I can’t believe no one has ever thought of this!!”

It is at this point where the “Wanna Be” starts to contact developers and starts selling the dream. “Wanna Be’s” can make anything sound good, they are good sales men. After all, they sold themselves into pouring time, money and energy into a subpar idea.
So, how do we protect our business and time from bad leads? How can we separate a good lead from a bad one? Look for the following tells:

“My idea is the next…”
It’s not a good start when the potential client starts talking about huge user bases, valuations with a bunch of zeroes and exit strategies. Try working with people that value hard work and have realistic success expectations.

The NDA issue
NDAs (i.e. Non-Disclosure Agreements) can be a useful and necessary part of business.. It’s the attitude behind them that can be a tell. If a potential client asks you to sign an NDA before telling you a single thing about the project, they are most likely not doing it for the right reasons. The “Wanna Be” syndrome needs to constantly validate itself. An NDA makes the “Wanna Be” feel important, it continues to feed the illusion.

Conversely, if a potential client has relevant IP, is part of an existing company or genuinely has a great idea, signing an NDA can be a wise choice.
Potential clients that actually need NDAs will share about the project since the IP that needs to be protected most likely won’t be stolen in the first email or phone call.

“I am on a budget”
Potential clients that verbalize this limitation on the front end are buying on price, not on value. This might work for some developers but often people that buy on price are also expecting great quality and timeliness thus straining the developer’s resources.
Look for clients that are financially committed to the success of their project.

Offering equity as payment
If the idea was actually good, why would they be so eager to give away ownership in exchange for some upfront savings?  Look for clients that have cash and want to pay at specific milestones. If they don’t know what they want, then they don’t know what they want. You can’t be the visionary, designer, developer, tester and marketer for a project that you don’t own. Seek to work with people that see you and pay you as an integral part of their team.

There are always exceptions. If you have a feeling that a lead can be a good client even though they display some of these tells, keep the conversation going until you know for sure.

Let them down easy
If you know that a lead won’t become a client, let them know early in the getting-to-know-you process. Treat them well and offer them something valuable, whether its encouragement, good resources etc. You never know who they will be talking to next.

As developers, time and energy are our most important resources. Finding out whether a lead is serious or not is often a difficult task that requires us to balance the expectation of what could be with the limiting reality of what the project actually is. Our hope is that this post helps you make better and faster assessments on which leads to pursue.
On the next post we will share our experiences on how to successfully pursue a lead. We will talk about the strategies that failed miserably and the ones that helped us land the client.

Nicolas Acuna and Mikka Olsson are the co-founders of, a high-end iPhone& iPad design and development company. You can learn more about them here

  • Great post guys. We get a lot of “I am on a budget” leads and in our early days we happily turned these leads into clients for a couple of reasons. a) because we needed the money even though it wasn’t great, and b) to build up our portfolio. Admittedly we gave them more than they paid for, but now as we have grown we can turn these kind of leads away knowing that we can’t give them the proud quality that we produce for the budget they have available. Like you say it’s better to look for clients that are financially committed to the success of a project.

  • Disagree with some of these filters.
    It’s immaterial if the clients’ ideas aren’t guaranteed get-rich-quick schemes.
    After all what is? Being commissioned to design / develop a project, you can be agnostic about the success of the project in business terms (though not in technical terms). As long as they can engage in open dialogue and pay on time, that’s their risk to take.