There had to be a better way. Wade Freitag, owner of Craftsman Design & Renovation, Portland, Ore., found himself turning nearly every call into an appointment and it was burning him out. He developed a lead sheet, but he was still visiting two or three leads a day only to learn that the prospects merely wanted design ideas. He limited himself to going on sales calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Finally, he says, “I realized I needed a system that eliminated me going out to determine the project and, at the same time, that wouldn't turn away potential clients.” He decided to make his potential clients put forth more of an effort to hire his company.

Now when someone calls, “we ask them to e-mail us notes, a wish list, and digital photos of their proposed site,” he says. Once received, this information is printed out and given to a designer. “If it seems like a project we'd be interest in doing, we make an appointment to meet with the client.”

Freitag and his designer put together a design proposal and develop a target budget based on the job costs of similar projects. They apply markups to actual job costs rather than from estimates, and cushion that with a 10% to 15% up or down range. This entire planning stage takes less than an hour. On the first visit, Freitag brings a design contract along with a portfolio showing similar projects. “By the time we meet them, we've already established a relationship,” he says.

Freitag believes clients like the method. “It helps them organize what they want to do,” he says. “Often we get very detailed wish lists. We know these people are serious.” And he's now spending 50% less time on sales calls. “We can give real potential clients much more focus rather than being spread so thin.