Trimming the Freaks and Implementing a Freakfilter

Donald Sutherland in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers

There are some really crazy people in this world. And sometimes I think they all have my email address.

A crucial part of your business’s success is to be very clear about who you let into your playground.

‘Anybody with money’ is not your ideal client.

You need a freakfilter.

Port calls it a Red Velvet Rope policy. I forget what Andrea calls it but it comes down to one thing:

Trimming the freaks.

Wheat/chaff, creme/milk, foam/beer… you have to have an early warning detection system – canaries in the coalmine – that will tweet and twitter and announce that a current prospect or client might have slipped through the freakfilter.

My favorite freak email goes something like this:

HALP we are launching a blogster in 2 weeks and need help w/traffics. Thnx.

My usual response it:

Have you read the book? What have you tried?

Because usually the people that email me with this kind of nonsense are too cheap to drop $14 on a book (or go to their library) and just want to talk on the phone for just 15 minutes I’d really appreciate it and then don’t call on time or they want a special discount or they think that because they believe in God or are in a wheelchair that they should get a discount… drives me nuts.

Another early warning is people that don’t read directions. Even after I send them the same instructions three times. I have the patience of a saint and the years I did IT help desk was well known for spending an hour on the phone with a support call and then after the call was over whispering a torrent of obscenities in my cubicle.

Nobody has any money. Nobody has any time. Unless it is to drop $12K on some Victor Hansen Robbinsfield seminar starring Colin Powell or some late night daytrading program.

It’s enough to make ya bitter, bitte!

How do you trim the freaks?






32 responses to “Trimming the Freaks and Implementing a Freakfilter”

  1. Jennife Koretsky Avatar

    I send out a newsletter that contains the phrase “shit happens” (in context, of course) and let those who are offended unsubscribe. And yes, there are plenty who are offended.

  2. Loralea Prentis Avatar

    If they can’t spell (most of my business is done via e-mail), I take it as a sign of things to come and stay on the lookout. They get one chance, then they’re out. Bad for business? Maybe. Is my time worth dealing with these people? What about the aggravation they cause? I’d rather take the hit, save the stress and deal with the non-freaks.

  3. Sharon Sarmiento Avatar

    I hear ya Andy! 🙂
    It’s like if they have questions about blogging, why don’t they just buy your book???
    When you’re throwing a party, do you email Martha Stewart and expect her to help plan your menu?
    When you think you house is haunted, do you call up Stephen King to get his opinion?
    No–Why? Because It’s All In The Book!
    Whew–feels good to vent and get bitter on your behalf :-).
    Do you know what else people without money can afford to buy? Books about how to get rich without working.
    BTW–the “freaks”, as you say, will suck up all your time if you let them. I try to weed them out at the get-go. It saves a bunch of anguish in the long run.

  4. Glen Hogard Avatar

    When you identify yourself as an ADHD coach, it’s like nectar (the drink of the Greek and Roman Gods) to those seeking an instant “cure”. I’ve run a free support group for about 9 years now, and my number is out there.
    I usually suggest they come to the free group, and if they insist on telling me a litany of their symptoms and the problems it causes, I cut them off quickly by interrupting them and offering them an initial consultation for $250 where I will do a complete workup of them to identify their biggest challenges, medication (working or not working), work or school and more. That usually stops them in their tracks and if they are serious, I can then take control of the interaction and direct them to the next step as soon as I get their $100 check to begin.
    Andy opened my eyes at the ACO convention and though I still don’t know what a permalink is (that’s how I got to this page), I know I’ll find out soon enough.
    Thank you Andy, you’re a great guy with a huge sense of irony and humor.
    My best to you.
    (I’ve already signed up to be a contributing writer to another coach’s typepad blog invitation, and am going to have my own in a week.)
    You were a great inspiration to me to use what I’ve already written (my sent items) to create a super info blog in a very short time.

  5. Angela Avatar

    OMG don’t EVEN get me started! there are the poor-me ones who never have (and never will, with that attitude) money; and the ones with the requests for can I help them PLEASE – esp at 11 pm at night when they are having a panic attack.
    I wonder why they think it’s OK to call me then? would they call their lawyer or dentist at that hour? I’m not an emergency ward!
    So I do like Glen does – cut most of them off with a question like, “would you like to use cash, charge or paypal, that’s 225 an hour with half deposit.”
    Someone stopped me in my own tracks about 20 years ago when I was going on and on about my own issues. He said, sighing a long breath – and this is engraved in my brain: “man, your process is really boring.” What could I say? It was true!
    So I use that, too. Then I ask, “If there was something else you’d prefer to have instead, what would it be?” Before they can answer, I say, “Write it down and go to bed thinking about it instead of your old, worn-out script. Bye!”
    Ahhhhhh. Thanks. What an awesome topic. I love your rants!
    aloha –

    1. Gary Ares ( @aSmilingMind ) Avatar


      I started reading your response, and immediately wondered, is this person in the right line of work? Then, I began to wonder… how many of these “professionals” consider it as US against THEM….the porn ones with no money, the how dare THEY call me in a panic attack.

      I’m not in your profession, but instead on the other side of the table so to speak. If this were my blog, I would have seriously considered blocking your comment.

      You certainly have the right to free speech, and maybe you were having an inside joke, however I will recommend that if you were not playing, it may be time to reconsider your commitment to “helping” others.

  6. puncturevine Avatar

    How do I trim the Freaks ?….I DON’T trim the freaks…the freaks are the ones that come up with the most interesting and useful stuff. “Trimming” the freaks makes sure you stand very still, not letting in anything fresh or exciting. Bring em’ on !!! I’ll wade through every crazy idea until I find the one’s that are crazy enough to work…and make a good living at it at the same time.
    …..When Xerox had a design team come up with the “mouse” interface for computers, no one gave a damn….expect steve jobs….oh yeah, that whole “mouse” idea never went anywhere….What do you mean the world is round ? Nonsense!… Man will walk on the moon ? It’ll never happen ! ect ect Andy. It’s the stuff on the edge which is always the most exciting….it may be a little frightening, but everything else is the same ol’ shit. Bring me the freaks….bring em all !

  7. Jen Avatar

    (insert standing ovation here)
    My personal way of trimming the freaks is cruel and unusual. I either fire them or give them the number of “someone I know can help them better than I could…and is cheaper too…isn’t that perfect?”
    Oh, and it’s not bad to judge someone on spelling. If you’re someone that likes to write nice, neat sentences it stands to reason that you’d like working with others who do the same.
    It’s all about matching the personalities when you’re service-based. My current filter is applied by meeting clients in person before agreeing to work with them. Sure I still get people who find the site, and I may very well work with them…but that all important in person meeting just cannot be duplicated.
    It lets me know if they’re twitchy. I can sense that kind of thing in person.

  8. Lyle Lachmuth - The Unsticking Coach Avatar

    Fortunately, fingers crossed, I have only had ONE!
    Simply told him I didn’t want to coach him anymore. After I ‘fired’ him, He left a very, very strange message on my machine.. scary too.
    I keep him in mind now when I get them hair raising vibes … I ask myself, “could this be another [Mr. X]?”
    If my ex had a web site, I’d send them there.

  9. Jenn Givler Avatar

    Nice to know I’m not alone in this LOL!
    My ideal client is someone that “does their own work.” Know what I mean? In other words, it’s the person who is hungry for results and is anxious to complete the action plan, and can stand on their own two feet.
    It is not the person who comes back to me over and over and over again with the SAME questions. Or, who e-mails me constantly for extra help that is waaay outside the group coaching program we’re currently working through… what??? No, I don’t have anyone in particular in mind… really – this is just hypothetical… LOL!
    I digress…
    The way I Trim the Freaks is through a screening process when someone first engages me. I can usually tell from their first e-mail if we’re going to be a good fit for each other. But, I have a series of questions I ask, including “In your business, how did you get where you are today?” If their response is to dodge accountability and whine and complain – see ya!

  10. Pamela Heywood Avatar

    Coincidence Andy? Well, I don’t believe in them, but I ranted about a very similar issue – the “uncivil” emails I get too – the other day and, had said that I ignore them, because the type of people who won’t take the trouble to use correct spelling and grammar (not that mine’s perfect), use common courtesies or sign their emails, generally don’t want to listen to advice, even if you were to give it to them. And they always come back with a list of excuses as to why their case is different.

  11. Michael Avatar

    To paraphrase Pogo, “I have met the freak, and he is us.” Which is to say that we are all freaks to some sub-set of the population. Even our religious, political and sexual preferences might be considered freakish to someone else. Go figure.

  12. Yvonne DiVita Avatar

    Well, this is interesting. I guess I’m not good at trimming the ‘freaks.’ I ignore anything that comes with a strange subjectline – just not worth my time if you can’t write a proper (not ‘good’, proper) subjectline in an email. But, mostly I try to give 5 minutes to those who look legitimate, and if they reply with the proper thanks – then offer to do something for me (and yes, often there is something they can do for me), I try to help them.
    I’ve only been burned once. So, I guess I’m doing okay. Maybe I’m lucky – I seem to attract good people who are overjoyed if I just write back!

  13. Andy Strote Avatar

    That’s easy. Ask for a deposit check and we’d be happy to keep talking. That turns the conversation in one of two directions.

  14. Mary Schmidt Avatar

    Ditto deposits. I also almost always quote in flat fee projects and minimum retainers. Gets out of the nickel and diming re how many hours (You’re not buying my time, folks. You’re buying my brain. And, it can take me 15 minutes to do what it could take a beginner – well, like, forever). Like Yvonne, I’ve been pretty lucky – not too many “freaks.” (But then, I’m not a best-selling author 😉
    I’m happy to give anyone a free 15 minutes and after that, I make it very clear I charge. (and I encourage them to visit my blog for freebies).
    When someone calls, (usually when they’ve seen an article of mine) and asks for ideas, I tell them I’m happy to chat for 15 minutes or we can talk more in depth for $X. This separates the folks who are serious about their business from those who are looking for easy ways and easy money.
    I work with a lot of “Mom & Pops” and start-ups. And, I could work 120 hours a week if I wanted to work for free (“We just love you, Mary, and as soon as we get funding. In the meantime, could you…?”) I’ve learned to use a little tough love – after one client didn’t pay me for months and I was ever so understanding. Then I finally drove to her house to pick up the check, only to be shown their two new cars and the plans for the new house. Okayy….

  15. Jay, again Avatar

    Love Jennifer’s Comment: Better defense through Offense!
    Joy, Jay

  16. Nancy Mindes Avatar

    My way of trimming freaks is
    1. ENDed no fee coaching sessions
    2. Ask for a minimum 3 month commitment paid up front
    3. Raised my rates
    4 Have very high standards expect prep forms and assesments completed, sent and followed up on as part of our agreement.
    many people can’t be of their word and out they go.

  17. Steven White Avatar

    My business draws a lot of do-it-yourselfers and “shoppers”. Long ago I made a decision to not dispense free advice or unpaid consulting to those who keep coming back like a bad dream. As for the shoppers I tell them to go to the internet for the cheapest deal/no service because I dont work for free and certainly dont need the practice.

  18. The Best Online Earning Strategies Avatar

    Taming the Freaks…

    Andy Wibbels wrote an entertaining post recently: “Trimming the Freaks.”

  19. Nancy Marmolejo Avatar

    I purposefully spice up my brand and my copy with bilingual catch phrases (Spanglish) first off by calling my business “Comadre Coaching” and my blog “The Loca Diaries”. There is just enough multiculturalism to fend off any Minute Men or Border Keepers, and to attract people of ALL backgrounds who appreciate a little “sabor” (flavor) in their business.

  20. Theresa Carter Avatar

    I get emails from people asking what they should do when they’re in Chicago. Thing is, by the time they find my email address they’ve passed over the Things To Do links, the Events Calendar links, the Restaurant links, etc…Fortunately I don’t get a whole lot of those, or else I’d question my nav structure!
    When I DO get those types of emails I point them to whatever page on the site answers their questions. I’m polite about it, but short.
    Improper grammar usage and misspellings seem to be rampant. I’m disheartened by the sheer number of communications I receive from people who should be well versed in the basic rules of English usage, yet who write such bunk I can’t be sure what they’re really trying to say.

  21. Cathy Chatfield-Taylor Avatar

    I get lots of email from people who want me to ghostwrite their memoir, edit their masters thesis or teach them how to write. I politely reply that I don’t do that type of work.
    When someone asks about services that I do provide, but the email is nearly incoherent, I simply tell them I’m not accepting new clients at this time.
    That seems to keep out the riffraff.
    The oddest inquiry I’ve had was from an online dating service asking me to edit profiles to make people seem more “dateable.” I forwarded it to a colleague in jest — and she took the job! Turns out, she met her mate online.
    Goes to show there’s always someone who might want to get even the freakiest inquiries (like puncturevine, above). So keep your network in mind before you turn them away empty-handed.

  22. Tara McGillicuddy Avatar

    I’m sure that writing a blog post about porn will weed out some people…lol

  23. Joelene Avatar

    Trimming the freaks is crucial. Not only are they cheap, but they’re lazy too! They want all the free advice and then some of them have the cheek to still expect you to action all the advice you’ve just given them – FOR FREE! How will they ever learn that if you’re in business, you’re there to make a profit, not just to keep yourself busy. I usually bat them off by being very agreable at the outset but them to write up their requirements in detail and then request them to email them to me – that way I have a good template on which to prepare a thorough quote… If they can’t take the time to detail their problem (in writing), it isn’t worth my time trying to solve it.
    My absolute worst though, is when they promise all sorts of big follow up business and great exposure and publicity… blah, blah, blah. Forget it, show me the money, and then we’ll talk. Nasty but necessary.

  24. Bea Fields Avatar

    I love this topic.
    A little over two years ago, I made the decision to “topgrade” my clients, referral partners and team members. This term was coined by Bradford Smart, and the term refers to the true A players of the world, and they come with about 45 great qualities (and they score a 10/10 on these qualities) such as intelligence, strategic skills, leading edge, excellence, independence, risk taking, likability, listening, leadership, experience, energy, inspiration and the ability to think critically (and many others).
    As I looked at “my list”, it was filled with people who had landed on my website simply to get “free stuff”, and these same folks were contacting me constantly by e-mail wanting more “free stuff”. So I moved my opt in box off the home page of Five Star Leader, redesigned my website for a much more elegant/high end look, and I began being quite selective about who I asked to join my network. People don’t know it, but when I meet with them, I am actually running them through my “topgrading” assessment system. I have done this so often that I now have the assessment memorized, and I know how to ask certain questions to see where they land. If they are falling short of the “topgrade”, then we can be acquaintances, but we are never going to be great partners.
    A lot of people call me arrogant for this. A lot of people call me “high and mighty” for taking this approach. For me…it just makes great sense…it calls me to play the biggest game I can play in life, because if I am going to hold my clients, partners and team members to this rigorous scoring system, I better damn well be able to live it as well.
    The thing that I find most fascinating is that the topgraders in my life are NOT on my newsletter mailing list. They have never once signed up for something free…they actually pay thousands of dollars to work with me or send people who can pay high fees to me, and they don’t seem to even know that I have a website, and they don’t have time to bug me with crazy questions. They don’t get mad when I contact them to let them know about a new program like the Gen Y Project (BTW…which is another way to trim down the people who drive you crazy…open a new program that has NOTHING to do with why they signed on in the first place, and they will unsubscribe like crazy), and they champion me…they don’t drive me crazy.
    I am a Guerrilla Marketing Coach, and I am sure that one of my first mentors, Mitch Meyerson, would tell me something different…that I need to be building a big list, but you know what…I want a QUALITY list of people. I want to know that I have 50 “topgraders” on my team who have 50 other “topgraders” around them.
    So…the answer…Look at what you are doing to attract the people who drive you bonkers. What profession are they in? What are they doing with their lives? Why is it that they have so much free time to drive you crazy? Maybe it’s time for a complete overhaul!

  25. Brenda Cody Avatar

    This has made me LOL, as I continue to deal with the ‘I need a coaching agreement, can you help me?’ My response (same as yours) ‘Yes I can, buy the book.”

  26. Kristin Gorski (KG) Avatar

    I found this post through Sharon Sarmiento’s blog.
    I’ll refer to it for the much-needed dose of hilarity the Sutherland-freaking banner provides, and also for the pep talk and useful info.
    One of the most memorable potential client freaks I met actually trimmed herself; after constantly changing her project and asking for re-bids, she declared, “Hmmph! I guess I’m too small a fish for you!” (???) Never heard from her again.

  27. Pete Quily Avatar

    One method I use is a coachability quiz for my adult ADD prospective clients.
    Like many coaches I offer a complimentary sample session but before i do they need to fill out the coachability quiz and then email me the answers. Then I send them some questions to focus them before the sample session and they email me the answers back.
    It’s made a huge difference to me. Some people aren’t ready for your service and won’t be a good fit with you, not just the freaks but others as well.
    You might consider doing something like a coachability quiz here’s one example
    for your prospects modified to your particular type of business, a bloggable quiz for you perhaps. In the quiz you ask questions that:
    1. give your prospects an idea what your expectations are of them
    2. give your prospects an idea what they should expect from you.
    3. List some of the must have qualities of your clients or deal breakers ie spelling, late payment, or whatever your top irritants are.
    For example for Andy one question might be “Are you willing to write a few paragraphs or more of content once a week or more on a regular basis or have someone in your company that’s able and willing to do that?” If the answer’s no to that one blogging may not be the right solution for them.
    Its not just useful for you, its useful for your prospects, by using a screening tool like that, both of you reduce the likelyhood of wasting your time.

    1. Gary Ares Avatar
      Gary Ares


      At last… After Angela’s response, I continued to read down, and kept hoping I’d find some wheat amongst all this chaff.

      Finally, a true professional who exudes the qualities I would want to work with. Someone who sounds empathetic, presents solutions, and has a quality of tone to his writing of someone who just might sincerely want to help build humans, not lists.

      “Top grading” that’s a term I need to remember for my blog, which I just deleted from my info, because I do not want any of the Angela’s visiting my site to leave their pearls of wisdom. No thank you.

      I’ve had a tough time dealing with my own issues, and now studying aspects of this field very hard, because I’m one of the less-than’s. I have been fortunate enough to be allowed 2 scholarships to web based training and a cognitive behavioral therapy program. On June 2nd, 2012, it will be 32 yrs of abstinence from alcohol and drugs. If it wasn’t for the Freaks, in an Anonymous recovery program, who helped me stop my self abuse, I’d surely be dead.

      I’m certainly glad it wasn’t any of the respondents on this chain (save a few) than might have answered my call for help, patiently go through 20 questions with me, and sincerely interested if I could not drink for the day and attend a meeting that evening. That caring person met me that night, a Saturday night, when he could have been relaxing at home.

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