It’s not like we consultants don’t have enough trouble making the case for our business proposition on only the argument of cost versus benefit; prospects sometimes have other reasons not to hire you that have little or nothing to do with whether it makes good business sense. Since it’s hard enough to find a good fit, you want to eliminate as many of those extraneous objections as you can, preferably before they’re even raised.

“We’ve never used a consultant, and we wouldn’t know how to work that through payroll.”

Gently explain that you don’t go through payroll, you’re just another bill for an outside service. Have a clear and concise contract that you can explain without resorting to legalese, and then outline in simple terms how the arrangement works: “I give you an invoice at the end of the month, and you have X days to pay it.” Don’t forget to mention how you’re a lot less trouble than an employee: no benefits, no FICA, no unpaid leave, no workers compensation, no unemployment compensation, and you’re easy to fire.

“We’ve been advised by our lawyers not to hire consultants because there’s no safe harbor for violation of statutory employee rules.”

I’ve faced this one several times. First of all, always have more than one active client, and obtain permission in advance to share a minimal level of documentation about your relationship with your client to prove that they’re really a client. Usually, a copy of an invoice or two will do. To that end, I generally construct my invoices in two pages: the first page only specifies total hours and dollars. The second page details the work performed. That way, I can easily get permission from my client to share only the first page (under non-disclosure) with other clients. Second, have a copy of your business license ready. Third, prepare to discuss how to manage your relationship so that the IRS will not question your autonomy. If you appear to know what you’re doing in this realm, you might overcome this objection.

“We want to use an employee so we retain full control.”

What exactly do they mean by “full control?” Point out that your contract grants them copyright to the works you produce for them, and also contains a non-disclosure clause. As far as project management goes, assure them that you’re willing to assume or relinquish the initiative to whatever degree they desire.

“We need somebody full time on this.”

That objection used to just shut me up. Now, I say, “If you don’t mind my asking, why?” If it’s because the work itself requires 40+ hours of attention a week, then OK. Often, though, it’s a way of insuring that enough attention gets put on those responsibilities — probably because the last person excused their incompetence by claiming they had too many other things to do.

“This work needs to be done on-site.”

So, offer to come on-site to do it, if that’s practical. If not, see if you can strike a compromise where you’ll visit their offices as often as needed. Again, a blanket statement like this usually indicates an attempt to crack a nut with a sledgehammer. There’s very little in our field any more that cannot leave the building, unless it requires physical access to the hardware. Maybe they had bad luck with remote workers in the past, so now they want to keep an eye on the person who fills this spot. Having a good track record for delivering while working remotely can help here. Collect some references from other clients to make this argument.

It’s important not to dismiss a prospect’s objections offhandedly. Acknowledge the validity of their concerns. Don’t appear to know better than they do about their own business, but rather offer your alternatives as additional information that they should consider. Of course, sometimes an objection is just a smokescreen to hide an unspoken agenda. If that’s the case, you can bet they do the same thing with project requirements. You don’t want that kind of work.