In the initial phases of any client work, you obviously exchange quite a few emails with the client. This exchange is for free, all the information we provide at this stage is aimed at understanding what the client wants and making sure s/he understand what she’ll get at the end and why this is the best way to proceed.
Some clients end up declining our offer, and that’s fine as well. We did some work for free but we hope they at least learnt something useful about their site and who knows we may be able to help them in the future.
What is terrible for the business is to get caught in a seemingly infinite exchange of emails that bring you nowhere. These clients do not even know what they want or have unrealistic expectations impossible to answer to, no matter how much time you put in it. The sooner you realize you should “fire” them, the better. And, after dealing with a few hundred of clients until now, my rule of thumb is the following:
In 20 emails a clear path to completion must be agreed upon, otherwise it won’t happen regardless the number of exchanged
After reaching this point, I always send them an email emphasizing the time invested (again, with no results, 20 is not the total number of emails to finish the work, is the number of emails I need to see if we have a chance to understand each other), summarizing the discussion so far and clearly letting them know that it’s not a good idea, for neither of us, to continue the business relationship. Some become suddenly reasonable, others just get angry but I´m happier since we imposed this rule (and in the end, this is all it matters).
Sure, in your business, this number can be different but decide your limit and stick to it. It’s good for you, it’s good for your business.