be free, lance / defining the right client

Every designer ( or creative ) is different when it comes to the clients they work with. Some clearly define their niche + aesthetic while others prefer to work on a variety of projects to keep things fresh. But no matter where you fall on this spectrum ( and I’m somewhere happily in the middle ), it’s important to work with the RIGHT client for you. There are a lot of different client types out there. And by “a lot,” I mean … a LOT. Each project will bring on a new relationship, for better or worse. Let me preface this post by saying that it is not my intention to paint a bad picture of clients. In fact, your working relationship will often times turn into a friendship – that’s the beauty of it all.

So what I want to talk about is avoiding clients that you simply don’t work well with. And this is true in many work environments + life situations. Over time, you will discover who you jive with best … it’s as simple as that. As these individuals become more obvious to you, it will be easier to cut out potential clients that won’t benefit you OR your business. It may sound harsh, but it’s honestly best for everyone involved.

I would encourage you to think about your favorite client relationship ( past and / or present ) and jot down WHY it worked out so well. Similarly, think about a time where things didn’t turn out so hot. If you can make a list of things to avoid, you’ll be able to look for warning signs from the get go.

For example, maybe a past client of yours would go for weeks without getting back to you, which is always difficult when you’re trying to maintain your own schedule. Next time you get an inquiry, see how long it takes for the potential client to get back to your initial response. Is it right away? A week later? This simple observation will be indicative of their future communication patterns. Alternatively, maybe you get an inquiry that sends you five emails in a row, on the daily. In this case, maybe you decide that information overkill isn’t your thing and you move on.

Again, each and every person is different, whether you are the creative professional OR the client. While some projects may sound shiny + promising, make sure that you are taking on work for the right reasons. If you don’t feel good about it from the get go, maybe it’s time to start considering WHO that right client is.

  1. Bethany says:

    I love taking a look back at the different clients I’ve had and seeing which worked well and which didn’t. Each client ALWAYS brings on a new learning experience, thankfully so, otherwise the hairpulling aggravation with some might not have been really worth it haha And paying attention to these types of things also helps me edit my contract- like when a client takes too long to reply to emails I add a line to my contract for the future. So thank goodness for learning! But yeah, a lot of the times I just have a feeling if it’s going to be good or not and then I just go with my gut. And that’s been working out pretty good!

    • breanna says:

      Now I’m curious, what kind of addition do you have on your contract for timely response from clients? This is something I’ve been carefully considering as of late … but it’s so hard. Life does get in the way sometimes, so it’s hard to be super strict about response time. But at the same time, they hired US to get work done. If we are expected to complete deadlines, the other party should also hold their weight. I have something like that in my contract, but it’s proven to be very wishy washy ….

      Would love to hear your thoughts!!

    • Bethany says:

      To help out with communication, I stress quick replies to emails in all of my information sheets so before they even purchase they know what’s expected of them. I like to tell them that it’s a team project and I really can’t get anything done without their help so they can’t expect to just sit back while I work and wait for it to finish. I don’t have a “punishment” for being slow, but if they don’t reply to an email at any given time for 30 days, I drop the project (refund depending on where we’re at in the process). Another thing that helps is that I promise to always reply to emails within 72 hours (including weekends and holidays) and I think me having that standard makes them want to do the same. But yeah! There isn’t a whole lot you can do on that front… It’s a tough situation!

    • Sarah says:

      I have each phase of the project clearly outlined in the contract. This way, I’m setting timelines for myself, and also keeping my clients informed about the process. I also show how long they have to get back to me within the work outline. I wouldn’t drop a client for taking too long to respond, but I do inform them that my timeline only applies provided they send feedback as requested. It’s just a gentle push to keep things moving, and has worked well so far (but then again, I’ve never had a client disappear for 30 days).

  2. Parvina says:

    This is great advice! I am finding very quickly as a newbie freelancer that I don’t quite have the liberty yet to reject any work that comes my way, even if it isn’t what I want to be working on creatively or for that matter who I want to be working with. I know this will change once I have some more experience and the finances to back me up, I can’t wait for that day to come! Did you feel the same way when you first started as a freelancer?

    • breanna says:

      Yup, that totally was the case for me in the beginning! Finances + start up were so important that I rarely said “no” to projects. BUT, I also didn’t know who the “wrong” client was at that point entirely. So … time was spent building a business and understanding WHO the right client was.

  3. JP says:

    Like the above comment, I’m still “testing the waters,” and finding out who the right/wrong client is — but this is still good to hear, and good to remember for the future.

  4. Such a great point about figuring out if a client is right for you based on the email situation ;) While I think I’ve gotten to the point where I can identify the right client now, I still have some repeat clients from when I first started freelancing that are probably not the best fit currently. Gulp! Breaking up is so hard! Thanks for all your insights and this column — they’ve been so invaluable treading these new waters :)

    • breanna says:

      Oh gosh, breaking up IS SO HARD. I’ve been meaning to write a little bit about that and hopefully will soon in this column. :) There’s this bridge you don’t want to burn, while still remaining fair to yourself. Grey area to the MAX!!

  5. alicia says:

    I’ve recently started looking for “warning” signs to get a good glimpse of what the relationship will be like a few weeks in. It’s tricky and you can’t predict everything but it’s important to stay attentive.

    • breanna says:

      For sure! You definitely can’t predict anything, but it’s all apart of the learning experience. And if it’s not the best experience, at least we can learn from it. :)

  6. Kelly Brito says:

    I couldn’t have put it better. I absolutely agree with everything you said. The clients that take too long to answer, are not ideal. But the ones that send 5 messages, packed of questions or details on a daily basis are the ones I do my best to stay away from. I don’t mean to say that they are bad for knowing what they want, but it annoys me to no end…

    • breanna says:

      Yes, exactly! It’s great when clients know what they want … but when it inhibits you from doing your job and allowing you to put in creative input, that’s where the line gets drawn. It becomes a “well why did you hire me then??” situation!

  7. Worse than the million emails… my past client who doesn’t answer back without me prodding him several times to do so, and then when IS ready to work, he literally wants to share my computer screen, take over the mouse, and mess around with the design for about an hour while I watch…. only to say, ya know, I think it was fine the way you had it before… HELP!!!! He recently has reached out for me to do more work…. hmmmm

    • breanna says:

      HMM, that’s tricky. If you don’t think the relationship is working, simply say “no.” You don’t have to go too much into detail, but if it’s not something you want to go forward with – then you don’t have to. :) If they are wanting to control the designs THAT much, then why are they even hiring you, ya know??

    • meisi says:

      Hi Breanna! I’m adding lines all the time to my conditions as well!
      The more important for me is the one that warns that we are going to work together -but that this is MY design creation and that if you have come to me is because you like my style. So Please no art directions to my work! Toooo many clients wanted me to put a pink butterfly over there, then to the left, then with texts in grey… in the past. I have to admint that that had made feel very annoyed and had to very carefully explain that this situation wasn’t good. But it’s is fantastic to have it adviced. First the client has had to think a little about it (since it’s usually something they are not very conscient), then ,if still happens you can say: you can’t do that, remeber, I have told you before. And no more explanations. Thanks fot the post ;) !

  8. Nesha says:

    Great post! I’ve certainly learned a lot over the year about who I prefer to work with. However I don’t have to take into consideration how long it will be for them to provide feedback/how many mails they send me day because we have an ‘etiquette guide’ that all clients receive that kindly reminds them (and us) of ways to make the process friendlier, like keeping all emails to one thread and having up to 3 days to provide feedback. It’s really helped make the client process easier and nicer,

  9. Lusi says:

    I understand this post because I’m interior designer and also, I need be careful with my clients.

    But, like a client, I think that’s important to explain why a designer not want work whit me. I think that an email saying “this is absolutely nothing personal” isn’t the best way. Nobody born trained to be the perfect client.

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