When you’re just starting out and are eager to build a portfolio, it is very tempting to accept every project that comes your way. I know. I’ve been there. After years of working with hundreds of clients, I came to realize this important point: before you accept a project, make sure that the client is someone you actually want to work with.
Just because the work is in front of you, doesn’t mean you have to take it. Ask yourself: is this the type of work you want to be known for, and does the client understand and value your expertise? If you and the client are not a good fit, this will mean huge amounts of unnecessary stress. If the type of project is not something that you will be proud to show off in your portfolio, then what is the use of accepting it?
If you’re lucky enough to receive more inquiries than you can accept, (good for you!) this should be a no-brainer. If not, ask yourself if the money will really be worth losing your will to carry on, (or you know, turning to the dark side). I hear a lot of (mainly new) business owners asking for tips on how to deal with difficult clients. The best way is to screen them from the start so you don’t have to deal with them at all.
How do you screen clients?
- A lot of business coaches recommend that you make a profile of your ideal client and to tailor your marketing efforts into finding & attracting those clients to begin with.
- Ask a lot of questions in your inquiry form. The researcher in me knows that the best way to find out is to gather data. Ask specific questions, and follow up with more if needed.
- Try to check out their online presence. Obviously, you will need to understand the current state of their brand/website/blog before you redesign it. Visit their social media accounts. Check out how they interact with everyone else.
- Ask them if they’ve worked with a freelancer before, and how the experience went. If they haven’t, they might need more hand-holding and you will have to explain a lot of things during the entire process. If they’ve had a negative experience, ask why things went sour. If they had a great experience, ask why they want to work with you instead. Don’t forget to read between the lines.
- Trust your gut. If your instincts tell you to run as far away as possible, by all means, run away. How will you know? A refusal to respect your terms is one, so is questioning your fees. Walking away costs you nothing. Best of all, it empowers you.
I trust my instincts when I screen clients. I can always tell from the first inquiry if we’re going to hit it off or not, and I’ve learned not to ignore early warning signs. Oh yes, there are times when I deliberately choose to ignore them, when I accept a project because it’s challenging and will teach me something new, or because the client is high profile and it’s just hard to refuse. Without fail, this always leads to late night binge-eating and countless bottles of wine, just to stop myself from turning into Kylo Ren. It’s not worth it.
Take the time to get to know potential clients during the initial inquiry phase so that you can decide if you would love working with them or not. I’ve worked with really fantastic clients who were very nice, were clear with what they wanted, were easy to communicate with, and valued my time and my expertise. Those projects turned out to be my absolute favorites – they didn’t take long to finish, the process was fun, the outcome was fabulous & something I’m definitely proud to feature, and most importantly, the clients were happy! If a client is easy to work with, I find myself more motivated to go beyond expectations, so my work quality also improves. Everyone’s happy and it’s a win-win all around.