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.
I can so relate to this! I have been a hairstylist for 18 years, and people are aghast to learn that I have “fired” clients. I think client relationships work best when there is a mutual respect – I wouldn’t want someone doing my hair who dreaded seeing my name on the books!
YES!!! Exactly! Mutual respect is extremely important. If you don’t even have that, the working relationship is going to be very stressful and you’ll end up resenting each other.
I’ve always struggled with defining my “ideal client,” which makes it hard to detect whether or not I’d like to work with them. However, the longer I’ve been in business, the easier it has become to tell whether I’ll work well with someone or not!
Hi Lauren! It took me some time to figure out what my ideal client is too. When I started my business, the notion of finding the ideal client was fairly new, and frankly, very confusing for me. I thought that if I just poured my whole soul into my work, then everything would just fall into place, and every project would be a success.
You’re so right, it gets easier the longer you are in business, and the more clients you’ve had to work with. Here’s to finding more of our dream clients!
joey @ 80 breakfasts says
This makes so much sense Pat! Thanks for sharing this insight…I have no clients (haha!) but have been thinking about it and this is truly a nugget of wisdom.
Also, please say you’ll let me be your client again some time in the future! Your collab with Martine is having me hanker for another redesign…heehee 🙂 But not yet…still super enjoying my/your current one!!
Hey Joey! I always love working with you!
“Just because the work is in front of you, doesn’t mean you have to take it.” — Yes to this, Pat! 🙂 Thank you for the great reminders in this post… it applies to us writers who take on freelance projects as well! 🙂
It definitely does, Tina! I cannot imagine you, for example, taking on a writing project for something that goes against your principles.
JM dela Rama says
Thanks for the tips! I agree that asking questions really helps in screening your clients. I also always make it a point to ask them (after explaining about my work and style) if they think that I’m the one that they’re looking for. In that way, I’m giving them the opportunity to decide whether or not we can really work together and if I can meet their expectations. 🙂
You’re absolutely right! It’s a relationship after all, and it has to work well both ways.
Hi pat! This is super useful, thanks! I only started freelance writing work last year. And mostly I’ve been getting awesome clients. But there was instance where not only did I not like what I was writing about, I also had a stilted relationship with the client. I have a hard time saying no though. Maybe because I’m just starting out and I don’t want to give the wrong impression that I’m diva-ing this early. How do you say no politely? Any tips?
You’re welcome, Pia! I normally just say that perhaps I’m not the right designer for them and explain why. 🙂