5 Rotten Things No One Else Has Told You About the Clients You’ll Work For

In over 10 years of freelancing I’ve had the fortune, and sometimes misfortune, of working with some unusual clients.

While each client is a unique individual, I’ve found that many characteristics and behaviors are similar from client to client.

Most of my clients are typically small business owners in the US.

If you are working with a different type of clientele, your experience may differ, but probably not by too much.

It’s my hope that in learning this information you’ll be able to make better preparations and decisions for yourself and your business.

In my experience I’ve found that most clients:

1. Don’t have much money; will tell you they don’t have any money or both

I’ve been a freelance designer for over 10 years and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a client that said, “Do whatever you have to do and charge me whatever for the project”.

95% of time I’ve found that the only reason why the client didn’t work with me is that they didn’t have enough money to make the project happen, or they figured they could get it cheaper.

As a designer it’ll be your job to figure out which situation your client is really in: either they actually don’t have any money or they’re just telling you they don’t.

You do this buy qualifying them and their budget on the phone BEFORE you agree to meet with them.

2. Don’t care if they waste your time; they figure it’s just a cost of doing business

If you’re thinking that potential clients will come right out and tell you that they’re not going to hire you the moment the thought pops into their head, think again.

This of course might be the moral and ethical thing to do, but most clients just figure, “Hey, designers are paid to provide free information and advice. Sometimes they get paid and sometimes they don’t. It’s just the cost of doing business.”

Some potential clients do this intentionally to get free ideas or information (blood-suckers), others may not even be aware that they’re doing it.

In either case, you have to learn to qualify your clients BEFORE you invest a lot of time in them. And no, clients telling you, “I am almost sure we’re going to hire you” is rubbish. Until you have a check in your hand, don’t believe the hype.

3. Aren’t as smart as you

When it comes to marketing and graphic/web design, I found that most clients were completely clueless – whether they knew it or not.

Some clients were honest about this and simply told me they didn’t know (smart move); others tried to pretend they knew – which made them look all the more foolish.

What you have to realize as the designer is that you’re the expert. You need your clients to believe it…even more, YOU have to believe it.

As far as clients go: being an expert in accounting, manufacturing, or health care doesn’t mean you’re an expert in design – so let us be the designers here – we’re the experts.

4. Think the role of the designer is to read their mind

When it comes to the actual design, most clients don’t have a clue as to what they really want. At best I’ve found that clients may have a rough idea as to what they’re looking for.

Most assume that the role of the designer is to read their mind and somehow guess what they’ve been hoping and dreaming about. This is called “concept design” and should be handled and billed very differently than typical design.

You’ll often hear clients say, “I don’t know what I want, but if you design something I like, I’ll know it”. Oh that’s brilliant, so on the off chance that I can read your mind, you’ll at least be able to recognize that I’ve done so – what a talent.

As a designer you’ll need to impress upon the client that they play an active role in the success of the project as well, specifically they need to provide you with examples and ideas of the creative direction that they want you to go in.

5. Feel that once they’ve paid you (even if it was years ago), you owe them free support

Whether you’ve just finished a project up for a client, or you worked with someone several years in the past, clients often will turn to you for free ongoing advice – and expect that you’ll provide it.

If you did a web site for a client 4 years ago (and they haven’t hired you since), when they have problems with an email account, etc. they’re going to call you.

Clients don’t care (or even consider) that they haven’t hired you for a project in years – it doesn’t matter, they feel that since they hired you in the past you are their “go to” person and you should feel obligated to help them.

To make this even more ridiculous, clients will often assume that you will not only help them for free but that you remember everything about their project and that you’ll be willing and able to help them immediately.

To curb this type of behavior you’ll need to be upfront with clients, tell them that you’ll be happy to help them; you’ll provide a quote for the project and get them into your design schedule as soon as you have an opening.

To sum up, keep in mind that like in any other profession, you’re going to work with some great people and not -so-great people – being a freelance designer is no different. Most clients aren’t intentionally greedy or nasty, but I have found that they all try to get as much out of their designers for as little as possible.

Your goal as a designer should be to provide good service to your clients and get paid a fair rate in return. Since those goals don’t match up, it’s important to learn how to protect yourself and your rights as a designer, because your clients won’t do it for you.

“People will treat you the way you let them treat you.”

Written exclusively for WDD by Jeremy Tuber. Jeremy’s a guest blogger and author of the breakthrough freelancing books: “Being a Starving Artist Sucks” and “Verbal Kung Fu for Freelancers” – both available on Amazon.com, on the iTunes App Store and in eBook form. Click here to receive special deals exclusively for WDD readers

How do you deal with problems like these? How do you deal with difficult clients? We’d love to hear from you…

  • http://www.linkedmediagroup.com Lee Traupel

    Couldn’t agree more but you might want to add these:

    *Advice is great as long as it is “free”

    *Equity never comes up in the conversation

    *But some do become good friends and supporters

    *Many won’t give you referrals for fear to impacting their competitive advantage (understandably in some industries)

    Don’t want to sound overly negative :-)

  • http://p163.sg/blog Dinu

    …and learning to discern your potential client is an art that is perfected through many mistakes.

  • http://www.rsstudioat.blogspot.com ryan s

    I’m suffering from client number 2 now. :(

    I setup an email for his facebook and twitter, then designed a draft which is visible in the account…. then the client went missing. wow.

  • http://www.blellow.com/zakmorris Zak

    Such a great post and so true. I have a few projects and one in particular fits ALL 5. That’s right..a 5 point all-star client.

    What adds more to the mix is he’s a long time friend. /headache.

  • Naveen

    Good one! most considerable points specially 3rd one ” Aren’t as smart as you “; i oftenly use. ….:)

  • http://www.embed-design.com/ Oliver

    Wow, this is some great advice. Still in high school at the moment but maybe I’ll bookmark this for 5 years and read it when I get a design job :D

    Anyway, thanks for the great advice. I’m sure this will prove to be very useful :)

  • http://www.nurbsatwork.com Ozy

    Great article!

    I agree with a lot of you have said, but I do not agree too much with the last point. Sure clients will turn to you as a go-to guy, but that puts you in the expert chair and you might end up getting more projects from that specific client. Sometimes you have to give more than you receive toa client to prove your worth. Sure if it is a broken down joe around the corner you will think twice to invest time to help. But if it’s a huge company that hired you once, it is good to stay in contact… Treat them out for a drink, let them tell you their new projects and work your way in.
    Those are called angel clients. Keep them, help them.

  • George

    Totally agree with this post – and you don’t have to be in the design industry for too long to work it out either!

    I guess it’s like any occupation or industry really. As with anything to do with your profession, you have to be exactly that – professional. Part of being professional in some cases is also being flexible and accommodating. However, if you get pushed around from the start it tends to only get worse as the project continues (and even a while down the track as stated!).

    I’ve found that the best way to prevent this kind of attitude is to be clear, concise and up-front with your client. In some ways, I think that they appreciate that too. As was said, many clients don’t really know what they are in for or what designing for the internet is about. I guess that to be honest in the first place will give you a lot of credibility later down the track.

    Great article, well written! :)

  • http://www.mwdesigns.com Matt Ward

    Couldn’t agree with 4 and 5 any more. Clients want you to read their mind and magically build websites in ridiculously short periods of time. And then they expect you to support it for free and make any fix (no matter how huge it may be) within a couple hours of them telling you about it. Oh and of course the worst part is your expected to be reachable 24/7/365+, no sleeping is not an excuse.

  • http://csswebdy.com sunny

    It is a really great advice. I am still struggling with #5 advice.
    Well, I’ll keep in mine your advice and will try it.
    Thanks for great advice.

  • http://www.culd.be Ruben

    Great article, but the advice comes a bit late :)
    Some of those leeches just suck you dry!

  • riki

    I prefer freelancing for companies, as opposed to small businesses. There’s still issues about money, but generally speaking the accounts person that pays you, it’s not coming out of their pocket. Companies have budgets and long lists of things they need to get done.

  • http://www.kornykornelius.com kornykornelius

    I been counter some many blood sucking client… I hardly get any nice client… or should I say so far there are none… those make my life less suffer and pay on time end of the day consider good enuff…

    None of my client taking serious regarding their content. Ask you design complicated but end up he or she cant provide you any content. So end of the day stuck there design template with empty space.

    • http://gregrickaby.com greg rickaby

      OMG if I had a dollar for every time this happend to me…

      “why don’t you just type something up about what I do?


  • http://karekdesign.com Karek

    That’s true! The price is not only for design but also include the 2 and 5.

  • http://www.suburban-glory.com Andy Walpole

    Great post mate! Very informative

  • http://leaverou.me Lea Verou

    Great article, and sooo, sooooo true!
    Gladly, I rarely take up freelance projects any more (and I hope it stays this way) :-)

  • http://freelahttp://freelancercrowd.com/tutorials/clients-to-be-aware-of.html Crowd

    Totally agree!
    I found that the worst of freelancing –
    1. a lot of dodgers think that if you are a freelancer, you are easy to be cheated.
    2. a lot of people from the lowest level ask freelancers, because the feel confortable not to mention the “lance” in “freelancer”

    If you got cheated by somebody, please share your experience at http://freelancercrowd.com/community/negative/clients%27-hall-of-shame/
    Lets’s build a database, make their furure cheats harder and ultimately take them out of the business

  • http://www.kadaffy.com kadaffy

    this is maybe, the most impressive real article that i’ve read over the net for a long, long time. The Absolute Truth! Everything here is real! Trust me :))

  • http://www.claudiasnell.com claudia snell

    Great article. More designers need to step up and say these things.
    Over the years, I’ve had every single one of these; many times sadly. I’ve had multiple that exhibit more than one and a few ‘five-stars’ too. UGH! I’m glad to see it’s not just me ;-)

    Overall, I love what I do and, like everyone, have had clients and projects that I loved and (obviously) ones I’ve hated. In my case I’ve decided to blend a full-time job & working with only a select few ‘loved’ clients. It’s been oddly liberating – It’s just what works best for me.

  • http://www.photoshop-downloads.com/ Alex

    Great reading. Clients sure sometimes is a real hassle / laugh. Most people just don’t see their website as the golden opportunity for their business to earn more money :s

  • http://jacekkobus.com Jack

    Agree !

  • http://www.antonioriveras.com Antonio

    I’m well aware of all of these pointers and have similar experiences. Altough in Sweden the clients don’t tend to be so cheap, actually they are more then glad to pay.

    The bad thing is that they never know what they want, and I really try hard to read their mind…”Aren’t as smart as you” =)

  • Kat

    Point number 4 made me laugh. It’s unfortunately, the truest of the lot. I get that every day. “I’m not sure what I’m looking for, just do what you think looks good.” Hours of work later, it’s nothing like they imagined it, and you just want to say, “If you had something in mind, could you not have told me in the first place.”

    Loving your site. Thanks.

  • http://beingastarvingartistsucks.com Jeremy Tuber

    Thanks for the comments guys:
    Sorry to hear you’ve got a tough client right now, Ryan. I learned how to deal with these folks over years – very much in the way that Dinu suggested – through many mistakes. Try not to beat yourself up if a client takes advantage of the situation, it happens to us all. Learn as much as you can from your experiences and make a plan to ensure negative things don’t happen again.

    Matt – you’re right about the mind reading – hey clients, if I really had the ability to read minds, why would I be a freelancer instead of working with the CIA or something?

    George – great observation. This type of stuff happens in a lot of different industries. You’re exactly right with, “…if you get pushed around from the start it tends to only get worse as the project continues”. Clients are a lot like pets in this way, if you don’t train them right at the beginning they are not going to exhibit good behavior down the road.

    Thanks again for the comments guys, I’ll keep checking in and answering your questions and feedback.


  • Ted Goas

    Wow, sounds like you’ve had some really bad experiences with clients and needed to vent a little. It’s true many of these things happen… but they’re preventable. Take #5 as an example… a contract should take care of that. If it’s not in the original contract, don’t do it unless a new contract and compensation plan is drawn up.

    But I think the point I’m really struggling with is #3. It’s true many clients aren’t better designers, but not as smart or not as good of a marketer? Come on! It’s true, many design ideas will be bad and changes suggested will be trivial, but a client’s reaction to a design is many times an insight as to how a non-designer will react. Maybe they don’t know how to work the neat jQuery carousel I built for them.

    We can’t forget that we’re not designing most sites for other designers. We’re usually designing for those outside the design community, right? It’s nice if the final site looks pretty, but ultimately who cares if I think the site I built for the hotel down the block looks good? Unless it’s a hotel that caters to web designers…

    My point – Try and take the bad with the good. If certain clients are frustrating, find something to take away. But as you mentioned… don’t get taken advantage of. Great post!

  • http://www.velvetant.net/blog Antonea Nabors

    I have encountered all of these clients far too many times! I have had the pleasure of working with clients that are all-in-one and his on every reason you have mentioned. Nice read. Especially for people who are just starting out as freelancers. It is a nice warning.

  • Chanel

    I love freelancing and all your points seem to hit home except number 5. I recently had a client where he wanted to have a f2f meet at 9am but I traditionally dont meet till after 10am. I get to our meet spot at 9am and he’s a NO SHOW!!! This is totally a deal breaker for me and I have decided to pass on the project. Good decision?

  • http://www.arraystudio.com Predrag Kanazir

    Absolute truth :)

    I specially love the photo for #5. It was just like me looking at a mirror this morning.


  • Casey

    I’ve struggled with clients who pretend to be a designer themselves. It’s perplexing…Why did you even hire me? You’re doing my work for me….

    Or the client that always has to have the last word on things… “Looks good, but….”

  • http://beingastarvingartistsucks.com Jeremy Tuber

    * Ted – Not sure my experiences are any better or worse than most designers out there, I just got really upset about it :) I’ve worked with some wonderful people over the years as well. You’re right, many of these things are preventable…but I’ve found that they’re going to happen whether you have a contract or not (although working w/o a solid contract is insanity) – it’s just important to know how to handle them when they do. Great ideas there, thanks for sharing!

    *Chanel – I’ve had clients stand me up as well – about 85% were bad fits for me and I fired them. Sometimes people really do have a legitimate excuse – you’ll want to make the call depending on the size of the project, how much work you currently have and whether or not you believe the client is being honest with you. Trust you instincts.

    *Casey – great point: Never work for a client that thinks they know more about design than you do :)

    PS – guys check out this video I stumbled on a few days ago – if you haven’t seen it make sure you’re sitting down – you’ll laugh your butt off: http://tinyurl.com/lv4ccs

    Thanks again for your feedback guys and taking time out of your day to comment on the article.


  • http://www.crearedesign.co.uk Adam

    I’ve experienced every type of client you’ve just listed there. Your point about old clients phoning up and expecting you to provide 24/7 support and just jump straight onto their project is also a common occurrence. Half of the time a client may ring up and say ‘Hi Adam, it’s Phil’ – then I have literally a few seconds to remember who Phil is, and which website was his!

  • http://www.creydesign.com Chris Reynolds

    Excellent, excellent article. Nothing really more I could add, except that your observations are spot on, especially about clients who really think they know what they’re talking about.

  • gab

    You forgot this one: Most clients avoid writing their own content at all costs.

  • http://www.elevatainc.com Elevata

    Wish I could disagree with you… but unfortunately, I think your article is brutally honest. Too many designers — usually from lack of experience — put up with this stuff, especially in tighter economies.

    I’d rather work less and get paid more. And these days, I do.

  • http://www.j-run.ca/ Mondo Jay

    Good article,
    and so very very true…
    I really wish they would have taught us this kind of stuff when I was going to school…
    Photoshop skills are nice,
    How-to-avoid-bad-customers skills,
    ten times better…

  • http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com Nancy

    I’m a name developer and copywriter who chooses not to work with small businesses, but I can still endorse most of the items on your list. (Especially #2. Oh yes.)

    As for Gab’s comment, my experience has, unfortunately, been the opposite. Clients who will pay for design frequently won’t hire a professional to write their content–heck, they won’t even to hire an editor to polish their semiliterate prose. Because, y’know, anyone can write. Right?

  • http://blog.birnamdesigns.com David W.

    Great summary! You should have mentioned one other type of client though, in #3. I’ve run into this one recently. A client that not only doesn’t realize that they’re clueless, but they’re utterly convinced they’re experts and insist you do things exactly the way they describe. If you don’t stand up for yourself, this has the real potential of compromising your work (if not your integrity and reputation!)

  • http://wpcult.com The Frosty @WPCult

    Oh how I with it wasn’t true.
    But I get all of the above!

  • http://beingastarvingartistsucks.com Jeremy Tuber

    * Gab and Nancy:
    You’re right, I have run into those clients as well…”I rite gooder than U”. Come on folks, hire a professional, stick to what you do best and let others write compelling content for you.

    * Mondo Jay:
    Couldn’t have said it better myself, thanks for sharing my friend.

    * David W:
    Yeah that’s definitely a bad combination. Ignorance + Arrogance. You might try a little “Verbal Kung Fu for Freelancers” on them, “Hey XXXX, I want to make sure you’re happy with the project I do for you, but I am really concerned you’re not going to get the results you want going in this direction. From doing this for years for clients just like you, I am confident that if you take my advice you’re going to get a better result…but again, I want to make sure you’re happy. Which way would you like to go”. Hope that was helpful.


  • http://www.mariewong.net phiyo

    I have my first client recently and I already agree with you 100%. Fortunately, my client is nice to me in terms of rate when I didn’t know how much to charge on my first project.

  • http://www.ashleybaileydesigns.com Web Designer Greensboro

    I haven’t had too much of #2 but everything else was right on the money especially #5. I used to beat myself up over why I don’t remember then I suddenly realized I don’t necessarily have to if the job is finished.

  • http://www.truenorthe.com Courtney

    I’m finding this to be true after one year of being in this business.

  • http://www.webcoursesbangkok.com Carl – Web Courses Bangkok Instructor

    Two years and they still want free support : I HEAR YOU ON THIS ONE!

    For me now, I will end the conversation saying:

    “Okay, please put what you need in an email and I can send you a quote, we charge xxx per hour and I will send you a estimate at how many hours this will take.”

    That way if they want to continue they know its not free anymore.

    BUT! If the support is an issue you missed when you first made the site, I think you should fix it if an actual coding error.

  • http://codematrix.pl Mark

    I often use “Pick two” rules: “good, fast, or cheap, pick two” is the simpliest version…

    Here you can find more inspiring sets: http://kottke.org/05/04/pick-two – for example my favorite “fixed scope, fixed timeframe, or fixed budget” :))

  • http://www.byoral.com okul kiyafeti

    great post.

  • http://www.wordweb.ch Barbara

    All of this sounds very familiar to me. I guess one just has to learn how to deal with such clients. Intervene early and stay calm.

    Another type of client I’ve encountered a lot (similar to #2): The client who has too much time. And most of these clients are also “clients who don’t know what they want”.

    I’ve been working as a web copywriter for the past few years, and sometimes my team mates and I go crazy from editing so called “final versions” again and again.

  • http://www.digitalphotographyandphotoshopreview.com timdry

    Good article!

    What I always do is establish the financial stuff right up front. When a mutual price is agreed (and before starting any work) I ask for half the money upfront in cash or as a money transfer.Then I feel comfortable. And if anything goes pear-shaped with the client’s business (it’s happened to me twice) I at least covered for some of the work. And upon completion but before upload I ask for the balance of the fee. Again in cash or by wire transfer. And I make it clear upfront that any further work done on the site is chargeable at £25 per hour. That usually stops them from being a nuisance!

  • r_jake

    Yes, anyone who has worked freelance will recognise all five of these, and part of the job is learning how to professionally manage each situation.

    There are strategies for doing this (the contract and being upfront being the main ones), and these are usually learnt the hard way. Maybe this post could have gone into more practical detail about these solutions?

    The one area I still have difficulty with is when clients insist upon a design decision which you fundamentally disagree with. When they won’t budge after you have firmly suggested the reasons as to why it is a bad idea, you have to go with what they want, because they’re paying for it and living with it, right?

    It’s easy to moan about clients, and I’ve done my fair share, but at the end of the day we become unemployed without them and the job would be far too easy and fun!!!

  • http://www.theodin.co.uk theofin

    some really great points on here, couldnt agree more with the need to be upfront about budget. A great read, thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.positivewebdesign.net Mark Mackinnon

    Great post.

    It’s always nice to read things like this and remember you’re not alone!

    Sometimes working from home, you lose touch of that.

  • http://beingastarvingartistsucks.com Jeremy Tuber

    * Mark – yep, clients always seem to want to pick all 3 :)

    * Barbara – I get the ever-changing web copy problem as well. The Verbal Kung Fu I use on them is, “Happy to make go with this as a final, before we dive into I want to make sure you guys aren’t going to have any additional changes – that way you can avoid any additional charges. Would you like one more peek before you submit this or is it ready to go?” – they’ve just been Verbal Kung Fu’d by a Freelancer.

    * timdry – nice approach, when you establish clear guidelines up front you minimize the likelihood clients will take advantage during the project. Never provide the final artwork before they pay you that last 1/2 of the balance.

    * r_jake – freelancers don’t have to learn these things the hard way, they can learn from others who have been through it. Check one of my earlier comments to the challenge you’re having right now w/ one of your clients, you may find it helpful.

    * Mark Mackinnon – nope, there are A LOT of freelancers who struggle in this area, it’s helpful to share experiences and lessons.

    Again, thanks for the great comments guys…as long as you write them, I will keep responding – special big thxs to Walter for allowing me to share some of this info with you guys, I’ve really enjoyed it.


  • Lakia

    Great article.

    I frequently have clients who think my services include the “lifetime of free changes and advice” clause. It is really surprising because I imagine any of them would hit the roof if one to their clients assumed the same.

    I’ve had clients (several, actually) drop me because I charge them for changes and updates, *sigh*. Of course these are the same clients that refused an affordable service plan saying “I can’t imagine any changes we would have to make”—on your website? Seriously?

    By the way, what do you mean by qualifying your clients?

  • marshy

    have to say I learnt everything mentioned the hard way. My first client wanted nearly 30 revisions and his website construction and design lasted a little over 6 months! but after being in the business for a good few years now I can only repeat; ensure you have a thorough contract. In some cases I have lost clients due to the depth of my contract but after being messed about by so many SMEs, its far better to lose the clients that will fail you later than work hard and risk losing everything.

  • http://eveltdesign.com joel k.

    good post
    I’m a new designer and #4 ( the role of the designer is to read their mind) is the hardiest.
    even if a could read there mind, they’ll change it

  • http://www.beyondempty.net Joe

    This is a great post, thank you for speaking the truth

  • http://www.GoGlobalWebs.com Chris Gray

    Well you can tell that this is a popular topic. . . I just yesterday experienced a #2 and #4, and #1 as well. Would have turned into a five star if I hadn’t asked for all the money upfront.

    The guy wanted to extract as much out of me as possible and pay when he felt that it was good enough, if at all! Not a nice man. .

    But one thing you didn’t mention is the pay. How do other designers handle pay? Especially in graphic design. That’s its own beast it seems.

    Glad to see that I’m not alone.

    Twitter ID: @goglobalwebs

  • http://beingastarvingartistsucks.com Jeremy Tuber

    * Lakia – always a pleasure to hear from you! Qualifying clients is the initial process a freelancer needs to take to ensure she/he isn’t wasting an excess amount of their time w/ a client before finding out if the client really is a good fit (has the money, is ready to move forward, etc.). This is a major problem w/ freelancers- they often get so excited when someone contacts them that they skip this step only to invest 2-3 hours w/ a prospect that ultimately doesn’t hire them. A strong series of initial qualifying questions will eliminate this.

    * marshy – ahhh, you were on what I refer to the Revision Merry Go Round…this is NOT a fun ride. I’ve developed a way to stop clients from doing this and I share it on my audio mentoring CD on iTunes/Amazon. The short version of this is that you have to shift your mindset from the amatuer to the professional – you’re the expert not your client. So you recommend and sell your work, not let the client decide.

    * Chris Gray – I know all too well about being paid Chris, I made HUGE mistakes in this area in the past – you’re right, it’s a beast. I cover this extensively in my Verbal Kung Fu for Freelancers book. This involves setting clear expectations and parameters BEFORE you even begin working with a client. Designers handle pay in a lot of ways: 1/2 up front and 1/2 when finished, but I personally like working on a variable cost so I know that whatever time I am investing in the project I am getting paid for.

    Great comments guys – keep writing and I’ll keep answering :)

  • marshy

    Thought I had to tell you all that after three weeks of bargaining and haggling with a client we settled on a nice amount of money for a small website which was within the client’s small budget. I went over today to discuss the content of the site further, and low and behold I see a receipt for a poster design which is only going to last throughout the two week promotion for more than the site costs! So I ask Jeremy, please give a few tips on how to train the client in investing more money in a profitable website, as opposed to a poster which has a very short shelf life?


  • http://beingastarvingartistsucks.com Jeremy Tuber

    Sorry to hear about that, but you’re not alone. Clients can be a challenge to even the most savvy freelancers out there. The key in being able to charge more is being able to articulate VALUE. Clients often see design as an expense rather than a return on their investment. When you talk to clients about the work you provide, you want to focus on the return they’re going to get back from hiring you.

    Clients ultimately don’t care a thing about design if it doesn’t help their business grow. So when you’re talking with a client focus your energy on how your work will help their business bring in more customers and more money. Make sure you keep track of past clients and track their results – sharing examples of clients that you’ve worked with in the past that got great results from hiring you is a gold mine!

    Creative freelancers often make the mistake in thinking that clients hire them because of their design, they don’t – clients hire you (for branding, web development, advertising, etc.) because they believe it will help their business grow. Your goal then is to sell them on the idea that what you will do for them will accomplish that goal. Great question my friend, hope this was helpful.


  • Kelli

    I SO hear Marshy on this one. In our company’s design niche (we create web sites for authors) we’ve battled epic perceived value issues for years.

    For instance, we charge 1/3 the cost of our competitors, and bill in 15 minute increments, and yet clients talk about the “gasp factor” of our bills.

    These same clients will drop $5,000 on a publicist, to publicize ONE book, without any guaranteed ROI at all.

    But since these clients believe that design is just “Word processing online”, our rates are obviously “inflated”.

    *tears hair*

    If you’d like to read my little article (read: rant) on the top 15 Ways to Offend a Web Designer, check out my post on the Site Point Forum: http://www.sitepoint.com/forums/showthread.php?threadid=475373


  • http://www.misty-blue.net Sarah

    Dead-on. Learned most of these things the hard way.

    I’ve been getting #2 quite often these days– I’m not sure if it’s the economy or because of referrals. I often will get e-mails from potential clients who ask me a bunch of questions and then disappear. I’m left wondering if they’ve gone off to do the work themselves with my suggestions or if they’re hiring someone who’s willing to do the work for below standard price.

  • http://beingastarvingartistsucks.com Jeremy Tuber

    * Kelli – I liked your post – very cool. I’ll make a reference to it on the Being a Starving Artist Sucks blog. Don’t forget about insisting that your designer/developer use “free” images that can be easily accessed through an online “borrowing” search engine like Google :)

    * Sarah – This happens A LOT, so don’t feel badly. The key is to answer your clients general questions but keep specific answers until AFTER they’ve hired you. What clients are doing is called, “pumping you for information”, sometimes this is done consciously, sometimes not. Either way you want to make sure you’re protecting your ideas and intellectual property.

    If a client keeps drilling you for more free info you might say, “That is a good question, I’ve got some killer ideas that will help you once we get started. I am feeling like this is a good fit for us, would you be open to getting started today?” – BAM, they’ve just been Verbal Kung Fu’d. The reason why this works is that it’s a gentle/professional response yet it allows you to protect your rights.

    Thanks for the comments ladies, good stuff. Keep the questions coming if you’d like.

  • http://www.gamesnooper.com JustChris

    I had client #4 recently- it was one of those few projects where I could do the entire re-design from scratch and she liked most of it. She wasn’t really very picky and actually was easy to work with, but one part of the process still irked me a bit. She wanted to replace one photo that was integrated into the design with one she took herself. She still went along with it despite my suggestion to keep the original photo.

    I was partly at fault here, for not explaining to her what the concept behind my design is, and why the photo makes sense for the services she is providing. So the design ended up with the new photo on the header of each page, and while I did a good job of placing it in, it still looked haphazard and cheesy, not flowing in as well with the rest of the design. So it was like sculpting a beautiful piece, only to have it fall and chip off a piece that tends to stay distracting.

    Next time, I’ll try to elaborate on my design choices and brainstorming with the client.

  • Tim

    This article would’ve been better with some proper editing; the section headings are confusing and verbose. I agree with the points that are brought up, though.

  • http://www.voltagenewmedia.com Matt Magi

    Good points, and so true…thanks!

  • http://www.marceladesign.com Marcela García

    Man, that’s an awesome article, it talks all about my clients haha… thanks for your advice, i’m starting to be a freelance graphic designer, and i get problems like this most of the time with 1 person…. thanks a lot!

  • http://www.bj2design.com Bjarni Wark

    Made me smile on a few of these, but Im sure everyone in their professions has similar stories to match these. Main focus is to do good work and be straight with your clients and that will help to avoid the above situations.

  • http://www.squiders.com Web Design Kent

    Some good points but I have made my way by offering heat little bit more, trust in people and relying on karma!

  • http://jordankoschei.com Jordan Koschei

    Free support forever is a killer; I’m glad you mentioned that so explicitly. Put a clause in your contract that support is only free for a specified amount of time (five hours a month for the first two months after launch, or something like that)!

  • http://demopiece.com monster303

    Good Post! May be i should ask my clients to read this them self.

  • http://www.yogapuntadeleste.com/ Alvaro Hernandorena

    great post!!, all truth, but to be positive, one of my last clients never ask me for the price until the job was finished, then he told me “send me an email with the cost”



  • http://www.ev4n.com ev4n

    theres easy fixes to all these clients:

    1. grow some balls
    2. write contracts (get paid for the quote AND a deposit to start work)
    3. sign the contracts
    4. your a professional, act like it.

  • http://www.geoffreymultimedia.com Edwin

    Wow. It’s like you were reading my mind. I just read a similar article and they both basically amount to the same thing. Choose your customer, don’t let them choose you!

    • http://www.redfoxwebdesign.nl redfox

      Ah, yes that’s true indeed … love your instinct (intuition!) … and use it. But above all: use a good contract … because clients will certainly read it. Even if it has a lot of pages. It’s all about their money you know. Put all you’ll have to tell them into it … in a kindly, narrative way. If a potential client makes an inquiry, the first thing I do (nowadays!) is to send him/her a concept of the contract. Almost every advice made in this long thread has been described. Will all this prevent you (me!) from having bad clients? No … it won’t … because this is called live. And living consists of good (80%) and bad things (20%) … ;-)

      • http://www.geoffreymultimedia.com Edwin James Lynch

        Good advice. I actually just wrote “all content (images, 3 news items and site text) to be provided in advance” in my contract because I’m sick and tired of scope creep and waiting on content. It takes about 4 weeks for me to do a basic website and I have 4 clients still to provide me with content after 3+ months after initial 50%. Now I won’t take ANY money until I have ALL of the content. Keeps me in control and weeds out the dreamers.

  • http://www.freedomstudios.co.za Graham

    Yip – these points certainlly do sound familiar!
    I guess it comes with the territory – thanks for sharing these.

  • http://www.blog.divabydesign.org mydivabydesign

    How much is your time worth? Don’t work for free. You don’t get anything out of it except resentment towards others. Not a good thing for attracting clients. Figure out who your ideal client is and go there to market.
    Thanks for this article!

  • http://www.stargraphicdesign.com Jessica

    It should be called “5 Rotten Things You Will LEARN QUICKLY…” lol

    • http://www.geoffreymultimedia.com Edwin James Lynch

      Some (like myself) learnt this VERY slowly. At my own peril. ;)

  • http://ekbdesigns.com Elizabeth K. Barone

    Don’t forget the client that changes their mind over and over and over again, and expects each change to be completed yesterday; it’s not like you have other things to do for their project, or for any other clients for that matter.

  • http://www.enceptions.com/about.html Greensboro Web Design

    I’ve had clients in every one of the these categories and sometimes they fall into more than one. One of my favorites to work with are the clients who after you’ve designed their site, they want you to write 5 pages of copy to fill it. This is especially great when they have some niche field where only a handful of people know the topic. Anyways, I got a good laugh from this post. Keep up the great work.

  • http://www.blellow.com/spoofthemonkey Guillermo

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the ‘lifetime support’ haha. A lot of clients don’t realize how valuable your time is until you tell them ‘NO’. Once people start having to pay out of pocket for answers, the flow of questions suddenly comes to a halt.