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

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June 09, 2009

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...

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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