I like money. Clients give me money (when everything goes right). Ergo, therefore, and hopefully…clients = money, more clients = more money—I’m actually pretty terrible at math.
When you first start out as a freelance designer or even agency, it can be pretty tempting to say “yes” to every single client that comes your way. It’s kind of like, “They have a project and a budget? Let’s do this.” However, as many designers have pointed out before me, this is a terrible way to do business in the long run. You want clients that you can build a relationship with over time.You want clients who you can trust, and who trust you in return.
You want clients who you can trust, and who trust you in return
As you build a reputation for being good, reliable, and even reasonable with the prices, you’ll attract more potential customers. As you get more customers, you may find yourself in a position where you have to choose between new and existing customers. New clients are always a bit of a gamble, so you’ll mostly have to make your decision based on your relationship with your old clients.
I’ve listed a few factors to consider when making this sort of decision. These factors will have to be balanced against each other. This is not a checklist. Some of these will be deal-breakers. Others may not be.
1. Do They Value your Time?
Deal breaker: Usually, yes
As much as it is on you to treat your clients right, it’s important that you are treated right, too. Hating the way you’re treated at work is probably the number one cause of burnout. It’s apparently also the main reason people leave jobs. When you’re a freelancer, you don’t have just one boss, you have as many bosses as you have clients (sort of).
Do they do what they say they will, when they say they will do it? Do they pay on time? Do they get back to you with the answers and content you need in a prompt manner? Do they actually commit to the project, or do they just expect you to figure everything out on your own? Your time is valuable, and clients who don’t realize this can hold you back in a big way.
Of course, setbacks are inevitable; and it pays to be understanding with your clients. However, a client that’s always late with information, content, and/or payments may not be worth your time.
2. How’s the Communication?
Deal breaker: Yes
Communication is a two-way street, and a lot of this is on us, as designers. We are responsible for educating clients as to best practices on the web, and giving them the best options we can. We’ve got to be the ones to give non-web-people a gentle and informative introduction to our world.
Good designers…deliver results. We can’t do that without solid communication on both sides
On the other hand, it’s our job to listen. We might know more about the web, but our clients know more about their customers. They know more about their industry. They can help you determine what their users will want to know and do on their site.
Good designers don’t just deliver new designs, they deliver results. We can’t do that without solid communication on both sides, and strongly delineated roles. How well you and a given client can communicate is a huge factor in whether or not to keep working with them.
3. Are they Willing to Pay for your Time?
Deal breaker: Yes
It’s normal for people to want to haggle. Everyone wants a good deal. It’s on you to understand that, and to deliver work that makes them feel satisfied with the money they’ve spent. It’s on all of us to help our clients understand the value of what we do.
Still, the best clients understand that you get what you pay for. If you’ve got a big client that tends to be a bit difficult, but pays well and promptly, it’s easy enough to forgive them. Heck, it’s even advisable. A client that tries to haggle you down to unreasonable prices, then delays payment, or whines about having to pay is just not worth the headache. It doesn’t matter how nice they are otherwise, or how much creative freedom you have.
4. Do you Enjoy the Work?
Deal breaker: Perhaps
Now, you’re never going to always enjoy your work. Much of it might be tedious, or you might just feel kind of indifferent to some tasks. There’s nothing wrong with that, it happens to all of us at some point. You don’t want to drop a client for this reason unless you legitimately cannot stand the work you are doing. That’s a pretty rare thing.
On the other hand, if you truly enjoy the work a client gives you, you might be willing to forgive slightly lower pay, or some temporary communication issues.
5. Will the Work they Give you Look Good in your Portfolio?
Deal breaker: Usually not
Sometimes things go wrong, and you just can’t justify including a site you built in your portfolio. Maybe the client meddled too much (see the communication issues), and now it just doesn’t meet your quality standards. Maybe you needed the money and took on a client who sells things you’d rather not be associated with. Maybe you build a site for a company’s internal use, and you signed an NDA.
Having work you can put in a portfolio is important, as that’s how you get more work. But unless your work for this client is taking up all of your time, it’s usually not a reason to drop them.
Remember to weight these factors against each other. Every client, designer, and situation is different, after all. Good luck!